Jim Howard | KBIA

Jim Howard

Howard covers news from Washington, D.C., of importance to the St. Louis region.  His beat includes following the legislative activities of area lawmakers on Capitol Hill as well as developments from The White House, Supreme Court and numerous federal agencies and departments.  Prior to joining St. Louis Public Radio, he was a longtime newscaster and producer at NPR in Washington.  Howard also has deep roots in the Midwest.  Earlier in his career, he was statehouse bureau chief for Illinois Public Radio, where he directed news coverage of state government and politics for a 13-station network.

While U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., clearly has his philosophical and political differences with the president, last night he praised Barack Obama’s plan to embark on a major effort to cure cancer and boost medical research. The president is putting Vice President Joe Biden in charge of what he calls “mission control” of that effort.

Last year, after losing his son Beau to brain cancer, the vice president said that with a “new moonshot” America could cure cancer. The president agrees and made boosting medical research one of the biggest proposals in his speech.  

Updated at 4:28 p.m. Jan. 8 with announcement from Homeland Security- The regulatory clock is now ticking loudly for state lawmakers in Jefferson City, Mo., and Springfield, Ill., to ensure that residents of both states can use their state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards as proper forms of identification to board commercial airliners.

Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder may have put U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., in a difficult position with his harsh comments about a law Blunt originally co-sponsored when he served in the U.S. House.

The law establishes federal standards for issuing driver’s licenses. Residents of a few states, including Missouri and Illinois, whose licenses don’t comply could be denied access to federal facilities or commercial airplanes. Passports will work if federal agencies say those licenses are no longer acceptable government issued identification.

Consumers may like the ability to shop online and avoid paying state and local sales taxes, and many online retailers may like the competitive advantage the arrangement provides them over “bricks and mortar” businesses across the country, but U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. says the situation has a significant price.

“It’s really not fair to say to that store down the block that’s paying rent and paying property taxes and collecting sales tax (that) we’re going to put them at a disadvantage to their Internet counterparts.”

In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln saw his home state of Illinois become the first to ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, banning slavery. He’d also live to see the end of the Civil War, in which he had declared slaves in Southern states, free under the Emancipation Proclamation, issued two years earlier, but he wouldn’t live to see the amendment itself become law, upon the vote of Georgia state lawmakers on Dec. 9, 1865.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is one of only three Democrats who have signed onto a bill that would scrap a new rule governing the Clean Water Act. Republicans have assailed the so-called “Waters of the United States” rule as Obama administration “regulatory overreach,” a quickly emerging theme for GOP campaigns in next year’s elections.

The divisions among House Republicans over the funding of Planned Parenthood that contributed to Speaker John Boehner’s decision to step down next month will not force a government shutdown this week, according to Ballwin Republican Ann Wagner.

As the third youngest of four siblings, Karla Thieman, says her favorite chore growing up on her family’s farm in Concordia, Mo., came during calving season. Family members would take shifts getting up very early on cold mornings in February or March to check on the cows that were calving. “There was always this sense of excitement of potentially finding a new baby calf, and the person who found the calf or pulled the calf would get to name the calf so, that was always a very special honor.”

Congressional hearings on Planned Parenthood will deal with abortion in general, as well as funding for that specific organization.

Melissa Ohden, of Gladstone, Mo., says she wasn’t supposed to be alive today. Instead, she says she was supposed to have been aborted 38 years ago this month. Ohden is scheduled to tell members of the House Judiciary Committee today that her biological mother, then a teenager, was “forced" to undergo a saline infusion abortion.

Banks with $1 billion or more in assets would see dividend payments received for putting their money into the Federal Reserve’s bank, reduced to 1.5 percent from 6 percent as part of the Senate plan to pay for three years of road work in its six-year highway bill.  

Bank groups are opposing the plan and have been joined by mortgage lenders. 

In a rare Sunday session, the U.S. Senate gave overwhelming approval to a plan to re-authorize the charter of the Export-Import Bank, as part of its six-year highway bill.  The bank’s charter expired in June.  All four U.S. senators from Missouri and Illinois voted for the plan, backed by Democrats and mainstream Republicans. Tea Party Republicans have long opposed the bank, calling it “corporate welfare” for big business. Supporters disagree and say the bank helps businesses of all sizes.

It was only a few weeks after President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, establishing the Interstate Highway System, that Missouri awarded the first contract in the nation for road work to begin on what was then a section of U.S. Route 40 — now, I-70, in St. Charles County.

Unless lawmakers act by the end of July, the 59th anniversary of that contract will be celebrated on Aug. 2, with the flow of federal dollars being shut off to Missouri, and other states, for needed maintenance, repair and reconstruction projects.

Plans by the Army to reduce overall strength by 40,000 troops will mean 774 fewer uniformed positions at Fort Leonard Wood by September 2017. The announcement comes as Senate Democrats continue to refuse to debate Republican budget bills, insisting that lawmakers first negotiate an end to mandatory spending caps. The connection to the two issues is a Republican plan to boost the Pentagon’s budget in what Democrats say is a “budget gimmick” designed to avoid hitting spending caps.

Both of Missouri’s U.S. senators like the idea of shifting more control over elementary and secondary education back to the states and away from the federal government. A Senate education bill being debated this week does just that, but the degree to which state and local officials may reclaim control over their schools will depend on a wide-range of amendments being offered and whether Republicans and Democrats are able to compromise on some divisive issues.

The National Institutes of Health would see its largest increase in funding in more than a decade under a plan being considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday. It is set to take up a $153 billion spending plan approved earlier this week by the subcommittee that oversees funding for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.  That plan includes a $2 billion  increase for NIH.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers from Missouri and Illinois are cosponsoring legislation to make labeling of genetically modified foods voluntary as a national standard and to block individuals states from adopting their own laws.

Barring a federal law to circumvent it or court action to block its implementation, beginning next year, a Vermont law requires companies to label genetically engineered food.

Jacob Fenston / KBIA

 Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt said proposed rules to lower carbon emissions by electricity-generating power plants will force unnecessary rate increases.  

The House of Representatives approved legislation Tuesday evening requiring the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to scrap a proposed rule defining “Waters of the United States.”  At issue is what bodies of water are subject to the federal Clean Water Act.

Agricultural interests have especially expressed concern that the rules would cover ponds and ditches that do not reach navigable water or wells, forcing the landowner to get federal permits for actions that could affect the water.