Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund Weekly Report from Washington for 10/16/17
The House is out of session this week, and will not return until Monday, October 23, with first votes set for 6:30 PM. The Senate returns on Monday, with the first vote set for 5:30 PM.
LAST WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House came back to work last Tuesday, and took up two bills under Suspension. Both passed. One of them designated a U.S. Postal Service facility in Boston, MA after John Fitzgerald Kennedy, which I found odd, because I thought everything that could possibly have been named after JFK in Boston had already been renamed.
Then, on Wednesday, the House took up and passed the Rule for consideration of S. 585, the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act. They also renamed another Post Office facility. Then they passed another bill under Suspension.
On Thursday, the House took up a Democrat-sponsored Motion To Instruct Conferees on the NDAA. It failed. Then the House moved to close portions of the NDAA conference. That motion passed by a vote of 414-8.
Then the House took up an amendment to the Senate amendment to H.R. 2266, the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Requirements Act. The amendment added $18.7 billion for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund; $16 billion to cancel the National Flood Insurance Program’s current debt; $1.27 billion for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs in Puerto Rico; and $577 million for the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior for wildfire suppression in the West. The House amendment passed, by a vote of 353-69.
Then the House took up S. 585, the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017. They passed it, by a vote of 420-0. And then they were done.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House is in recess this week.
LAST WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate was in recess last week.
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
When the Senate returns Monday, it will take up the confirmation of Callista Gingrich to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See.
On Tuesday, the Senate will take up the nomination of David Joel Trachtenberg to be a Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense. And then they’ll take up the budget resolution, which is scheduled for 50 hours of floor debate, followed by the fabled “Vote-A-Rama.”
After they’re done with the budget, they’ll take up the $36.5 billion disaster relief package that passed the House last week.
We talked last week about the immigration package President Trump wants to see in exchange for some kind of agreement over what to do about the so-called “Dreamers.” On Thursday, Sen. James Lankford, Republican of OK, said the President had told him he would be wiling to extend the deadline for action past March 5, the current expiration date for the DACA program.
Said Lankford, “The President’s comment to me was that, ‘We put a six-month deadline out there. Let’s work it out. If we can’t get it worked out in six months, we’ll give it some more time, but we’ve got to get this worked out legislatively.’”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
On Friday, in a long-anticipated speech from the White House, President Trump announced a new U.S. strategy for Iran. As expected, he declared that Iran had violated the terms of the Iran nuclear deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – and that, therefore, he could not certify that the suspension of sanctions against Iran was “appropriate and proportionate,” as required under the terms of the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.
In doing so, President Trump focused on a major flaw in the Iran nuclear deal – the fact that the deal was focused on only one aspect of Iran’s threatening behavior, its pursuit of nuclear weapons. As the President pointed out, Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of international terrorism. It has worked with terrorist groups it sponsors to direct attacks against U.S. personnel in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kenya, and Tanzania, among other places. It supports the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria. It continues to develop and proliferate ballistic missile technology. It threatens freedom of navigation in the Arabian Gulf. It engages in human rights abuses against its own people. And all this was overlooked by the Obama Administration in its quest for a legacy deal with Iran, and that, in the President’s view, is the first flaw with the Iran nuclear deal.
Just as importantly, the President pointed out a second flaw – the deal was inherently flawed by its very structure. Instead of giving Iran the payoff it wanted – the lifting of crippling international economic sanctions that had brought its economy to its knees – AFTER the Iranian regime had showed it was willing to put its pursuit of nuclear weapons on hold for ten years, the deal gave the Iranian regime everything it wanted out of the deal at the front end. Sanctions were lifted, and more than $100 billion in hard currency flowed into the regime’s treasury. Iran no longer has any reason to abide by the terms of the deal, and there are serious questions about whether or not it has – despite protestations to the contrary by the deal’s supporters, who continue to insist that Iran is abiding by the terms of the deal, the IAEA has acknowledged that it is not allowed access to certain military sites in Iran where nuclear research is believed to be taking place, so there is no way to verify that Iran is actually complying with the deal. And, as I just pointed out, even if Iran were abiding by the terms of the agreement, they only agreed to put their nuclear ambitions on hold for ten years, and we’re already two years into that ten-year timeframe. So that’s a second major flaw in the deal.
Instead of pulling out of the deal entirely, President Trump called on Congress to amend the language of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, also called the “Corker-Cardin Law” after its two sponsors – Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker and his Ranking Member, Ben Cardin.
So this is important to understand. There are two things going on here with regard to Congress.
First, because he failed to certify the Iran deal to Congress, the President started a clock ticking. That clock has sixty days on it. Congress can use those 60 days to consider whether it should reimpose sanctions against Iran. If it chooses to move such legislation, under the terms of the Corker-Cardin law, it requires simple majorities in both houses to do so. That’s right, no filibuster in the Senate. All it takes is 218 votes in the House and 51 votes in the Senate to reimpose sanctions.
BUT … the President did not ask the Congress to reimpose sanctions under the terms of the Corker-Cardin law. Instead, he asked Congress to AMEND Corker-Cardin, to add a whole new raft of sanctions. For instance, he wants the deal made permanent. And he wants all these other elements of Iran’s destabilizing actions brought into play.
And – at the suggestion of former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, who spoke to the President the day before he gave his speech – President Trump said if Congress does not do what he wants, he reserves the right to pull the U.S. out of the deal entirely.
So there’s a lot going on here. Stay tuned.
From the “This Story Cannot Get Any Weirder” file: Last Thursday, based on the revelation that Equifax had suffered yet another data breach, the IRS suspended its sole-source contract with Equifax to provide data security for the IRS.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell is coming under fire from conservatives. The Judicial Crisis Network was so angered by his failure to do more to confirm more judicial nominees that they had planned to launch a $250,000 ad campaign demanding action. He headed that off by working out some kind of deal with JCN.
Then, via an interview in an article in The Weekly Standard, he went public with a call for scrapping the Blue Slip tradition. We’ve talked about this before. As part of the Senate’s advise and consent role, it’s been a Senate tradition that the two home-state Senators of any potential federal judicial nominee return to the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee a blue slip of paper saying they approve the nominee. Without that blue slip, the Senate Judiciary Committee won’t hold a confirmation hearing. Without a confirmation hearing, you don’t get a confirmation vote.
Over the years, members of both parties have blocked nominees they don’t like by refusing to return their blue slips. But in recent months, Senate Democrats have been stepped up their use of blue slips against Trump nominees, and McConnell has had enough. He said last week that he thinks it’s time to end the blue slip tradition.
He has one problem – Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley is not yet convinced it’s time to end the practice. And since he’s the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he’s got a lot of weight on this decision.
A cynic might suggest the Majority Leader might have worked this out with Chairman Grassley, Kabuki Theater-style, before he gave the interview to The Weekly Standard. “Don’t worry about what I say to that conservative magazine, Chuck,” he might have said, “I just need to get them off my back. So I’m going to trash the Blue Slip tradition publicly, but you go ahead and maintain it as you see fit.”
Last Wednesday morning, Jenny Beth and four other conservative leaders – Ken Cuccinelli of Senate Conservatives Fund, Adam Brandon of FreedomWorks, Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center, and David Bozell of ForAmerica – held a press conference to call on Mitch McConnell and the rest of his Senate GOP “leadership” team to resign for failure to pass President Trump’s agenda on the Senate floor. The event drew an awful lot of coverage, as you’ll see in the Suggested Reading.
Frustrated at congressional inability to pass legislation repealing ObamaCare, President Trump last week took matters into his own hands and took two executive actions to overturn key portions of the law.
First, on Thursday he issued an executive order directing various agencies of the government to begin reviving private insurance markets, which could offer Americans more choices at lower costs.
First he ordered the Department of Labor to “consider expanding access” to Association Health Plans, which would allow small businesses to band together for the purpose of purchasing health insurance with the same kind of leverage now offered only to large employers. This would allow trade groups to form insurance risk pools across state lines, so they could enjoy economies of scale.
As we discussed last week, the order also seeks to expand use of health reimbursement accounts, which give employers the opportunity to reimburse their employees for out-of-pocket healthcare expenses with pretax dollars.
A third section of the executive order directs agencies to consider lengthening the duration of short-term insurance plans. For a long time, these short-term policies were available for up to a year at a time, and you could renew the policy if you wanted. But last year, the Obama Administration shortened that timeframe to just 90 days, and you cannot renew a policy. President Trump wants those plans sold for up to a year again, and he wants them to be renewable.
Now, this is important – the executive order is not clear on a key point, and that is whether or not he wants these short-term insurance plans to be considered compliant with the individual mandate. Presumably, they will be, but the order is not clear on that. If the new regulations that result from his executive order make clear that short-term insurance policies DO qualify for meeting the ObamaCare individual mandate threshold, they’re going to be VERY popular – younger and healthier people would find their lower prices very attractive, and, without the hammer of the individual mandate keeping them in the ObamaCare exchanges, they could very easily decide to make the jump to a renewable short-term policy that doesn’t contain as many benefits.
I don’t need to remind you there’s just one problem with all these changes – they’re being done by executive order, which means they could be undone three years from now by President Elizabeth Warren or President Kamala Harris.
Later Thursday, hours after the President signed this executive order, word about a second big change to ObamaCare began to leak from the White House, and was then confirmed in a statement emailed to reporters by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The President has decided, on the advice of the Attorney General, that the Administration will no longer bail out insurance companies through what are called “Cost Sharing Reduction” payments, also known as “CSRs.”
Remember, these payments – which cost the Treasury about $7 billion every year – were authorized by ObamaCare, but the Congress never appropriated funding to pay for them. So the Obama Administration simply paid them without approval from Congress. The House of Representatives sued, and a federal judge ruled that the payments were unconstitutional. The Obama Administration appealed that decision, and then left office. The Trump Administration asked the judge for time to consider whether or not they would maintain the Obama Administration’s appeal of the ruling, and continued making the payments on a monthly basis while waiting for Congress to pass legislation repealing ObamaCare. Once it became clear that wouldn’t be happening any time soon, the Trump Administration took steps to zero out the payments.
Not surprisingly, the left went ballistic. Within hours, no fewer than 18 states and the District of Columbia had filed suit to block the Trump Administration from stopping the CSRs. But given that a federal judge has already ruled the payments unconstitutional, it seems to me they’re going to have a tough time of it in court.
You can find copies of both the DOJ memo to HHS regarding the CSR payments, and the HHS statement explaining its decision in this week’s Suggested Reading.
After considering and then rejecting House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul of TX for the post – for the second time – President Trump last Wednesday announced his intent to nominate Kirstjen Nielsen to serve as Secretary of Homeland Security. Ms. Nielsen had previously served as then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly’s principal deputy at DHS, and she followed him to serve as principal deputy chief of staff for him at the White House.
She’s worked at TSA and at the White House Homeland Security Council under President George W. Bush. She’ll be the first person to serve as Secretary of Homeland Security after having worked in that department.
You’ll recall that the last time we talked about the tax reform proposal, we discussed the pushback against the idea of ending the deduction for state and local taxes. There are about three dozen Republicans in the House who represent high-tax districts, whose constituents would be adversely impacted, and their votes are in play.
So House GOP leaders are talking with them to find ways to get them on board. And according to Politico, the talks are bearing fruit. “Recent discussions have involved capping the deduction on those with incomes somewhere between $200,000 and $400,000, meaning taxpayers earning less than that could still capture the benefit,” says Politico. “The solution could also include gradually phasing out the deduction based on income level.”
The problem, of course, is that this is one of the biggest deductions out there – its value to the Treasury is estimated to be between $1.3 trillion and $1.8 trillion over ten years. Applying a ceiling of $400,000 in adjusted gross income would raise just $481 billion over ten years, according to the Tax Foundation, which means that if they decided they wanted to eliminate this deduction only for higher-income households, they’d have to find another way to recapture a trillion dollars.
It’s all fluid now. Stay tuned.
JENNY BETH MARTIN/TEA PARTY PATRIOTS: