Tea Party Patriots Weekly Legislative Update for 01/25/15
The House and Senate will both return on Monday. The House will be in session from Monday through Wednesday, and will break then so House Democrats can go on their annual retreat. Don’t ask me why they couldn’t have scheduled their retreat for last week, when Republicans were in Hershey. The Senate will work all the way through Friday.
SENATE FLOOR ACTION:
Beginning on Tuesday, the Senate debated and voted on amendments to S. 1, the Keystone XL Pipeline bill, which has been renamed the Keystone Jobs Bill. Over the course of the week, the Senate voted on no fewer than 24 amendments. To put that in context, that’s more amendments in one week than the Senate voted on during all of 2014.
One of those amendments was an amendment offered on Wednesday by Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse of RI, declaring that climate change is real and is not a hoax. That amendment passed by a vote of 98-1, with only Republican Roger Wicker of MS voting against it. Even Republican Jim Inhofe of OK – perhaps the Senate’s fiercest critic of the radical green agenda – voted “Aye” on the amendment.
Then the Senate took up a tougher amendment, offered by Democrat Brian Schatz of HI, which stated, “climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to climate change.” The word “significantly” was the key word, and it led to the amendment’s defeat by a vote of 50-49. Five Republicans broke with the party and voted for the Schatz amendment: Susan Collins of ME, Lindsey Graham of SC, Mark Kirk of IL, Lamar Alexander of TN, and Kelly Ayotte of NH. Kirk and Ayotte are in cycle in 2016.
HOUSE FLOOR ACTION LAST WEEK:
The House wasn’t nearly as productive as the Senate last week.
On Wednesday, the House took up and passed H.R. 161, the “Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act,” by a vote of 253-169. It was a no-drama vote – no Republicans voted against the bill, and 14 Democrats crossed over to vote for it. The bill streamlines the natural gas pipeline permitting process.
And then all Hell broke loose.
In anticipation of the annual January 22 March for Life, the House GOP Leadership had planned to put on the floor of the House for a Thursday vote H.R. 36, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” a bill that would outlaw abortion after 20 weeks. A similar measure had passed the House in the last Congress, so the Leadership thought it would be a good safe vote to hold on the same day as the March for Life.
But this time, there was a hitch. Somewhere along the way, someone realized that one of the exceptions included in the bill – which allowed for a waiver for an abortion after 20 weeks in the case of a pregnancy that resulted from a rape, so long as the rape had been reported to law enforcement authorities prior to the abortion – was political trouble. Since roughly 70 percent of rapes go unreported, this reporting requirement was deemed problematic.
Congresswomen Renee Ellmers of NC and Jackie Walorski of IN approached the House GOP Leadership last week at the Hershey retreat and said they needed the language changed. They spoke with Majority Whip Steve Scalise, and made their reservations clear. They left the conversation believing their message had been heard and the bill’s language would be modified.
But, under pressure from some conservatives who pointed out that all too often, women seeking abortions claim a rape occurred when none in fact did, Leadership apparently decided not to change the bill.
So on Wednesday, at a meeting of the House GOP Conference, Ellmers and Walorski and their allies pushed again for the amended language. When push came to shove, they threatened to vote against the bill on the floor. Looking at the very real possibility that 25-35 House GOP defections could sink the bill entirely, Leadership decided to pull the bill, and replace it instead with a vote on H.R. 7, a bill to block taxpayer funding of abortion.
On Thursday, as protesters gathered in the hallway outside her office door, demanding to see her, Ellmers was nowhere to be found. She actually was out of town, according to her aides, and unable to come to the door to meet with them.
The House Leadership has promised to bring H.R. 36 back to the floor in the near future. Presumably, the offensive language will have been amended before that takes place.
The hot action on the immigration/amnesty front last week took place in the House Homeland Security Committee, where Committee Chairman Mike McCaul of TX marked up his bill, H.R. 399, the “Secure Our Borders First” Act.
Yes, the word “first” is used in the title of the bill, and yes, this implies that something else will be coming down the road soon – most likely out of the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over immigration law.
Chairman McCaul says the purpose of the bill is to require the Secretary of Homeland Security to “gain and maintain operational control of the borders of the United States.”
The bill “requires DHS to achieve 100 percent operational control of high traffic areas of the southwest border in two years – and the entire southwest border in five years – and establishes a commission to independently verify that the border is secure.” And the “legislation enforces penalties on DHS political appointees if the Administration does not” fulfill the requirements of the law.
Further, the bill “also bolsters border security by providing Border Patrol agents access to federal lands, granting flexibility to Customs and Border Protection to relocate resources, fully funding the National Guard on the border and increasing grants funding for local law enforcement agencies who assist in securing the border.”
During the committee markup session on Wednesday, eight amendments were added. Among them:
- An amendment offered by Mike Rogers of AL, to require the additional miles of double layer fencing needed to complete the 700 miles authorized under the Secure Fence Act of 2006.
- An amendment offered by Curt Clawson of FL to create seaport specific metrics for securing the border at points of entry to measure the amount and type of illicit drugs seized by the Office of Field Operations at U.S. seaports, and the percentage of containers scanned at each seaport every fiscal year.
- An amendment offered by Lou Barletta of PA to require the Secretary of Homeland Security to submit to Congress reports and recommendations of the DHS Science and Technology and CBP’s biometric exit pilots.
- An amendment offered by Martha McSally of AZ to require the Chief of the Border Patrol to ensure that Border Patrol personnel are deployed and patrol as close to the physical land border as possible, and deploy the maximum practicable number of Border Patrol agents to forward operating bases.
So, what’s not to like? Plenty, if by “border security” you mean, “preventing illegal immigrants from coming across the border and entering the United States illegally.”
You see, if you talk to the Border Patrol and the sheriffs along the southern border and in the interior counties that serve as way stations for illegal crossings, you’ll learn that the problem, in their view, isn’t really an infrastructure problem, it’s an enforcement problem. And it’s an enforcement problem because they’ve been given policy direction from political appointees in Washington that doesn’t jibe with actually securing the border.
For instance, if you wanted to shut down illegal border crossings, you’d mandate from Washington that anyone caught illegally crossing the border should be repatriated immediately. Instead, last summer we saw illegal immigrants crossing the border and TRYING to be apprehended by Border Patrol agents, because they knew they would eventually be resettled in the interior of the country, with a piece of paper ordering them to appear at a court date at some point in the future – which they could then ignore, secure in the knowledge that no one would come after them.
Chairman McCaul will tell you that’s not the province of his committee – that’s the jurisdiction of the House Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for immigration law (and, presumably, enforcement of that law). So, conveniently, when conservatives on and off the Hill last week raised objections to the bill, saying it did nothing to actually prevent illegal border crossings, McCaul arranged for a joint press statement with Bob Goodlatte of VA, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, making that very point.
What appears to be going on here is an attempt by the House GOP Leadership to move what they can tout as a strong border security bill so that when the Senate strips out the provisions of H.R. 240, the DHS funding bill that passed the House two weeks ago with language blocking the President’s November executive amnesty, House conservatives will be able to say to their constituents it’s okay that they had to vote to send forward a clean DHS funding bill, stripped of the tough language, because they’ve already voted separately to secure the border.
So what’s objectionable here isn’t actually so much what’s in the bill (the real problem, after all, is what is NOT in the bill), but that the House GOP Leadership is trying to use this bill to provide cover for a future cave on the DHS funding bill.
On the “You Really Can’t Make This Stuff Up” front, Barack Obama gave his State of the Union address last Tuesday evening, and did not mention the Affordable Care Act once. Seriously.
Earlier Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that the federal government’s ObamaCare web site, Healthcare.gov, is, and I quote, “quietly sending consumers’ personal data to private companies that specialize in advertising and analyzing internet data for performance and marketing.”
AP wasn’t exactly sure of everything that was being shared with third-party vendors, but suggested that among the data shared were age, income, zip code, whether a person smokes, and if a person is pregnant. The data could also include a computer’s IP address, which could provide the consumer’s name and address when cross-matched against other consumer databases.
Two days later, the top Republican and the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee – Jason Chaffetz of UT and Elijah Cummings of MD – sent a letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, asking for more information. And on Friday, the Administration acknowledged the concerns and addressed them. Score one for the good guys.
The Internal Revenue Service came under fire this week when it was revealed that the agency had contracted with CGI Federal – the same contractor which had so colossally screwed up the Healthcare.gov website – for $4.5 million to upgrade the IRS tech infrastructure.
We didn’t see any new action on the CBO Director front last week.