Tea Party Patriots Weekly Legislative Update for 02/15/15
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Tea Party Patriots Weekly Legislative Update for 02/15/15
Both the House and Senate left town for the President’s Day recess, and will not return until Monday, February 23.
SENATE FLOOR ACTION LAST WEEK:
The Senate took three votes last week:
* On Monday evening, by a vote of 92-0, the Senate confirmed Michael Botticelli to be Director of National Drug Control Policy. Apologies for last week, I mistakenly identified him as “Mark” Botticelli.
* On Wednesday, by a vote of 98-0, the Senate passed S. 295 as amended, the “Amy and Vicky Child Pornography Victim Restitution Improvement Act of 2015,” which amends the federal criminal code.
* On Thursday, by a vote of 93-5, the Senate confirmed the nomination of Ashton B. Carter to be Secretary of Defense.
Note what the Senate did NOT vote on – the dog that did not bark last week was H.R. 240, the DHS funding bill. After three failed votes the week before, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell thought better of forcing a fourth vote on cloture on the Motion To Proceed. And on Wednesday, he punted back to the House, saying it was clear that the Senate wasn’t going to be able to bring the bill to the floor because of united Democratic opposition, and the House would have to send back a different version of the bill that would, presumably, be amenable to Senate Democrats.
HOUSE FLOOR ACTION LAST WEEK:
On Wednesday, the House passed S. 1, the Senate-passed version of the Keystone XL Pipeline bill, by a vote of 270-152. No fewer than 29 Democrats crossed party lines to vote for the bill, while only one Republican – Justin Amash of MI – voted against it.
Now, remember, the President has promised to veto this legislation. So, rather than send the bill to the President for him to veto it next week, during the recess, while they’re all out of town, the House Leadership chose not to send him the bill just yet. It’s still sitting at the Clerk’s Desk, waiting for instructions, and it won’t be sent down the street until the recess is over and the Speaker and the Majority Leader are standing in front of their big microphones again.
Then, on Friday, the House passed H.R. 636, the “America’s Small Business Tax Relief Act of 2015.” The bill was approved by a vote of 272-142, with 33 Democrats joining all but one Republican. It would extend three tax breaks for small businesses indefinitely. The tax credits are popular, even with Democrats, but they complained because the bill extends the tax breaks indefinitely without offering offsetting spending cuts. CBO estimates that the bill will “cost” the Treasury $79 billion over the next decade.
The Department of Homeland Security sent out a memo announcing it had set up hotlines for illegal immigrants who believe their rights under President Obama’s executive amnesty have been violated. The memo asked illegal immigrants to “please tell us about your experience” if they believe they were treated “contrary to the new DHS enforcement priorities.”
Actually, there are three separate hotlines – one for Customs and Border Protection, one for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and one for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Not surprisingly, Border Patrol agents were insulted. One of their union leaders suggested that instead, the Administration should set up a complaint line for Border Patrol agents, so they could lodge complaints over the Administration’s failure to enforce the immigration laws on the books and other matters.
The Senate is still stuck on H.R. 240, the Department of Homeland Security funding bill. There were no votes on the bill this week, but there was definitely action – on Wednesday, Sen. McConnell punted back to the House, saying it was clear the Senate could not move the bill sent over by the House, and it was up to the House to send over a new bill, stripped of the amendments that block the President’s executive amnesty.
Senate Democrats gloated, and demanded that Senate Republicans simply create and offer their own DHS funding bill – a clean bill, with no language mentioning executive amnesty.
In the middle of the week, two House Republicans – Raul Labrador of ID and Mo Brooks of AL – suggested that the matter was so serious that if the Senate Republican majority couldn’t take up the bill because the minority was using the filibuster to block it, it warranted changing the rules of the Senate to overturn the LEGISLATIVE filibuster, and thereby require just 51 votes to invoke cloture. Labrador argued that we’re in a Constitutional crisis brought on by the executive, and the legislative branch had to do everything it could – including changing long-standing rules, if necessary – to address that.
As you might imagine, that notion was quickly swatted down by Senators, and not just by the squishier of the breed. Sen. Lamar Alexander of TN suggested that if the two bodies were going to operate under the same rules, one of them was unnecessary; even Sen. Ted Cruz of TX pushed back against the idea, reminding his House colleagues that the filibuster has been used far more often to protect the rights of the minority than to obstruct good legislation, and we should leave it well enough alone.
Sen. McConnell responded Thursday by blasting the Democrats again for refusing the Unanimous Consent offer he originally made to take up the bill and allow an equal number of amendments from each side. McConnell’s communications team then released a memo quoting several Senate Democrats from the past, to the effect that the Constitution requires that all revenue bills must originate in the House, and, therefore, the notion that the Senate could create its own clean DHS funding bill was a non-starter, and they knew it.
The House GOP Leadership was having none of it – Speaker Boehner insisted that the House had done its job by passing a bill that offered full funding for DHS while simultaneously blocking the President’s executive actions, and Majority Whip Steve Scalise of LA reiterated the message. Boehner even took to a Sunday show to drive his point, appearing this morning on “FOX News Sunday.”
Then came the Friday bombshell – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte released a letter he sent to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson that morning, warning that, according to a recent briefing he had received from staff of the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, the President’s executive amnesty opens a back door to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
“Your Department’s recent changes to this deferred action program seem to be a sneaky attempt to place potentially hundreds of thousands of unlawful immigrants on a path to citizenship,” wrote Goodlatte.
Here’s how it works: The DHS allows the illegal immigrants who enroll in the deferred action program to apply for advanced parole status. Then, when they return to the U.S., the individual can then be eligible to adjust to what’s called “Lawful Permanent Status.” LPR status is the precursor to U.S. citizenship.
USCIS staff told Goodlatte’s office that 88 percent of the illegal immigrants who applied for advanced parole status through the deferred action program in the last two years had had their requests approved, meaning they’re already on track to citizenship.
Just as that news was moving around the Hill Friday, the Senate and House went home for a week-long Presidents’ Day recess. The good news is, at least Senate Republicans went home with talking points about the need to block the President’s illegal and unconstitutional actions.
When they return on Monday the 23rd, the first item on the Senate legislative calendar will be H.R. 240. And at that point, they’ll only have five days to pass something and get it to the President – DHS funding expires at midnight on Friday the 27th.
So we’re stuck. The House believes it has done its job, and is waiting for the Senate to act. The Senate GOP Leadership is trying to act, but Senate Democrats have the power to block them from even getting to the bill. Neither side is blinking – and the two sides here are not Republicans and Democrats, but Republican Senators and Republican House Members. Try as they might to change that – and both Boehner and McConnell DO seem to be trying, focusing their messaging attacks on Senate Democrats to the best of their ability – it’s still more proof of the adage that the Democrats are the opposition, but the SENATE is the enemy.
Here what I think is going to happen, if they don’t find a way to work a deal of some kind before the 23rd:
First, the Senate will try another cloture vote on the Motion To Proceed. McConnell believes he will need to show at least one more time that, no matter how much pressure the Senate Democrats were put under during the recess, they’re still sticking together, and he cannot proceed to the bill. I don’t expect to see any major change in the final tally.
At that point, the House GOP Leadership will have to choose, and it will have four options:
1) They could stick to their guns, refuse to move anything, and let DHS funding expire without any action out of the Senate – in which case House GOP Leaders would seek to blame Harry Reid and Senate Democrats for blocking action on the bill. But they’d go there believing they’re about to get their heads handed to them in the public messaging wars, as it was the last time the government shut down. They’re going to be VERY reluctant to do this.
2) They could pass a short-term CR, say, for one month, just to buy some time. But this doesn’t solve the problem at all, and even conservatives are saying they don’t like the idea.
3) The House GOP Leadership could fully cave in – they could create a new bill, rush it through the Rules Committee and onto the floor. It’d be H.R. 240 as originally introduced, with no amendments allowed – the “clean” bill the Senate Democrats say they want. The House could pass it – with a lot of Democrat votes, and without a majority of GOP votes – and send it to the
Senate, where McConnell would schedule it for floor action and it would sail through. But Boehner could only do that at a very high cost to his own political capital inside his Conference, and he knows it.
4) The House GOP Leadership could do a limited, modified cave in – they could create a new bill, rush it through the Rules Committee and onto the floor, and allow only one amendment to the language of the original bill: they could add the language that blocks the November executive amnesty, but strip out the language that blocks the 2012 DACA program. Under the pressure of the looming deadline, they’d probably be able to pass that on the strength of GOP votes alone, and they’d need to – no Democrat is going to vote for it. They could send that to the Senate and insist McConnell try again. And if McConnell put it on the floor for a cloture vote, and it failed, you’d have Democrats on the record once again defending the President’s executive amnesty, and ONLY his executive amnesty. But you’d still have no way to get the funding bill to the President’s desk before the Feb. 27 deadline.
Both Boehner and McConnell have insisted that there will be no shutdowns of any kind on their watch. But as recently as this morning on FOX News Sunday, Boehner also reiterated that he’s not going to strip out the language the Democrats find offensive. Both McConnell and Boehner are stuck between a rock and a hard place – Boehner, because of the composition of his Conference, and McConnell, because of the Rules of the Senate that allow his Democrat opponents to block his preferred course of action. This movie is a long way from over.
On Wednesday, Sen. David Vitter of LA announced he would place a hold on the nomination of retired U.S. Navy Admiral Earl Gay to serve as the deputy director for the Office of Personnel Management – and he says he won’t release the hold until OPM answers some specific questions about how and why OPM chose to create the special congressional exemption from ObamaCare.
Though he has so far failed to get a vote on the Senate floor on his legislation to repeal the congressional exemption from ObamaCare, Vitter has made progress on the issue:
* In December, he pushed a rule change in the Senate GOP Caucus, insisting that all Members put their personal, committee, and leadership staffs on the DC Exchange. His measure passed unanimously by voice vote. So no GOP staffers are any longer getting their health care insurance from the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, as had been the case when Harry Reid was running the Senate.
* Last week he launched an investigation into how and why Congress was allowed to classify itself as a “small business” for health insurance purposes – without that designation, congressional staff cannot purchase health insurance on the DC Exchange, as ObamaCare requires.
In other ObamaCare-related news, supporters of the law believe they’ve found a silver bullet that will save them when the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the King v. Burwell case on March 4: It’s called “standing,” and they don’t think the plaintiffs have it, and they think that the Supreme Court will throw out the case because the plaintiffs don’t have standing.
Specifically, two of the plaintiffs are Vietnam veterans who likely would qualify for healthcare through the VA, says the Wall Street Journal. A third plaintiff appears to be exempt from the individual
mandate because her income falls below the law’s threshold. And three of the four plaintiffs are nearly eligible for Medicare, which would moot their case because ObamaCare isn’t available to them.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys dismiss these charges, arguing that even if the plaintiffs’ standing were questioned, it would cause a delay, not a dismissal. And they point out that at least one of the four plaintiffs has no standing challenges at all, and that’s enough.
Do I think the case is going to be tossed for a lack of standing? No, I do not. I merely bring it up to show just how scared the left is of this case – they are throwing everything they can at it in an effort to knock it off track before the Supremes can hear and rule on the case.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan weighed in this week, telling a group of reporters that the GOP needs to move legislation creating a backup plan for the 37 states that would see their residents lose ObamaCare subsidies if the Supreme Court rules favorably in the King v. Burwell case. He stressed that Republicans would not just tweak the law – “The idea is not to make ObamaCare work better or to actually authorize ObamaCare,” he said.
And the center-right policy wonks are still at it, discussing in print the relative strengths and weaknesses of various backup plans, so I’ve included several of the better and more interesting pieces in the Suggested Reading so you can get a sense of that ongoing discussion.
Remember the missing Lois Lerner emails? The ones IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told Congress in June of 2014 his agency had spent months looking for, going to what he called “great lengths” and making what he called “extraordinary efforts” to find before declaring them unrecoverable – only to have the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Affairs announce late last year that his office had found 30,000 of them? Well, it turns out TIGTA staff told Sen. Ron Johnson’s staff last week that it had actually recovered 80,000 of the missing emails. Johnson, who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, fired off a letter to Koskinen on Tuesday demanding details about the IRS’s attempts to produce the emails before TIGTA succeeded in doing so.
The same day, The Hill reported that “the Obama Administration is refusing to publicly release more than 500 documents on the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party groups.” Of course, we’ve known this for some time – they’ve been stonewalling our own requests for documents, or handing over documents that are so redacted that you can’t make sense of them. But now they’ve done it to a media outlet that was seeking the documents using its own FOIA request, and they’ve gotten their noses out of joint to find out that the Administration doesn’t want to play ball with them, either.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight held a hearing where they hauled Koskinen up to the Hill to accuse the IRS of seizing the assets of innocent small businesses, citing cases in which the IRS accused small business owners of getting around bank regulations and seizing business assets where there was no evidence of law breaking.