Tea Party Patriots Weekly Legislative Update for 03/22/15
Listen to the podcast here: CALENDAR:
The House returns tomorrow, with first votes expected no earlier than 6:30 PM, and will be in session through Thursday, with the last votes expected no later than 3 PM.
The Senate will return to work tomorrow, with the first vote taking place at 5:30 PM. They will be in session through Friday.
At that point, both Houses will break for the Easter Recess, and they’ll be gone for the first two weeks of April. So don’t be surprised if the Thursday recess slips in the House, in case they can’t get the budget done the way they want to.
LAST WEEK’S HOUSE FLOOR ACTION:
On Tuesday, the House passed the Rule for H.R. 1029, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2015, which would reform the process for selecting members of the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board.
On Wednesday, the House passed the Rule for H.R. 1030, the Secret Science Reform Act of 2015, which would prohibit the EPA from basing regulations on scientific research not made available to the public.
THIS WEEK IN THE HOUSE:
The House will take votes Monday beginning at 6:30 PM. They’ll start with a series of five non-controversial bills under the Suspension Calendar. Then, on Tuesday and Wednesday, they’re scheduled to take up the budget resolution. If they succeed in passing the budget resolution and still have time and they think they have the votes to get to it, they’ll also vote on a permanent fix to the “Doc Fix,” also known as the Sustainable Growth Rate, which has, over the years, proven to be neither Sustainable nor Growing.
On Wednesday, at approximately 10:45 AM, the House will convene for a Joint Meeting of Congress to receive Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, the President of Afghanistan.
LAST WEEK’S SENATE FLOOR ACTION:
Last Monday, Majority Leader McConnell brought up S. 178, the human trafficking bill that had stalled the previous week due to Senate Democrats’ opposition to the inclusion of Hyde Amendment language preventing money from the restitution fund that would have been established by the legislation from being used to pay for abortions. You’ll recall the Senate Democrats said they had not realized the language was there, even though it was located on page four of the bill, and the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee had, during the Judiciary Committee markup, offered an amendment to another item that was on the very same page of the bill.
Well, it turns out that at least one Democrat staffer has ‘fessed up to knowing what was in the bill even before it was taken up in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Hill reported on Wednesday that a staffer for Sen. Amy Klobuchar of MN saw the language before the bill went to committee markup, but did not inform the Senator. I would have given a lot of money to be a fly on the wall of her office when THAT conversation took place.
On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, Leader McConnell held cloture votes on both S. 178 and the committee-approved substitute to S. 178. Over the course of the three days, the Senate held five cloture votes. Each vote failed to achieve cloture. And so, consequently, the Senate did not take up the human trafficking bill, and it did not take up the confirmation vote for Loretta Lynch to be Attorney General, and now both measures are going to have to wait until the Senate takes up and passes its budget resolution.
THIS WEEK IN THE SENATE:
On Monday, the Senate will turn to consideration of the FY2016 budget resolution. At 5:30 PM, the Senate is expected to conduct at least one roll call vote in relation to a budget resolution amendment. After up to 50 hours of debate, expect to see the fabled Vote-a-Rama to occur on Thursday. Because a budget resolution cannot be filibustered, it is subject to votes on any amendments offered by Senators. If history is any guide, we’ll see 50 or more amendments offered and voted on, one after the other in five-minute votes. It’s quite the sight to see.
Taking up the Budget Resolution is a privileged motion, so the Senate can move to it without displacing S. 178. That means that once the Budget Resolution is adopted, the human trafficking legislation will still be the pending business before the Senate – and Loretta Lynch is still going to be waiting for a confirmation vote on her nomination to be Attorney General.
AUTHORIZATION FOR THE USE OF MILITARY FORCE:
The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing Wednesday featuring Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey. The hearing had been billed as a hearing about the proposed AUMF. Instead, the Members and witnesses spent about three hours discussing the proposed Pentagon budget.
A spokesman for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the other committee of jurisdiction in the House, said the committee had no plans to hold further hearings on the issue.
At this point, the President’s proposed AUMF is on life support.
After negotiating all week, Senators Bob Corker and Bob Menendez – the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – announced that they would delay bringing their “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act” to the floor of the Senate until mid-April. Their bill would require congressional approval of any U.S.-Iran agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.
The delay came after several days of hard lobbying by the Obama Administration, which included calls from the President himself, the Vice President, the White House Chief of Staff, and the Secretary of State.
But because the bill was never going to get to the floor before the Easter recess anyway – this week it’s going to be all budget, all the time in the Senate – Corker and Menendez decided the best way to keep their coalition intact was just to delay the committee vote until after the recess.
Meanwhile, the President’s appointees have apparently decided that Iran is no longer a major state sponsor of international terrorism. In late February, the 2015 “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community” was released, and we were more than a bit surprised to read that the threat assessment excludes Iran and its two principal Shiite Muslim terrorist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah.
On Tuesday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz grilled Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler about whether or not the Obama White House had pressured the FCC to adopt its new so-called “Net Neutrality” regulatory regime. At that hearing, Chaffetz announced that he had learned the FCC’s Inspector General is opening up an investigation to determine whether there was any inappropriate pressure brought to bear on the FCC by the White House or any other agency of the government.
Wheeler threaded the needle at the hearing – he denied any undue pressure from the White House, but acknowledged that he did give President Obama’s views on the matter, stated publicly last year, serious consideration.
Senior GOP congressional leaders – including the Senate Majority Whip and the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee – on Wednesday filed an amicus brief with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considering a request from the Department of Justice to end the legal injunction issued by Judge Andrew Hanen preventing the launch of the President’s executive amnesty program.
On Thursday, at a hearing before Judge Hanen, Justice Department attorneys took a tongue-lashing. Judge Hanen scolded the attorneys for misleading him, and acknowledged that he fell for it, and I quote, “like an idiot.” Judge Hanen suggested he could order sanctions against those Justice Department attorneys if he determines that they deliberately misrepresented the facts.
“Can I trust what the president says? That’s a yes or no question,” Hanen asked the DOJ attorney in his court. “Yes, your honor,” she replied. Like an idiot.
On Tuesday, House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price released his chairman’s mark, and the Budget Committee spent Wednesday and Thursday marking up the resolution.
On Wednesday, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi released his chairman’s mark, and the Senate Budget Committee spent Thursday marking up the resolution.
Here’s how the original House budget resolution compared to the original Senate budget resolution:
- Both budgets proposed to spend about $3.8 trillion in FY 2016, and both budgets claimed to stay within the FY2016 sequester spending caps that were set in the 2011 Budget Control Act. Those sequester spending levels have been suspended for the last two years as a result of the 2013 Ryan-Murray “Bipartisan Budget Act” deal, but they’re set to go back into effect in FY2016.
- The House GOP budget resolution called for savings of $5.5 trillion over the next 10 years when compared to the current services baseline. The Senate GOP budget resolution called for savings of $5.1 trillion, about $400 billion less over 10 years.
- The House budget proposal claimed to reach balance in nine years, while the Senate GOP budget proposal claimed to balance in ten.
- Both budget resolutions include reconciliation language instructing the relevant committees in each House to draft legislation that would repeal those portions of ObamaCare that can be repealed via reconciliation. Those reconciliation instructions order the committees to produce their legislation by July 15 in the House, and July 31 in the Senate. The date was set in the middle of July so it would give the committees time to draft legislation in the wake of the expected late June Supreme Court ruling in King v. Burwell.
That’s where the similarities end. Most significantly, the Senate GOP budget proposal only provided $58 billion for a war spending account known as “OCO,” the Overseas Contingency Operations fund – far less than the $90 billion included in the House GOP budget proposal. Moreover, the Senate proposal sets a 60-vote point of order against any legislation requesting more than the $58 billion it authorizes for the OCO fund.
That’s a huge problem looming over the consideration of the budget for FY2016 – defense spending. More specifically, the determination by defense hawks in the House and the Senate to break the sequester spending caps – which they never liked – and massively increase defense spending, once and for all.
John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has gone so far as to announce he will not vote for a budget, even a GOP budget, that does not bust the sequester spending caps for defense. Lindsay Graham and Kelly Ayotte, also members of the Armed Services Committee, have also announced their determination to increase defense spending beyond the levels set by the sequester caps.
The same holds true in the House, except it’s worse – 70 GOP Members sent a letter to House GOP Leadership demanding higher defense spending, and threatening to vote against the GOP budget if they didn’t get the defense spending levels they wanted.
The House GOP Leadership thought they had figured out how to do that, by doing an end run around Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price. They thought they had the votes lined up to add additional defense spending in an amendment to be offered during the budget markup session, but they didn’t have a good whip count in the committee – and even after they called the session to a halt and adjourned to a private room nearby to hear a pep talk from Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, they still couldn’t pass the amendment. So the committee broke for the evening, and came back Thursday morning – at which point they’d arrived at a solution: Let the Budget Committee pass the budget as it was, with a lower spending level, and then add in the extra spending demanded by the defense hawks in the Rule itself. Once that was done, the budget passed on a party-line vote.
Later that evening, the Senate Budget Committee passed its budget proposal, also on a party-line vote, but not before Sen. Graham succeeded in adding an amendment raising the level of OCO funding to the same level as in the soon-to-be-modified House budget proposal.
So now, if I understand correctly, the baseline budget for the Pentagon is $523 billion, with an additional $96 billion in the Overseas Contingency Operations fund.
Last year’s House budget passed by a vote of 219-205, with 12 Republicans voting against. This year, the Leadership can afford to lose 28 GOP votes, assuming no Democrats vote for the GOP budget proposal.
EXECUTIVE AMNESTY/ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION: