Legislative Update for 03/29/15
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The House and Senate are both out of session for the next two weeks.
LAST WEEK’S HOUSE FLOOR ACTION:
As happens every now and then, I need to begin this week’s update with a correction to something I said last week. Last week, when I was discussing House floor action the week before, I said the House had passed the Rules for both H.R. 1029, the EPA Science Advisory Board Act, and H.R. 1030, the Secret Science Reform Act. But I most specifically did NOT say the two bills had passed on the floor. That’s because I couldn’t find any record online of the votes on final passage having taken place. So despite the fact that I had several news articles saying the bills had passed, I wasn’t going to tell you that until I could confirm it by looking at the House Clerk’s web site. And for some reason, the Clerk’s website just didn’t update the floor votes taken at the end of the week before last until Monday of last week.
So, with that said, let me confirm for you that week BEFORE last, the House passed 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, and the House also passed 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.
And, the House passed S.J. Res. 8, the Congressional Review Act Resolution of Disapproval to cancel the “Ambush Election” rule of the National Labor Relations Board, which already passed the Senate.
So we’ve got that out of the way, and we can move to last week’s votes – which, as promised, were all about the budget and the “Doc Fix” Fix.
So as we closed last week’s episode, the House GOP Leadership thought they had figured out a way to add extra defense spending to Budget Chairman Tom Price’s draft budget resolution – they were going to add the extra money in the Rule itself, so that voting for the Rule would self-execute the addition of the funds. But over the weekend, new House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan worked with Leadership to come up with a different plan – he recognized that a self-executing Rule would upset many of his colleagues, and would threaten passage of the resolution. He understood that you cannot put a bill on the President’s desk repealing ObamaCare unless you can use the reconciliation process, and you cannot use the reconciliation process unless you first pass a budget, so passing a budget became the primary goal of the exercise.
So, instead, Leadership decided to bring the budget resolution to the floor under a Rule that’s known as “Queen of the Hill,” in which several alternative budgets would be voted on, and the one with the most votes would be the one deemed as having passed. Technically, each budget was offered as an amendment to the budget resolution, what’s called “an amendment in the nature of a substitute” – that is, a fully formed budget document itself. So once they figured out which amendment had the most support, that amendment in the nature of a substitute would then be voted on as “the” official budget resolution.
Accordingly, on Wednesday, the House began voting on the alternative budgets. All told, there were six different budget alternatives offered:
- The Progressive Caucus budget.
- The Congressional Black Caucus budget.
- The Republican Study Committee budget.
- The Budget Committee Democrats – the “official” House Democratic budget.
- “Price 1.” “Price 1” was the official House Budget Committee proposal, as amended by the committee during its markup session the week before.
- “Price 2.” “Price 2” was the same budget proposal, with the additional funds for defense added in.
The Progressive Caucus budget failed by a vote of 96-330.
The CBC budget failed by a vote of 120-306.
The RSC budget, which balanced in five years and saved $7.1 trillion over a decade, failed by a vote of 132-294. 112 Republicans voted against it.
The “official” Democratic budget failed by a vote of 160-264.
The “Price 1” budget proposal failed by a vote of 105-319.
The “Price 2” budget proposal won the day by a vote of 219-208.
Then the “Price 2” budget was put on the floor as the reigning budget resolution, H. Con. Res. 27, and it passed by a vote of 228-199.
The House then moved on Thursday to take up H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). That’s the fancy name for the “Doc Fix” fix, and you can tell how much House Leadership wanted it by the fact that they designated it “House Resolution 2” – typically, the first five H.R.’s are reserved for Leadership designation, and the next five H.R.’s are reserved for the minority leadership to designate. With little fanfare, H.R. 2 passed by a vote of 392-37. Of the 37 “No” votes, 33 were cast by Republicans – mostly fiscal hawks concerned that the legislation will add significantly to the deficit in the 10-year window.
LAST WEEK’S SENATE FLOOR ACTION:
The Senate spent the week working on its own budget resolution, S. Con. Res. 11. More than 600 amendments were filed, and during the Vote-A-Rama, recorded votes were held on 56 of them. The Senate didn’t finish voting on the budget until after 3 AM Friday morning. In the end, the budget resolution passed by a vote of 52-46, with no Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans except for Ted Cruz and Rand Paul voting in favor.
Along the way, there were a few interesting votes on amendments:
- John Cornyn offered the President’s budget proposal, which went down by a vote of 98-1, with only Democrat Tom Carper of DE having the courage to vote for his party leader’s budget.
- David Vitter offered an amendment to end the Obama Administration’s use of federal carrots and sticks to coerce the states into adopting Common Core. It passed by a party line vote of 54-46.
- Vitter also offered an amendment to essentially repeal the special exemption from ObamaCare for Members of Congress, the President and Vice President, and political appointees in the Administration. It passed by a vote of 52-46. Republican Sens. Dan Coats and Susan Collins voted with the Democrats.
- Mike Lee offered several amendments en bloc – the two key amendments were an amendment to prohibit the use of the reconciliation process to raise the debt ceiling with just 51 votes, and an amendment to prohibit the FCC from reclassifying broadband providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. The amendments passed by a vote of 54-44.
Now, remember, this is only a budget resolution, so it has no force of law. And none of the amendments that I just told you about are going to become law as a result of those votes. But they’re important nevertheless because they show where the Senate is on a number of these issues.
So the House and Senate have now both passed budget resolutions. That’s the first step in the process. When they come back from the Easter recess in two weeks, they’ll take up the work of a Budget Conference Committee. Assuming the conference negotiators can work out their differences and come to agreement, a Conference Report will go to the floor of the House and the Senate. Assuming that Conference Report passes, the House and Senate will then be in position to draft legislation that will come to the floor under the Reconciliation Process, which will allow congressional Republicans for the first time to actually put a bill on the President’s desk that repeals large chunks of ObamaCare.
As for H.R. 2, the “Doc Fix” fix, that’s going to be the first item taken up when the Senate comes back into session in two weeks.
On Tuesday, the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security issued a blistering report documenting multiple instances in which the second-ranking political appointee at DHS – the former Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services – overruled career department employees to issue EB-5 visas to friends and business associates of well-connected Democrats. Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas did favors for former PA Governor Ed Rendell; current VA Governor Terry McAuliffe and Tony Rodham, the brother of Hillary Rodham Clinton; and – wait for it – Harry Reid when he was Director of CIS.
Congressional Republicans immediately cried foul, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley went so far as to suggest that DHS Secretary Jeh Johson punish Mayorkas. Not happening, replied Johnson, who went on to say that Mayorkas’ only problem is that he “can at times be very hands on.”
Nevertheless, on Thursday, House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul held a hearing on Mayorkas’s interventions. DHS Inspector General John Roth, under questioning from committee members, said he believed Mayorkas had violated the ethics policy he, Mayorkas, had written for CIS, and said further, “We believe there was an appearance of favoritism.”
Nevertheless, this being the Obama Administration, and this being a Congress led by John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, l expect little if any further action.
Special Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy revealed on Friday that Hillary Clinton’s lawyers had informed him and other members of the committee that day that Mrs. Clinton had unilaterally wiped clean her private email server, and had deleted all records of the 30,000-odd emails she claimed were “private.”
Gowdy said the lawyers couldn’t tell him when she made the decision to wipe the hard drive clean, but that it appeared it must have come sometime after October 28, 2014, when the Department of State for the first time asked the Secretary to return her public record to the Department.
This revelation came about as the result of the letter Gowdy sent last week, asking Clinton’s lawyers to turn the hard drive over to an independent third party.
THE “DOC FIX” FIX:
EXECUTIVE AMNESTY/ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION: