Tea Party Patriots Weekly Legislative Update for 05/03/15
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The House will take a one-week recess, and return to work in Washington on Tuesday, May 12.
The Senate will return tomorrow, with no votes scheduled before 5:30 PM. We anticipate they’ll be in all week.
LAST WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
So, the House started spending money last week.
Even before the Budget Conference officially had come to agreement on spending levels for FY2016 and the rest of the decade, the House GOP Leadership had decided to move two appropriations bills to the floor – H.R. 2028, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, and H.R. 2029, the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.
“But wait, Bill,” you say. “Everyone knows you can’t start appropriating money until spending has been authorized. How could GOP Leaders get around that rule?”
Well, as I’ve shared with you before, the Rules of the House essentially say that on any given day, 218 Members – the magic number needed to make a simple majority – can do just about anything they want. And in this case, they were given the opportunity to take up appropriations bills before spending levels had been set by first passing a Rule for consideration of those two bills that “deemed” the budget conference report passed already. Remember, the Rules Committee is the most powerful committee in the Congress – almost nothing gets to the floor of the lower chamber without first going through it, and the committee can amend legislation right up until the very end. And if they want to pretend that the budget has already passed, they can even do that. All it takes is 218 votes. In this case, they got 240. Presto, change-o, the budget is “deemed” as passed – at least, for purposes of these two appropriations bills – and, voila!, it’s okay to take up appropriations bills.
Poor Chris Van Hollen, the Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee. He had to go through the motions of pretending to be in high dudgeon about this use of the “deeming power,” as if Democrats had never done it when they were in control. He actually behaved as if he were actually upset as he warned his fellow Democrats not to vote for the Rule – as if they needed any particular reason to vote against the Rule. It was a GOP Rule. That’s all the Democrats needed to vote against it. And they did. All except three of them, who missed the vote.
The MilCon/VA appropriations bill passed by a vote of 255-163. It provides $171 billion in budget authority for the FY2016 programs funded in the bill. That breaks down to $163.2 billion in discretionary and mandatory spending for veterans programs, and $7.7 billion in discretionary spending for military construction and family housing.
The Energy and Water appropriations bill passed by a vote of 240-177. It provides a total of $35.4 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Energy, the Army Corps of Engineers, and national defense nuclear weapons activities.
And on Thursday, the House passed the Conference Report to accompany S. Con. Res. 11, a bill establishing the FY2016 budget and setting forth appropriate budgetary levels for FY2017-FY2025. According to the Conference Report, the budget achieves balance within 10 years without raising taxes (but WITH reliance on some neat accounting gimmicks), reduces planned spending by $5 trillion over the next decade (which, I would note, is NOT the same thing as “CUTTING” $5 trillion in spending – in fact, there’s a big difference between “reducing planned spending” and “cutting”), and includes instructions for the appropriate committees of jurisdiction to repeal the Affordable Care Act through reconciliation.
For those keeping score, this is the first time since 2001 that the House has passed a concurrent budget resolution that balances in the 10-year window. And it’s the earliest launch to the appropriations season since the 1974 Budget & Impoundment Control Act went into effect.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House is not in session this week.
LAST WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
As has become its custom in the 114th Congress, the Senate opened its week with a 5:30 PM Monday vote on a non-controversial nominee. David Newman of MA was confirmed by a vote of 87-0 to be Deputy Administrator of NASA.
On Tuesday, the Senate took up the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which was offered as an amendment to H.R. 1191, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act. I only mention this because it will come into play in a few moments. For now, all you’ll need to remember is that, procedurally speaking, the actual piece of legislation on the floor of the Senate last week was NOT the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, it was the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act.
Senate Republicans offered no fewer than 60 amendments to the Iran bill. Senate Democrats, on the other hand, offered precisely zero amendments, which should tell you something about just how bad this bill is.
The first amendment was offered by Sen. Ron Johnson of WI, and it was quite simple – it declared that any agreement reached by the President relating to the nuclear program of Iran is deemed a treaty that is subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, meaning it would need 67 votes to be ratified and go into effect. (That, of course, is the obverse of the current legislation, which requires the votes of 67 Senators to kill it – which is the same thing as saying it requires the votes of only 34 Senators to ratify it.)
Naturally, every Democrat who voted on the amendment voted against it. But if only Democrats voted against it, that wouldn’t be enough to kill it, because there are only 44 Democrats and two functional Democrats who vote with them.
Yet Johnson’s amendment failed by a vote of 39-57, with four Senators not voting.
The 12 Republicans who voted to kill it were:
- Lamar Alexander
- Kelly Ayotte
- Shelley Moore Capito
- Dan Coats
- Thad Cochran
- Bob Corker
- Joni Ernst
- Jeff Flake
- Orrin Hatch
- Johnny Isakson
- John McCain
- David Perdue
Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and Barbara Mikulski were the four Senators who did not vote on the Johnson amendment.
Though this was just the first of 60 amendments that had been filed on the bill, it was nevertheless instructive, because it showed the dynamic at play through the course of the week. It became clear as Senators jockeyed for position on their favored amendments that the top Republican and Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee – Bob Corker of TN and Ben Cardin of MD – had agreed to work together to stave off any so-called “poison pill” amendments that would either have the effect of blowing up the fragile coalition Corker had put together in the Foreign Relations Committee, or of drawing a veto threat from the White House.
That’s why you see GOP Establishment Senators like Hatch, McCain, Graham, Coats, Cochran, Alexander, Capito, Flake, and Isakson voting with all the Democrats to kill the Johnson amendment – they may very well have thought it was a good amendment, an amendment that made sense; but they believed that should it pass, it would torpedo the whole bill, so they voted against it to keep the bill alive.
Of course, one could ask the obvious question – if the bill is so weak that it can’t survive even good amendments, then what, really, is the point of passing it?
On Thursday, the Senate debated and voted on an amendment offered by Sen. John Barrasso of WY, to restore the Presidential terrorism certification requirement – that is, they wanted to add a provision requiring the President of the United States to confirm and declare publicly that Iran was no longer a state sponsor of terrorism before any congressionally imposed sanctions against Iran could be lifted. The amendment failed by a vote of 45-54.
And that brings us back to the fact that the underlying legislation is not actually S. 615, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, but H.R. 1191, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act.
For the last four years that Harry Reid served as Majority Leader, he made a habit of blocking all GOP amendments to legislation, to protect his vulnerable Democrat colleagues and the President. Mitch McConnell complained for years about Reid’s practice of “filling the amendment tree,” a parliamentary maneuver that prevents anyone from offering an amendment the Majority Leader does not want to see debated and voted on. And McConnell promised that if and when the GOP took over, that practice would be a thing of the past.
So when he opened the debate on the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, he did so by bringing it up as an amendment to H.R. 1191, the Firefighters Act. And that gave two young Republicans – Tom Cotton of AR and Marco Rubio of FL – an opportunity to jump the line and force votes on their proposed amendments to the bill.
On Thursday, the two caught McConnell by surprise when Cotton offered his amendment to the House legislation, instead of offering it as an amendment to the Iran bill. An amendment to the underlying legislation takes precedence over an amendment to an amendment, so by offering his amendment to the House vehicle directly, he ensured that his amendment would be debated and voted on before there would be debates and votes on any of the other amendments that had been filed. And to protect his amendment, he filed Rubio’s amendment as an amendment to his own, thereby filling his own “amendment tree.”
In parliamentary language, Cotton’s amendment is a “first degree amendment.” It would require Iran to give up its nuclear facility before receiving any relief from sanctions and would further require Iran to open its nuclear program to a fully verifiable international inspections regime. Rubio’s amendment – a “second degree amendment,” because it’s an amendment to Cotton’s first degree amendment – would require Iran to recognize Israel’s right to exist before any sanctions could be lifted.
Under Senate rules, the body now must take up their amendments as the next order of business, unless a motion to end debate is offered and succeeds. That motion would require a 60-vote majority.
Senate Democrats have made clear they have no intention of bailing out McConnell. So now the Majority Leader is stuck between Iran and a hard place – he could allow votes on the Cotton and Rubio amendments, both of which would likely pass (and thereby threaten to torpedo the bill entirely, because the White House would certainly veto it if it contained such language), or he could shut down debate entirely and move to a vote on the Iran bill without allowing any of the dozens of other amendments to be considered.
As we broke for the weekend, Sen. McConnell had not yet announced what he was going to do.
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
This week the Senate will continue to debate the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, and will take up the Conference Report to S. Con. Res. 11, the Budget Resolution. And when the Senate disposes of both the Iran bill and the budget conference report, Sen. McConnell plans to move to S. 995, the Hatch-Wyden Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act. That’s the TPA bill, and it’s the precursor to set Congress up for a vote later this year on the TransPacific Partnership trade treaty.
CLINTON EMAIL/CLINTON CASH:
The acting CEO of the Clinton Foundation acknowledged last week that the foundation had “made mistakes,” and pledged to be more open and transparent. At the same time, the foundation confirmed that it will likely resubmit several years of its tax filings to the IRS after discovering that they incorrectly reported that the organization received no donations from foreign governments for a number of years.
Charity Navigator, which bills itself as “the nation’s largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities,” responded by adding the Clinton Foundation to its “watch list” of charities with problems.
Not surprisingly, a Rasmussen survey released last Wednesday reveals that 51% of likely voters don’t trust Hillary Clinton, and 63% think it’s likely that at least some of the actions she took as Secretary of State were influenced by donations made to the family foundation.
Very surprisingly, later on the same day, Hillary, at Columbia University, called for the restoration of trust in American public life. “We must urgently begin to rebuild the bonds of trust and respect among Americans,” she said, trying to surf the media wave of the Baltimore riots. “Between police and citizens, yes, but also across society.” It’s because of statements like this that a Hebrew dictionary defines “chutzpah” as Yiddish for “Clinton.”
Meanwhile, Special Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy of SC announced Thursday that the State Department had handed over 4,000 pages of new documents. They include interview summaries and emails collected by the State Department’s internal Accountability Review Board.
When the House comes back into session a week from Tuesday, they’ll take up the National Defense Authorization Act, which was approved by the House Armed Services Committee in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Included for the first time in the NDAA is a provision declaring the Sense of the House that the Secretary of Defense should review whether illegal immigrants eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are also eligible for enlistment in the military. And Republican Jeff Denham, who has tried for years to add his so-called ENLIST Act – a bill that would provide a pathway to legal status to certain illegal immigrants in exchange for military service – says that this year, he’s confident he’ll be able to offer his bill as an amendment during floor consideration. Our friend Steve King of IA says, basically, “Over my dead body.”
The Export-Import Bank – which uses U.S. taxpayer dollars to provide loan guarantees to foreign governments and corporations that want to finance the purchase of U.S.-made products – is about the worst example of crony capitalism in Washington. The good news is, its current authorization expires at the end of June. Without positive action by the Congress and the President, the bank will expire on its own.
Let me belabor that point one more time – if nobody does anything, the Export-Import Bank will die on its own. The only way to save it would be for the Congress to pass a bill reauthorizing it and then have the President sign it.
On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy reiterated his desire to see the Export-Import Bank expire when its current authorization runs out. More importantly, he said he supports regular order, and emphasized that he would not bring a reauthorization bill directly to the floor without having it first go through the House Financial Services Committee – a committee chaired by Texan Jeb Hensarling, who, luckily for those of us opposed to the bank’s reauthorization, just happens to be the House’s most determined opponent of Ex-Im reauthorization.
On Wednesday, the House Freedom Caucus issued a statement declaring its opposition to reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.
So it was par for the course when, on Thursday, Speaker Boehner split sharply with McCarthy and Hensarling and the House Freedom Caucus, suggesting in his regular Thursday briefing that the expiration of the bank could cost “thousands of jobs,” while signaling support for the bank’s reauthorization.
Democrats are trying to force a vote on the bank’s reauthorization. On Thursday, the House Democratic Leadership filed a discharge petition on a reauthorization bill, looking to bypass regular order and compel a vote by gathering the signatures of 218 Members. Trouble for them is, that would require about 40 Republicans to reject their party’s Leadership, and that’s just not going to happen.
Nevertheless, Boehner’s implicit support for the Ex-Im Bank at this point is troubling. Even though his two top deputies and the chairman of the relevant House committee of jurisdiction are all opposed to reauthorizing the bank, don’t count Boehner out.
Speaking at an off-the-record event last Saturday at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Las Vegas meeting, Speaker Boehner said he did not believe he had the votes to overcome an Obama veto of any resolution disapproving the nuclear weapons deal President Obama is trying to conclude with Iran. And the fact is, he’s probably right – it would take 290 votes to override the President’s veto of a resolution of disapproval, and that would require about 45 Democrats to vote against their President. That’s not a good thing to count on.
IRS TARGETING SCANDAL:
On Tuesday, before a Senate Finance Committee hearing, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration revealed that he had found approximately 6,400 email messages that had never before been turned over to Congress. According to one staffer, the emails are dated between 2004 and 2013, with the bulk of them dating from 2012. About 650 of them are from 2010 and 2011, when the IRS targeting began.
Two days later, on the other side of the Capitol, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration was reporting at a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee that the IRS had largely cleaned itself up in the wake of the targeting scandal. He said the IRS no longer uses BOLO lists, and had cut down on unnecessary information requests from applicants. He said the agency has made what he called “significant” progress in fixing its problems, and said the IRS is moving much more quickly to approve groups seeking (C)(4) status. Crossroads GPS replied, “Balderdash,” and noted that it is still waiting for its determination letter years after filing.
On Thursday morning, the House Judiciary Committee, by a vote of 25-2, favorably reported H.R. 2048, the “USA Freedom Act,” which would prohibit the bulk collection of ALL records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, the FISA pen register authority, and national security letter statutes. The phone companies would store the data instead, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court would have to give permission before intelligence agencies could access that data.
Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy and Utah Republican Mike Lee introduced an identical bill in the Senate Tuesday.
This bill is a clear rejection of the bill Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced in the Senate a week earlier. And it sets up a battle royale over the course of the next month – on the one hand, in the continue-the-bulk-data-collection camp, you have McConnell, Sen. Richard Burr of NC (who serves as the current Chairman of the Senate Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence), and a small group of defense hawks; on the other hand, in the Snowden-scared-the-crap-out-of-us camp, you have Speaker Boehner, the White House, many Tea Party groups, and a bipartisan majority in the House. Plus Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.
Look for a House vote in mid-May.
Tennessee Republican Bob Corker had a busy week. Not only is he the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (and, as such, the principal author of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act the Senate spent most of its week debating), he’s also a member of the Senate Budget Committee – and, as such, a member of the Budget Conference representing the Senate.
That gave him leverage over the negotiations on the Budget Conference Report, and he used it. For two days last week, he held up the final agreement on the Conference Report, ostensibly because he was opposed to the use of an accounting gimmick called “CHIMPS” (which stands for Changes in Mandatory Program Spending). Though he denied it when challenged directly, I still cannot help but think his real goal wasn’t to tube the Budget Conference Report, but instead was to win additional assurances from Majority Leader McConnell that his finely-crafted and very fragile Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act would receive all the help he needed from GOP Leadership. How else to explain the fact that after two days of holding up the Budget Conference Report, he dropped his objections without getting anything in return on the budget deal, signed off on the Conference Report, and then went back to shepherding his Iran nukes bill through floor consideration?
Politico reported on Wednesday night that as of right now, the Trade Promotion Authority bill is dozens of votes short of passage in the House. According to aides and Members involved in the process, more than 75 House Republicans could vote against TPA if it comes up in the next few weeks. Some, according to Politico, fear job losses in their districts; others distrust the President and are loathe to grant him more power. On the Democrat side of the aisle, somewhere between 12 and 20 Members support the legislation.
Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader McConnell haven’t yet decided which House will go first.
JENNY BETH MARTIN/TPP:
CLINTON EMAIL/CLINTON CASH:
EXECUTIVE AMNESTY/ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION:
IRS TARGETING SCANDAL: