Tea Party Patriots Weekly Legislative Update for 06/14/15
The House will come back on Monday, with no votes scheduled before 6:30 PM. The current schedule says they will stay in until Thursday, when the last vote will take place no later than 3 PM.
The Senate will come back Monday at 5:30 PM, at which time they’ll vote on two non-controversial nominees. They’ll stay in until Friday.
LAST WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House began its voting week on Tuesday with a series of non-controversial bills brought up under Suspension of the Rules. The first four passed by voice vote, including H.R. 235, the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act, which permanently extends the Internet Tax Freedom Act, a law that generally prohibits state and local governments from placing a tax on internet access. The current prohibition is slated to expire on October 1. The bill makes the prohibition permanent by striking the 2015 end date.
Following the Suspension votes, the House moved to pass H.R. 2289, the Commodity End-User Relief Act. It passed by a vote of 246-171, with 15 “No Votes.”
They spent the rest of the day wrapping up the work they had left themselves last week on H.R. 2577, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. They considered 18 amendments, and adopted seven of them. Then the bill passed by a vote of 216-210, with 7 “No Votes” – six of whom were Democrats who, theoretically, could have tanked the bill if they had all shown up and voted “no.”
Meanwhile, elsewhere on the Hill, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur announced the introduction of a new resolution, the Trade Review Accountability Needs Sunlight and Preview of Any Regulations and Exact Negotiated Components – that’s the TRANSPARENC resolution, if you’re keeping score at home – to change House rules to require that any presidential administration make public all trade deals for at least 60 days before they could be approved using fast-track authority. Given that the TPA bill contains a provision requiring exactly that, it seems this may have been a cleverly acronymed resolution in search of a reason for being. I merely bring it to your attention as an example of how crazy/funny/silly Congress can get when big legislation is on the floor.
Speaker Boehner and his team were leaving no stone unturned in their effort to woo Republican votes. In the old days, they would have been offering earmarked spending provisions; under the current regime, that’s not possible, so instead they were offering to insert various non-spending provisions one at a time. Jim Sensenbrenner got language promising that no trade deals can force the U.S. to address climate change; Steve King got a provision prohibiting future trade deals from relaxing U.S. immigration laws or expanding access to visas; Pete Roskam got a provision prioritizing trade relations with Israel and discouraging U.S. trade partners from boycotting, divesting from or otherwise sanctioning Israel.
But those measures weren’t added to the TPA bill itself; they were added to a separate customs and trade law enforcement bill that would be considered with TPA as part of a package.
Wednesday began with news that the House GOP Leadership thought it had the votes lined up to pass the TPA bill, and they were going to move the trade package at the end of the week. The Rules Committee announced plans to meet that afternoon to set the Rule for consideration of the trade package.
By the time the Rules Committee met, it was clear that Democratic opposition was deepening. And House GOP Leadership was adamant that the TPA bill be exactly the same bill that passed the Senate, so there would be no need for the Senate to take up the matter again – remember, it passed the Senate right before the Memorial Day recess by a vote of just 62-37, with the final four votes necessary to get it over the 60-vote threshold coming together as the result of a deal Majority Leader McConnell made.
The problem was, the bill that came over from the Senate had TWO things in it – the Trade Promotion Authority, and the Trade Adjustment Assistance. Republicans generally favor TPA, but oppose TAA; Democrats, by contrast, generally oppose TPA, and favor TAA. So the question was, how do you debate and pass a bill that contains these two measures, each of which could generate opposition in one caucus or the other?
Complicating matters further, the TAA that came over from the Senate paid for the job retraining funding by using Medicare cuts; that wouldn’t fly with House Democrats, who were concerned that GOP challengers could use that vote against them in the 2016 elections. Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro – wife of Stan Greenberg, Bill Clinton’s pollster when he was President – even went so far as to show attack ads used against Democrats in the 2012 and 2014 elections at a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus early in the week, urging her colleagues to vote against the TAA bill. So Minority Leader Pelosi made that a point of contention in her negotiations with Speaker Boehner.
The result? Speaker Boehner, in search of Democratic votes, yielded to Pelosi on two fronts – content, and procedure. First, he agreed to find another offset that could be inserted in place of the Medicare cuts; second, he agreed to a ridiculously complicated Rule suggested by Pelosi. They created a parliamentary maneuver to split the Senate bill into two – one bill for TPA, the other for TAA. But there would actually be three votes – a vote on TAA with the Medicare cuts intact (in other words, the TAA section of the bill that passed the Senate), a vote on TAA with the Medicare language removed, then TPA.
Because Democrats didn’t want to have to vote for anything that had Medicare cuts in it, even if they all knew that their very next vote would be for a bill that would rescind the Medicare cuts they’d just voted for, they had to get creative. Consequently the Rule that emerged from the Rules Committee contained a “deem and pass” provision – specifically, passing the Rule itself would “deem” that the second iteration of the TAA bill, the one without the Medicare cuts, would be “deemed” to have passed, thereby canceling the need for an actual vote. It structured a debate that would look like this:
First, the House would take up H.R. 1295, the Trade Preferences Extension Act, a trade bill that gives some countries special priority. This is the bill the Speaker used to insert new offsets to pay for the TAA bill. The Medicare cuts were removed and replaced with enhanced tax enforcement measures.
So by moving H.R. 1295 first, the House would be voting to reject the Medicare cuts in the Senate-passed version of TAA, before moving on to the other trade bills. The Senate Majority Leader obliged the House by declaring the Senate would quickly take up and pass the measure.
The next step would be a Rule to bring up TAA itself, TPA, and a customs trade bill.
And that would be the order – TAA, then TPA, then a vote on going to conference with the Senate to work out differences on the customs bill. The Rule was structured in a way that everything would have to pass, or nothing would pass.
So, by voting for the Rule, Democrats could also vote against the Medicare cuts, then vote on TAA without the Medicare language. That way, assuming both TAA and TPA passed, the measures could be sent to the President without first having to go back to the Senate.
Later Wednesday, on the floor, the House took up two bills – H.R. 2389, the Country of Origin Labeling Amendments Act (a bill which repeals the country of origin labeling requirements for beef, pork, and chicken, administered by the USDA), and H.R. 2685, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act (which does just what it sounds like).
They passed the COOL Act late in the evening, by a vote of 300-131, with two “No Votes.” Then they began dealing with amendments to the DoD Approps bill, and they broke for the night after the last vote was cast at 10:45 PM. All told, they considered 11 amendments, and adopted three of them.
They returned Thursday and began voting just before 2 PM. First up was the first of the four trade bills that would be considered – H.R. 1295, the Trade Preferences Extension Act. The measure passed by a margin of 397-32, with only four “No Votes.”
Then they went back to the DoD Approps bill. Over the course of the next 35 minutes, they voted on 11 amendments, and adopted one of them. Then they passed the bill by a vote of 278-149, with six “No Votes.”
Then the House moved to take up H. Res. 305, the Rule that would govern debate on the trade bills. The House came close to shutting down – as the vote progressed, it became clear that more and more Republicans were voting against the Rule. Many of them were offended that yet again, the House GOP Leadership was using the “deem and pass” maneuver. Before the end of the vote, no fewer than 34 of them had broken with their Leadership to vote down the Rule – a truly unheard of number.
But a handful of pro-trade Democrats had held their vote back, just in case, and when they saw that Republican leaders were twisting arms on the floor and not having much luck – Majority Whip Steve Scalise couldn’t even get his own home-state colleague, John Fleming, to flip his vote from “Nay” to “Yea” – they threw their votes in the “Yea” column at the same time, and that was enough to pass the Rule in a squeaker of a vote, 217-212.
Passing the Rule set them up for the three stacked votes on Friday. But Democrats were still worried about matters, and President Obama made a surprise visit Thursday evening to the annual Congressional baseball game just so he could schmooze some Democratic Congressmen. Even that wasn’t deemed enough. At around 11:30 Thursday night, the White House and Pelosi’s office came to agreement on a surprise Friday morning visit to Capitol Hill, just hours before the crucial votes were scheduled. On Friday morning, the House took a recess so Democrats could hear one last time from the President, trying to woo them one last time. “A vote against trade is a vote against me,” he averred. “We’re not the other party, we’re not the tea party,” he said. He took no questions, Pelosi said nothing when he was done talking, and the two left the room together.
House Democrats were not pleased. Said Peter DeFazio, “First he tried to guilt us, and then he impugned our integrity.” Keith Ellison, head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said he “was offended by what the President said.” In fact, the President’s hardball play – coming more than six years into a presidency characterized by poor relations between the White House and the Hill – may actually have backfired on his cause, stiffening opposition to TAA inside his own caucus.
Following the President’s departure, the floor debate resumed. And then Minority Leader Pelosi dropped jaws when she took the podium to declare her opposition to the TAA measure, and to announce she would vote against it.
The TAA vote was a disaster for the White House – it failed by a vote of 126-302, with six “No Votes.” Even though 86 Republicans voted for the bill in an effort to pass it so they could pass TPA, Democrats could only muster 40 votes. More than three times as many Democrats voted against their own bill – the bill Pelosi had worked all week to strengthen – as voted for it.
In the wake of the defeat on TAA, House GOP Leaders moved to take up the next item on the agenda – the TPA bill. Even though TAA had just been defeated, meaning that the vote on TPA would be irrelevant, because the Rule had specified that all measures had to pass in order for any of them to pass, Boehner wanted to show the political world that he had muscled a majority and held up his end of his bargain. And though 54 Republicans voted against the TPA bill, 191 voted for it, and when 28 Democrats crossed party lines to add their votes in favor, the bill passed by a margin of 219-211.
The House broke for the weekend.
So, where do they go from here? Boehner believes he’s demonstrated that he’s got enough votes to pass fast-track negotiating authority. But it was a free vote – every Member who cast a vote on that bill knew it was nothing more than a show vote, and that may have freed a few of them to throw a vote to Leadership. Can Leadership count on getting every single one of those votes again? Possibly. Probably. But maybe not.
We’ll find out, if Boehner decides that the best way forward is to simply pass TPA as a stand-alone bill. He may conclude that the TAA bill just won’t get out of the House, and tell Leader McConnell that he did the best he could, and McConnell is going to have to take up TPA again in the Senate as a stand-alone, without a TAA attachment there. For obvious reasons, they really want to avoid this, so they’re likely to try to give the Democrats a second chance to pass TAA this week.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are in a jam. The Speaker has indicated the second chance vote on TAA could come as early as Tuesday. But to be successful in that endeavor, the White House would have to flip almost 100 votes – not an easy thing to do when Nancy Pelosi isn’t helping.
We’ll keep you apprised as matters develop.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
MONDAY, JUNE 15TH
On Monday, the House will meet at meet at 12:00 p.m. for morning hour and 2:00 p.m. for legislative business. Votes will be postponed until 6:30 p.m.
Legislation Considered Under Suspension of the Rules:
1) H.R. 891 – To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 141 Paloma Drive in Floresville, Texas, as the “Floresville Veterans Post Office Building” (Sponsored by Rep. Henry Cuellar / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
2) H.R. 1326 – To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 2000 Mulford Road in Mulberry, Florida, as the “Sergeant First Class Daniel M. Ferguson Post Office” (Sponsored by Rep. Dennis Ross / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
3) H.R. 1350 – To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 442 East 167th Street in Bronx, New York, as the “Herman Badillo Post Office Building” (Sponsored by Rep. José Serrano / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
4) H.R. 728 – To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 7050 Highway BB in Cedar Hill, Missouri, as the “Sergeant First Class William B. Woods, Jr. Post Office” (Sponsored by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
5) H.R. 2131 – To designate the Federal building and United States courthouse located at 83 Meeting Street in Charleston, South Carolina, as the “J. Waties Waring Judicial Center” (Sponsored by Rep. James Clyburn / Transportation and Infrastructure Committee)
6) H.R. 2559 – To designate the “PFC Milton A. Lee Medal of Honor Memorial Highway” in the State of Texas (Sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith / Transportation and Infrastructure Committee)
7) H. Res. 233 – Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that Iran should immediately release the three United States citizens that it holds, as well as provide all known information on any United States citizens that have disappeared within its borders (Sponsored by Rep. Dan Kildee / Foreign Affairs Committee)
TUESDAY, JUNE 16TH
On Tuesday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for morning hour and 12:00 p.m. for legislative business.
H.R. 2596 – Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, Rules Committee Print (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Devin Nunes / Permanent Select Intelligence Committee)
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 17TH AND THE BALANCE OF THE WEEK
On Wednesday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for morning hour and 12:00 p.m. for legislative business.
On Thursday, the House will meet at 9:00 a.m. for legislative business. Last votes expected no later than 3:00 p.m.
On Friday, no votes are expected in the House.
Legislation Considered Under Suspension of the Rules:
1) H.R. 2505 – Medicare Advantage Coverage Transparency Act of 2015, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Mike Kelly / Ways and Means Committee)
2) H.R. 2507 – Increasing Regulatory Fairness Act of 2015, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Kevin Brady / Ways and Means Committee)
3) H.R. 2582 – Seniors’ Health Care Plan Protection Act of 2015, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Vern Buchanan / Ways and Means Committee)
4) H.R. 2570 – Strengthening Medicare Advantage through Innovation and Transparency for Seniors Act of 2015, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Diane Black / Ways and Means Committee)
H.R. 160 – Protect Medical Innovation Act of 2015 (Subject to a Rule)(Sponsored by Rep. Erik Paulsen / Ways and Means Committee)
H.R. 1190 – Protecting Seniors’ Access to Medicare Act of 2015 (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Phil Roe / Ways and Means Committee)
Possible Consideration of H. Con. Res. 55 – Directing the President, pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution, to remove United States Armed Forces deployed to Iraq or Syria on or after August 7, 2014, other than Armed Forces required to protect United States diplomatic facilities and personnel, from Iraq and Syria
Possible Consideration of legislation related to Trade
So this week, the House will return to action on Monday, with no votes before 6:30 PM. As usual, they’ll begin with a series of votes on non-controversial measures brought up under Suspension of the Rules. They’ll name U.S. Post Offices, a highway, and a courthouse, and express the Sense of the House that Iran should release three American citizens.
On Tuesday, the House is scheduled to take up H.R. 2596, the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2016. As mentioned, they may also try again to pass the TAA bill, if they have reason to believe House Democrats will flip.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the House will take up several more bills under Suspension. They include H.R. 160, the Protect Medical Innovation Act – a bill to repeal the 2.3 percent tax applied to sales of medical devices under the Affordable Care Act.
This, I must say, is another dumb thing being moved by the House GOP Leadership.
The medical device industry stayed on the sidelines during consideration of ObamaCare. Perhaps they thought they were a small enough player that if they just kept their mouth shut, no one would notice them, and they would escape unscathed; perhaps they figured that since all they did was create and produce the best and most innovative medical devices in the world, no one would dare screw with them.
They were somewhat surprised, to say the least, to find out that they’d been targeted for a tax on their sales – not their profits, mind you, but their sales – to generate an estimated $29 billion over 10 years.
Ever since, they’ve gone to work, trying to get that tax repealed. Press reports indicate they’ve spent more than $30 million on their direct lobbying efforts.
With Democrats in charge of the Senate even after they lost control of the House, repeal of the medical device tax was going nowhere – even though several of the most vociferous supporters of repeal are Democrats like Chuck Schumer and Amy Klobuchar, because their states are home to many medical device manufacturers.
But once the GOP took control of the Senate, the outlook for repeal looked much brighter. Lobbyists rolled up their sleeves and went to work on the GOP congressional leadership.
And they succeeded in convincing the congressional GOP leadership that they should move legislation to repeal the tax.
Here’s why that’s a problem: Repealing that one tax removes from the anti-ObamaCare coalition a medium-sized player with lots of money. The hospital industry and the health insurance industry are perfectly happy with the ACA – they get lots of money and lots of new customers. So they sit on the sidelines and just watch the repeal efforts, without doing anything to aid them.
Instead, congressional GOP leaders should move legislation to suspend the tax for two years, but make clear that the tax will not be repealed until the ACA itself is repealed. That would mitigate the damage to the industry done by the tax, but keep them inside the repeal tent.
But that would require strategic thinking, a concept with which our current GOP congressional leadership seems unfamiliar.
LAST WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate began its week focused on H.R. 1735, the FY 2016 Defense Authorization bill.
On Tuesday, they considered an amendment offered by Democrat Jack Reed of RI, the Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee. The amendment would have limited the availability of Overseas Contingency Operations funds to be used for other defense matters – essentially, it would have called out and prohibited the use of the OCO fund as a slush fund, the budget gimmick the House GOP used to increase defense spending without breaking the Sequester spending caps. The amendment failed by a vote of 46-51, with three Republicans – Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and David Vitter – not voting.
On Wednesday, Senate supporters of Export-Import Bank reauthorization got a test vote to see how strong they were. Republican Mark Kirk of IL – in cycle, with a very difficult reelection race next year – offered an amendment to reauthorize the bank. The vote occurred on a motion to table the amendment; it failed by a vote of 31-65, which allowed Ex-Im supporters to show that they had enough votes to break a filibuster. Kelly Ayotte of NH, another Ex-Im supporter, then removed the amendment from consideration. Twenty Republicans joined 45 Democrats to support the bank. Presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Rand Paul voted against the bank, while Lindsey Graham voted for it; Marco Rubio did not vote.
But the most significant event in the Senate last week didn’t happen on the Senate floor – it happened when Minority Leader Harry Reid threatened to shut down the appropriations process (and the government) if Senate Democrats were not allowed to move the highway and defense bills to the left.
The mood in the Senate is markedly more antagonistic after McConnell’s defeat on extending the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, with him and Reid trading barbs on the Senate floor over who controls the schedule.
McConnell responded to Reid’s threat by pledging to move the annual defense spending bill immediately following consideration of the defense authorization bill – daring Senate Democrats to vote against funding the troops.
McConnell is in no mood to compromise. He’s been waiting 30 years to be Majority Leader of the Senate, and he’s not about to hand over control of the schedule to the Minority Leader. But Reid does have 46 votes – and if he can hold on to them, he’s got the power of the filibuster on his side.
So, once again, the Senate is playing legislative “chicken,” and it’ll be interesting to see who blinks first.
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate will come back into session Monday at 5:30 PM, and will take up two non-controversial confirmation votes. Then they’ll take up where they left off, with H.R. 1735, the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act on the floor. Majority Leader McConnell filed cloture on Thursday on both the McCain substitute amendment and the underlying legislation, so there will be a 4 PM Monday filing deadline for all first-degree amendments. The cloture vote on the substitute amendment is expected to occur one hour after the Senate comes into session on Tuesday. There are 12 amendments currently pending to the bill, and there may be more filed – including a manager’s package – by Monday afternoon.
Hillary Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal will testify in private before Trey Gowdy’s special Benghazi committee on Tuesday.
And I am once again delighted to report that on Thursday, the full House Appropriations Committee unanimously adopted – by voice vote – a nearly $48 bill to fund the State Department and foreign operations for FY 2016, despite its inclusion of a 15 percent hedge against operational funds unless State does a faster job of turning over requested documents to the Special Benghazi Committee.
Eight GOP Senators, led by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson and Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, sent a letter last week to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, OMB Director Shaun Donovan and GSA Acting Administrator Denise Turner Roth warning that the Administration’s decision to use the recently-leased building in Crystal City, VA to process non-DACA immigration concerns may violate the current injunction blocking executive amnesty.
Basically, the Senators are worried that, despite the injunction, DHS and CIS are warehousing employees in their new office building, so they can be ready to start processing DACA and DAPA applications the moment a court strikes down the injunction.
In addition to the news about the test vote in the Senate, I would direct your attention to an article in the Washington Post you’ll find in the Suggested Reading re: how the fight to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank has been a boon to K Street lobbyists. The National Association of Manufacturers, for instance, increased the amount of money it spent on lobbying by 63 percent after Jeb Hensarling became chairman of the Financial Services Committee in 2013.
JENNY BETH MARTIN/TPP:
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TRADE PROMOTION AUTHORITY/TRANSPACIFIC PARTNERSHIP: