Tea Party Patriots Weekly Legislative Update for 9/14/14
House/Senate Action: Week of 9/8/14-9/14/14
The House will be in session from Tuesday through Friday of this week, and then break for at least a week. If they succeed in passing a C.R. that the Senate will accept as written, look for the House to recess through the elections, and not come back for their currently planned two-day session the very last two days of September.
The Senate will be in session from Monday through Friday of this week, and then take a break for at least a week.
SENATE ACTION ON S.J. RES. 19:
Let’s start with the Senate this week, because the best floor action of the week took place in the upper chamber.
Six days ago, the Senate began its week by taking up S.J. Res. 19, the proposed Constitutional amendment authored by NM Democrat Sen. Tom Udall to allow Congress and the states to regulate the raising and spending of money with respect to federal and state campaigns for office, respectively. On Monday evening, by a vote of 79-18, the Senate invoked cloture on the motion to proceed, with more than half the Republican caucus voting to join the Democrats in bringing the bill to the floor for debate.
Now, before you go all “There go Mitch McConnell’s damn RINOs again!” on me, let me explain.
As Minority Leader, it’s Senator McConnell’s job to do the best he can with what he’s got to play defense against the Democrats and their various hare-brained schemes. In this situation, he was looking at a two-week September agenda that didn’t look very enticing for his incumbents and candidates – Democrat leader Harry Reid wanted to spend these two weeks of September forcing the chamber to vote on issues that would help Democrats and hurt Republicans, like gender equity, contraceptive rights, minimum wage increases, etc.
So when Reid announced at the end of July, right before the August recess, that the first bill they were going to take up upon their return would be the Constitutional amendment to gut the First Amendment, McConnell licked his chops. First, he’s a true defender of the First Amendment – you can put that in the “even a stopped clock is right twice a day” file if you like, but it’s true. Second, he’s a pretty good floor strategist. He knew that Reid was going to try to bring the bill to the floor just to get Senate Republicans on the record voting against cloture, so Reid and every Democrat running against a Republican could say Republicans were in the back pocket of the Big Money interests (read: the Koch brothers), so much so that they wouldn’t even allow a discussion on the floor of the Senate.
So McConnell turned the tables. By leading more than half of his Senate GOP colleagues to join the Democrats in voting for cloture on the motion to proceed, McConnell defeated Reid’s plan to put the GOP on the hook for defending Big Money. More importantly, he actually got the resolution on the floor, where it would be debated Tuesday, Wednesday, and part of Thursday before Reid could try to invoke cloture and shut down the debate. At THAT point, all the Republican Senators who cast a vote voted “nay,” cloture was not invoked, and the measure was killed.
So … by voting for cloture on the motion to proceed on Monday, McConnell effectively played a stall game – a Four Corners play that would have made Dean Smith envious – and he ate up valuable time that Harry Reid COULD have used to force a number of votes Senate Republicans would rather not have to vote on. As a parliamentary and political tactic, it was a wise move.
Now, let me explain this proposed Constitutional amendment for a moment. We got some questions this week from some folks who said they didn’t see anything in this amendment about gutting the First Amendment, and they were wondering on what were we basing our opposition?
It’s simple, really. The Supreme Court ruled in the landmark political speech case, Buckley v. Valeo, in 1976, that while Congress and the states could impose limits on the amount of money a candidate could accept from any one individual, and even could impose limits on the amount of money an individual could contribute in any two-year cycle (a limit, I would note, that was just, FINALLY, struck down by the Supreme Court earlier this year in the McCutcheon v. FEC case), the Congress could NOT impose limits on the total amount of money a candidate could raise or spend, or on the amount of money an outside group could raise or spend to influence the outcome of an election.
Their reasoning was simple: In a modern society, where mass communications are necessary, the Court reasoned that money equals speech. That is, the ability to speak effectively and spread a message to a large group of people requires the expenditure of large sums of money – and, therefore, limiting the amount of money a candidate or a group could raise and spend was, effectively, the same as limiting their ability to speak freely, which the Court held to be an unconstitutional infringement on that cherished right.
The proposed S.J.Res. 19 would bulldoze right through that by amending the Constitution specifically to allow the Congress and the states to set just such limits. That’s why we viewed this particular proposed Constitutional amendment as an attempt to gut the First Amendment’s protections of free speech, and that’s why we opposed it so strongly. This proposed amendment is part of the Democrats’ strategy to demonize the right of free peoples to spend money to influence the outcomes of elections – a strategy which has led to Harry Reid himself illegally using taxpayer-funded staff and resources to implement, for which Tea Party Patriots filed a complaint with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics earlier this summer.
HOUSE FLOOR ACTION LAST WEEK:
Following through on the agenda laid out by the House GOP Leadership last week, the House took up and passed H. Res. 644, a resolution introduced by U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell of VA, which condemns the President’s failure to comply with the law that requires he give Congress at least 30 days’ notice before transferring any detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
On the healthcare front, the House took up and passed H.R. 3522, the Employee Health Care Protection Act, introduced by U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy of LA, which would protect as many as 11 million small business employees who could find themselves negatively impacted by increasing premiums associated with ObamaCare by allowing them to keep the plans they have. No fewer than 25 Democrats crossed party lines to vote for the measure.
It turns out House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling and Speaker Boehner DID come to an agreement of sorts regarding reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank – a temporary reauthorization, good until June 30, is included in the current version of the Continuing Resolution that the House plans to take up on Wednesday. Hensarling said it’s not the C.R. he would have authored, but, as he put it, he learned a long time ago that he “doesn’t get to vote on what he gets to vote on.” While the C.R. extends the life of Ex-Im Bank for another nine months, it is nowhere near the five- or seven-year authorization the Democrats sought.
IRS TARGETING SCANDAL:
This week we learned that on Friday, September 5, at 5:01 PM – that is, after 5 PM on a Friday before a holiday weekend – a senior communications aide to Attorney General Eric Holder mistakenly called the majority staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Apparently thinking he was on the phone with the minority staff, the aide sought to get the minority staff to publicly release some documents so the DOJ communications staff would be in a position to offer public comment on them before the majority staff could release them. Apparently realizing his mistake midway through the call, the aide put the call on hold for three minutes, then returned shaken, and tried to act as if he had meant to call the majority staff all along. Not surprisingly, Chairman Darrell Issa fired off a letter to the Attorney General demanding that he stop colluding with the minority staff to undermine the committee’s work. The Attorney General, I am reliably told, immediately placed the Issa letter, no doubt for safekeeping, in a large, cylindrical open-top metal container.
In a remarkable appearance before the House Ways and Means Committee, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen on Wednesday averred in response to a question as to whether the IRS would follow the law in the case of ObamaCare recipients whose subsidies turned out to be too large, and from whom subsidy repayments needed to be collected, that, “Whenever we can, we follow the law.”
On Tuesday afternoon, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers of KY introduced a short-term Continuing Resolution, which would have continued spending at FY2014 levels through December 11. The proposed C.R. would extend a prohibition on taxing Internet access, and it included language extending the authorization for the Ex-Im Bank another nine months.
Initial conservative reaction was somewhat negative, for two reasons: First, the proposed measure did not include language sought by conservatives that would have had the effect of blocking the President’s much-discussed executive amnesty; second, the proposed C.R. only lasted until December 11, meaning that a second C.R. or possible omnibus package would have to be voted on in mid-December, which would mean that a Senate still controlled by Democrats would have a say in FY2015 spending. Conservatives argued – rightly – that the C.R. should, instead, be extended into early 2015, when a Senate presumably then controlled by Republicans could work with a Republican controlled House to bring spending under control.
Appropriations Chairman Rogers made clear in a statement announcing the details of the 21-page bill that he does not want to merely extend the C.R. when it expires in December – he wants instead to pass a proper line-by-line appropriations bill to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year that begins October 1.
At the time Rogers unveiled the C.R., the House Leadership announced plans to vote on it Thursday. They figured they’d be able to pick up whatever votes they lost on the right because of the short time frame of the C.R. with votes from the left because they included a temporary extension of the Ex-Im authorization, but still, it was going to be a fine line they were walking.
Then Chairman Rogers got a call from the President Tuesday evening, and all bets were off.
The President – who says he doesn’t need permission from Congress to do whatever he wants on the national security front, because he’s already got the authority he needs – nevertheless wants Congress to grant him what’s known as “Title X” authority. Title X is that section of the U.S. Code that deals with all matters military (other than the Coast Guard).
What the President asked for is authority from Congress to vet, arm and train so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels – specifically, the Free Syria Army – so they can be enlisted in the planned fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Note, he’s not asking for funds to do that – he’s already got the funds. And, interestingly, he says he believes he’s already got the authority to spend the funds to do that training, under the previous authorization passed by Congress enabling the President – Bush, at the time – to take certain actions against al-Qaeda, from which ISIS derives. (What’s even MORE interesting is that the President thinks that earlier Congress never should have given that earlier President that authority. But they did, and the President has it now, and … whatever.)
So for political reasons, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are supporting the President’s plan of attack against ISIS, laid out in a prime time address Wednesday evening. They want to include the President’s proposed Title X authorizing language in the C.R.
Many Members, however – and not just conservative Republicans in the House – suggest that a vote to give the President that authority is too big to throw into a catch-all bill like a C.R., and that it deserves its own stand-alone vote. Moreover, the authorizing language is just that – authorizing language – and some House Republicans have pointed out that it’s against the Rules to authorize on an appropriations bill. (Of course, supporters of adding the authorizing language point out that the C.R. already has authorizing language in it, in two other places – the extension of Ex-Im requires authorizing language, and the extension of the prohibition on taxing Internet access requires authorizing language – so opponents really shouldn’t try to be so “pure.”)
Complicating matters further, ISIS and representatives of the Free Syria Army – the “moderate” Syrian opposition the Administration wanted to train and equip – apparently announced a deal Friday under which they would not shoot each other. So it’s not at all clear that the President’s plan to use Syrian rebels as his boots on the ground will work, anyway.
The result? As of right now, the House Leadership is caught in a bind, and has not yet decided how to handle the situation. If it chooses to include the Title X language in the C.R., it makes Democrats happy, and will likely pull some votes from the left to offset votes it loses on the right, and definitely makes it more difficult for the Democratic Leadership to whip votes against the bill; if it insists the Title X authorizing language needs a separate vote, it may lose Democrat votes on the left that it needs to offset the loss of votes on the right due to the short time frame of the C.R. and the inclusion of the Ex-Im Bank reauthorization. My best bet? No bet. It’s still too much of a moving target.