Tea Party Patriots Weekly Legislative Update for 9/21/14
House/Senate Action: Week of 9/15/14-9/21/14
The House and Senate are both in recess, and have no plans to return to Washington until after the November elections.
On Monday, the CBO released new projections for ObamaCare-related spending over the next decade. According to the study, payments for taxpayer subsidies flowing to citizens who get subsidies to buy the insurance off the exchanges will grow by eight-fold over the next ten years, growing from $17 billion in FY2014 to $137 billion in FY2024. Moreover, federal spending on Medicaid will double during the same time frame, growing from $265 billion in FY2013 (the year before the exchanges opened) to $305 billion in FY2014 to $570 billion in FY2024. To put that in context, the combined $707 billion the federal government is projected to spend on healthcare subsidies and Medicaid in FY2024 is about equal to the $717 billion the CBO estimates the federal government will spend on national defense.
Two new government reports critical of ObamaCare were released this week: The first, released on Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office, showed that – despite promises made by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama at the time of ObamaCare’s passage that no taxpayer funds would be used to pay for abortions – more than 1,000 plans available on the ObamaCare exchange web sites include coverage for abortion on demand paid for via taxpayer subsidies, rather than having the coverage of abortion-related services broken out and billed separately to the individual policyholder, as the law requires.
The second was a report released by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. It showed massive holes in the exchange web site’s security features, and, worse, revealed that key officials at HHS knew of these security holes as the site was being developed – but went ahead anyway, because the political need to have the federal exchange web site up and running on October 1, no matter whether it was complete or not, was so great it outweighed all other concerns.
On Wednesday, the House Select Committee on Benghazi, under the chairmanship of U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy of SC, held its first hearing. Much to the delight of the Democrats and liberal pundits, the hearing topic – how the State Department was doing at implementing the recommendations of the Accountability Review Board in the wake of the attack two years ago – was suggested by one of the Democrats on the panel, Adam Schiff of CA. The result was a love-fest between the Republicans and Democrats on the committee. All that was missing was Peter, Paul and Mary and an acoustic guitar.
HOUSE LAWSUIT AGAINST OBAMA:
David Rivkin, the lawyer who dreamed up the House lawsuit against President Obama for executive overreach on making changes to ObamaCare without congressional approval and was then hired by the House to pursue the case against the President, has quit the case. Apparently, his fellow partners at Baker Hostetler didn’t take kindly to the pressure they were getting from their other clients, or to being the butt of parody on Saturday Night Live. Replacing Rivkin as the lead attorney on the case is William A. Burck of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, one of the top litigation firms in the nation.
HOUSE FLOOR ACTION:
On Tuesday, the House brought up and passed four IRS-related bills on the Suspension Calendar – H.R. 5170, the “Federal Records Accountability Act,” authored by Mark Meadows of NC, which would prohibit the destruction of official government documents, including some emails; H.R. 5418, authored by Charles Boustany of LA, which would prohibit IRS employees from using their personal email accounts for official business; H.R. 5419, also authored by Charles Boustany of LA, which would guarantee that groups that are denied tax-exempt status would have the right to appeal that decision; and H.R. 5420, also authored by Charles Boustany of LA, which would permit the IRS to release certain taxpayer information regarding the investigations of IRS data breaches to the victims of those breaches.
The following day, Wednesday, the House took up and passed H.R. 24, a bill offered by outgoing U.S. Rep. Paul Broun of GA to audit the Federal Reserve system. By a vote of 333-92, the measure passed, with only one Republican voting against it, and even a majority of the House Democratic Caucus voting for it.
THE CONTINUING RESOLUTION:
As you’ll recall, last week we talked about how the House GOP Leadership had been tasked with fitting a square peg into a round hole – how to avoid a government shutdown by passing a Continuing Resolution that achieved multiple goals at the same time: funding the government, temporarily extending the authorization for the Export-Import Bank, temporarily extending the prohibition against taxing Internet access, and, oh, by the way, also giving the President the Title X authority he wants, to vet, train, and arm Syrian rebels to be used in the non-war against ISIS.
You’ll recall the biggest problem they faced was that the White House very much wanted the Title X authorization included in the C.R., because the C.R. was the 113th Congress’ last “must pass” bill before the elections, and you’ll recall hearing of resistance from Members on both sides of the aisle – Members who believed a vote to authorize such vetting, training, and arming was a major vote, one that deserved its own debate and consideration, rather than being lumped into a catch-all spending bill.
The House Leadership’s solution was as simple as it was elegant: They decided to hold a separate debate on the Title X authorization provision, and give it its own separate vote, by creating a Rule that would allow for consideration of such a measure as an amendment to the C.R. Thus, both interests were served: The White House got the Title X authorization it wanted as part of the C.R., while Members got the separate debate and floor vote they wanted.
In the event, Tuesday afternoon was spent debating the Title X authorization amendment, and Wednesday afternoon was spent debating the underlying Continuing Resolution.
To mollify many in the GOP Conference, the Title X authorizing amendment included language inserted by the Leadership to specifically state that Congress will not allow the President to engage in full-scale combat operations using American troops. To do that, the President would have to return to Congress for a separate authorization. Moreover, new language was added requiring the Administration to report to Congress every three months about the progress of the operation, and still more language was added to require the Secretary of Defense to report to Congress 15 days before any training and arming of rebels takes place.
Ultimately, the House voted to pass the amendment by a vote of 273-156, with 159 Republicans and 114 Democrats voting yes, and 71 Republicans and 85 Democrats voting against it. Congress will get another crack at the policy in December, when the C.R. funding runs out and Congress has to pass a plan to fund the government for the rest of the Fiscal Year that ends next September 30.
And once the Title X authorization amendment passed, the Continuing Resolution was brought to the floor for final passage. It moved to the Senate by a vote of 319-108, with 176 Republicans and 143 Democrats joining in support, while 53 Republicans and 55 Democrats voted against.
The C.R. that passed funds the government until December 11 at current FY2014 spending levels, with discretionary spending set at $1.012 trillion.
When the C.R. moved to the Senate, Sen. Jeff Sessions of AL decided to play Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s parliamentary tactics back against him to force a vote on the President’s plan to offer amnesty by executive action.
The particular procedural maneuver Sessions used is rather complicated, and is used rarely, so I’m not going to take the time necessary to explain to you in detail how he did what he did. For tonight, it will suffice to say Sen. Sessions was able to use the Rules of the Senate to force the Senate to cast a vote that he fairly described as being a vote for or against allowing the President to extend or expand his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program without explicit congressional authorization. And because of the particular procedural maneuver employed, the vote fell under the 51-vote threshold, not the 60-vote requirement for passage that normally applies.
Now, with 55 votes at his disposal, there’s no way Harry Reid was going to allow himself to lose this vote. And he didn’t. The motion failed on a 50-50 vote, with five Democrats joining all 45 Republicans to support the measure.
See, Reid didn’t need all 55 of his votes, he just needed 50, because with a 50-50 tie, the Sessions motion would fail. So, that left Reid with five votes to spare, five votes he could do without, five Democrat Senators he could protect. And guess who the five votes were? Kay Hagan of NC, Mary Landrieu of LA, Mark Pryor of AR, Jeanne Shaheen of NH, and Joe Manchin of WV. Not surprisingly, four of the five – that is, all of them but Manchin – are in cycle this year, facing reelection contests in less than 50 days. (Interestingly, Democrat Mark Begich of AL voted against the Sessions motion, despite being a Red-State Democrat in a difficult reelection campaign, because, as he told Politico, he walked into the chamber “thinking about” voting for the measure, but decided against it when not a single Republican approached him. I think it will be interesting to find out what his constituents think when they find out he cast such an important vote not because he thought it was the right thing to do, but for political reasons.)
So the Sessions maneuver was, in hindsight, a mixed bag – on the one hand, we’ve now got 50 Democrats on record voting to say it’s okay for the President to extend and expand his DACA program without needing congressional approval; but on the other hand, we let four vulnerable Democrat Senators cast a vote that they can point to back home in front of their constituents to prove their bona fides as immigration hard-liners.
In the end, of course, the C.R. passed the Senate by a vote of 78-22, with 33 Republicans and 45 Democrats voting in support, and 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats voting against.
HOUSE GOP LEADERSHIP:
Two items of note on the House GOP Leadership front:
First, allies of Speaker Boehner are apparently floating a rules change for the House GOP Conference, according to National Journal. Under the proposed rule, once the House GOP Conference selects its Leadership candidates for the 114th Congress, any Conference member who then fails to vote for the Conference’s choice for Speaker would be punished by being stripped of all committee assignments for the whole of the 114th Congress.
Meanwhile, conservatives in the House GOP Conference are talking about pushing back the Leadership elections until after the lame duck session is through. This would have two effects: First, it would serve as a warning shot to current Leadership that they’d better not try any funny business during the lame duck, or they could pay a price during the Leadership elections to come afterwards; second, it extends the period of time any potential challengers would have to run a campaign and round up support.
Second, we now know who will be the candidates for chairman of the Republican Study Committee in the 114th Congress. There are four candidates: Cynthia Lummis of WY, Louie Gohmert of TX, Bill Flores of TX, and Mick Mulvaney of SC.
Interestingly, for the first time in anyone’s memory, if not ever, the RSC Founders and past chairmen chose not to endorse any of the candidates. You may recall that last time out, the Founders and former chairmen endorsed Tom Graves of GA, who was defeated for the post by Steve Scalise of LA, who’s now risen to the third-ranking Leadership post, House Majority Whip. The RSC changed its bylaws in the July meeting to choose a temporary successor to Scalise when he left to become Majority Whip.
If published reports are accurate – and I note “if,” because this is a Leadership race, and Leadership races involve more skullduggery than Betsey Wright and James Carville trying to cover up Bill Clinton’s dangerous liaisons – Mulvaney is the current front-runner. Flores – a close ally of Scalise, who would likely follow in Scalise’s less confrontational approach toward House GOP Leadership – is counting on his Texas delegation, by far the biggest state delegation in the House GOP Conference, to get him over the top, but right now that vote could be split, with many Members from Texas going instead with Gohmert.
SENATE GOP LEADERSHIP:
And finally, in what was undoubtedly the best news of the week for conservatives, on the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Steering Committee – the caucus of the most conservative members of the Senate GOP Conference, the Senate’s equivalent to the RSC – chose Sen. Mike Lee of UT as its chairman for the 114th Congress. Lee takes over from Pat Toomey of PA, who is stepping down in anticipation of a difficult reelection contest in his home state. Toomey is also stepping down in recognition of the disappointment he created on the right when he played a central role in the effort last year to craft and sell a bipartisan gun control compromise in the wake of the Newtown shootings.