Tea Party Patriots Weekly Report from Washington for 12/06/15
The House returns Monday, and will stay in session through Thursday, possibly Friday.
The Senate also returns Monday, with the first vote on Monday afternoon, and will likely stay in session through Thursday and possibly Friday.
LAST WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
On Monday, the House returned and voted on nine different bills under Suspension of the Rules. Six of them passed by voice vote, and the other three passed by more than the 2/3 majority required for passage under Suspension.
On Tuesday, the House passed H.R. 4127, the Intelligence Authorization Act for 2016, which is similar to, but has some additions to, what was passed in June in H.R. 2596, which was also the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2016. In addition to the language of the earlier version of the bill, the updated version of the bill requires the Administration to produce several analyses of Russian military activity, and adds new requirements regarding the security of U.S. facilities in Cuba. Of particular note is a section that requires the Director of National Intelligence to report to Congress on the monetary value of any direct or indirect forms of sanctions relief that Iran has received since the JCPOA first entered into effect, including how Iran has used those funds and the extent to which those funds have enabled Iran to support international terrorism. The bill passed by a vote of 364-58, with 11 Members not voting. That in itself is interesting – the earlier version of the bill passed in June by a vote of just 247-178. Not surprisingly, Democrats cast the overwhelming majority of the 112 votes that shifted from “No” to “Yes.”
And then the House took up and passed both of the congressional resolutions of disapproval we discussed last week, which had already passed the Senate – S.J. Res. 23 and S.J. Res. 24, expressing congressional disapproval of new EPA Rules on carbon and greenhouse gas emissions.
On Wednesday, the House took up its first really, really bad piece of legislation of the week – the Conference Report on S. 1177, the Every Student Succeeds Act, otherwise known as the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, or Elementary and Secondary Education. The bill passed by a vote of 359-64, with 10 Members not voting. If you’ve been paying attention, you don’t have to be smarter than a fifth grader to figure out who cast the 64 “No” votes.
On Thursday, the House passed H.R. 8, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015, by a vote of 249-174.
Later on Thursday, the House took up and passed its second really, really bad piece of legislation of the week, the Conference Report on H.R. 22 – that’s the five-year, $305 billion highway bill. The bill passed by a vote of 359-65. I’ll give you three guesses which group made up the bulk of the 65 “No” votes, but you won’t need more than one to figure it out once I describe the bill to you.
This bill, to put it mildly, was a piece of crap. It relied on about $70 billion in unrelated pay-fors to keep the Highway Trust Fund funded for the next five years, and, in the words of Politico, “leans heavily” on the Federal Reserve for most of that money. The Fed, of course, is not happy about that at all, but that didn’t faze the overwhelming majority of Democrats OR Republicans in the House.
It’s not often that I take the time to quote individual Members in the Washington Report, because we simply don’t have enough time. But I’m going to make an exception this week, because I found the comments of Transportation Committee Ranking Democrat Rep. Peter DeFazio SO revealing and SO cynical that I think it’s important you hear them.
“If the Fed can bail out the banks and give them preferred interest rates, they can do something for the greater economy and for average Americans. So it was their time to help out a little bit,” he said. When challenged with the suggestion that they only succeeded by using budget wizardry and rosy assumptions to guarantee a fully funded bill, he responded: “It doesn’t matter … because when this bill is signed into law, we transfer $70 billion into the trust fund. It’s mandatory spending. Whether that money ever shows up or not, that’s not our problem.”
Well, of course, it IS our problem, because that money has to come from somewhere.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The current Continuing Resolution expires at the end of this week, so one of two things will happen this week – either the House and Senate will both pass another short-term C.R. and get the president to sign it, or they’ll finalize and pass an omnibus appropriations bill that spends the money authorized by the two-year budget deal they all agreed to as John Boehner was leaving office.
In addition, on Monday the House will consider two bills under Suspension, and then on Tuesday, they’ll consider 13 bills under Suspension, including H.R. 158, the Visa Waiver Improvement Act of 2015 as amended. That bill, according to the summary provided by the Congressional Research Service:
Amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to include terrorism risk as a factor the Secretary of Homeland Security shall consider under the electronic system for travel authorization (ESTA) in determining the eligibility of an alien to travel to the United States.
Directs the Secretary to report to Congress regarding: (1) the number of individuals, identified by their countries of citizenship or nationality, who were denied eligibility to travel, or whose eligibility was revoked, under the ESTA because the individual was determined to be a U.S. security threat; (2) steps to strengthen the ESTA; and (3) foreign government compliance with information sharing agreements concerning passport theft or loss and whether a country’s citizens or nationals traveling to the United States pose a U.S. security threat.
Authorizes the Secretary to suspend a country from the visa waiver program without prior notice if the country fails to comply with an agreement to share information regarding whether its citizens and nationals traveling to the United States pose a U.S. security threat.
And then there’s a big hole in the floor calendar, with notice that Members should “keep their schedules flexible as we approach the end of the year,” because they’ve still got to hold votes on a tax extenders package, the omnibus spending bill, and the amended reconciliation bill that just passed the Senate. And to make sure no one missed it, his notice was underlined, bolded, italicized, AND asterisked.
LAST WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate came back in last Monday and moved to confirm Gayle Smith of OH to be the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.
Remember, at the start of the week, there were still three conservative Senators – Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio – who were holding firm in their opposition to the House-passed reconciliation bill, on the grounds that it really didn’t do as much as it could do to repeal ObamaCare. So Sen. McConnell had to find a way to bring them into the tent.
On Monday evening, McConnell told them what he was going to do to assuage their concerns and strengthen the reconciliation bill’s repeal provisions – he added a repeal of the taxpayer subsidies, and a repeal of the Medicaid expansion, phased in over two years. Those two additional provisions got him the three votes he needed, and the bill was strengthened considerably thanks to the three Senators’ determination to stand firm.
On Tuesday evening, the Senate agreed by voice vote to begin consideration of H.R. 3762, the budget reconciliation bill that would repeal significant portions of ObamaCare and defund Planned Parenthood. After passing the voice vote, Leader McConnell offered a Substitute Amendment to ensure that the House-passed bill complies with Senate Budget Rules (most notably, the Byrd Rule).
Under the procedures established by passage of the FY16 Budget Resolution, the Senate was allowed up to 20 hours of debate, following by the consideration of amendments – the “Vote-a-rama,” just as happens during consideration of the Budget Resolution.
Also on Tuesday, Leader McConnell began the Rule 14 process on H.R. 3762, the REINS Act, so he can bring that bill directly to the floor of the Senate without it having to go through committee first.
So the Senate spent Wednesday debating ObamaCare and other items, and then began voting on amendments on Thursday. By my count, they voted on 18 amendments during the Vote-a-rama, the overwhelming majority of which failed.
By 8 PM Thursday, they were done voting on amendments, and it was time to vote on final passage. Sens. Mark Kirk of IL and Susan Collins of ME were the only two Republicans to vote against the bill, so it passed by a vote of 52-47.
On Thursday, just hours after the House passed the Conference Report on the highway bill, the Senate passed the five-year, $305 billion highway bill. The vote was 83-16.
Then Sen. McConnell filed cloture on the Conference Report for S. 1177, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization. Absent a consent agreement, the cloture vote would occur one hour after the Senate comes into session on Tuesday.
Finally, the Senate began the Rule 14 process on S. 2359, Restoring Second Amendment Rights in Washington, DC, offered by Sen. Rand Paul, so that Sen. McConnell can bring it to the floor without it first having gone through committee. As of press time, the Library of Congress has no information on the bill, but I’m willing to bet my last dollar it’s almost word-for-word the text of amendment #2915 that Sen. Paul offered to the reconciliation bill, which he then called the “Defend Our Capital Act.” That amendment “would remove existing firearm ownership laws in the District of Columbia, and require the District of Columbia to issue and grant reciprocity for concealed weapons permits for both residents and non-residents.” (FYI, he got a vote on that amendment, and it failed by a vote of 54-45 – it needed 60 to pass.)
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate will begin its week with a 5:30 PM vote on the nomination of a U.S. District Court Judge.
Then, on Tuesday, the Senate will move to take up the Conference Report on the education reauthorization bill that just passed the House.
Given that the current C.R. expires on Friday, December 11, the Senate will also take up either a short-term C.R. that buys some time to finish a deal on an omnibus spending package, or they’ll finish up the details of the omnibus package and bring it to the floor this week.
Also on tap is what’s rapidly becoming a massive tax extenders deal, where Congress will extend roughly 50 expiring tax breaks worth between $700 billion and $850 billion over ten years, depending on whom you listen to and whether you factor in the added interest costs when you tack that amount onto the national debt.
The Secretary of Defense declared this week that all combat roles will be open to women, despite studies showing that this would result in reduced effectiveness and lethality of combat units.
This is not just using the military for social engineering, it is an attempt by the left to seriously hinder any future projection of U.S. military power.
The Senate strengthened the House-passed budget reconciliation bill by adding a repeal of taxpayer subsidies and repeal of the Medicaid expansion, with a two-year delay to assuage the concerns of any Senators worried about the political consequences back home of casting a vote to “take away health insurance” from hundreds of thousands of their states’ citizens. Leader McConnell got around the Parliamentarian’s ruling that the House-passed language regarding the repeal of the individual and employer mandates wouldn’t pass muster in the Senate by scrapping the House language, and instead zeroing out the penalties for both mandates. That is, both mandates would officially stay on the books as law, but the penalties for violating either of them would be reduced to zero. That DID pass muster with the Parliamentarian.
So by the time it came time for the final vote, the reconciliation bill repealed taxpayer subsidies, the Medicaid expansion, the Cadillac tax, the Medical Device Tax, the sun tan tax, a whole slew of other taxes, and it effectively repealed both the employer and individual mandates.
That bill will now have to go back to the House for another vote before it can be sent to the President for his signature or veto.
I told you last week that right before the Thanksgiving recess, Speaker Ryan’s task force on reforming the Steering Committee came up with several recommendations to decentralize power and push it out of the Speaker’s office. The entire House GOP Conference voted to accept the recommendations.
One of those recommendations was to strip the six top committee chairmen of their automatic seats on the Steering Committee: The chairmen of Appropriations, Budget, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, Rules, and Ways and Means will no longer be entitled to a seat on the Steering Committee simply because of the chairmanship they hold. To fill those seats, the House GOP Conference will hold an election before the Christmas recess. Rank-and-file Members from across the Conference will fill the seats.
But there’s a catch – though there are six seats to be filled, each Member will only be allowed to cast one vote. That means all sorts of cross-pressures are going to come into play. Both the House Freedom Caucus and the Tuesday Group are planning to nominate one candidate, and then they’ll likely vote as blocs to ensure they each control at least one seat on the committee. Neither has announced who their respective choices will be.
JENNY BETH MARTIN/TPP: