Tea Party Patriots Weekly Report from Washington for 4/17/16
The House will come back into session on Monday, and stay in session through Thursday.
The Senate will come back into session on Monday, and stay in session through Friday.
LAST WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House began its week on Monday, with nine bills on the Suspension Calendar, and three bills brought to the floor under Rules – H.R. 3791, to raise the consolidated assets threshold under the small bank holding company policy statement; H.R. 3340, the Financial Stability Oversight Council Reform Act; and H.R. 2666, No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access.
On Wednesday, the House took up five more bills under the Suspension Calendar. All five passed by voice vote.
On Thursday, the House took up and passed H.R. 3791, to raise the consolidated assets threshold under the small bank holding company policy statement, and H.R. 3340, the Financial Stability Oversight Council Reform Act. And then, on Friday, the House finally finished up with H.R. 2666, the No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act, which also passed.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House will return to work Monday – this year’s Tax Day, thanks to a holiday in the District of Columbia – and will take up eight bills on the Suspension Calendar, most of which are simply renaming federal buildings, though one, I would point out, does something a) serious and b) common sense – that’s H. Con. Res. 119, which authorizes the use of the Capitol Grounds for the Greater Washington Soap Box Derby.
On Tuesday, the House will take up seven bills on the Suspension Calendar. One of them – H.R. 4903, introduced by Rep. Rick Allen of GA – prohibits the use of funds by the Internal Revenue Service to target citizens of the United States for exercising any right guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The bill was introduced last Monday, and there’s no text in the Thomas system, and no list of cosponsors, either, so one has to wonder just how serious is this as an effort at legislating, as opposed to throwing something on the wall around tax time.
Wednesday and Thursday, it’ll be time to get out the popcorn and soda and tune in C-SPAN, because the House is going to spend up to two days of floor time engaging in full-on IRS bashing. No fewer than four bills – which we discussed last week – will be hitting the floor.
First up will be H.R. 4885, the IRS Oversight While Eliminating Spending (OWES) Act, introduced by Rep. Jason Smith of MO. The bill requires the IRS to deposit fees for services in the general fund of the U.S. Treasury, and prohibits the expenditure of such fees unless an appropriations bill provides for such expenditures. This is nothing but a warm-up act.
The second bill to hit the floor will be H.R. 1206, the No Hires for the Delinquent IRS Act, introduced by Rep. David Rouzer of NC. This bill prohibits any federal officer or employer from extending an offer of employment in the IRS to any individual until the IRS publicly issues a written certification that the IRS does not employ any individual who has a seriously delinquent tax debt. In other words, this is a hiring freeze at the IRS, until the IRS finds a way to fix all the tax delinquents at its own agency. Just as a refresher, a report last May revealed that 1,580 IRS employees had evaded taxes over the previous decade.
The third bill under consideration is H.R. 3724, the Ensuring Integrity in the IRS Workforce Act, introduced by Rep. Kristi Noem of SD. This bill simply amends the Internal Revenue Code to prohibit the IRS from rehiring any individual who was previously employed by the IRS but was removed for misconduct or whose employment was terminated for cause.
The last bill in the IRS Bash-a-Thon is H.R. 4890, introduced by Rep. Pat Meehan of PA, which would prohibit the Department of the Treasury from paying a bonus, award, or similar cash payment to an IRS employee until Treasury submits to Congress a comprehensive customer service strategy that has been reviewed and approved by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
LAST WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate began its week last Monday, with a vote to confirm a U.S. District Judge in Tennessee. Waverly D. Crenshaw was confirmed by a vote of 92-0.
Then the Senate resumed consideration of H.R. 636, the vehicle for the FAA reauthorization. Meanwhile, Majority Leader McConnell worked behind the scenes to reach a Unanimous Consent agreement to allow further amendments and a final vote on the Energy Policy Modernization Act.
On Thursday, Majority Leader McConnell filed cloture on the Motion To Proceed to H.R. 2028, the Energy and Water appropriations bill. Later Thursday, the Senate voted to invoke cloture on the Thune substitute amendment to the FAA reauthorization. Cloture was invoked by a vote of 94-4.
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate will begin its week Monday with a 5:30 PM cloture vote on H.R. 636, the vehicle for the FAA reauthorization.
Following that, the Senate will likely move to take up S. 2012, the Energy Policy Modernization Act, and H.R. 2028, the Energy and Water appropriations bill.
The House Select Committee on Benghazi has begun to draft its report, according to The Hill, and could release its findings just weeks before the two party conventions in July.
The committee still has about ten people left to interview, and is still waiting for additional documents from the Obama Administration. According to committee member Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of GA, the remaining witnesses are “more to the military side.”
The committee and its investigation will hit its second birthday on May 2.
So, Friday came and went. Friday, of course, was April 15, the statutory deadline for the House to pass a budget resolution. The House failed to do so, and all 435 Members were immediately thrown in handcuffs and taken into custody.
Of course that didn’t happen. There is no penalty for violating the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, which established the current congressional budget process.
So, having failed to pass a budget resolution – which is a good thing, given that the budget resolution the House and Senate Republican Leaderships wanted to pass spends more money than we’d like to see spent – the House and Senate will now begin taking up individual appropriations bills written to the topline numbers established by last October’s two-year Boehner-Obama budget deal.
They hope to get a few bills passed by both houses before they break for the July conventions. If they can do that, they’ll claim credit, and then roll the rest of the appropriations bills into a big Continuing Resolution that will go to the President after the August recess, in plenty of time to avoid any worries over a government shutdown five weeks before the election.
The Export-Import Bank, as you’ll recall, was not reauthorized last summer, but was revived later in the year. We chalked that up to more inside-the-Beltway GOP Establishment squishiness.
But if you’ve got a good memory, you’ll also recall that even though the Ex-Im Bank had been reauthorized, opponents were still blocking the confirmation of new board members – and that, without confirmation of those board members, the board lacked a quorum, and that blocked the bank from approving any loan guarantees larger than $10 million. In effect, even though the bank had been reauthorized, it still wasn’t – and isn’t – allowed to function.
Sen. Richard Shelby of AL, Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, is still holding up the confirmation of those Ex-Im Bank board nominees. And until he decides to lift his hold, the bank is stymied.
In fact, after Shelby sat on one nomination for more than 10 months, the Obama Administration withdrew the nominee, and sent up another one – a Republican. But even that failed to budge Shelby, a long-time opponent of the Ex-Im Bank.
On Monday, the Obama Administration will once again be in court – the Supreme Court – arguing that its actions have not gone beyond constitutional bounds. This time, it’s the President’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents that’s on trial, along with an expansion of his original Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
It’s a week later, and Iran is still upset it’s not being allowed back into the international financial system yet. Last week, Valiollah Seif, the governor of the Central Bank of Iran, was in Washington, taking meetings around the annual spring summit meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. On Thursday, Seif met with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
In a speech Friday morning to the Council on Foreign Relations, Seif declared that the U.S. must give Iran more concessions – including, specifically, access to U.S. dollars – or Iran will walk away from the nuclear deal.
The White House and State Department pushed back publicly, denying that the U.S. was holding up Iran on fulfilling its obligations under the deal.
This is important – when the Obama Administration was trying to sell the deal on Capitol Hill, they promised there would be no linkage between the deal and unrelated sanctions. But with the Associated Press and Wall Street Journal both reporting in recent weeks that the Administration was preparing to dollarize Iran, a backlash emerged on Capitol Hill, with some going as far as to call for investigations into whether the Administration deliberately lied to Congress.
Others criticized the Obama Administration for even letting this man into the country, given that he had run Iranian banks that had previously been sanctioned for facilitating Iran’s nuclear weapons program and for providing support to international terrorist groups.
We’re keeping our eye on this.
Responding to questions from Indiana Republican Senator Dan Coats at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Tuesday, current Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen revealed that the IRS processes fraudulent returns filed with other people’s IRS-issued Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers without telling any other agencies about the fraud. That is, even in cases where the IRS may have reason to believe that someone has fraudulently used someone else’s taxpayer identification numbers – which would, by definition, mean the return contains false W-2 information – the IRS simply goes ahead and processes the returns as normal, and does nothing to notify the victims whose Social Security Numbers were used. Said Koskinen, “It’s in everybody’s interest to have them pay the taxes they owe.”
Explaining a bit more, Koskinen continued the following day at a House Small Business Committee hearing. In response to Rep. Dave Brat of VA, who asked him about his comments the day before, Koskinen replied: “We have Social Security and immigration authorities and others who enforce that part of the law, and if we start looking behind the system and doing their job for them, we’re going to discourage a lot of people from paying the taxes they owe.”
On Thursday, members of the House Freedom Caucus planned to spend time on the floor of the House renewing the push to impeach Commissioner Koskinen. They were preempted by Speaker Ryan, who, in answering a question about the IRS at his weekly Thursday press conference, said, “Yes, I think this is an agency that has not been led well and this is an agency that needs to be cleaned up … As far as these other issues, look, what I think what we need to do is win an election, get better people in these agencies and reform the tax code so we’re not harassing the average taxpayer with a tax code that they can’t even understand.” In other words, given the opportunity to say he thought Koskinen should be impeached, he failed to do so – and undercut his own colleagues.
Just for the record, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz’ resolution impeaching Koskinen has 62 GOP cosponsors.
The House Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over Puerto Rico, abruptly canceled a markup session scheduled for Wednesday afternoon when its chairman, Rob Bishop of UT, realized he didn’t have the votes needed to pass the Puerto Rico bailout bill. Bishop said the problem was that the Obama Administration was still negotiating for better terms on the bill, and Speaker Ryan said that the bill didn’t get to markup because Democrats weren’t willing to support it.
But a Wednesday morning hearing on the bill made clear there was plenty of conservative opposition to the bill, as well.
The current bill does not put U.S. taxpayers on the hook directly – there is no commitment of taxpayer dollars to help Puerto Rico out of its $73 billion bond debt. Instead, the bill establishes a control board to monitor the island’s finances, and gives that board the power to overrule the island’s governor and legislature if it feels the need to. In exchange, the island gets the right to go to court to try to restructure some of its debt if negotiations with creditors fail.
In addition, the bill lowers the minimum wage for younger residents of the island, something House Democrats oppose strongly.
The turmoil led to a decision by Speaker Ryan to hold a special all-Puerto Rico GOP Conference on Friday morning. The meeting was called so committee leaders could make a sales pitch; it ended with a realization that the bill would have to be reworked significantly if it was going to earn GOP support. Members emerged from the conference sounding optimistic, according to news accounts, but were not committed to any particular timeline, despite the fact that Puerto Rico has a $422 million payment due on May 1 and no money to pay it. There’s another payment of $2 billion due on July 1.
One of the issues at play is who gets paid first? Democrats are adamant that public pension funds and unions who invested in Puerto Rican municipal debt emerge unscathed; Republicans don’t want to give them preference over institutional investors.
The big news on the Supreme Court front last week was Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s meeting with Obama nominee Judge Merrick Garland. The two met over breakfast in the Senators’ private dining room for more than an hour. Grassley did not allow photographers and reporters to be present at the beginning of the meeting, nor did he post a picture of the two after the meeting.
Two days later, the longest-serving Republican in the chamber – Orrin Hatch of UT – unburdened himself of a thought or two on the Supreme Court vacancy. He addressed specifically the argument from the left that the Court cannot function without nine justices on the bench. As Hatch put it, “This argument would be compelling if it weren’t completely unsubstantiated and ignorant of the Supreme Court’s history … Those who argue the Supreme Court needs nine justices to hear a case are either ignoring the truth or deliberately distorting the facts to fit liberal talking points. Nothing in our Constitution specifies the number of justices that should serve on the Supreme Court.”
Hatch then went on to point out that at the beginning of the Republic, the Supreme Court only had six justices. For many years, there were seven; during the Civil War, he pointed out, there were 10. It wasn’t until 1869 that the number of justices was set at nine by law.
As for tie cases, Hatch pointed out that since he was first elected to the Senate in 1976, the Supreme Court has heard more than 500 cases with only eight justices – and less than 7% of these cases ended in a tie.
Our friend Senator Mike Lee of UT announced last week that he wanted to be elected Chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, the fourth-ranking position in the Senate GOP Conference, behind only the Majority Leader, the Whip, and the chairman of the Senate GOP Conference.
The current incumbent is Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, who’s very popular with his GOP colleagues.
This resulted in a dustup inside the Senate GOP Conference, as senior members came down hard on Sen. Lee for daring to challenge a sitting member of the leadership team. Sen. Lee responded that he had no intention of challenging Sen. Barrasso for the Policy Committee chairmanship, he expected the position to be vacant at the end of this Congress because Barrasso was term-limited.
Not so fast, replied the Majority Leader. Senate GOP rules allow for three two-year terms in a leadership position other than the Majority or Minority Leader slot, and Barrasso hasn’t yet served three full terms. At issue is whether or not a partial term counts as one of the three two-year terms. Barrasso and two other members of the current leadership all took their positions in 2011, after TN Sen. Lamar Alexander stepped down in mid-term from his position as Conference Chairman.
Lee says his reading of the rules makes clear that even a partial term counts as one of the three terms; the Majority Leader objects to this reading of the rules, and says precedent dictates that a partial term does NOT count.
Senate Republicans will hold a special meeting on Tuesday to resolve the issue.