Tea Party Patriots Weekly Report from Washington for 5/15/16
The House comes back into session on Monday, May 16, and will be in session through Thursday, with last votes expected no later than 3 PM.
The Senate will return to session on Monday, May 16, and will be in session through Friday.
LAST WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House came back into session on Tuesday, and took up 21 bills under Suspension. But I’m going to skip most of what happened on the House floor last week, because the only thing of great significance that happened was the consideration and passage of a dozen and a half different but related measures, all dealing with various aspects of the nation’s opioid crisis. They represent a multi-level approach to helping local law enforcement, medical personnel, and others find ways to address the crisis.
It should go without saying that the Obama Administration is not satisfied with the measures passed by the House to deal with the opioid crisis. Enter HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who put out a statement Thursday saying, “While we appreciate the attention Congress is paying to the issue, the legislation being voted on today in the House lacks the funding necessary to help every American with an opioid use disorder who wants treatment get the help they need.” Instead, Burwell urged Congress to consider the Obama Administration’s proposal for $1.1 billion in new funding, which had already been rejected by both House and Senate as unneeded – there’s plenty of unused but appropriated money lying around in Washington that could be used, without having to borrow more money.
On Friday, essentially telling HHS Secretary Burwell to take a long walk off a short pier, the House rolled all the opioids legislation into one big bill and labeled it the “Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act,” the same name, not coincidentally, given to the measure that passed the Senate earlier this year. The House version passed by a vote of 400-5, because who wants to be against recovering from addiction?
The bill will now go to conference with the Senate-passed version. There are two key differences between the two bills: First, the House bill spends less; second, the House bill is fully offset.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House will reconvene for first votes at 6:30 PM Monday, and will take up nine bills under Suspension of the Rules.
But the big legislative business of the week will be floor consideration of H.R. 4909, the National Defense Authorization Act, which already has more than 300 amendments filed for consideration with the Rules Committee. They probably won’t all see floor action, but one we’re keeping an eye on will be offered by Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry of TX to scrap the requirement that women register for the draft.
In addition, the House will attempt to take up H.R. 4974, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2017, and possibly even a Zika Response Appropriations Act, which hasn’t yet been given a bill number.
LAST WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate kicked off its week last Monday with a vote to invoke cloture on the Alexander substitute amendment to H.R. 2028, the vehicle for the FY 2017 Energy and Water Appropriations bill. Cloture was not invoked, by a vote of 50-42.
No roll call votes were held on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the Senate broke the logjam over the amendment offered by Sen. Tom Cotton of AR to prevent the future purchase of heavy water from Iran. The amendment was offered for a cloture vote, which went down to defeat by 57-42. The good news for Cotton is, he’s got a bipartisan majority of the Senate on record opposing the U.S. purchase of heavy water from Iran. The bad news, 57 votes isn’t enough to stop it.
Once the Cotton amendment was disposed of, the Senate then moved to invoke cloture on the Motion To Proceed to the Alexander substitute amendment to H.R. 2028. Cloture was invoked, by a vote of 97-2.
On Thursday, the Senate finally passed its $37.5 billion Energy and Water appropriations bill. The bill passed by a vote of 90-8.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran of MS bragged a bit on his committee, saying in a statement that the bill’s passage is the earliest the Senate has passed a stand-alone appropriations bill in more than 40 years.
The Senate then moved to consideration of H.R. 2577, an FY 2017 appropriations bill that combines both S. 2844, the Appropriations Committee-approved Transportation-Housing and Urban Development funding bill and S. 4974, the Appropriations Committee-approved Military Construction-Veterans Affairs funding bill.
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate will return for its vote of the week on Monday at 5:30 PM, on the confirmation of a U.S. District Judge.
In a compromise hashed out by Senators Roy Blunt of MO and Patty Murray of WA, the Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on a $1.1 billion package to combat the Zika virus. The measure would be considered “emergency spending,” which means the cost of the package won’t have to be offset elsewhere – which is another way of saying the government will just borrow the money and add another $1.1 billion to the national debt.
Of course, just voting once wouldn’t do justice to the Kabuki Theater aspect of life on Capitol Hill, so there will actually be three votes on Zika funding. Like Goldilocks, the Senate will get a chance to vote on the too hot porridge and the too cold porridge before they vote on the just right porridge. The first vote, in an amendment offered by Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson of FL, will be on the president’s full $1.9 billion request; the second vote, offered by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of TX, will be on the GOP proposal to provide $1.1 billion, fully offset out of ObamaCare prevention funds. Neither one is expected to get the 60 votes necessary to proceed, so then they’ll bring up the Murray-Blunt “compromise” funding proposal of $1.1 billion with no budget offset.
These votes will appear on the books as amendments to the appropriations bills now on the floor of the Senate, which is a combined package joining the Transportation/HUD and Military Construction/VA appropriations bills.
On the budget front, we had another week of the dog that did not bark. Again, the House of Representatives did not consider a budget resolution. On Thursday, Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s office did a whip check, and they didn’t even bother to check with every member of the House GOP Conference – before long, they knew they still didn’t have the votes, so they never completed the whip check.
Beginning Monday, the House can begin bringing to the floor individual appropriations bills. Because no other budget resolution has passed, the Appropriations Committee will write its individual spending bills to the topline numbers in the $1.07 trillion Boehner-Obama budget deal from last October.
You’ll recall that we’ve earlier discussed Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi of WY and his plans to hold hearings on reforming the budget process. On Thursday, Chairman Enzi released a list of almost 20 budget and appropriations process reforms. You’ll find the whole analysis in the Suggested Reading, but here are three of the most notable reform proposals:
- 385, the Biennial Appropriations Act, which would set up two-year appropriations bills, with what the chairman calls “more controversial” appropriations bill enacted in non-election years. Defense appropriations bill and the budget resolution would remain annual bills.
- 334, the End Government Shutdowns Act, which would automatically enact a Continuing Resolution if any of the regular appropriations bills, or CRs, have not been enacted by the start of a fiscal year. Here’s the interesting part – the bill builds in automatic cuts, with funding at previously enacted levels for the first 120 days, and a one percent cut for the next 90 days, with a second and successive one percent cuts every 90 days until a full-year appropriations bill is enacted. So there would be an incentive to come to an agreement that works in our favor, for once – Democrats won’t want to see budgets cut by even one percent.
- 39, the No Budget, No Pay Act, which would prohibit Members from both houses from being paid unless a concurrent resolution and all 12 appropriations bills are enacted into law by the start of the fiscal year on October 1. This bill certainly looks like it violates the 27th Amendment to the Constitution (which says a Member’s compensation may not be changed in the middle of a term), but it’s certainly a novel approach to fixing a broken process.
Last week, while we were on break for Mother’s Day, NBC News and others reported that the Romanian hacker who first exposed Hillary Clinton’s private email address is now making what’s described as a “bombshell” new claim – that he also hacked her “completely unsecured” private email server. “It was like an open orchid on the Internet,” he said in an exclusive interview with NBC News from a prison in Bucharest. “There were hundreds of folders.”
Spokesmen for the Clinton campaign denied any of the sort had occurred. This hacker, who goes by the nom de guerre “Guccifer,” apparently gets around – NBC News reported they interviewed him exclusively in a Bucharest prison, but he’s since been extradited to the U.S., and FOX News reported they interview him exclusively at a prison in Virginia, where he repeated the charges.
The Wall Street Journal and other news outlets reported last week that the FBI has interviewed senior aides to Hillary Clinton about her use of her private email server for official State Department business. Those aides include Huma Abedin and former Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, who at one point walked out of an interview with FBI investigators before returning. There is still no indication that a grand jury has been empaneled to hear evidence, which would be necessary before any indictments were issued.
A date for an FBI interview of Hillary Clinton has not yet been set.
Senators Pat Robert of KS and Kelly Ayotte of NH have placed holds on the nominations of two key Defense officials – Roberts has a hold on the nomination of Eric Fanning to be the next Secretary of the Army because Roberts objects to the movement of detainees from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, and Ayotte has a hold on the nomination of Jennifer O’Connor to be the Pentagon’s new general counsel until Congress receives a long-overdue report on the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.
Meanwhile, in a 23-2 vote, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act. That bill, like the House bill, requires women to register for the draft.
You’ll recall that last month, the House unanimously passed an update to the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act that would require law enforcement authorities to obtain a warrant before requesting digital content – that is, your emails – from internet service providers. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced Thursday that he will put a similar bill on his committee’s agenda this week, setting up a potential vote later this month. Senators Mike Lee of UT and Patrick Leahy of VT are cosponsors of the bill. Just for the record, three commissioners of the Securities and Exchange Commission have concerns the bill would “prevent the agency from getting information directly from email providers, since it cannot obtain criminal search warrants. Under the current ECPA law, the SEC can obtain emails with an administrative subpoena.” So, tough noogies to the SEC.
On Monday, the tech website Gizmodo reported on Monday that Facebook’s “trending topics” had been manipulated by its editors to suppress news of interest to conservatives. Such topics included the IRS targeting scandal, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, and others.
In response, Facebook officials denied the charges, saying nothing of the sort had happened. On Thursday evening, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg denied the charges again, and said he would be speaking soon with major conservative leaders on the matter. Clearly, Facebook takes this very seriously, as it should – though it may think of itself as nothing more than a tech company, roughly 30 percent of its users now say that they get the majority of their news from articles posted by friends to their Facebook feeds. In many ways, Facebook is now a dominant player in the news media sphere.
Last Sunday’s New York Times magazine contained a blockbuster piece – a long-form report on one Ben Rhodes, aspiring novelist and Obama national security whisperer whose official title in the Obama White House is “Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications.” How do we know he’s an aspiring novelist? Well, because that factoid is in the very title of the article – it’s called, “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru.” And the gist of the piece sets tongues a-wagging all over the Acela corridor, because it basically says young Mr. Rhodes took it upon himself to construct a fairy tale out of whole cloth to promote the Obama Administration’s terrible nuclear deal with Iran.
In what has now become the essential “nut graf” of the piece – that is, the core paragraph – he is quoted saying, “All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” he said. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.
Since all these 27-year-old foreign correspondents “know nothing,” it’s easy to spin them, to feed them false narratives, secure in the knowledge that Rhodes won’t get called on his falsehoods. As regards the Iran deal narrative, those falsehoods included a whopper – a narrative that goes like this:
The way in which most Americans have heard the story of the Iran deal presented — that the Obama administration began seriously engaging with Iranian officials in 2013 in order to take advantage of a new political reality in Iran, which came about because of elections that brought moderates to power in that country — was largely manufactured for the purpose for selling the deal. Even where the particulars of that story are true, the implications that readers and viewers are encouraged to take away from those particulars are often misleading or false. Obama’s closest advisers always understood him to be eager to do a deal with Iran as far back as 2012, and even since the beginning of his presidency …
In the narrative that Rhodes shaped, the “story” of the Iran deal began in 2013, when a “moderate” faction inside the Iranian regime led by Hassan Rouhani beat regime “hard-liners” in an election and then began to pursue a policy of “openness,” which included a newfound willingness to negotiate the dismantling of its illicit nuclear-weapons program. The president set out the timeline himself in his speech announcing the nuclear deal on July 14, 2015: “Today, after two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not.” While the president’s statement was technically accurate — there had in fact been two years of formal negotiations leading up to the signing of the J.C.P.O.A. — it was also actively misleading, because the most meaningful part of the negotiations with Iran had begun in mid-2012, many months before Rouhani and the “moderate” camp were chosen in an election among candidates handpicked by Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The idea that there was a new reality in Iran was politically useful to the Obama administration. By obtaining broad public currency for the thought that there was a significant split in the regime, and that the administration was reaching out to moderate-minded Iranians who wanted peaceful relations with their neighbors and with America, Obama was able to evade what might have otherwise been a divisive but clarifying debate over the actual policy choices that his administration was making.
Also included in the piece is this lovely little bon mot:
One of the few charter members of the Blob willing to speak on the record is Leon Panetta, who was Obama’s head of the C.I.A. and secretary of defense and also enough of a product of a different culture to give honest answers to what he understands to be questions of consequence. At his institute at the old Fort Ord in Seaside, Calif., where, in the days before he wore Mr. Rogers sweaters, he served as a young Army intelligence officer, I ask him about a crucial component of the administration’s public narrative on Iran: whether it was ever a salient feature of the C.I.A.’s analysis when he ran the agency that the Iranian regime was meaningfully divided between “hard-line” and “moderate” camps.
“No,” Panetta answers. “There was not much question that the Quds Force and the supreme leader ran that country with a strong arm, and there was not much question that this kind of opposing view could somehow gain any traction.”
I ask Panetta whether, as head of the C.I.A., or later on, as secretary of defense, he ever saw the letters that Obama covertly sent to Khamenei, in 2009 and in 2012, which were only reported on by the press weeks later.
“No,” he answers, before saying he would “like to believe” that Tom Donilon, national security adviser since 2010, and Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, had a chance to work on the offer they presented.
As secretary of defense, he tells me, one of his most important jobs was keeping Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, from launching a pre-emptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. “They were both interested in the answer to the question, ‘Is the president serious?’ ” Panetta recalls. “And you know my view, talking with the president, was: If brought to the point where we had evidence that they’re developing an atomic weapon, I think the president is serious that he is not going to allow that to happen.”
“But would you make that same assessment now?” I ask him.
“Would I make that same assessment now?” he asks. “Probably not.”
Not surprisingly, Republicans on Capitol Hill were not enthused when they read the piece. Speaker Paul Ryan accused the Obama Administration of having “essentially misled the American people,” and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz wants Rhodes to appear Tuesday morning at a hearing entitled, “White House Narratives on the Iran Nuclear Deal.” And while, as of press time, Rhodes had not yet responded to the invitation, Chaffetz is quite serious about Rhodes’ attendance – Chaffetz has threated to issue a subpoena if necessary to compel Rhodes’ attendance.
Just a reminder: Right before we went out on break, on Thursday, April 28, the House Ways and Means Committee approved H.R. 5053, the “Preventing IRS Abuse and Protecting Free Speech Act,” introduced by Rep. Peter Roskam of IL, which would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to prohibit the Secretary of the Treasury from requiring 501(c) tax-exempt, non-profit organizations to reveal the identities of their donors in their annual tax returns. Current law requires such entities to reveal the identities of any donor who contributes $5,000 or more in any year. We sent a letter to all the members of the committee urging them to support it, and, now that it has passed the committee and is ready for floor action, we will send a new letter to every Member of the House urging support.
On Friday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of VA announced plans to hold two hearings over the next several weeks to examine what he called the “misconduct” of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “The fact that officials at the IRS wielded their power to target certain Americans for their political views is both outrageous and contrary to our nation’s values,” he said. “Despite repeated congressional efforts to get to the bottom of this matter, Obama Administration officials, including the IRS Commissioner, have consistently undermined the investigation.”
The Judiciary Committee is inviting Commissioner Koskinen to testify at the first hearing, scheduled for Tuesday, May 24, at 10 AM, when the panel will also question other witnesses who’ve been following the matter closely. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee – whose members have introduced a resolution impeaching Koskinen – will also present its findings at that hearing. A second hearing will take place in June, with outside experts opining on OGR’s findings.
As a reminder, that Koskinen impeachment resolution is H.Res. 494, and it has 68 cosponsors.
On Thursday, Sen. David Vitter of LA sent a letter to his fellow Senators reiterating his decision to place a hold on the nomination of Beth Cobert to serve as Director of the Office of Personnel Management, because Cobert, in her position as Acting Director of OPM, supports the illegal OPM rule that allows Members of Congress and their staffs to get their special exemption from ObamaCare, and has indicated that she would continue to do so if confirmed. Like Sen. Shelby’s hold on the nomination of a director of the Export-Import Bank, this action shows what one lonely Senator can do to gum up the works in his fight for limited, constitutional government, if he’s got backbone and determination.
Of course, that wasn’t really the biggest news on the ObamaCare front on Thursday. That day, U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, appointed by George W. Bush, ruled against the Obama Administration in the lawsuit that the House brought against the Administration for improperly funding ObamaCare cost-sharing subsidies without a congressional appropriation. This is huge news for Article I supporters. Judge Collyer agreed with the House counsel that up to $175 billion the Administration was using to repay insurance companies was illegal, because while ObamaCare authorized the spending, the Congress never followed up by appropriating funds.
The judge ruled that the program could continue while the White House appeals the ruling to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
And here’s the thing – despite how much of the mainstream media has characterized this, the judge’s ruling, if it stays in place, would NOT take cost-sharing subsidies away from lower-income people. Under the law, those subsidies would remain in place – but the INSURANCE COMPANIES would have to pay for them out of pocket … which would, of course, lead to two things: insurance companies dropping out of the market, and insurance companies suing the federal government to recoup their losses.
On Wednesday, we anticipated seeing the revised version of the Puerto Rico debt relief bill from House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop. But we never saw the bill, and we still haven’t – there are continuing snags in negotiations with Democrats.
On Wednesday, under the terms of the Trade Promotion Authority enacted last year, the U.S. International Trade Commission will deliver its report assessing the impact of the deal on the U.S. economy. That could trigger an Administration decision to submit the Trans-Pacific Partnership implementing legislation to Congress and start the 90-day legislative clock for Congress to vote on the agreement. But I’ll bet dollars to donuts that clock doesn’t start ticking for some time yet – there just don’t appear to be the votes necessary to pass this bill through either house.
On Monday, the Department of Justice filed a civil suit against the state of North Carolina for passing legislation requiring students to use bathrooms appropriate for the gender on their birth certificate. The state of North Carolina filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice, charging that DOJ’s position was what it called “a radical reinterpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.” What has received little notice is that a separate lawsuit was filed against DOJ by the Speaker of the North Carolina House and the president pro tempore of the North Carolina Senate, arguing that the DOJ was violating the 10th Amendment to the Constitution by trying to “impose novel and unforeseen interpretations” of federal civil rights statutes.
On Friday, the Obama Administration – in the form of a letter from the Secretary of Education and the Attorney General – roiled the culture waters further, issuing guidance to all public school districts in the U.S. requiring them to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their self-professed gender identity. Schools that do not comply could face lawsuits, or a loss of federal funding.
Given that millennials are twice as likely as those over the age of 60 to support such measures, more than a few analysts suggest this is nothing but a political move designed to bolster Hillary Clinton’s position with the younger voters she’s now losing in droves to Bernie Sanders.
Rep. Steve King, who, as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, is leading a House task force examining the Obama Administration’s regular executive overreach, called for hearings on the Administration’s transgender directive. And for the record, the Republican National Committee at its February meeting approved a resolution endorsing state laws that restrict bathroom and locker room access to students of the matching “anatomical sex.”
TEA PARTY PATRIOTS: