Tea Party Patriots Weekly Report from Washington for 7/10/17
The House will return on Tuesday, with the first votes scheduled for 6:30 PM. The House will stay in session through Friday, with the last vote scheduled to be no later than 3 PM.
The Senate will return on Monday, with the first vote set for 5:30. The Senate is also scheduled to stay in session through Friday.
TWO WEEKS AGO ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
Two weeks ago Monday, the House came back into session and took up and passed two bills on the Suspension Calendar.
On Tuesday, June 27, they took up and passed two more bills on the Suspension Calendar. They also took up and passed H.Res. 397 under Suspension of the Rules. That was a resolution that reaffirmed the commitment of the United States to stand by Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization treaty, which binds all signatory nations to the principle that an attack on one is an attack on all. This was necessitated by President Trump’s failure to reiterate that commitment during a previous trip to Europe, and in advance of last week’s G-20 summit.
On Wednesday, June 28, the House considered H.R. 1215, a medical malpractice reform effort called the Protecting Access to Care Act. After the House amended it, the bill passed by a vote of 218-210. CBO estimates that because the bill would result in less expensive medical liability insurance, and fewer tests because doctors wouldn’t be ordering as much defensive medicine, this bill would save $50 billion over ten years.
On Thursday, June 29, the House took up and passed both H.R. 3003, the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, and H.R. 3004, Kate’s Law. The former passed by a vote of 228-195, the latter by a vote of 257-167, with 24 Democrats crossing party lines to vote with the majority.
And then they were done.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House will return on Tuesday evening, and will attempt to take up 12 bills on the Suspension Calendar.
On Wednesday, they’ll try to take up three more bills on the Suspension Calendar. All have something to do with one aspect or another of human trafficking.
And on Thursday, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 2810, the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018. The bill, which passed the House Armed Services Committee by a vote of 60-1, authorizes $621.5 billion in the base defense budget and $75 billion for overseas contingency operations, which is $28.5 billion more than what the Trump Administration asked for. We’ll see lots of amendments on this one – there are hundreds of amendments already on file with the House Rules Committee. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Democrats offer amendments on Russia sanctions.
TWO WEEKS AGO ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate returned on Monday, June 26, and took up the confirmation vote on Kristine Svinicki to be a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She was confirmed by a vote of 88-9.
On Thursday, June 29, the Senate voted by 59-36 to invoke cloture on the nomination of Neomi Rao to be Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs of the Office of Management and Budget.
And then they were done.
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate will return Monday, with a vote teed up to confirm Neomi Rae to serve as Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs of the OMB. If you’ve never heard of her or the office she’s about to head, I would commend to your attention an excellent article in, believe it or not, The New York Times. I’ve included it in this week’s Suggested Reading.
Majority Leader McConnell has also scheduled votes on David Nye to be a U.S. District Judge for the District of Idaho, and William Hagerty, a private equity investor, to be U.S. Ambassador to Japan.
Beyond that, expect to hear a lot of speechifyin’ about healthcare and Russia as the Senate spins its wheels waiting for new CBO scores on various iterations of the Better Care Reconciliation Act, otherwise known as the Senate Republican Not-Full-ObamaCare-Repeal bill.
In addition to the confirmations we just discussed, FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray will have his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Wednesday morning.
You’ll recall that when last we talked, I reported on the Trump Administration’s decision to terminate President Obama’s DAPA program, and its ongoing consideration of what to do about the DACA program. On Thursday, June 29, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton warned that unless the Department of Homeland Security terminates the DACA program, he will sue to have the program ended. In a letter in which he was joined by nine other state attorneys general, Paxton argues that the 2012 Obama program is illegal, and set a September 5 deadline for the federal government to announce a phaseout of the program.
On another immigration-related front, the Supreme Court announced on Monday, June 26 that it would grant the Trump Administration’s request to reinstate part of the temporary travel ban imposed by executive order in the first week of the new Administration. The Court also agreed to hear the Administration’s appeal of lower court rulings that had prevented the temporary ban from going into effect.
The state of Hawaii filed an appeal of the ruling with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but the Court declined to block the policy, saying the power to halt the ban’s implementation remained outside its jurisdiction because the plaintiffs had not sought an injunction from the lower court.
Supreme Court watchers view the Court’s action as evidence of the likelihood that when it hears the case in its new term, it’s likely to overturn lower court rulings against the executive order. In order to accept the case, at least five justices have to believe the appellant – in this case, the Trump Administration – is likely to win on the merits of the case, and, say the Court-watchers, it’s unlikely that one or more of those five would change his or her mind between now and then.
So for now, the temporary travel ban has gone into effect.
NEW JERSEY HORIZON:
I want to take just a moment to update you on a recent success story for Tea Party Patriots.
Over the last several months, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been trying to raid the reserve funds of the state’s largest health insurer, a non-profit entity called Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield. The company provides coverage for 55 percent of the state’s residents, and has a few billion dollars in reserves.
Christie, as you know, is the nation’s least popular governor. In fact, it turns out he’s the least popular governor in the history of the Quinnipiac poll, and that’s across the several states in which they regular conduct surveys. His most recent job approval rating is 15 percent.
With six months to go in office, Christie is apparently casting about for something good to be remembered for. And he apparently decided some months ago that he was going to make a splash on efforts to fight opioid abuse. Problem is, he doesn’t have any state money to treat the opioid crisis in New Jersey. So someone convinced him he should raid Horizon’s reserves to the tune of $300 million.
Along with others in a coalition, we’ve been fighting this power grab for months. It all came to a head a week and a half ago, as New Jersey legislators were trying to finalize budget negotiations with Christie. The governor announced that he would not sign a budget that didn’t change a law that would lead to a restructuring of Horizon so that a future New Jersey governor could raid the company’s reserves. The state Senate gave him what he wanted, but the state Assembly held firm, and refused.
When neither side blinked before the Friday, June 30 deadline to enact a budget, the state government shut down – including shutting down state beaches on the long Fourth of July holiday weekend. That is, of course, except for Island Beach State Park, part of which is reserved for the use of the guests in the governor’s beach house. Mind you, this is not Chris Christie’s personal beach house that he owned before he became governor; I mean, it’s the state’s beach house that’s reserved for the use of the governor and his guests.
So there on the private state beach, captured by a photographer for the state’s largest newspaper from a plane flying overhead on the first day of the state government shutdown, sat the governor on a Saturday afternoon, surrounded by his family and their friends. Back in Trenton later that day for a press conference on the ongoing budget crisis, Christie denied that he had gotten any sun that day. When photographs revealed him sunning himself on the beach, calling his denial into dispute, his spokesman assured the assembled reporters that Christie had told the truth – he hadn’t gotten any sun, said the spokesman, because he was wearing a baseball cap.
The Assembly held firm. And on Tuesday, the governor relented, and signed a new budget into law – a budget agreement that does not allow Christie or any future New Jersey governor to get his or her hands on Horizon’s reserves. So score one for the good guys.
The Senate left town for the Fourth of July recess without having first passed the Better Care Reconciliation Act, and, as Senate Majority Leader McConnell intuited, its prospects for passage have not increased. In fact, what he feared – that facing constituents at home over the break would weaken support for the draft legislation – has happened exactly as he had feared, and this bill is on life support.
Over the course of the break, Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley raised serious concerns about whether or not they could support the bill. There are roughly 10 Republican Senators opposed to the bill at last count, and McConnell can only afford to lose two of them.
On Thursday, he tried to ratchet up the pressure on conservative Senators to support the bill by suggesting that if the bill didn’t pass, and the Senate couldn’t repeal ObamaCare, then he would move to option B – working with Democrats to fix ObamaCare by passing legislation to shore up the individual markets. Though he wasn’t specific about what he meant, I intuit that such legislation would include a congressional appropriation for the insurance company cost-sharing reduction payments that the Obama Administration paid from other funds without congressional authorization, in violation of the Constitution, which was ruled against when the House brought suit.
McConnell’s problem with the draft legislation is that he’s being pulled from both ends – moderates in his caucus think the bill is too harsh (with its out-year reductions of planned future spending increases on Medicaid), while conservatives think it leaves too much of ObamaCare’s regulatory structures in place. One possible solution is an amendment offered by Sen. Ted Cruz, what he’s calling his “Consumer Freedom” amendment. It would allow health insurance companies which offer at least one ObamaCare-compliant plan to also offer plans that are NOT ObamaCare-compliant – meaning, they don’t have to provide coverage for everything in ObamaCare’s “Essential Health Benefits,” which means they can be priced more reasonably. Adding the Cruz Consumer Freedom amendment to the bill would make it far more palatable for most conservatives.
But the moderates say they’re worried that adding that amendment would result in the bifurcation of the individual market – one market for ObamaCare compliant plans, which would be populated by older, sicker people paying higher and higher premiums as that market shrinks, and the new market for ObamaCare non-compliant plans, which would be populated by younger, healthier people paying lower and lower premiums as that market grows.
A second growing problem for the McConnell bill – and, in fact, for any attempt to repeal ObamaCare – is that moderates have shown themselves to be scared of the left’s main line of attack against even these half-hearted efforts to repeal ObamaCare. According to the left, the GOP wants to take away health care from people who need it so they can pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. That’s because ObamaCare contains massive tax increases to pay for its generous subsidies. Necessarily, then, any attempt to actually repeal ObamaCare will include a repeal of its trillion-dollar tax increases.
Right now, the Senate is in a holding pattern, waiting for the CBO to score two new versions of the bill – one with some amendments that have been made since the original draft was offered, and a second one with those amendments plus the Cruz Consumer Freedom amendment. We expect CBO to release those scores this week, so don’t expect floor action on anything that looks like ObamaCare repeal until next week. That means we’ve got this week to push hard for GOP Senators to embrace the Cruz Consumer Freedom amendment, in an effort to strengthen the bill.
On Friday, at the G-20 meeting, President Trump met for the first time with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. Originally scheduled for 30 minutes, the bilateral meeting lasted two hours and 16 minutes. At the hour-and-fifteen-minute mark, U.S. officials sent Melania Trump into the room to try to get them to break it up, but the meeting continued for another hour beyond that.
There were six people present in the room: Trump, Putin, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and two interpreters.
President Trump, unlike most of his G-20 colleagues, did not take questions from the media after the meeting. He left it to Secretary Tillerson to report what had happened. Tillerson said Trump had raised the issue of Russia’s interference in the 2016 American elections, pressing Putin repeatedly and for some time on the issue. According to Putin himself, Trump “asked a lot of questions on this matter … I answered as many as I could answer. I think he took it into consideration and agreed with it. But you should ask him what his opinion is on that.”
The media spent Saturday trying to make the argument that no one from the Trump Administration had denied Putin’s assertion that Trump had taken Putin’s denial at face value. But on Sunday morning, on FOX News Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus popped that balloon, declaring, “The president absolutely did not believe the denial of President Putin.”
Late Saturday evening, The New York Times reported that on June 9, 2016 – that is, after then-candidate Trump had wrapped up the GOP presidential nomination, but before the convention – Donald Trump, Jr. had arranged a meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer connected to the Russian government. Also present for the 20-30 minute meeting were Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Wrote The Times: “The Russian lawyer invited to the Trump Tower meeting, Natalia Veselnitskaya, is best known for mounting a multipronged attack against the Magnitsky Act, an American law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. The law so enraged Mr. Putin that he retaliated by halting American adoptions of Russian children.”
Trump, Jr. claimed it was merely an introductory meeting, and said they briefly discussed what he called “a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.”
On that same FOX News Sunday appearance this morning, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus described the meeting as “a big nothingburger.”
On Sunday afternoon, The New York Times ran a new story, with an update – according to three sources described as “advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it,” Trump, Jr. agreed to take the meeting after being promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton. The Times views this as significant because, it says, “The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.”
But that New York Times reporting wasn’t the only bombshell report on the Russia probe front over the weekend. Late Sunday night, The Hill reported that four of the seven memos written by former FBI Director James Comey about his conversations with President Trump contained what the FBI itself is now calling “classified information,” raising the very real possibility that Comey broke his own agency’s rules. “FBI policy prohibits any agent from releasing classified information or any information from ongoing investigations or sensitive operations without prior written permission, and mandates that all records created during official duties are considered to be government property,” wrote The Hill.
On June 15, you will recall, the Senate, by a vote of 98-2, passed S. 722, a bill to provide congressional review and to counter Iranian and Russian government aggression. The key point to understand is that the bill was amended to make it more difficult for the president to lift sanctions against Russia. House leaders pointed out that the bill had a constitutional problem – it deals in some ways with federal revenues, and therefore must, according to the Constitution, originate in the House. So the House sent it back to the Senate for technical corrections, which were accomplished by voice vote on June 29.
Now the bill is waiting to be scheduled for floor time in the House. The White House is pushing hard against the bill, because – says the White House – it would tie the president’s hands in the conduct of foreign policy. Trump critics, on the other hand, suggest the White House is pushing against the bill not because it would tie the president’s hands, but because he’s too close to Russia. Which, of course, is exactly why Trump critics are pushing this measure, because they see it as a win-win – either the bill passes the House in the same lopsided manner in which it passed the Senate, and the president signs it, thereby reducing his own freedom of action, or it passes the House in the same lopsided manner in which it passed the Senate, and the president vetoes it – which would mean that President Trump’s first veto would be a veto of a bill that says Iran and Russia are aggressors who should have tough sanctions. And the veto would likely be overridden anyway.
The House Budget Committee, chaired since the departure of former Chairman Tom Price for the Department of Health and Human Services by TN U.S. Rep. Diane Black, still has not come to agreement on a budget for fiscal year 2018. This is getting to be a problem – by law (specifically, Title III of the Congressional Budget Act), both House and Senate are required to pass a concurrent budget resolution by April 15. According to that same law, Congress is required to have completed action on any reconciliation legislation by June 15. And by June 30, the House is required to have completed action on the 12 annual appropriations bills used to fund the government. Anticipating your question, no, there is no penalty for violating this law.
Consequently, this is a law that is far more often honored in the breach than in its observance. Last year, Congress did not pass a budget for fiscal year 2017. Without instructions from the Budget Committee, the Appropriations Subcommittees had no guidance on their spending levels, but that was alright, because the appropriations process broke down anyway, and we ended up passing a Continuing Resolution that kicked the can down the road beyond the election. That’s why we had an unused fiscal year 2017 budget resolution that could be used to serve as a “shell” to create a reconciliation bill aimed at repealing and replacing ObamaCare.
Chairman Black hoped this year would be different. But she’s being pulled in multiple directions. Defense hawks think we’ve underfunded our nation’s defense needs for years, and are determined to jack up defense spending. But Democrats in the Senate won’t allow defense increases unless there are similar increases in domestic spending. Deficit hawks worried about the national debt are just as determined to reduce spending growth in the out years, so that we can eventually begin to pay down the national debt. They’re opposed by the moderates of the Tuesday Group, 20 of whom have signed a letter to the Speaker saying they may not vote for the budget resolution if the Budget Committee proposes cutting too much out of planned future spending increases.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a prediction – we’re about to go through the same process this year that we went through last year, this time with regard to the fiscal year 2018 budget resolution. See, they HAVE to pass a budget, because without a budget, they cannot create a reconciliation bill to pass tax reform. But they will not find the votes to pass a real budget. So they will pass another “shell” budget, just to create the legislative vehicle for tax reform. And we will very likely fund the government in fiscal year 2018 with another Omnibus spending bill that looks very similar to a Continuing Resolution.
On Sunday, July 2, Axios reported breathlessly that White House Senior Counselor Steve Bannon was urging the Trump Administration to RAISE taxes on wealthy Americans – according to Axios, he wanted to hike the top marginal tax rate on those earning more than $420,000 per year from the current 39.6 percent into somewhere in the 40s, purportedly to “pay for” tax cuts for middle class and lower income taxpayers.
One week later, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin put that idea to rest publicly, saying on ABC’s “This Week” that “I have never heard Steve mention that,” and declaring that the Administration is not considering such a tax increase on wealthier Americans. He also said the Administration is aiming to release its full tax plan in September, and hopes Congress can pass it by the end of the year.
In the Even-A-Stopped-Clock-Is-Right-Twice-A-Day file, CBS News reported on Friday that the Department of Veterans Affairs had announced that more than 500 officials have been fired for misconduct since President Trump was inaugurated – and that a public list of “accountability actions” will be posted online and updated weekly, according to VA Secretary David Shulkin. The list highlights 747 disciplinary actions taken against 526 now-former VA officials who have lost their VA jobs since the president’s inauguration. The announcement comes less than a month after the president signed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act that makes it even easier for VA Secretary Shulkin to discipline VA officials and employees.
But wait, there’s more – The Washington Post, not to be outdone, reported on the firings on Sunday morning, but added a twist: Points out The Post, these firings all happened before the new accountability law went into effect, and this, argues The Post, shows that it’s actually easier to fire federal employees than many believe, and, therefore, maybe there isn’t really a need for this new law. There’s just one problem with this argument – the math doesn’t work very well. The Department of Veterans Affairs is home to roughly 345,000 federal employees. When you do the math, you see that 526 fired employees represents less than two-tenths of one percent of the workforce there. So the other 99.85 percent of the workers there are safe. For now.
JENNY BETH MARTIN/TEA PARTY PATRIOTS:
NEW JERSEY: THE CHRISTIE ATTEMPT TO ROB HORIZON