Tea Party Patriots Weekly Report from Washington 2/22/2016
Tea Party Patriots Weekly Report from Washington for 2/21/16
The House will return on Tuesday, February 23, and the Senate will return on Monday, February 22.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House will come back on Tuesday, with the first votes expected at 6:30 PM.
They’ll begin Tuesday with votes on five bills on the Suspension Calendar. Then, on Wednesday, they’ll be back with another eight bills on the Suspension Calendar. Votes may be held over into Thursday, but there are no votes scheduled on the floor calendar right now.
On Friday, the House will consider two non-controversial bills.
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate will come back to work on Monday, with the first vote at 5:30 PM on cloture for the confirmation of the new Food and Drug Administration Commissioner. We have no further word on what’s on the agenda for the Senate this week.
Prospects for passing a budget resolution through the House and Senate this year are bleak.
House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price said last week that he’s still planning on a markup session this week, and a vote in the full committee next week. But there’s no notice of a committee meeting on the Budget Committee’s web site.
And, based on the read we got of what took place in a special House GOP Conference meeting held a week ago Friday to focus on the budget, it seems the odds are very long, indeed.
At that meeting, Speaker Ryan laid out three options:
- Take conservative concerns into consideration, and adopt a budget at the original spending levels set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 – but Senate Democrats would likely block any appropriations bills written to those spending levels, and Congress would end up with a Continuing Resolution.
- Take the spending levels set with the Boehner-Obama budget deal from last October, add some more money for defense only – and see Senate Democrats block that, too.
- Take the budget numbers in the October budget deal – $1.07 trillion for discretionary spending – and write the budget based on those top-line numbers. In other words, capitulate to what’s already happened, and rely on the writing of the individual appropriations bills at the higher levels to at least get conservative policy written into them. That’s a teaspoon of sugar to make a couple of gallons of crappy tasting non-medicine go down.
Here’s what’s going on: Speaker Ryan has been trying for weeks to find consensus inside the House GOP Conference, but conservatives led by the House Freedom Caucus are making that difficult. Reminding him that a strong majority of House Republicans voted AGAINST the Boehner-Obama two-year budget deal that passed last fall on former Speaker Boehner’s way out the door, they have been telling Ryan and anyone else who will listen for the last several weeks that they have no intention of voting for a budget resolution that sticks to the higher numbers in that budget deal. They want to go back to the spending levels set in the Budget Control Act, which would call for spending about $30 billion less in the next fiscal year than required by the agreement that passed last fall.
So now there’s some real outside the box thinking going on. Andy Harris of MD, for instance, has suggested that if we can’t cut the discretionary spending budget by $30 billion to go back to the old numbers and keep the spending level where it should be, we could cut $30 billion from the mandatory spending side of the equation – that means cutting $30 billion from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Over the long term, he’s right – if we don’t as a nation address our entitlement programs and reform them to make them more sustainable, there’s going to be hell to pay before too much longer. But I don’t see a scenario where they just cut $30 billion from those spending programs; rather, they would first need to pass some kind of entitlement reform bill to move the cost curve down, and there’s neither the time nor the inclination in the last year of a two-term presidency to work out such a deal.
Nevertheless, that appears to be what at least a few Members are thinking in the House.
Another idea floated by Rep. Barry Loudermilk: Adopt a balanced budget amendment requiring the budget to be balanced in 10 years. He’s apparently willing to trade a budget amendment that requires a balanced budget 10 years down the road for a vote to spend more money now. The good news is, that idea does not seem to be getting any traction.
So, and please don’t kill me, I’m just the messenger, an idea that seems to be gaining traction among Republicans – at least, according to some media outlets – it to simply “deem” the budget passed. That way, Democrats would supply the votes to affirm the top-line number, which would allow most House Republicans to maintain clean hands by voting “No.” That, obviously, would be a non-starter for the HFC and many other conservatives in the House GOP Conference, so it may not happen at all, and we may end up with no budget resolution passing either the House or the Senate.
But not passing a budget resolution does not mean the House and Senate cannot pass individual appropriations bills. There are 12 bills that fund the government. I can’t remember the last time the government was funded by regular order – that is, all 12 bills being enacted into law one at a time.
What appears to be most likely – though no one in the GOP Leadership is willing to acknowledge it publicly yet – is that we’re going to perhaps get some of the appropriations bills passed under regular order. Then they’ll go to the President for signature or veto. He may well decide to veto them, to increase Harry Reid’s bargaining leverage over an end-of-the-fiscal year Omnibus or Continuing Resolution.
And here’s my nightmare scenario: Suppose Senate Democrats hold firm, using their 46-vote, filibuster-sustaining minority to block consideration of the individual appropriations bills until they get an agreement on an overall spending number to their satisfaction. They could well hold out all summer. And then we come back from Labor Day, and we’ve got three weeks to find a way to fund the government before the end of the 2016 fiscal year on September 30 – just five weeks before a presidential election.
And then the Democrats drop the bomb: They announce that they will allow a Senate floor vote on the spending bills – OR an omnibus, OR even a Continuing Resolution – as soon as Senate Republicans allow a floor vote on President Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Scalia on the Supreme Court.
And that segues nicely into our next topic of discussion – the latest maneuverings on President Obama’s plan to nominate a successor to Justice Scalia.
A week ago Saturday, within 90 minutes of the news of Justice Scalia’s passing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of the next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley then immediately joined McConnell in declaring his belief that no nomination should be forthcoming.
The Constitution, of course, gives the President the right and responsibility to nominate individuals to the Supreme Court. And it gives the Senate the right and responsibility to “advise and consent” to such nominations. But nowhere does the Constitution require the Senate to confirm an individual nominated by the President.
Speaking of this, in fact, a Senate Minority Leader said, “The duties of the United States Senate are set forth in the Constitution of the United States. Nowhere in that document does it say the Senate has a duty to give presidential nominees a vote. It says appointments shall be made with the advice and consent of the Senate. That’s very different than saying every nominee receives a vote.”
That was then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, on the floor of the United States Senate, on May 19, 2005, just four months into President George W. Bush’s second term, when he had 44 months left to serve.
And that’s very good to know, because if you go back to the McConnell statement – “The American people should have a voice in the selection of the next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President” – you’ll note that nowhere in that statement does Sen. McConnell declare flat out that he will affirmatively block a vote on an Obama nominee. Nowhere does he say he will not refer the nomination to the Judiciary Committee, as is his prerogative as Majority Leader. Nowhere does he say the Judiciary Committee will not hold a hearing. He simply said the American people should have a voice in the selection of a new Justice, and the vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.
Am I worried that Sen. McConnell will buckle? Of course I am. Wouldn’t you be? Especially when the first public polling – from Rasmussen Reports, which you’ll find in the Suggested Reading – shows that by 51-43%, a majority of the American public believes President Obama should not put off naming a replacement for Scalia and let the next President make that nomination. And if the President does make a nomination – which is a certainty – 53% say the GOP-led Senate should not reject or refuse to consider the nomination.
At least two GOP Senators – Lisa Murkowski of AL, and Dean Heller of NV – are wavering. Murkowski told local Alaska media she thought an Obama pick should get a hearing. Interestingly (and surprisingly), several of the most vulnerable GOP Senators running for reelection (Kelly Ayotte in NH, Rob Portman in OH, Ron Johnson in WI, Pat Toomey in PA, for example) issued statements last week backing up their Majority Leader’s declaration that the nomination should be held until the American people have a chance to vote in November, and the next President can make the choice.
Nevertheless, we’re going to need a sustained full-court press on this one. The pressure to buckle is going to be enormous.
JENNY BETH MARTIN/TPP: