3/30/14 – Legislative Update
House/Senate Action: Week of 3/24/14-3/30/14
The House will be in session Tuesday through Friday this week.
The Senate will be in session Monday through Thursday this week.
EXPECTED ACTION THIS WEEK:
- The Senate will take up the “Doc Fix” in a roll call vote scheduled for Monday evening after 5:30 PM – just hours before the midnight deadline to avoid a 24% cut in reimbursements to doctors.
- The House will vote Tuesday to finalize a bipartisan, bicameral bill providing aid to Ukraine.
- The House will vote on a bill to require CBO to provide dynamic scoring as a supplement to its regular estimates.
- The House will vote on a bill to undo language in ObamaCare that defines full-time work as a 30-hour work week.
Last Monday evening, in the first vote of the week’s work in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell allowed Majority Leader Harry Reid 28 GOP votes to invoke cloture on a bill to provide aid to Ukraine that included controversial (read: non-conservative) reforms to the International Monetary Fund, despite the fact that the House was in no mood to approve the IMF reforms.
Then McConnell turned around the next day and insisted that the bill could never pass the House in its present form, and demanded that Reid allow amendments to be considered.
A group of Senate conservatives – Ron Johnson, Ted Cruz, Jim Inhofe, David Vitter, Jeff Sessions, John Cornyn, John Barrasso, and Mike Lee – set about amending the bill during floor consideration. Their goal was simple: strip out the offensive IMF language. They introduced their amendment on Tuesday morning.
By Tuesday afternoon, they had won – Majority Leader Reid agreed to strip out the IMF language, and the amended bill passed later in the week. The bill was sent to the House, which had already passed two measures regarding aid to Ukraine.
The House was initially expected to bring up and pass the Ukraine aid measure by voice vote during a pro forma session on Friday morning, but after the sneaky use of a voice vote on the “Doc Fix” the day before, GOP Leadership thought it best to hold the vote over, and let temperatures settle before using a voice vote again on a high-profile bill. So, instead, the House will take up the measure on Tuesday.
NSA BULK DATA COLLECTION
On Monday, the New York Times reported that President Obama is backtracking on the NSA’s bulk data collection programs, and will introduce a reform proposal that would substantially alter the current 215 program (it’s called that because it derives its authority from Section 215 of the Patriot Act). Under the Obama proposal, the NSA would end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits. The bulk records would stay in the hands of the phone companies, which would not be required to hold on to the data any longer than their standard business practices would dictate, and the NSA could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order.
Not surprisingly, Sen. Rand Paul – who had filed a lawsuit against the NSA – claimed at least partial credit for the President’s reversal.
But in fact, there are two deadlines that had at least as much to do with the reversal as the Rand Paul lawsuit – the first came and went Friday, March 28, which was the date the current court order authorizing the program expires; the second is June 1, 2015, just more than a year from now, when Section 215 of the Patriot Act expires. If Congress fails to reauthorize the program by then, the entire program would have to end.
In addition to the President’s proposal, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers of Michigan, has introduced legislation that isn’t quite as far-reaching as the President’s proposal. And a third proposal – introduced by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy and former House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner – called the “USA Freedom Act,” goes even farther, setting a higher standard for the NSA in its data searches, and curtailing other surveillance programs.
UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE EXTENSION:
The Senate voted on Thursday by a margin of 65-34 to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed and advance legislation that would extend federal unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed for another five months. The procedural vote drew the support of 10 Republicans.
The vote sets up 30 hours of debate next week before the bill can move to a final vote, but Senate sources expect a vote on final passage by Friday.
We discussed the contents of the legislation at some length last week, so I’ll refer you to last week’s written Legislative Update for details.
On the House side, there’s been no indication that Speaker Boehner has changed his mind on the legislation. He said last week he was opposed to it, and as of Friday, that was still his position. So even if it passes the Senate, it’s going nowhere in the House.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan will unveil and hold a mark up session this week, with a view to moving the Budget Resolution to the floor next week.
In his moves on the budget, Ryan could not only find it difficult to keep to the $1.014 trillion spending level for 2015 that he agreed to with Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray, but he also must deal with fellow Republicans who want more military spending, perhaps at the cost of more savings from safety-net and health programs.
Here’s Ryan’s problem, in a nutshell:Budget resolutions don’t just set out next year’s spending guidelines, they also set10-yearspending and revenue goals. But by sticking to the amount of spending that he agreed to in December with Murray – a deal, you will recall, that wasopposed by 62 House Republicans –Ryan will likely again need significant Democratic support to get his plan through the House. And that’s going to be tough to do.
Ryan has claimed his budget will achieve balance in a decade without raising taxes. To do that, he is expected to propose big cuts or changes in Medicare, Medicaid, and ObamaCare, which would likely cost him at least some Democratic support.
Even so, Ryan is expected to stick to the overall funding number and also to the “firewall” between defense and nondefense spending, so that one category can’t be raided to pay for more spending in the other.
Even some Republicans say the House GOP’s budget effort is, in reality, more aspirational and a tool to express party priorities in an election year. As a result, there may be no urgency about pushing Ryan’s spending plan through the House.
ICANN-OT LET IT GO, STILL
Two House committees – the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the Commerce Committee, and the Intellectual Property and Internet Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee – will hold hearings this week on the Obama Administration’s plan to give up oversight of the Internet. The Commerce subcommittee will examine the proposal on Wednesday, while the Judiciary panel will scrutinize the plan on Thursday.
THE DOC FIX THAT BROKE THE HOUSE?
On Thursday, the GOP House Leadership, working with the House Democratic Leadership, brought to the floor and passed by voice vote a temporary “Doc Fix,” the bill that comes up every year to prevent doctors who treat Medicare patients from having to take substantial cuts in their reimbursement rates.
To explain what happened, we need to backtrack a few weeks. On March 14, the House passed a $137 billion, permanent fix to the problem. But that bill was flawed in the eyes of the Democrat-led Senate and the White House, because it relied on savings from repealing ObamaCare’s Individual Mandate as its pay-for. Harry Reid said it was dead in the Senate, and the White House threatened a veto.
So Reid and Boehner argued for a week about how to pay for the Doc Fix. With the midnight March 31 deadline looming, the two leaders came to agreement last week on a temporary patch. But because they were up against the clock, there was no time for regular order; consequently the House Leadership decided to bring the bill to the floor on the Suspension Calendar.
We’ve discussed this before. The advantage of bringing something to the floor under the Suspension Calendar – literally, they are suspending the Rules of the House – is that you can bypass the committee process and bring a bill directly to the floor. But in order to obtain this advantage, you have to give up something – and that is, you have to get a two-thirds majority to pass a bill, rather than the simple majority that’s required under regular order.
For obvious reasons, the Suspension Calendar is typically used for non-controversial legislation – a resolution recognizing the Girl Scouts, or a bill naming a U.S. Post Office after a dead Congressman. But in this case, the Suspension Calendar was used on a very controversial piece of legislation – and when the Leadership decided to pass the measure by voice vote, in effect sneaking it through the House without telling anyone, all hell broke loose.
A lot of Members, on both sides of the aisle, were upset at not having a recorded vote on the bill.
Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina was so upset he just kept saying “Bullshit!” to assembled reporters outside the chamber. Louie Gohmert was so upset he announced he was going to form a squad of conservatives, at least one of whom would always be on the floor to prevent something like this from happening again. And Speaker Boehner used up at least some of the chits he had earned last fall when he acquiesced to the wishes of the Defund Caucus.
This may not have been all that terribly consequential a vote – if they had brought the same measure to the floor two weeks ago, under regular order, it likely would have passed relatively easily – but it’s the kind of thing that breeds resentment, and is remembered in January of odd-numbered years, when House leaders stand for reelection to their positions.
Several items of note on the ObamaCare front to discuss this week:
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods cases.
Not surprisingly, the three female Justices – all appointed by Democratic Presidents – began the questioning aggressively, but were later quiet during the questioning of the government’s lawyer, who had to fend off aggressive questions of his own.
As I predicted last week, Chief Justice Roberts may have tipped his hand when he indicated he was leaning toward a narrow ruling that would only apply to closely-held corporations like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods, but leave unanswered the question of whether publicly-traded corporations can exercise religious freedom.
Expect a ruling to be issued in the last week of June, before the Court recesses for the summer.
Also on Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the Halbig v. Sebelius case. Two of the three judges on the panel indicated support for the plaintiff’s contention that the IRS has overstepped its bounds by providing subsidies to citizens in states that did not set up their own health care exchanges.
And later on Tuesday afternoon, the Administration announced to no one’s surprise that it was extending the end of the ObamaCare open enrollment period for a few weeks into April, to ensure that anyone who had “gotten in line” before the Monday midnight deadline would nevertheless be able to enroll. As before, they’re using the honor system – late enrollees will merely have to check a box that says they tried to enroll before the deadline, but were stymied. No one’s word will be checked.
Late in the week, the Administration announced it had reached the amended goal of 6 million enrollees, and as of this morning, Senator Angus King – an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats – updated that figure on FOX News Sunday to 6.5 million.
Of course, we still do not how many of the 6.5 million have actually paid their first month’s premium. Nor do we know how many of them were previously uninsured. Nor do we know the breakdown by age cohort, so we don’t know if 40% are in the Young Invincible category.
VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE IN ERIC HOLDER
It came to our attention this week that U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona has introduced H.Res.35, expressing no confidence in the Attorney General of the United States and calling for his immediate resignation.
To some, a “vote of no confidence” might sound a bit odd. Ours is not a parliamentary system of government, where a vote of no confidence is the vehicle commonly used to topple a government.
Nevertheless, while it is only rarely used, it has been used before – and as recently as the last Administration, when Democrats introduced a Resolution of No Confidence in the then-Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales. Gonzales, you may recall, eventually resigned his position.
So it’s encouraging to see that Rep. Gosar’s resolution has 140 cosponsors. We’ll keep an eye on it.
AMERICAN ENERGY RENAISSANCE ACT
On Thursday, Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Jim Bridenstine introduced companion bills, S. 2170 and H.R. 4286, the American Energy Renaissance Act, to remove barriers to domestic energy sources, build energy infrastructure, and expand trade to spark job growth and reduce international allies dependence on other sources of energy (read: Russia).
Both bills will prevent federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing, facilitate the expansion of domestic refining capacity, improve processes to develop energy infrastructure, stop EPA overreach and its war on coal, force Congress and the President to approve any new EPA regulations that kill jobs, broaden energy development on federal land, open offshore exploration, expand U.S. energy exports, and dedicate additional revenues to debt reduction.