House/Senate Action: Weeks of 6/30/14-7/12/14
Both the House and Senate are in session this week.
The House will be in session Monday through Thursday.
The Senate will be in session Monday through Friday.
UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE EXTENSION:
Remember how extended Unemployment Insurance benefits expired at the end of December, more than six months ago? Remember how the left wailed and gnashed their teeth, insisting that Republicans accede to their demands, or millions would be forced into poverty?
Yeah, I remember that.
Remember how agencies of the federal government later revised those estimates when they realized House Republicans just were not going to budge on this front, and people were NOT being thrown into poverty?
Yeah, I don’t remember that, either. In fact, as House Republicans refused to budge on this front, the unemployment rate has actually been creeping DOWN over the last several months. Granted, there are still way too few people in the job market, and granted, we’re still not seeing anywhere near the kind of growth rates we should be seeing this long after the bottom of a recession, based on historical models, but the fact is, congressional Republicans’ refusal to buckle to Democrat pressure on extending long-term unemployment benefits seems to have paid off.
Sadly, this example appears to be lost on Harry Reid, who is now talking about reviving an extension of long-term unemployment benefits and possibly adding the measure to the upcoming emergency supplemental appropriations bill. One of the things that makes that an attractive option for the Establishment (of both parties, even more sadly) is that emergency spending doesn’t need to be paid for, under congressional budgeting rules, so the $10 billion cost of the extension could just be added to the deficit.
The good news is, House Republicans continue to hold firm on the Unemployment Insurance extension, and even Speaker Boehner’s spokesmen are saying the right things on this issue. Other than Harry Reid and his Nevada colleague, Republican Sen. Dean Heller, no one on Capitol Hill really seems to be taking this seriously. But we’ll keep an eye on this one.
NEW OMB CHIEF
The Senate confirmed Shaun Donovan, formerly Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, to replace Sylvia Mathews Burwell as Director of the Office of Management and Budget. The vote was 75-22.
Given that HUD long has been known as a place where the bureaucrats’ mission is simply to shovel as much money out the door as they possibly can, and looking for ways to economize on spending hasn’t ever been seen as very important, don’t look for Donovan’s move to OMB to result in any cuts to future proposed Obama budgets. The unfortnuate news is, we only have two more of them to laugh at.
EX-IM BANK REAUTHORIZATION:
A recent whip count by Time magazine indicates that as of right now, there are enough Republican votes in both House and Senate to pass a measure reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank. Of the 23 GOP Senators who voted to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank the last time it was up for reauthorization, in 2012, five have indicated they’ll be supporting it this time around, too. Two more who did not vote to reauthorize in 2012 have now added their names to the support list – Sens. Tim Scott of SC and Mark Kirk of IL. If all 53 Democrats vote to reauthorize, it will meet the 60-vote threshold, and have the votes necessary to pass the Senate.
On the House side, despite new Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s stated opposition to reauthorization, 41 Members signed a letter to Speaker Boehner indicating they would support the reauthorization legislation. That would mean they’d only need the support of about 180 House Democrats to get the bank reauthorized.
So the only way to ensure that the Ex-Im Bank is finally put to rest is for the GOP House Leadership not to bring a reauthorization bill to the floor. With two new leaders who are now publicly opposed to reauthorization, and a Speaker who’s announced he doesn’t plan to insert himself strongly on the issue, not bringing the reauthorization legislation to the floor of the House is a real possibility.
And that’s precisely why Harry Reid is considering attaching Ex-Im reauthorization legislation to a larger must-pass spending bill – including, perhaps, the Continuing Resolution they’ll pass in September to keep the government funded after September 30. In effect, Reid would be daring Republicans to shut down the government five weeks before the midterm elections if they really want to block reauthorization of Ex-Im Bank. Reid has not yet declared himself fully committed to this strategy; his leak of the idea last week was meant as a test balloon, to see what kind of reaction it generated on the other side of the Capitol.
We got a big win last week on the Hobby Lobby case. The Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 split decision authored by Justice Alito, that requiring the closely held corporations to pay for contraceptives they considered to be abortifacients did, in fact, violate their religious freedom.
Importantly, the case was decided on the basis that the ACA’s contraceptive mandate violated a statute called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and NOT that it violated the Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom. This is important, because it means that the decision could be reversed if Congress were to pass new legislation that superseded the language of the RFRA.
Just as importantly – and as predicted when we discussed this case some months ago – the Court very narrowly ruled in this case, with lots of qualifications, meaning the contraceptive mandate will still apply to most employers. The ruling, for instance, only applies to closely held corporations owned by one family, whose religious beliefs are not in dispute. And the ruling only applies to the contraceptives found to be objectionable, not the larger question of blood transfusions or vaccinations.
Nevertheless, the left responded, as we knew they would, denouncing Republicans for trying to take away women’s access to contraceptives, and Senate Democrats introduced legislation to overturn the Hobby Lobby ruling. 37 Senate Democrats immediately signed on as cosponsors.
Contrary to what we expected, there was no ruling on the Halbig v. Sebelius case in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Look for that decision to come out early this week.
After months of trying to convince a significant majority of the House GOP Conference that moving immigration reform will be good for the GOP – but failing miserably – Speaker Boehner told the President two weeks ago that no bill will move through the House this year. President Obama responded by declaring in a Rose Garden ceremony two Mondays ago that he would no longer wait for the House to move legislation, and would, henceforth, take unilateral executive action to do what he could, as if this was an idea that just popped into his head.
His first order of business was to order the Department of Homeland Security to move manpower resources from the interior of the country to the border, in an effort to stem the flood of Unaccompanied Alien Children (“UAC” in Obama-ese) crossing our southern border. Of course, by moving resources from the interior (where they’ve been focused on finding and deporting illegal immigrants) to the border (where we’re being inundated), he’s basically sending a signal to illegal immigrants that if they can slip past our border controls and get to the interior of the country, they’ll be safe from deportation.
Despite spending two days in Texas last week for fundraisers for the DCCC and DNC, President Obama failed to find time to visit the border areas, saying he doesn’t like photo ops. In other news of a similarly truthful vein, Joan Rivers says she’s had no work done.
Instead, the Administration sent to Congress a request for $3.73 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations to help manage the humanitarian crisis on the southwest border, part of a larger $4.3 billion emergency request that also includes $615 million to help fight forest fires. GOP Sen. Richard Shelby of AL, the Ranking Member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, opposes the emergency designation, and says there are plenty of offsets for the needed funds. Some House Republicans say the same thing.
Further, suggest some, let’s cut off foreign aid to those countries whose kids are ending up in the Rio Grande Valley. GOP Congressman Randy Weber of TX has introduced just such a piece of legislation – it’s H.R. 5014, the “Illegal Entry Accountability Act of 2014,” and it would direct the Secretary of State to suspend U.S. foreign aid to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador (except for assistance under the international narcotics control program) until such time as Congress determines that these countries have taken sufficient action to mitigate illegal border-crossing by their respective citizens. That could mean cutting back at least $400 million per year that now flows to these four countries – but keep in mind, an awful lot of that aid is part of international narcotics control efforts and military assistance to keep the narcotraficantes from consolidating total control.
Meanwhile, CNN reports that it costs about $1.30 to cross the river that separates Guatemala from Mexico, and that at least one of the river crossing points is just down river from a Guatemalan border control check point, and the crossings take place in full view of Guatemalan law enforcement authorities.
“We need to be cautious about what we say in emails.” On Wednesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released a new batch of emails from IRS officials, showing that Lois Lerner warned her colleagues to be careful about they wrote in emails and instant messages in the midst of congressional inquiries. She also asked whether the IRS’ internal instant messaging system could be searched, and was pleased to learn that its default setting was set to “off.”
This key email was sent on April 9, 2013, less than two weeks after the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration who unearthed the targeting shared his draft report with the agency.
On Thursday, Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the IRS to detail under oath how some of Lois Lerner’s emails went missing, as well as any potential methods for recovering them. He gave the IRS exactly one month to file a report.
On Friday, for the second time in two days, a second federal district court judge did it again – he ordered the IRS to be more forthcoming in the investigation of the missing Lois Lerner emails. But this time it was Judge Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia who ordered the IRS to hand over within seven days specific information related to the so-called “crashed” hard drive on Lerner’s computer. He ordered the IRS to learn by July 18 what happened to the hard drive, including whether it’s traceable through a serial number. If such information is gone, he said, he wants an affidavit written under penalty of perjury by an IRS IT professional with what he called “firsthand knowledge” of the situation.
Judge Walton also asked for a rundown of TIGTA’s qualifications for conducting the investigation into the missing emails, a date when the TIGTA investigation will be completed, and the qualifications of individuals who “previously conducted forensic examinations or otherwise attempted to recover information” from Lerner’s computer.
BOEHNER LAWSUIT AGAINST OBAMA:
Last week, we got our first look at the resolution authorizing the House to file a lawsuit against President Obama for executive overreach in his decision to delay implementation of the ObamaCare Employer Mandate. About which, a few observations:
First, it’s clear by the choice of the subject matter of the lawsuit that this is a case of the tail wagging the dog – that is, the choice of the Employer Mandate was determined by the need to establish “standing” for the House to sue the President.
Second, this is a long shot – just because the Speaker’s lawyers chose the subject matter of the suit with a view to establishing standing doesn’t mean that a federal judge will agree with them. For instance, there are at least two obvious problems with choosing the Employer Mandate as the vehicle for the suit: First, the offense happened more than a year ago. What’s to keep a judge from wondering just how outraged House Republicans really are, if it took them a whole year to sue? Second, the offense – that is, the delay – is going to end anyway on January 1, when the delayed Employer Mandate goes into effect. What’s to keep a judge from suggesting that taxpayers dollars could be better spent elsewhere, rather than arguing a court case over a decision that’s going to be moot in a matter of weeks anyway?
Third, even if they can successfully establish standing, it’s particularly odd that the House is suing the President over his failure to faithfully execute a law the House has already voted to repeal on numerous occasions. And, more specifically getting to the Employer Mandate, you’ll recall that a year ago, when the President announced his decision to delay the Mandate by executive fiat, the House held a vote AUTHORIZING the President to delay the Mandate – and it passed overwhelmingly, with one of out every six House DEMOCRATS joining the Republican majority.
So IF they establish standing and IF they win the case in an expedited fashion – and IF, somehow, they get the President to recognize the court’s authority (because the judiciary has no enforcement mechanism of its own, and must rely on the executive branch to carry out its dictates) – then, what, exactly? Then the President will be ordered to implement the Employer Mandate immediately.
Fourth, it’s clear the Speaker is looking for a bright shiny object to distract House Republicans who are unhappy with his lame leadership.
Fifth, this is nuts.
Nevertheless, the House Rules Committee will take up the measure on Wednesday, and we anticipate a floor vote the last week of July, right before Congress leaves town for the August recess.
I’ve put several pieces in the Suggested Reading. I strongly advise you to read them, especially the piece by Andrew McCarthy.