The House will come back into session on Monday, with the first votes scheduled for 6:30 PM. The House will stay in session until Thursday, with the last votes expected no later than 3 PM.
The Senate came back into session today at 3 PM to take up consideration of the highway bill. They met for about three hours, then broke until tomorrow afternoon. They’ll stay in session through Friday.
LAST WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House began its week Tuesday, with three bills on the Suspension Calendar. Two passed with heavy majorities in roll call votes, and one passed by voice vote.
On Wednesday, the House took up and passed H.R. 1734, the Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act of 2015, a bill to deal with the regulation of the coal ash that is produced by the burning of coal.
On Thursday, the House took up and passed two bills, H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, and H.R. 3009, the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act.
The first is a bill regulating labeling on foods that include genetically modified organisms, or GMO’s.
The second is a bill originally offered by Duncan Hunter of CA. It passed by a vote of 241-179. In the words of the House Republican Conference:
H.R. 3009 bars state and local governments from receiving federal funds under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program if such entities have in effect laws, policies, or procedures that inhibit the enforcement of immigration laws or that prohibit state or local law enforcement officials from gathering information regarding the citizenship or immigration status of any individual. The bill also requires the Attorney General to withhold Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) funding that a state or local government otherwise would have been awarded for the following fiscal year if such entity impedes immigration enforcement in a manner prohibited by the bill.
So, what’s not to like? Well, H.R. 3009 doesn’t go far enough, according to some of our allies. It only cuts off funding from certain programs – the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, COPS funding, and the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. More importantly, it doesn’t address the larger problem – the largest sanctuary jurisdiction in the nation is not New York City, or Chicago, or San Francisco, it’s the federal government itself, which releases tens of thousands of convicted criminal aliens every year.
On June 3 of this year, the House approved an amendment offered by Rep. Steve King to H.R. 2578, the FY 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Act that would prohibit the award of state and local law enforcement assistance funds to sanctuary cities. That King amendment passed by a vote of 227-198. But, as an amendment to an appropriations bill that may or may not see a Senate floor vote, it’s not at all certain that it would become law.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House will come back into session on Monday, and will launch right into a series of votes on bills brought up on the Suspension Calendar – 17 of them, in fact.
Tuesday may see a vote on a bill we like a great deal – H.R. 427, the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act of 2015. The REINS Act would require Congress and the President to affirm major new federal regulations with an economic impact of $100 million or more before they could be implemented and enforced. To put that in context, had the REINS Act been in place in 2014, the House and Senate would have been required to vote on fewer than 100 major rules that took effect last year.
Meanwhile, the real action in the House this week will be waiting and watching – waiting on and watching the Senate, to see what happens on the highway bill. The House passed its version, a five-month extension, two weeks ago, and even Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is adamant that the Senate is wasting its time on a six-year plan, and should instead just take up and pass the House bill to extend highway funding through the mid-December.
MONDAY, JULY 27TH
On Monday, the House will meet at 12:00 p.m. for morning hour and 2:00 p.m. for legislative business. Votes will be postponed until 6:30 p.m.
Legislation Considered Under Suspension of the Rules:
1) H.R. 1138 – Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act (Sponsored by Rep. Mike Simpson / Natural Resources Committee)
2) H.R. 774 – Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015, as amended(Sponsored by Del. Madeleine Bordallo / Natural Resources Committee)
3) Concur in the Senate Amendment to H.R. 2499 – Veterans Entrepreneurship Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Steve Chabot / Small Business Committee)
4) S. 1482 – Need-Based Educational Aid Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley / Judiciary Committee)
5) H.R. 1656 – Secret Service Improvements Act of 2015, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte / Judiciary Committee)
6) H.R. 2750 – Improved Security Vetting for Aviation Workers Act of 2015, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. John Katko / Homeland Security Committee)
7) H.R. 2770 – Keeping Our Travelers Safe and Secure Act, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Rice / Homeland Security Committee)
8) H.R. 2843 – TSA PreCheck Expansion Act, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. John Katko / Homeland Security Committee)
9) H.R. 2127 – Securing Expedited Screening Act, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Bennie Thompson / Homeland Security Committee)
10) H.R. 1300 – First Responder Anthrax Preparedness Act, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Peter King / Homeland Security Committee)
11) H.R. 2206 – State Wide Interoperable Communications Enhancement Act, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Donald Payne / Homeland Security Committee)
12) H.R. 1634 – Border Security Technology Accountability Act of 2015, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Martha McSally / Homeland Security Committee)
13) H.R. 998 – Preclearance Authorization Act of 2015, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Patrick Meehan / Homeland Security Committee)
14) H.R. 1831 – Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2014, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
15) H. J. Res. 61 – Hire More Heroes Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Rodney Davis / Ways and Means Committee)
16) H.R. 675 – Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Ralph Abraham / Veterans’ Affairs Committee)
17) H.R. 1607 – Ruth Moore Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Chellie Pingree / Veterans’ Affairs Committee)
TUESDAY, JULY 28TH AND THE BALANCE OF THE WEEK
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for morning hour and 12:00 p.m. for legislative business.
On Thursday, the House will meet at 9:00 a.m. for legislative business. Last votes expected no later than 3:00 p.m.
On Friday, no votes are expected in the House.
H.R. 427 – Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act of 2015 (Subject to a Rule)(Sponsored by Rep. Todd Young / Judiciary Committee)
H.R. 1944 – VA Accountability Act of 2015 (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller / Veterans’ Affairs Committee)
Possible Consideration of H.R. __ – VA Budget and Choice Improvement Act
Possible Consideration the Conference Report to Accompany H.R. 1735 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016
**Additional Legislative Items are possible**
LAST WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is desperate to show that Republicans “can govern.” The problem is, he has left it to others – most notably, the mainstream media echo chamber – to define what “governing” means. Not surprisingly, their definition and ours doesn’t jibe.
Case in point: highway spending. As conservatives, we believe the best governing decisions are made closest to the governed. When it comes to a highway bill, we believe those spending decisions are better made by state and local agencies than by bureaucrats in Washington. Consequently, we support efforts like Sen. Mike Lee’s Transportation Empowerment Act, which would let the states and local governments make transportation funding decisions.
And Sen. McConnell? Not so much. Rather than move the funding and decision-making out to the states, Sen. McConnell wants to show the world that Republicans can move big spending bills, too. So he’s trying desperately to get a six-year highway bill passed, with Democrat help, largely because such a multi-year highway funding bill hasn’t been done in many years.
The biggest problem is, the federal gas tax just isn’t raising the revenue it once did. It hasn’t been raised in more than 20 years, and it doesn’t bring in as much as it used to, because people are driving more fuel-efficient cars. So there’s a gap every year between what we need to spend, and what we raise from the gas tax. Differences of opinion over how to close that gap are the major sticking point between Democrats and Republicans over the highway bill – Democrats want to raise the gas tax, but Republicans oppose that; Republicans want to find other funding offsets (that is, in most cases, money taken from other funding sources), but Democrats oppose them.
Over the course of last week, and into Monday and Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell engaged in negotiations with Democrat Barbara Boxer of CA, the Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, to see if they could come to agreement on the terms of a six-year highway bill. The two announced on Tuesday morning that they had reached an agreement on a six-year funding bill – only three years of which would be paid for – and the Majority Leader pushed back the scheduled 2:15 PM cloture vote on the Motion To Proceed to 4 PM, so Senators could have an additional 100 minutes to try to digest yet another mammoth bill.
Not surprisingly, when that 4 PM vote occurred, the majority of the Senate balked, largely because Democrats refused to vote to consider a bill they hadn’t yet read. The vote failed, 41-56.
McConnell brought the bill back to the floor for a second cloture vote on Wednesday evening. That time, cloture was invoked, by a vote of 62-36, with six Republicans – Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Richard Shelby, and Pat Toomey – voting against.
So, what happened in 24 hours to flip that many votes? Well, for one thing, Sen. McConnell persuaded 14 Democrats to change their votes by agreeing to drop from the bill as a spending offset a measure that would have raised $2.3 billion by stopping the payment of Social Security benefits to people with felony warrants.
That had been a major sticking point for Democrats – as Sen. Sherrod Brown of OH argued, “I don’t know of any time in our history when the Senate has taken money out of the Social Security fund and put it in some other public purpose.” Democrats were concerned that if they allowed the maneuver this time, it would open the door to using the Social Security Trust Fund for other general purposes.
Of course, we all know there really IS no Social Security “Trust Fund,” that’s it all an accounting gimmick, but Democrats are adamant about protecting it, so McConnell gave in. Once he acceded defeat on the Social Security offset, the Democrats switched their votes, and cloture was invoked.
A word about procedure – you’ve heard me mention a few times now that the vehicle for the highway bill is H.R. 22, a bill that’s already passed the House. But H.R. 22 has nothing to do with highway funding – it’s the “Hire More Heroes Act,” and here’s how Thomas describes it:
This bill amends the Internal Revenue Code to add a provision to exempt any employee with coverage under a health care program administered by the Department of Defense, including the TRICARE program, or by the Veterans Administration, from classification as an eligible employee of an applicable large employer for purposes of the employer mandate under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to provide such employees with minimum essential health care coverage.
Transportation funding appears nowhere in this bill. So, what is H.R. 22 doing on the Senate floor? Leader McConnell is using it as a placeholder – the highway bill is actually an amendment he’s offered to H.R. 22 that would wipe out the text of the current bill and replace it with the highway bill. That way, he’s got a bill that’s already passed the House, so when it (presumably) passes the Senate, it can easily be conferenced with the House-passed version.
This is important only for the following reason: Because Sen. McConnell, in his determination to pass a highway bill and reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank, originally offered his amendment as what’s called a “perfecting amendment.” A “perfecting amendment” only makes slight changes to a bill, at least theoretically, and, therefore, it is standard practice that only one amendment is allowed, unless there is unanimous consent for more. McConnell determined that the one amendment he wanted would be the amendment reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank, offered by the Senators from Boeing.
What’s even more interesting is that when the amendment was typed up, it was labeled a “substitute” amendment. The paper amendment filed has that word crossed out by hand, and the word “perfecting” penciled in.
So McConnell originally thought he would offer the amendment as a substitute amendment – which would allow many other amendments to be offered – then changed his mind, and decided to make it a “perfecting” amendment, so that he could limit the amendments to just one: The Ex-Im reauthorization.
But that didn’t sit well with his Republican Conference, apparently, so on Friday morning, he announced that he would be holding a Sunday session, at which time he would allow votes on two amendments – an ObamaCare repeal amendment, and an Ex-Im reauthorization amendment. He had changed his mind a second time, and decided to go back to his original plan, offering the highway bill as a “substitute” amendment. He believed that he could assuage conservative anger inside his conference by giving them a chance to vote to repeal ObamaCare, in addition to allowing a vote on Ex-Im reauthorization. Many Republicans – including, in particular, the freshmen Republican Senators who were just elected last November – had not yet had a chance to vote on a measure repealing ObamaCare, and wanted to do so. He figured this was as good a time as any to give them a vote they wanted, and he hoped it would calm down the most vocal opponents of Ex-Im reauthorization.
He was wrong.
Sen. Ted Cruz took to the floor of the Senate just before 10 AM and gave what can only be described as a full-throated, rip-roaring, stentorian thrashing of the Senate Majority Leader, based on what he called McConnell’s “lie” that there had been no deal cut to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. Cruz used words that are not commonly used on the floor of the Senate by one Senator to describe the actions of another Senator. Said the Senator from Texas:
“The majority leader looked me in the eye, and looked 54 Republicans in the eye. I cannot believe he would tell a flat-out lie. And I voted based on those assurances that he made to each and every single one of us. What we just saw today was an absolute demonstration that not only what he told every Republican Senator, but what he told the press over and over and over and over again was a simple lie. If you or I cannot trust what the majority leader tells us, that will have consequences on other legislation as well on how this institution operates. There are hosts of amendments that the American people are focused on. Things like defunding Planned Parenthood after the gruesome video. The majority leader doesn’t want to vote on that.”
He went on like that for almost 20 minutes, from start to finish, and closed his remarks by offering an amendment that would condition passage of the Iran agreement on Iran’s release of American hostages and recognition of Israel’s right to exist. His amendment was ruled out of order, because it wasn’t germane, and he lodged an appeal of the ruling of the chair.
When he was through, the Senate sat a moment in stunned silence. If you haven’t seen it, you should – so I’ve included a link to the YouTube clip, and I highly recommend it.
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate already started its week earlier this afternoon, when it came into session to vote on cloture on the McConnell amendment to repeal ObamaCare. As expected, the vote failed, by 49-43.
That set up a second vote on cloture on an amendment to the highway bill, offered by Sen. Kirk. That amendment reauthorizes the Ex-Im Bank. It passed, by a vote of 67-26.
Then the Senate took up Sen. Cruz’s appeal of the ruling of the chair, which he lodged Friday when he offered an amendment to tie the Iran deal to the highway bill. He could not get a sufficient second for the appeal – that’s defined under Senate rules as 10 other Senators – and it failed by a voice vote.
Sen. Lee then offered an amendment to defund Planned Parenthood. Like the Cruz amendment before it, it was ruled out of order because it was not germane. Sen. Lee appealed the ruling of the chair, but could not get a sufficient second, so it failed on a voice vote as had the Cruz amendment.
Because of the way the votes were structured – that is, McConnell’s decision to go back to his original plan, and introduce the highway bill as a “substitute” amendment, rather than a “perfecting” amendment – Senators will be allowed to offer germane amendments (that is, amendments that have something to do with highway funding). They can also offer non-germane amendments, but the presiding officer can reject them for being non-germane. We just saw two examples of that this afternoon, with the amendments offered by Sens. Cruz and Lee.
Sen. Lee plans to rise on Monday evening, around 9 PM, to offer an amendment to repeal ObamaCare. He expects that the presiding officer will rule that amendment out of order, because it is not germane. He will then appeal the ruling of the chair – and will try to force every Senator there to cast a vote on whether or not to uphold the ruling of the chair, or overturn the ruling of the chair. Based on what happened on the Senate floor Sunday afternoon, when he could not find a “sufficient second” to his request for a roll call vote, he may not get that recorded vote – I guess we’ll find out if Sunday’s episode was enough for Sen. McConnell to feel as if he had made his point. If not, if Sen. McConnell wants another pound of flesh, Republican Senators will remain mute when the presiding officer asks if there is a sufficient second, and that will be the end of that.
Some in the media have called this the “nuclear option.” In fact, it is not – he’s merely appealing the ruling of the chair on the question of germaneness of the ObamaCare repeal amendment to the highway bill. It isn’t the nuclear option because he’s not doing anything contrary to Senate rules; he’s modifying precedent, not rule.
It’s a simple majority vote. If 51 Senators vote to overturn the ruling of the chair, then the Senate will vote on his amendment. And if 51 Senators support his amendment, it will be added to the highway bill.
An important point here: Sen. Lee is not really trying to repeal ObamaCare. He is trying to kill the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. His amendment is the ultimate poison pill – there is no way in the world the highway bill would advance with such an amendment included, because the President would most assuredly veto it. The President wants highway funding to continue, no doubt; but he would sacrifice all the highways in the world to maintain his namesake legislative achievement.
So the Lee amendment is a maneuver to prevent the Export-Import Bank from being reauthorized. And that’s why it will likely fail – because there might be SOME Republican Senators who want to see the Export-Import Bank reauthorized MORE than they want to see an ObamaCare repeal measure end up on the President’s desk, where he would certainly veto it, AND there are likely FAR more Senators, both Republicans and Democrats, who don’t want to see this rare maneuver invoked for simple legislation.
We’ll find out Monday evening. In the meantime, we’re urging our supporters across the country to call their Senators Monday and urge them to vote to support Mike Lee’s appeal of the ruling of the chair Monday night.
Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy of SC called on Secretary of State John Kerry’s chief of staff, Jon Finer, to testify before the panel Tuesday on his department’s slow response to congressional subpoenas. The State Department replied that Finer couldn’t come, as he was needed to help Secretary Kerry prepare for and deliver testimony on the Iran deal before another congressional panel at the same time.
At his regular Thursday press conference, Speaker Boehner weighed in, saying that he didn’t think it was “too much” to expect Finer to appear before the Select Committee. Gowdy threatened to issue a subpoena for Finer if he didn’t cooperate, but said Finer’s appearance could be delayed if the department makes what he called “substantial” document production beforehand.
Thursday evening, the New York Times reported that the Inspectors General for the State Department and the Intelligence Community had asked the Justice Department “to open an investigation into whether sensitive government information was mishandled in connection with the personal email account Hillary Rodham Clinton used as Secretary of State.” The original New York Times report indicated that the two IG’s had made a “criminal referral,” indicating that a criminal investigation was warranted; subsequent reporting changed that to an investigation into whether classified material was mishandled.
The two IG’s said that Mrs. Clinton’s private email account contained “hundreds of potentially classified emails,” and said that a random sample of 40 emails showed that four of them – 10 percent – contained classified information at the time she used the server. This is an important distinction, because the Clinton campaign’s official position has been that any classified material she sent or received was only classified by the State Department AFTER she sent or received it.
On Friday, Hillary Clinton’s campaign spokesman said she would testify before the Select Committee in October, in a public hearing. The Select Committee responded that negotiations were ongoing, and she should check with her attorney, David Kendall, who, said the committee’s spokesman, was still negotiating the conditions of her appearance. Kendall wants her testimony to be limited to the Benghazi attack, and not have anything to do with her private email server; the committee wants to reserve the right to question her about her use of that private server.
EXECUTIVE AMNESTY/ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION:
As discussed earlier, the House took up and passed a bill to provide a disincentive against Sanctuary Cities. It couldn’t have been THAT bad, because both Steve King and Jim Jordan voted for it. But, clearly, that wasn’t the only bill out there – and some of our local coordinators have asked my thoughts on why the House GOP Leadership chose to take to the floor a weak bill, rather than one they wanted.
So, there are a couple of reasons one bill gets picked over another that does similar things:
First, and most importantly, you have to look at the sponsors of legislation. The Majority Leader is the member who is charged with scheduling the floor time, and he uses that authority to both promote favorites and to punish enemies when it comes to scheduling floor time for a bill. On this front, Duncan Hunter’s bill beats out, say, the similar bill offered by Lou Barletta, because Hunter is far closer to Leadership than is Barletta.
Second, you have to look at the bill’s cosponsors – again, with a view to figuring out which bill, if either, has a preponderance of cosponsors who are Leadership favorites. On this front, Hunter’s bill had 44 cosponsors, while Barletta’s had just 22, and Hunter’s bill had more Leadership allies behind it.
Third, and very few will say this, but the amount of money raised for the NRCC comes into play when it comes to scheduling floor time for bills. This could actually be a corollary of Rule 1, proximity to Leadership, because it’s considered a true test of how much of a “team player” a given Member is.
Finally, look at the actual consequence of the various bills. If your goal is to enact legislation, all other things being equal, you move the bill that changes things the least (regardless of whether or not it solves your problem), because the less you propose to change, the likelier you are to get the change you seek. So legislating is a tradeoff between making significant changes and getting things enacted.
Put those four factors together, and you get a pretty good idea of why Hunter’s bill was chosen as the vehicle instead of Barletta’s.
In fact, according to our friends at NumbersUSA, the best bill to address the problem of Sanctuary Cities is actually the Davis-Oliver Act – that’s S. 1640, introduced in the Senate by Jeff Sessions, and H.R. 1148, introduced in the House by Trey Gowdy. It is named for Michael Davis, Jr., and Danny Oliver, two California deputy sheriffs who were murdered by illegal immigrants.
What makes the Davis-Oliver Act so much better than any of the other sanctuary cities bills, in their view, is that it is the only bill that properly addresses the federal government’s sanctuary policies. They point out that ICE itself has released nearly 70,000 convicted criminal aliens over just the last two years, and only the Davis-Oliver Act would end this.
For those who want to read more deeply into this, I’ve included a link in the Suggested Readings.
This afternoon, the Senate voted to invoke cloture on an amendment offered by Sen. Mark Kirk of IL to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. The cloture vote carried, by a vote of 67-26.
The Senate is in the period of up to 30 hours of debate post-cloture on the Kirk Amendment. When that time is done, unless a Unanimous Consent agreement has been reached beforehand, the Senate will vote on the amendment itself. And I expect it to pass.
But the House’s version of the highway bill has no such amendment in it, and House leaders of both parties have been pushing back hard against the Senate. So it’s six of one, a half dozen of the other as to whether or not this amendment eventually becomes law.
TEA PARTY PATRIOTS/JENNY BETH MARTIN: