Tea Party Patriots Weekly Report from Washington for 10/9/17
The House will return Tuesday, and will stay in session through Friday. The Senate is in recess this week, and will return next Monday, October 16.
LAST WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House returned to work last Monday evening, and took up and passed two bills under Suspension of the Rules.
On Tuesday, the House took up and passed the Rule governing consideration of H.R. 36, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Then the House took up and passed H.R. 36, by a vote of 237-189. The only two Republicans to vote against outlawing abortion after 20 weeks were Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey.
On Wednesday, the House began consideration of H.Con.Res.71, the budget resolution. The budget passed on Thursday, by a vote of 219-206, with 18 Republicans voting against it. There were a few conservatives who voted against it – Justin Amash, Ken Buck, Walter Jones – but most of the Republicans who voted against it are moderates like Barbara Comstock, Charlie Dent, Peter King, Frank LoBiondo, and Chris Smith.
Passing that budget resolution was the first step on the road to using the reconciliation process to pass a tax reform bill.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House returns Tuesday, with first votes set for 6:30 PM. At that time, the House is scheduled to take up seven bills under Suspension of the Rules. Six of the bills rename U.S. Post Offices, and one of them renames a Border Patrol checkpoint.
On Wednesday, the House will continue, with 10 bills scheduled to be brought to the floor under Suspension of the Rules.
Then, on Thursday, the House will take up S. 585, the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017. This bill, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Ron Johnson, passed the Senate by Unanimous Consent on May 25. The bill enhances protections for federal whistleblowers, and is named after a whistleblower who questioned excessive prescription practices at a VA medical facility in Wisconsin and then took his own life after being fired from his VA job.
And I expect that sometime this week we’ll see floor action on the Trump Administration’s request for an additional $29 billion in disaster relief funding.
LAST WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate returned last Monday, and immediately took up the confirmation vote on Aji Pai to have a second five-year term at the Federal Communications Commission. He was confirmed to that second term by a vote of 52-41.
On Wednesday, the Senate voted to invoke cloture on the nomination of Eric Hargan to be Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services. Then the Senate voted by 57-38 to confirm him.
Then the Senate voted to invoke cloture on the nomination of Randall Quarles to be a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
On Thursday, the Senate voted by 65-32 to confirm Quarles to his position at the Federal Reserve System. Then the Senate voted to invoke cloture on the nomination of Lee Francis Cisna to be Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and then the Senate voted by 54-43 to confirm Cisna to his new post.
Finally, the Senate voted to invoke cloture on the nomination of Callista Gingrich to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. And then they were done.
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate is in recess this week.
When the Senate returns next Monday, it will take up the confirmation of Callista Gingrich to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See.
On Tuesday, October 17, the Senate will take up the nomination of David Joel Trachtenberg to be a Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense. And we expect to see a floor vote on the Senate budget resolution sometime that week.
The House Homeland Security Committee marked up H.R. 3548, the Border Security for America Act, and passed it out of committee last Wednesday on a party-line 18-12 vote. The bill includes $10 billion in funding for construction of a border wall, $5 billion to improve ports of entry, and adds 5,000 agents to both the Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection.
On Sunday evening, the Trump Administration sent congressional leaders its wish list for immigration reform. In exchange for any legislation regarding the so-called “Dreamers,” the Administration wants a three-part reform of the nation’s immigration system, focusing on border security, interior enforcement, and a change from the current family-based immigration system to a new merit-based system.
In putting together the 69-point proposal, the Administration sought input from the various law enforcement agencies tasked with policing immigration and homeland security.
The Administration wants Congress to crack down on unaccompanied minors, and add funding for a border wall, 370 more immigration judges, 1,000 attorneys for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, 300 more federal prosecutors, and 10,000 additional ICE agents to enforce immigration laws.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi didn’t waste any time slamming the Trump Administration for the proposal. Cleverly, they didn’t aim squarely at President Trump, with whom they say they cut a deal a month ago. Instead, they focused on his staff: If the President was serious about making that deal a month ago, they said, “his staff has not made a good faith effort to do so.”
If President Trump sticks to his guns on this proposal, and insists that his entire proposal be accepted by Democrats in exchange for legalization of the 690,000 “Dreamers,” the end result is likely to be no deal. And that may be the point. Stay tuned.
By next Sunday, the law calls for President Trump to certify to Congress that Iran is still in compliance with the Iran nuclear deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – and that the deal is still in the vital national security interest of the United States. Or not.
Media reports indicate that the President will preempt the October 15 deadline with an announcement later this week that he will not certify that to Congress.
The President’s failure to certify that Iran is still in compliance with the deal and that the deal still is in the vital national security interests of the United States does not mean we are pulling out of the agreement. Instead, it starts a 60-day clock ticking, during which the Congress can deliberate over whether or not to reimpose sanctions against Iran.
The left suggests that at this point, there’s no sense in decertifying the deal. The deal was poorly written, some of them now cleverly acknowledge, and most of the benefits Iran received from the deal were front-loaded, so Iran has already gotten what it wanted from the deal. Pulling out of the deal now, they argue, would only hurt us, not Iran. The other nations involved in the deal – Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the European Union – won’t join us in pulling out of the deal, so we would be isolated on the international stage, and would simply be cutting off our nose to spite our face.
To which I respond, “Balderdash!”
The history of financial sanctions against Iranian institutions is a history of the left opposing the imposition of such sanctions as counterproductive and impossible to police, right up to the moment at which the sanctions are imposed – at which time everyone figures out how to comply, because they fear the loss of access to the $19 trillion U.S. economy far more than they fear the loss of access to Iran’s measly little $400 billion economy. (To put that in context, Iran’s economy is about one-third the size of the economy of New York City.)
So here’s what ought to happen: The President should decertify the Iran deal, and call upon Congress to reimpose sanctions against both Iran and any nation or company that does business with Iran. There will be massive caterwauling from the left, and from our allies overseas, but in the end, if Congress reimposes sanctions the way it ought to, they will comply.
This is going to be an important week for the future of the Iran nuclear deal. You can find two very important articles in the Suggested Reading – one by Andy McCarthy at National Review, and the other by Richard Goldberg at Foreign Policy. I highly commend them both.
On Friday, September 29, the IRS signed a sole-source, no-bid contract with Equifax, the credit bureau titan that just a few weeks ago revealed that it had failed to protect the credit files of more than 145 million Americans. The purpose of the contract? This is the Washington Swamp at work, remember, so the answer should not be surprising – to protect data files, of course.
The news hit Capitol Hill last Tuesday.
Members of Congress – even those who had been here long enough to have learned how crazy Washington is – were stunned, and began demanding answers. Jenny Beth wrote her column for The Hill last week on the topic, and demanded that President Trump fire IRS Commissioner John Koskinen before his term expires one month from now.
On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) would release a report the following day saying it had identified as many as 146 cases between 2004-2013 in which a liberal-leaning group was subjected to heightened scrutiny in its application for tax exempt status. As you might imagine, the left immediately pointed to the new TIGTA report as exoneration for the IRS officials who had targeted conservatives, saying it proved there was never any conspiracy, it was just incompetence.
This is curious. If there really had been no attempt to focus on conservative and tea party organizations, why was there a cover-up? Why didn’t the IRS just come out in 2013 and acknowledge that they’d been targeting groups across the political spectrum the whole time? Why would Lois Lerner have felt a need to take the Fifth Amendment to avoid incriminating herself?
It looks like most of the liberal organizations targeted for special attention came after the IRS targeting scandal had already been made public – which seems to indicate that they were added to cover for the IRS targeting of conservative organizations.
I’ve included the full TIGTA report in the Suggested Reading, so you can read it for yourself.
In the wake of the Senate’s failure to pass a reconciliation bill repealing ObamaCare, we have several developments on the ObamaCare repeal front.
On Thursday, The Hill reported that Sen. Ron Johnson is threatening to subpoena documents from the Office of Personnel Management regarding Congress’ illegal special exemption.
Johnson had written OPM in mid-August asking why Congress and its staff was able to receive taxpayer-funded subsidies to pay for their health care. He’s unhappy with the information OPM shared with him in response to his letter, and has declared that if he doesn’t get answers by October 18, his committee may have to subpoena OPM.
We went through this exercise once before, when LA Sen. David Vitter, who was then the chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, attempted to subpoena OPM for those documents. Under Senate rules, there are two ways a committee chairman can issue a subpoena. The first way is if the chairman and the ranking member of the minority party on the committee both agree to issue the subpoena. But Vitter’s ranking member did not agree, so Vitter had to use the second method to issue a subpoena – that’s with a majority vote of the members of the committee.
Vitter’s committee rebelled against him, on orders from Majority Leader McConnell. Sen. Rand Paul carried McConnell’s water on that vote, convincing five of the committee’s ten Republican Senators that they should vote against issuing the proposed subpoena. With all the Democrats on the committee voting against it, those five GOP Senators killed the subpoena.
For the record, the five Republicans on the Small Business Committee who voted to support the subpoena request were David Vitter, Marco Rubio, Tim Scott, Joni Ernst, and Cory Gardner. The five Republicans who voted to quash the subpoena request were Rand Paul, Jim Risch, Deb Fischer, Kelly Ayotte, and Mike Enzi.
So … just because Sen. Johnson says he’s considering issuing a subpoena doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen.
Anticipating your question, the GOP members of Sen. Johnson’s Homeland Security Committee are John McCain, Rob Portman, Rand Paul, James Lankford, Mike Enzi, John Hoeven, and Steve Daines. Two of them – Mike Enzi and Rand Paul – voted two years ago to kill Vitter’s subpoena request.
The committee has eight Republicans and seven Democrats, so Johnson cannot afford to lose a single Republican on the vote to issue a subpoena, if it comes to that.
On Friday, the Trump Administration struck a blow for religious freedom when it announced it would scale back ObamaCare’s birth-control mandate. The new rules, announced by the Department of Health and Human Services, grant exemptions to employers who object to the requirement that employers provide insurance that covers contraception. The ACLU immediately sued.
The announcement from HHS actually detailed two different but related rules – the first for religiously affiliated institutions, the second for nonreligious employers who said the mandate impinged on their moral beliefs.
And on Saturday, a senior Administration official revealed to reporters that this week President Trump will sign an executive order lifting some of ObamaCare’s key insurance regulations. The executive order will direct the Department of Health and Human Services, the Treasury Department, and the Department of Labor to take steps to make it easier for people to form groups so they can band together for the purchase of health insurance through “association health plans.” This would spur the sale of insurance across state lines.
According to the reporting, insurance purchased through these plans would be free of some of ObamaCare’s key insurance mandates, including the requirements that all health insurance plans cover certain so-called “essential health benefits,” among others. The executive order will also direct the agencies to begin rolling back a rule limiting coverage known as “short-term medical insurance,” and allow people to purchase those plans for up to a year – as they could before ObamaCare was enacted – rather than the 90 day limit now in place.
Further, the executive order will direct agencies to expand health reimbursement accounts, which employers fund and use to reimburse employees for out-of-pocket medical expenses and even premiums. The current ObamaCare rule prohibits the use of such accounts to buy health insurance on the individual market.
In this week’s installment of “Who’s Up? Who’s Down?” – the soap opera based on Trump Administration personnel moves – the star of the episode is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was reported to have referred to President Trump as a “moron” in a meeting some months ago. When given the opportunity to deny he had said it, Tillerson failed to do so, sidestepping the question with what we in Washington refer to as a “non-denial denial,” in which the subject sounds like he’s denying something without ever actually denying it. When veteran reporters noted the non-denial denial and demanded clarification, Tillerson sent out his press spokeswoman to announce that he had never said it, but she did so in such a manner that it merely continued the non-denial denial, and left the question open.
President Trump was reported to have been furious about coming home from his trip to Las Vegas, expecting to find good coverage of his trip on the cable networks, only to find that story ignored in favor of continuing coverage of Tillerson’s insult. Trump was also reported to have been angered by Tillerson’s failure to clearly deny having insulted the President, whether he had or had not.
The resulting explosion has totally overtaken last week’s drama about Tom Price and his pricey air travel, and has led to speculation about how much longer Tillerson will, should, or even can remain in his job at State.
Axios suggests that one potential replacement for Tillerson is current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a former Member of Congress who briefs President Trump daily and has established a good rapport with the President.
So, we’re now almost two weeks into tax reform, and Republicans are either backing off on their proposal to eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes (if you believe The New York Times) or the White House is holding firm on that front (if you believe Politico). Of course, the fact is that the two stories are not mutually exclusive – that is, it’s quite possible that Capitol Hill Republicans are getting weak-kneed, while the White House is holding strong. Having attended a White House briefing on tax reform last week, I can confirm that they’re not backing down on that particular front.
This is a huge deduction. It costs the Treasury $1.3 trillion over ten years. It’s used by 40 million taxpayers, but 80 percent of the benefits go to taxpayers who make more than $100,000 per year. It effectively subsidizes decisions made by liberal state governments to foist high income taxes on their residents by spreading the costs over the rest of the country. So middle-class families in Nebraska and South Carolina and Wyoming subsidize high-income earners in California, New York, and New Jersey.
Nevertheless, this is a political problem for GOP leaders as they attempt to win 218 votes in the House and 51 votes in the Senate. There are about three dozen House Republicans who come from districts that would be impacted by the loss of the deduction, and the leadership cannot afford to lose all those votes and still get the bill across the finish line. So look for some kind of compromise in the coming weeks – perhaps not a full repeal of the deduction, but a capping of the deduction at a certain value, or perhaps allowing taxpayers to make a choice between taking their mortgage interest deduction or the deduction for state and local taxes, or something along those lines.
JENNY BETH MARTIN/TEA PARTY PATRIOTS: