This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of October 12, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of October 12, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
To listen to much public discussion, you’d think that the Freedom Caucus were a bunch of crazies bent on destruction. Consider, for example, the comment thread on this otherwise fair-minded NPR report. The report itself is called “What Kind Of Speaker Does The House Freedom Caucus Want?“, which suggests that the Freedom Caucus just wants a House Speaker that is more conservative.
But Freedom Caucus members have done a pretty good job of getting their message out. They’re pushing decentralizing reforms in the House that would make it a more democratic body—small “d” democratic. These are democratic conservatives.
That NPR report captures Rep. Mick Mulvaney’s (R-SC) desire for a House Speaker “who will give the members more control over what bills get a vote, what amendments get added, and who gets assigned to run committees, which have a key role in advancing legislation.”
Mulvaney and other Freedom Caucus members didn’t get elected to serve Republican bosses who had let emergency situations develop. Mulvaney speaking to NPR again: “We’d do nothing, and three days before the debt ceiling limit was reached, Mr. Boehner would walk into a room and say, ‘Ok, here’s what we’re doing.'”
Sounds familiar. Regular readers of this blog know that we’re permanently offended around here by the sloppy way House and Senate leadership handle the appropriations process—or fail to handle it, as the case may be.
[T]he Steering Committee, a committee most of your viewers never heard of, they decide who is on what committees, who chairs the committees, they have all the power and also dish out the punishment.
Great example is Tim Huelskamp [(R)], a congressman from Kansas, a place where they have a bit of agriculture, was kicked off the Agriculture Committee, because he wouldn’t do what the top people in the house told him to do.
And here’s the interesting thing — kicked off the Agriculture Committee, and he’s got a PhD in agriculture policy. That’s the kind of stuff that has to stop, because when you have that kind of environment, I would argue it’s not conducive to producing the results that we told the voters we were going to go when they gave us a chance to serve them.
The Washington Examiner‘s Tim Carney had a very interesting commentary last week that didn’t go to personalities or how crazily conservative the Freedom Caucus is. “[T]here’s something bigger at play here than a few dozen intransigent lawmakers or a handful of populist radio talkers and uppity SuperPACs,” he wrote.
According to Carney, the declining power of parties is the important theme. Campaign finance law has been liberalized by things like the Citizens United ruling, so there are paths to election that don’t go through the party structure. The elimination of earmarks—which came after our very successful project to shed light on them—has undercut the ability of House leadership to guide their members with carrots. The result is the current move to decentralize power in the House.
That doesn’t mean the membership of the Freedom Caucus aren’t conservative. They are. And non-conservatives might not like the substantive laws they’d seek to pass. But their numbers include people like Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who lead the fight against NSA spying in the House, bucking the conservative line on government access to our phone calling information.
The picture is never quite as simple as the mainstream media tell it. Yes, the House is in chaos because a renegade group of conservatives have successfully toppled a Speaker, and they currently have a veto on his replacement.
But you don’t have to scratch too deeply into the story to find this interesting them, that these conservative Republicans are pushing for a more democratic House of Representatives. And that would be interesting. Messy, but interesting.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of October 4, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
That confusing Congress did its confusing work last week and passed a continuing resolution that funds the government until December 11th.
The law that provides that funding, spending some $11,000 per U.S. family, is Public Law 114-53, the TSA Office of Inspection Accountability Act of 2015.
And that’s what the law is actually called. They didn’t manage to name it the “Continuing Appropriations Act, 2016″ or something. The law that funds the government for the first two months of fiscal 2016 is “TSA Office of Inspection Accountability Act of 2015.”
It’s not quite as bad as the “The ______Act of____,” a law that Congress passed in 2010 without taking enough time to give it a name. But when Congress attached the language that funds the government to the TSA bill, they didn’t rename it to something that indicates the important thing that it does. That’s just how hasty and careless Congress is.
Now, this is the first continuing resolution of fiscal 2016, because Congress is very likely to do another and another, and maybe a couple more, before it finally passes an omnibus spending bill that takes care of the government’s funding for the rest of the year.
Instead of a dozen short-term spending bills, Congress should be passing a dozen regular spending bills in the summer. That’s how this process is supposed to work. But Congress delays those bills so much that it has to do these last-minute bills, which the public gets no chance to review.
We’re working on some changes around WashingtonWatch.com, and we’re hoping that we’ll soon be able to organize people around the project of getting Congress to follow ordinary procedures when it does its annual budgeting and spending. Both parties have been unable to run the trains on time, and it doesn’t push policy one way or another for the process to be open and responsibly run, so it’s a non-partisan project.
Feel free any time, though, to contact your member of Congress, and tell your friends and neighbors to do the same. Right now, we are basically spectators, and we don’t want to be. We want them to introduce and pass spending bills according to the schedule so that we, the public, can follow along.
Here’s the current vote on Public Law 114-53, the TSA Office of Inspection Accountability Act of 2015, which happens to include funding for two-and-a-half months of federal government.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of September 28, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
You’d think Congress was purposefully trying to keep you from following along. Well, that’s just a special benefit to Congress and its leaders from its horribly confused and confusing procedures.
This week, you’ll have to chase some “legislative vehicles” to see what Congress is doing.
As followers of this blog know, Congress didn’t pass the annual spending bills on time. Those bills are already a little tough to track, but they’re relatively easy compared to what Congress has cooked up now.
Currently, two different overall spending plans for fiscal 2016 have been proposed, but they’re amendments to other bills rather than freestanding bills themselves. These “legislative vehicles” are H.J. Res. 61, the Hire More Heroes Act of 2015, and H.R. 719, the TSA Office of Inspection Accountability Act of 2015.
The first one, H.J. Res. 61, started life as a bill to amend the tax code to exempt employees with health coverage under TRICARE or the Veterans Administration from being counted for purposes of determining which employers are subject to Obamacare’s employer mandate. It passed the House in late July.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took up the bill and proposed as an amendment a “continuing resolution” that funds the government until December 11th. Doing that under McConnell’s terms would spend $11,074.04 per U.S. family.
The other legislative vehicle is H.R. 719. It started life as a bill to require the Transportation Security Administration to conform to existing laws and regulations regarding criminal investigator positions. All well and good—it passed the House in February. The Senate then passed it with an amendment, and the House passed it with another amendment along the same lines last week.
Well, Senator McConnell took that bill up, and he proposed an amendment to it that is another, slightly different continuing resolution. This one spends $11,075.65 per family.
(These numbers are the total amount of spending, discounted due to the fact that it will occur next fiscal year, then divided by the number of families in the United States. The numbers are not necessarily exact. The cost differences between the two bills show that the latter bill spends just a few million more than the former.)
At this late date, it appears that Congress will almost certainly pass a continuing resolution along the lines of what Senator McConnell has put forward. It will probably keep the government running until December 11th. And it will probably continue to fund Planned Parenthood.
Also, goodbye and good wishes, Speaker Boehner (R-OH). He announced his retirement from the leadership and the House last week.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of September 21, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
Last week, the House passed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. It’s unlikely to pass in the Senate, and now a government shutdown threatens because conservatives in the House may prevent passage of any funding bill for the government that also funds Planned Parenthood.
Fiscal year 2015 ends at the end of the month, and Congress must pass a new funding bill or the government will shut down.
But what is literally involved in defunding Planned Parenthood? Inquiring WashingtonWatchers want to know.
Late last week, the Congressional Budget Office issued a cost/savings estimate for H.R. 3134, the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, which opens a new window onto the issues. The abortion question is at the heart of the debate, but the dollars and cents matter, too.
According to CBO, Planned Parenthood receives approximately $450 million in federal funds each year. About $390 million of that comes from Medicaid, $1 million is from the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicare, and $60 million comes from the National Family Planning Program run by the Department of Health and Human Services. These funds represented about one-third of Planned Parenthood revenues in 2013.
Though it’s very difficult for CBO analysts to predict what will happen if Planned Parenthood is defunded, they assume that Planned Parenthood would be able to replace about half the funds, providing services without cost to Medicaid. Some people would go to other providers, and some people would go without services. The result would be a $255 million reduction in federal government spending in fiscal year 2016, $295 million over the 2016-2025 period.
CBO further estimates that the number of births paid for by the Medicaid program would increase by several thousand, increasing Medicaid spending by $20 million in 2016 and $60 million over the 2016-2020 period.
The grand total ends up being reduced spending of about $2.20 per U.S. family.
For abortion opponents, any funds going to an activity that violates deeply held principles is too much money. But they are unlikely to get veto-proof majorities for any legislation that would defund Planned Parenthood.
That means abortion rights supporters hold the cards. They can probably continue to force their opponents on this issue to pay for abortion services through their tax dollars.
But they have an alternative, too, and an olive branch of sorts. They could fund Planned Parenthood privately, supporting provision of services they feel are important with their own money. We won’t be holding our breath waiting for that to happen.
Here is the current vote on H.R. 3134, the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of September 14, 2015. Subscribe (free!) here.
Y’know, there’s what Congress is supposed to do, and there’s what Congress actually does.
As we pointed out last week, Congress was supposed to pass spending legislation for Fiscal Year 2016 during the summer. It really must do so by the end of this month.
But it’s doing other things.
Last week, the Senate spent a lot of time and energy on the deal that the Obama Administration and international partners made with the Iranian government regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
In a move that tends to drive us crazy around here, Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) took up H.J. Res. 61, the Hire More Heroes Act of 2015, which previously passed the House, and used it as the legislative vehicle for debating the Iran deal. He proposed an amendment to the bill that would have changed it from a bill about veterans and Obamacare and turned it into a bill that would reject the Iran deal. Debate proceeded from there.
The key vote came when the Senate decided not to proceed with debate on the bill. That “cloture” vote, which requires 60 to pass, failed by a vote of 58 to 42.
This week, the House is going to debate H.R. 3134, the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015.
The bill responds to outrage generated by a series of secretly recorded videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing the practice of acquiring tissue samples from aborted fetuses. It would place a one-year moratorium on federal funding for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc.
That’s a subject that people on both sides feel passionate about, of course—extremely passionate.
So the Senate is debating hot issues. The House is debating hot issues. You may feel passionate about one or the other, or both. And that’s why Congress is debating them. They listen to you, in the following sense: They know what gets your dander up. They know what gets you paying attention, and sometimes donating money. And they move toward those issues like a moth to a flame.
That does not incline Congress toward getting the budgeting and spending decisions done. Those don’t get you as interested, so it’s not what Congress is going to spend time on—even with weeks to go before the new fiscal year.
Meet the problem. The problem is you!
(You are excused from this criticism if you called, wrote a letter, or emailed your representatives about budgeting and spending at any time in the last year.)
Here, by the way, are the current votes on the two controversial bills that Congress has been using to seek your attention lately. (Our post from last week includes the FY 2016 spending bills as far as they’ve gotten at this point.)