The year 2018 is finally over. It was a tumultuous year for Congress, during which the government shut down twice, President Trump faced several challenges both domestically and in foreign policy, and the Democrats retook the House of Representatives on Election Day.
In all the tumult of the day-to-day news and the hysterical media coverage of Trump’s every action, Congress was at work passing some legislation you may have missed. Have you watched how your elected representatives voted in 2018?
Taken from the Conservative Review Scorecard, here are the top ten votes of 2018:
This procedural vote in the Senate was to advance a bill reauthorizing Section 702 of the Foreign Surveillance Act, without substantial reforms. This law permits the warrantless surveillance of American citizens.
Under Section 702, the National Security Agency has sweeping authority to collect incidental data on Americans while spying on foreign targets. The collected information, including emails and text messages, is stored and can be queried by law enforcement without a warrant or even probable cause.
Civil liberties advocates in the Senate like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., were denied the opportunity to filibuster the legislation when Republicans and Democrats voted 60-38 to end debate and advance the bill.
The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would have protected unborn children through a federal ban on abortions after the 20th week of gestation, when scientific evidence suggests a child can feel pain. This bill would have penalized abortionists who perform an abortion procedure after 20 weeks with up to five years in prison and/or fines.
The United States is one of just seven countries — including China and North Korea — to permit elective abortions after 20 weeks. Even in leftist Europe, most countries ban abortions after the first trimester.
The House of Representatives passed the bill in 2017, sending it to the Senate, where Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., brought it up for a vote in January 2018. Sixty votes were needed to break a Democratic filibuster, ending debate and considering the legislation for passage. Unfortunately, the Senate fell short at 51-46, with progressive Republican Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, voting against.
In February, the Republican majority in Congress passed a two-year budget agreement containing the largest spending increase since the 2009 “stimulus” bill passed by Democrats under President Obama. Importantly, the spending bill increased the budget caps set by Republicans in 2010 by $300 billion for two years, which undid the only successful effort to limit spending under the Obama administration and has since led to hundred-billion-dollar deficits under President Trump.
The bill funded several Democratic priorities, including increased spending on entitlement programs, bailouts for hospitals, and $89 billion in “disaster relief” unrelated to the hurricanes that hit the U.S. in 2017. Republicans also squeezed in crony capitalist tax breaks for special interest groups after touting a tax reform bill that was supposed to simplify the tax code.
Throw in a debt ceiling increase on top of all of that, and you have one of the worst pieces of legislation Congress passed in 2018, which the Senate voted to advance 73-26, and the House passed 240-186.
Having passed the budget in February, Congress moved on to funding the government in March with an enormous $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill. The titanic 2,232-page bill failed to keep Republican promises of securing the border, defunding sanctuary cities, and defunding Planned Parenthood, among others.
Instead, the Republican Congress increased the deficit by $1 trillion without funding President Trump’s priorities. President Trump was so incensed at Congress that he vowed he would “never sign another bill like this again.”
There were two opportunities in Congress to stop this bill. The first was on procedural votes necessary to advance the legislation before final passage. The House of Representatives advanced the bill 211 – 207, and the Senate advanced it 67-30.
The second opportunity to stop the spending was on final passage of the omnibus bill. Instead, the House of Representatives passed the bill 256-167, and the Senate followed in a vote of 65-32.
Having passed the “must-pass” omnibus spending bills in March, Republicans in the Senate who campaigned as fiscal conservatives had an opportunity to show that in the future they will be responsible with government funding. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., offered up a resolution to balance the budget without raising taxes by restoring the budget caps and implementing a “Penny Plan” to cut government spending.
The Penny Plan is simple: It would require the government to spend one penny less for every on-budget dollar the federal government spent in fiscal year 2018 for the next five years. Thereafter, spending would grow by one percent annually. Paul’s plan would reduce spending by $13.35 trillion over the next ten years and would balance the budget without making changes to Social Security.
Paul characterized it as a “litmus test for conservatives.” In a procedural vote of 21-76 to advance the budget, most Senate Republicans failed the litmus test.
More than any other issue, illegal immigration was central to President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign. He made key promises to build a wall on the southern border, increase border security, end Obama’s unconstitutional DACA amnesty policies, and reform our immigration system into a merit-based system.
Democrats in Congress refused to accept this agenda, and Republicans, unwilling to fight for most of the year, attempted to reach a compromise that would have traded making Obama’s illegal amnesty the law of the land in return for $25 billion for border security. But Republicans went above and beyond what Obama had done, expanding amnesty with citizenship to 1.8 million illegal immigrants in their proposed deal. The legislation also failed to limit judicial involvement in immigration, permitting rogue leftist judges to continue to undermine American sovereignty without limits imposed by Congress.
It was a bad compromise, and thankfully it was defeated in the House of Representatives, 121 – 301.
Just before the election, Congress added a continuing resolution (CR) to another omnibus spending bill, creating an $855 billion “Cromnibus” bill combining Department of Defense funding with Labor/Health and Human Services/Education funding.
The dirty swamp trick of this vote was to make it look like conservatives opposed to increased funding for government programs in the Health and Human Services, Labor, and Education Departments were also opposed to increased military spending. The military was held hostage by congressional leadership to force conservative lawmakers to vote for these progressive policies.
It was a despicable thing to do. The Senate passed the Cromnibus in a vote of 93-7, and the House passed it 361 – 61.
The spending never ends in Washington D.C. This vote was to pass a $900 billion farm bill to fund crony capitalist farm subsidies and food stamps for the next five years.
Every five years the farm bill contains the same government handouts, bailouts, subsidies, and regulations that favor big agribusiness in America at the expense of the taxpayer. And every five years Congress passes the bill without needed reforms. At one point conservatives attempted to attach watered-down work requirements to the bill, but Senate Democrats and some Republicans balked and rejected that effort. While they were at it, lawmakers actually increased spending in this farm bill compared to the last one.
The Senate passed the bill 87-13, and the House passed it 369-47.
This bill, the First Step Act, was a divisive piece of legislation that had the support of many good-willed conservatives but ultimately contained too many unaddressed problems. Focusing on prison reform, the bill reduced prison sentences for drug traffickers, increased the discretion judges have to avoid mandatory sentencing, and mandated that administrative agencies create ill-defined programs to accelerate release for federal prisoners.
Sentencing leniencies were given to many classes of hardened criminals, including criminal illegal aliens. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., confirmed that several violent crimes ranging from assaulting a law enforcement officer to first-time assault with intent to commit rape were not excluded by the First Step Act. Cotton offered amendments to the legislation that sought to exclude more classes of sex offenders and violent criminals, to require the government to notify victims of a crime before prisoners are released, and to require the Bureau of Prisons to track the re-arrest rates of those who are released early. Those amendments and other important amendments that would have strengthened the bill and corrected several of these problems were rejected by the Senate before the bill was passed.
The other problems with the law are numerous and too extensive to cover here. You can read more of Conservative Review’s opinion and analysis on the First Step Act here.
The Senate passed the First Step Act 87-12, and the House of Representatives passed it 358-36.
Visit the Conservative Review Scorecard to see how your elected representatives in Congress voted not just on these 2018 votes, but on all the top votes Congress took in recent years.
What bills will Congress pass in 2019? Stick with Conservative Review to keep up to date.
Chris Pandolfo is a staff writer and type-shouter for Conservative Review. He holds a B.A. in politics and economics from Hillsdale College. His interests are conservative political philosophy, the American founding, and progressive rock. Follow him on Twitter for doom-saying and great album recommendations @ChrisCPandolfo.
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