The Weekly Watchman: Congress readies the fig leaves to cover its failures

· September 11, 2018  
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U.S. Capitol at night
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The House outlook

The House of Representatives comes back into session on Wednesday for a short work week due to the Rosh Hashanah holiday. Given what is on the agenda, every freedom-loving patriot should be grateful that this is not a full work week for legislators to do more damage.

The amount of nonsense being foisted upon the American people this week is staggering — so much that it’s impossible for this column to catalogue and analyze it all. Nevertheless, I will try to hit the lowlights so that you know exactly what your representatives and senators are doing this week and the impact it’s likely to have.

Last week, I mentioned that House leadership is keen to pass as many appropriations bills as possible before the end of the fiscal year in order to avoid a potential government “shutdown.” This includes going to conference with the Senate on the funding bill for the Department of Defense — which will include funding for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education added to it as part of the conference report.

This is the new ploy to give members the ability to hide behind “funding the troops” while Congress actively funds progressive priorities like Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, crony entities like the Corporation for National and Community Service, and increasing federal involvement in education.

This is because the perpetual goal of Republican leadership in Congress — and increasingly in the White House — is to avoid a fight at all costs. Promises and consequences be damned.

That’s why this week the House will be readying a number of bills to provide the appearance that Republicans are keeping their promises, while also insuring that they avoid fights that could lead to a temporary government slowdown. At this point, everything is messaging. It’s not about action.

Leadership is desperate to distract from the fact that Obamacare remains the law of the land, spending and debt continue to increase at alarming rates, Planned Parenthood remains funded, and nothing is being done to secure our lawless southern border and fix our broken immigration laws.

So desperate are they, in fact, that Republicans have introduced Tax Reform 2.0 knowing full well that there is a zero percent chance the three bills in this effort will receive a vote before the November elections. Without reconciliation instructions to bypass the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, this effort is dead in the water. And while not everything is stellar, there are policies worth supporting. For example, the Protecting Family and Small Business Tax Cuts Act, introduced by Reps. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Mark Walker, R-N.C., would make the new individual rates permanent. Sadly, this is only in theory as a vote is almost guaranteed not to happen.

But have no fear, at least the House is going to take another crack at repealing Obamacare with the Save Our Workers Act of 2018! Oh wait, that’s not repeal, that’s a bill to fix parts of Obamacare.

Fig leaves. Smoke and mirrors.

And with the president seemingly adopting the Ryan-McConnell white-flag strategy on border security, the chance of a funding fight over the border wall and immigration policy is likely dead as well.

That means that Republicans have officially abdicated their responsibilities and broken their promises on every major policy issue (health care, spending, immigration) while simultaneously convincing themselves that voters will reward them for not fighting by putting Republicans back in charge of the House and Senate. This is the height of delusional nonsense.

This is precisely the kind of insipid, out-of-touch navel-gazing that has Republicans staring down a full-blown wipeout in November — from 40 vulnerable House seats to an alarmingly close Senate race in the heart of deep red Texas.

I’ve been saying for months that the House must make a stand on border security during the upcoming government funding bill. That is the only chance Republicans have to energize their base in the face of a socialist-infused Democrat wave determined to eventually eviscerate every last vestige of liberty that millions of Americans have given their lives to preserve, defend, and expand.

Fighting is the only chance they have to avoid utter defeat.

Floor focus

One of the bills being offered this week aims at “fixing” some of the issues with Obamacare’s employer mandate. This bill does not advance health care freedom in any meaningful sense or make good on the promise of repeal.

Separately, the House also has at least 33 suspension bills — bills that cannot be debated or amended — lined up for votes this week. These include at least nine post office renaming bills. This is akin to waking up and finding one’s house on fire, but instead of trying to put it out or escape to safety, you waltz over to the refrigerator and grab a glass of cold milk. It is briefly refreshing before you’re burned alive.

Save American Workers Act of 2018

Sponsor: Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind.

Committee of Jurisdiction: Committee on Ways and Means

What does the bill do? The bill amends the Internal Revenue Code to restore the definition of “full-time employee” to 40 hours of work per week. Obamacare lowered that threshold for purposes of imposing its employer mandate to 30 hours per week. This created a cliff that some policy experts claimed resulted in reduced hours for employees and fewer jobs, as employers attempted to escape being subjected to the mandate.

Additionally, this bill delays the excise tax on high-cost health plans for five years and targets the 10 percent excise tax on indoor tanning salons for repeal. What do you know? Congress is interested in repealing something after all.

Should conservatives be concerned? Yes. In a vacuum, restoring the 40-hour work week for the purposes of whether or not Obamacare’s employer mandate takes effect is good policy. But health care policy does not exist in a vacuum. Republicans continue to invest their energy in partial repeals and “fixes” to the law. This only makes actual repeal less likely, as the coalition becomes weaker after each and every fix for a particular interest group.

Does the bill grow government? Not directly. But it does supplant the more important mission of creating an environment for health care freedom, where market forces and competition put patients and consumers in charge. And the fact that this effort is taking up floor time instead of the House putting forward budget reconciliation instructions to fully repeal Obamacare reveals where Republican priorities ultimately lie: with well-connected business interests, not struggling families and households facing high health care costs.

Conservative contrast: If Republicans were serious about rolling back the onerous impact of Obamacare on the American people and on businesses, they would fully repeal the law —including the employer mandate, all subsidies to insurance companies, and the cost-driving insurance regulations that have caused premiums to more than double on average in the past five years.

This is not a bill designed to alleviate the harm inflicted by Obamacare in increasingly high costs, diminished quality of care, and narrowed provider networks for patients. This is a bill designed to please business interest groups on K Street.

Instead of cherry-picking Obamacare taxes on specific industries to be repealed, conservatives should be focused like a laser on repealing Obamacare’s insurance regulations, which are the primary drivers of skyrocketing premiums.

With the Left increasingly openly adopting socialism, the fact that this bill is a focus instead of a serious effort to counter a $32 trillion “Medicare for All” government takeover of health care is a reminder that Republicans may be in charge, but conservatives surely are not.

The Senate’s opioid fig leaf

Like the House, the Senate returns on Wednesday after a week filled with progressive hysterics over the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh to be the next Supreme Court justice.

The first vote will be to confirm Charles Rettig to be the next commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service. Following that, it’s expected that the Senate will vote on H.R. 6, a massive opioids bill that also massively misses the point of what is driving the epidemic that killed 72,000 Americans last year.

As Conservative Review senior editor Daniel Horowitz has written extensively, the opioid crisis is largely the result of progressive open-borders policies that allow Mexican drug cartels to funnel deadly synthetics like fentanyl onto our streets.

This is less about doctors prescribing too many painkillers and far more about sanctuary cities that provide safe havens for criminal illegal gangs like MS-13, which are distribution networks for Central American drug cartels who have embraced heroin and fentanyl as their moneymakers.

And in its rush to “get something done,” the Senate appears poised to debate and pass this mammoth bill to check the box and authorize some $2 billion in new grants for states. While it will undoubtedly make senators feel good about themselves, it will do little, if anything, to actually solve the problem.

Liberty outlook

Summary: Both houses are back in session for a short week due to the Rosh Hashanah holiday. The House continues to ignore opportunity after opportunity to capitalize on its majority to achieve conservative policy victories. Instead, congressional leaders have deluded themselves that a handful of messaging bills on tax reform and Obamacare — alongside a punt on border security — will energize the base to help avert catastrophe in November.

Additionally, the Senate looks poised to pass a massive bipartisan opioids package that, once again, throws money at the problem instead of addressing the border crisis and drug cartels driving these synthetic killers onto our streets. That puts this week’s liberty outlook at: Code red.

Unfortunately, the failure of the GOP Congress is nearly complete. There is still time for a course correction on at least one major policy issue: border security. If only there were any leaders left with the courage to take such a stand.


The Weekly Watchman

Welcome to the Weekly Watchman, a regular series at Conservative Review where we highlight and analyze legislation pending on the House and Senate floors so that you know exactly what your representatives are voting on — and the impact those votes will have on your freedom.

The truth is that every single vote cast in Congress either advances liberty or diminishes it. And in all the noise on social media and 24/7 cable news chaos, it can be difficult to keep track of what is really happening on Capitol Hill and what it means for you and your family.

Patrick Henry once stated, “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”


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Author: Drew White

Drew White spent three years at Heritage Action for America as a legislative strategist covering domestic policy issues. He then served as Sen. Ted Cruz’s domestic policy adviser for two years, working on issues including Obamacare repeal, educational freedom, elimination of federal agencies and departments, and defunding Planned Parenthood. Most recently, he served as senior federal policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He currently resides in Austin, Texas, with his wife and golden retriever, happily clinging to his guns and religion.