The Weekly Watchman: GOP Senate tees up progressive priorities

· August 14, 2018  
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Warning: Obamacare
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The House outlook

The House of Representatives remains in recess and will not be returning (short of an emergency) until September 4, following Labor Day weekend. Members continue to meet with their constituents and campaign ahead of what is expected to be a brutal election cycle for Republicans.

The lawlessness continues unabated on our southern border. News broke this past week that a criminal illegal alien was pretending to be the father of a minor, while in reality, he was repeatedly raping and sexually abusing her, in yet another horrifying reminder of the human trafficking rings and drug cartels running rampant on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Texas Department of Public Safety updated its data on criminal illegal aliens at the end of July, and the numbers are truly alarming. Since June 2011, 175,000 illegal aliens have been charged with over 437,000 criminal offenses in the state of Texas alone. These include nearly 1,000 homicide charges, nearly 50,000 assault charges, 57,000 drug charges, 650 kidnapping charges, over 3,000 robbery charges, and over 5,000 sexual assault charges.

Keep in mind, this data is only for criminal illegal aliens arrested in Texas over the past seven years whose fingerprints are on file. These numbers do not include federal charges, data from other states, or those whose fingerprints are not on file in a Homeland Security database.

The real numbers are obviously far, far higher.

So, will Republicans keep their promises to their constituents when they return in September? Will they finally move to secure the border even if it means a “shutdown” battle with “abolish ICE” radicals in the Democrat party?

Polling indicates that a majority of Americans are opposed to such radical proposals. Yet Republican leaders are quaking in their boots about a possible shutdown over border security, even though this issue is a political winner for them.

This is why conservatives should rally behind Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, for speaker. He’s not afraid to have such battles. Indeed, he’s pushing for Republicans to do what they said they would do.

The Senate outlook

The Senate returns on Wednesday to begin processing two nominees for the Fourth Circuit. As mentioned last week, the Fourth Circuit was stacked with progressive, post-constitutional jurists by President Obama. He placed six judges on the fifteen-member court during his eight years in office.

Barring some unforeseen developments at the eleventh hour, as with the weak-kneed capitulation of Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on the Bounds nomination a few weeks ago, both nominees should be easily confirmed.

The first nominee, Marvin Quattlebaum Jr., was already appointed by the Trump administration to serve as a district court judge in South Carolina. He was confirmed overwhelmingly back in March to this position. The second nominee, Julius Richardson, passed out of the Judiciary Committee by a 20-1 vote. The Fourth Circuit has jurisdiction over South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland.

Following these two votes, the Senate will move on to the most contentious of appropriations bills — the harbinger of doom that is the Labor-HHS bill.

Floor focus

The Senate will likely turn to the Labor-HHS appropriations bill this week. For years, the funding for the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services has been highly contentious. As mentioned last week, Republicans have usually avoided even putting the measure on the floor because of the Obamacare schism within the conference. In years past, a vote for the bill has been seen by many conservatives as a vote for Obamacare, among myriad other progressive priorities.

Leadership, however, believes that tying the Labor-HHS funding bill to Department of Defense appropriations is one way to provide political cover for members to support it. That way, when asked if they voted to fund Obamacare or Planned Parenthood, they can claim, “No, I voted to fund the troops!” The practice of combining multiple appropriations bills into one “minibus” (mini omnibus) has become a common logrolling exercise to speed up the floor process in both the House and Senate. But it also can seriously muddle the debate.

It’s a clever bit of politically motivated legislative maneuvering to be sure, but it doesn’t absolve members of the offense of saddling their children and grandchildren and our children and grandchildren with a $21 trillion (and growing!) debt bomb.

For our purposes this week, we’ll focus only on the Labor-HHS bill.

Labor, HHS, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2018

Sponsor: Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

Committee of Jurisdiction: Committee on Appropriations

What does the bill do? The bill provides $179.3 billion of funding to the Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education, and related agencies for fiscal year 2019. This is a $2.2 billion increase from last year’s numbers.

Should conservatives be concerned? Grab your pitchforks, people.

Does the bill grow government? Yes. And intentionally avoids opportunities to do what Republicans have campaigned for years to do.

Is there anything good in the bill? Only if you’re of the belief that throwing more taxpayer money — money that we don’t actually have — at programs is good policy.

What are some specifics? Just to give a few examples, the bill, written by Republicans, does the following:

  • Increases funding to the National Institute for Health by $2 billion — and the committee report brags about Republicans increasing NIH’s funding by 30 percent in the past three years.
  • Increases “opioid funding” by $145 million to a total of $3.7 billion. This is a 1,300 percent increase since FY2015. Members don’t understand (or care) that the opioid epidemic is actually an immigration and borders issue.
  • Increases funding to Head Start by $250 million from last year’s levels for a total of $10.1 billion. Head Start is little more than a federally run preschool and day-care program.
    • In 2012, the Obama Administration’s own report showed that four year-olds who participated in Head Start had no statistical improvements in literacy, math, language skills, or school performance. In fact, the report showed that three year-olds in Head Start performed worse than those not enrolled by the time they reached kindergarten on teacher-assessed math abilities.
    • Taxpayers have spent more than $200 billion on Head Start since 1965.
  • Continues $1.1 billion in funding to the Corporation for National and Community Service, a crony independent agency that funds bureaucrat-approved nonprofits with taxpayer money, despite the fact that past White House budgets have called for its total elimination.
  • Increases overall funding to the Department of Education by $541 million, for a total of $71.4 billion. Republicans once openly advocated for eliminating it altogether, but alas, they must “govern” now. Although to his great credit, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., boldly introduced a bill to do just that last year.
  • Continues full funding to Obamacare.
  • Fails to adequately block fungibility of funds for Title X recipients like Planned Parenthood, meaning that taxpayers will still fork out nearly half a billion dollars to the abortion giant.

Conservative contrast: A GOP-controlled Congress should include conservative policy riders in the base bill instead of relying on amendment votes predestined to fail on the floor. Some of these provisions include:

  • Defunding the personnel and bureaucracy in charge of implementing Obamacare’s regulations and mandates.
  • Prohibiting taxpayer-funded bailouts for insurance companies operating in the Obamacare exchanges.
  • Prohibiting any Title X and Medicaid funding to go to entities that perform abortion as part of their offered “services,” regardless of whether or not the specific taxpayer funding goes to abortion.
  • Eliminating funding to the Corporation for National and Community Service and allowing civil society to flourish without tax dollars going to politically preferred nonprofits.
  • Eliminating all competitive grants in the Department of Education.

Bottom line: The Senate is attempting to pass as many appropriations bills as possible before the end of the fiscal year on September 30 to avoid a shutdown. Tying contentious Labor-HHS funding to the Department of Defense bill is a pretty transparent effort to make a “yes” vote more palatable to conservatives. Nevertheless, the fact remains that a vote for the final version of this bill will most likely be an affirmative vote to continue Obamacare funding, Planned Parenthood funding, Head Start funding, and a myriad of other progressive policies.

No amount of spin will save Republicans from that truth.

Liberty outlook

Summary: The Senate is back in session this week and moving to one of the most statist appropriations bills in Congress. Sadly, legislators are not taking the opportunity to significantly advance liberty and limited government policies by fighting Obamacare, stopping insurance bailouts, defunding Planned Parenthood, or rolling back the federalization of education policy. That puts this week’s liberty outlook at: Code red.

This is probably a good week to call your senator’s D.C. office and let him or her know what you expect. And if you can reinforce that message with your representative while he or she is in the district, all the better.


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.