The Weekly Watchman: House cowardice and confirming Kavanaugh

· September 4, 2018  
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Mitch McConnell and Brett Kavanaugh
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

The House outlook

The House of Representatives has returned from its annual August recess. The next five weeks are make or break for the Republican majority. Leadership is focused on trying to pass all remaining appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year on September 30 to avoid a temporary government slowdown — what the media trumpets as a “shutdown.”

While there is always a small possibility that the House will pass every appropriations bill through regular order, the most likely outcome remains a continuing resolution (CR). This has been the standard operating procedure for over a decade, as a CR simply continues funding at current levels across the board.

The primary reason for a continuing resolution has been the substantial policy divide in the Republican conference on provisions within the Labor-HHS bill, which we’ve discussed previously, along with policy divisions over parts of the State and Foreign Operations bill and Homeland Security funding.

But it appears that leadership has settled on a strategy to pass funding for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education by tying these appropriations bills to funding for the Department of Defense. Leadership clearly believes that doing this allows members to hide behind “funding the troops” as an excuse for also funding Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, and increasing federalization of education policy.

Indeed, the Senate did just that in August. The House passed a stand-alone bill back in June to fund the Department of Defense. But it appears that the House is planning a vote to go to conference with the Senate defense funding bill sometime this week.

That means there is a significant likelihood that the final conference report for funding the Department of Defense will also include funding for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. This will allow House members to avoid taking “tough” votes on defunding Obamacare, defunding Planned Parenthood, and attaching pro-life riders.

A truly courageous lot we have up there.

Some members see a benefit to this, as it sets up a potential battle over border security during the lame-duck session after the November elections without Obamacare or Planned Parenthood hanging over their heads in negotiations with Democrats. But this is a huge gamble. As we’ve been saying for weeks, the fight on border security is this month, in the continuing resolution. Indeed, Congress is very unlikely to pass funding for the Department of Homeland Security before the end of the fiscal year; that means a continuing resolution will automatically be about border security, regardless of best-laid plans.

As usual, leadership is terrified of a temporary government slowdown — which the media characterizes as a shutdown — just weeks before an election. But the fact is that September 30 remains the last, best chance for a GOP majority to secure some semblance of a policy victory on border security and immigration.

There is no guarantee that Republicans will be in a stronger position after the November elections. In fact, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Democrats will seize the House and possibly the Senate. A temporary government “shutdown” is a small price to put an end to the open-borders policies that are putting criminal illegal aliens in our communities — with increasingly deadly consequences to American citizens and families.

And if the GOP wants to try to energize its base to show up in November, a shutdown battle over border security can’t hurt. To that end, it’s also on the president to put the full weight of the White House behind such an effort. It’s time for the administration to lead this effort. No more rallies and rhetoric, Mr. President. Go to the mat and get it done. Congress is certainly not going to without pressure.

The remaining floor schedule for the first full week is marked by a focus on homeland security and cybersecurity. There are currently fifteen suspension bills lined up for this week. As reminder, these bills are not subject to a rule, receive very little if any debate, and cannot be amended. Most of these bills pass overwhelmingly and receive substantial bipartisan support.

Floor focus

There is one bill in the House this week worthy of some analysis in a positive light.

Ensuring Small Scale LNG Certainty and Access Act

Sponsor: Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio

Committee of Jurisdiction: Committee on Energy and Commerce

What does the bill do? The bill amends the Natural Gas Act to ensure that applications by businesses to import and export liquefied natural gas (LNG) less than 0.14 billion cubic feet per day are automatically approved without delay.

Should conservatives be concerned? Not at all. This is exactly the kind of legislation that Republicans should be advancing each and every week. In fact, LNG exports have become a burgeoning industry in the U.S. thanks to a host of new technologies and innovations.

Does the bill grow government? Blessedly, it does not. In fact, it dilutes the power of the administrative state and environmental bureaucrats who attempt to prevent small businesses in the energy sector from receiving permits to import or export liquefied natural gas.

Is there anything the bill could do better? Always. The automatic approval of the LNG exports is also contingent on the business not needing an environmental impact statement or assessment under the National Environmental Protection Act, commonly known as NEPA. Such statements are notorious for taking months or years to be approved.

A stronger approach would be adding a policy rider to constrict the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which oversees NEPA, in its time frame for conducting an environmental assessment and making a final decision, should one be needed, for small LNG businesses.

For example, if an LNG business does require an environmental assessment before its import/export permit is approved, then Congress should impose a maximum 60-day time frame on the assessment and final decision. No business should have to wait more than two months to hear back on whether it’s been approved or denied its permit because some Washington bureaucrat feels compelled to take his sweet time getting to it.

Bottom line: While there are some decent bills this week, including the LNG export bill, our porous border and our broken immigration system remain the most pressing domestic policy issues. Failure to take action now and to energize the demoralized conservative base in the face of an enthusiastic socialist Left would be political malpractice of the highest order.

The Senate outlook

The Kavanaugh hearings

The Senate returns today to begin what is expected to be a high-profile confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh to be the next Supreme Court justice. This is likely to be the sole remaining highlight in the U.S. Senate for conservatives.

While the jury is still out on the strength of Kavanaugh as a conservative jurist, vulnerable red-state Democrats up for re-election such as Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., are likely to support Kavanaugh in the end.

Short of a monumental meltdown by Kavanaugh during the hearings or some explosive new revelation other than that Kavanaugh likes to go to baseball games, his confirmation should be relatively smooth. Ever since former Majority Leader Harry Reid imposed the “nuclear option” for nominees, all either party needs is a simple majority to confirm a Supreme Court justice.

Liberty outlook

Summary: Both houses are back in session this week. The Senate begins the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh to fill the Supreme Court seat recently vacated by Anthony Kennedy. Media coverage will be wall to wall and likely unbearable to watch, as insufferable pundits focus in on Kavanaugh’s personal life and progressive politicians peacock for the cameras, showcasing who is the most insane to rile up the left-wing Democrat base.

The House looks like it’s prepared to go to conference on funding for the Department of Defense. Unfortunately, that is likely setting up passage of legislation that funds Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, and a host of other liberal priorities. Fortunately, there is at least one good piece of legislation worth highlighting on the floor regarding energy imports and exports. This week’s liberty outlook is: Code yellow.

There appears to be little long-term vision or strategy for the month of September, heading into a November election that is looking increasingly bad for the GOP. The strategy on border security is muddled at best, cowardly at worst. Instead, congressional energy appears to be focused on avoiding taking votes on key conservative priorities to protect vulnerable liberal Republicans and stave off a potential government slowdown.

As the first part of Proverbs 29:18 states, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Any member of Congress seeking to avoid losing his or her seat would do well to bear that in mind.


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.