The Weekly Watchman: House GOP runs out the clock on its majority; First Step Act stalls in the Senate

· December 4, 2018  
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The House outlook

The House remains in session this week, returning today to begin a series of votes on fourteen suspension bills as well as a possible final vote on the conference report for the $1 trillion food stamp and farm welfare bill. Last week, the House used its remaining floor time with a GOP majority to rename post offices, pass a ludicrous “global violence reduction” bill likely to lead to continued and open-ended nation-building overseas, and maintain the National Flood Insurance Program, keeping taxpayers on the hook for this subsidy program that is at least $25 billion in debt.

In other words, Republicans in the majority are continuing to do what they do best: grow government while greasing the skids for their more progressive counterparts in the Democrat party to truly ramp up Washington’s control over our lives.

Furthermore, congressional leadership has convinced the president (an increasingly common trend) to “delay” a fight over border wall funding in the continuing resolution, which expires this Friday. Leadership is arguing that the passing of former President George H.W. Bush demands that Congress not also partially “shut down” the government while the nation’s attention is focused on remembering the 41st president.

Indeed, a deal was unveiled yesterday that would extend funding under the continuing resolution for another two weeks, so that funding for the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies would lapse on December 21 instead of this Friday.

The cynicism on display here cannot be understated. These same cowards will then come back in two weeks to suggest to the president that the government can’t be partially “shut down” over a border wall fight a few days before Christmas. They will then argue that the fight should be delayed until after the new year, thereby ensuring there will be no fight, because Democrats will have assumed control of the House by then. We’ve seen this movie before; we know how it ends.

It’s becoming increasingly likely that there will be no border fight at all — a potentially catastrophic development for the survival of the GOP as a viable political entity.

The Senate outlook: Slight improvements

The Senate returns today to a light floor schedule as debate over the First Step Act continues. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has thus far not scheduled a floor vote as negotiations over judicial and executive branch nominees continue.

This is welcome news for conservatives, and McConnell should continue to hold the line. While the president has endorsed the legislation, it has become eminently clear that Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and his law-and-order allies have dampened the president’s enthusiasm for the bill.

As the GOP majority appears ready to squander its last few weeks in power by delaying a funding fight over the border wall, Senate conservatives should continue playing hardball over putting the First Step Act on the floor. This not only helps the president keep his focus on the border wall and securing solid immigration policy wins over the continuing resolution, but could serve as leverage to force Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and other pro-jailbreak, open-borders Democrats to support border wall provisions that will require 60 votes.

Indeed, as I’ve mentioned previously, putting the First Step Act on the floor of the Senate should only be done after 60 votes have been secured to fund the border wall, defund sanctuary cities, and reform our broken asylum system as part of the continuing resolution to keep the government funded. There are four big benefits to this strategy:

  • It provides a pathway to securing immigration policy wins as part of a funding fight.
  • It increases the likelihood that the more heinous policy provisions within the First Step Act (e.g. early release credits being available for fentanyl/heroine drug traffickers fueling the opioid epidemic) are watered down or removed entirely from the bill.
  • It helps educate the American public that our opioid crisis is actually a border problem.
  • It prevents Democrats from tying DACA amnesty to the border wall funding.

The only floor vote currently slated for this week is for Bernie McNamee to serve as a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). This is an exceptionally solid conservative nominee. Disclosure: McNamee was my predecessor in the office of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as domestic policy adviser. We also worked together previously in the Tenth Amendment Center at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He’s an energy policy guru and a principled conservative. The Senate should confirm him swiftly and without delay.

The Cruz proposal

Behind closed doors, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is pushing hard for the GOP majority to use its last remaining days in power to fire up a budget reconciliation package that would secure additional conservative policy wins with only 51 votes in the Senate. His idea is to craft budget reconciliation instructions that would take another shot at repealing Obamacare, implement border wall funding, and cut down administrative regulations.

Sadly, all indications suggest that House and Senate leadership are completely unwilling to go through the hard work of passing a new budget.

Liberty outlook

Summary: Both chambers remain in session this week. The House continues to waste its precious final weeks under GOP control as leadership convinces the president to “delay” fighting for the border wall on the continuing resolution due to the passing of former President Bush. The Senate continues to debate nominees as the First Step Act stalls. It looks increasingly likely that there may not be a border wall fight at all. Therefore, this week’s congressional Liberty Outlook remains: Code red.

Editor’s note: This article has been edited to add the link to the Politico article that discusses Sen. Ted Cruz’s efforts to push the Senate to use budget reconciliation, and the list of Cruz’s agenda items has been edited to omit reference to the tax cuts and the REINS Act.


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, son, and golden retriever, happily clinging to his guns and religion.