The Weekly Watchman: House trips all over itself sprinting into recess

· July 24, 2018  
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The House outlook

The House of Representatives came back into session yesterday for the third and final full week of legislative work before the long August recess. As discussed last week, House leadership put two appropriations bills on the floor, both of which passed.

The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill lacked important policy riders to curb excessive agency regulations. It failed to substantially reduce funding to the Environmental Protection Agency and increased spending for the National Endowment for the Arts.

However, some important conservative policies were added in the amendments. This included passage of an amendment to block the EPA’s social cost of carbon regulatory scheme and passage of an amendment that prevented listing plants or wildlife under the Endangered Species Act without an actual review.

In last week’s conservative amendment watch, we mentioned that Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., was planning to offer an amendment to the Financial Services appropriations bill to block Washington D.C.’s implementation of Obamacare’s individual mandate in the city. He did, and his amendment passed. As predicted, statist heads did indeed explode. Sadly, this victory will be short-lived, as the Senate can be expected to strip the provision out of the final bill.

This week, unsurprisingly, it’s almost entirely bad news for conservatives. The House is putting forward two health savings accounts bills that are riddled with policy holes. Unless amended, these bills will continue funding of abortions and will likely increase premiums for people with catastrophic coverage plans. While well-intentioned, these bills simply highlight the utter failure of Republicans to repeal Obamacare, which continues as the cancer in our health care system.

Additionally, in a move by the big-government, bipartisan “get something done” caucus, we’re hearing the House will put forward a renewal of the National Flood Insurance Program on suspension today.

This means no amendments to reform an out-of-control program with more than $25 billion in debt. No amendments to offset the cost of flood insurance subsidies with actual market mechanisms. And no amendments to protect taxpayers from bearing the risk associated with federally subsidized flood insurance.

And to add insult to injury, it’s being done over the protests of retiring committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, whose Financial Services committee oversees the program. Hensarling has spent much of his career trying to pass conservative reforms for flood insurance. Leadership is rewarding him for his efforts by tossing him under the clown car.

Floor focus

The House will put forward a reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) on suspension today. Reminder: Suspension bills require a two-thirds vote for passage and are not subject to the rules of the House. It’s routine for legislation under suspension to be passed by voice vote so that members do not have to publicly go on the record.

This kind of practice is why we can’t have nice things.

National Flood Insurance Program Extension Act of 2018

Sponsor: Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J.

Committee of Jurisdiction: Financial Services Committee

What does the bill do? The bill extends taxpayer financing and authorization for the National Flood Insurance Program through November 30, 2018. It makes zero reforms to a federal program with over $25 billion of debt.

The NFIP is administered by FEMA and currently covers more than five million properties. The program covers up to $350,000 worth of structural and content damages for residential properties and up to $1,000,000 for non-residential. The program is funded by our tax dollars as well as premiums from NFIP recipients.

Should conservatives be concerned? Concern isn’t a strong enough word. Conservatives should be livid enough to call every single one of their elected representatives to demand the House abandon this cynical move to continue this program without reforms. And if they don’t listen, conservatives should make sure to put their representatives on the spot during the August recess.

Does the bill grow government? Yes. The bill puts government growth on autopilot with absolutely no regard for the well-being of American taxpayers and families who not only fund the subsidies, but also bear the risk of its $25 billion debt just as hurricane season approaches.

Is there anything good in the bill? No.

Conservative contrast: There are many policy solutions needed to protect taxpayers and prevent future bailouts. A few of these include:

  • Providing equivalency for private insurance so that market forces can compete with the current government monopoly over flood insurance.
  • Basing rates on replacement costs instead of a national average that fails to take into consideration differences in property values across the nation.
  • Accounting for actuarial risk for premium calculations instead of perpetuating the ongoing Obamacare-ization of flood insurance, where risk is essentially ignored.
  • Limiting lifetime losses so that taxpayers aren’t continually paying for the homes and buildings of a small percentage of NFIP recipients who frequently build on risky, flood-prone properties.

Bottom line: Under no circumstances should a GOP-controlled House put a National Flood Insurance Program extension on the floor without substantial policy reforms. The fact that Republicans are doing so over the objections of the very committee chairman who oversees the program is further confirmation that House leadership remains immensely hostile to the few in Washington who fight on principle.

Furthermore, the fact that the extension is being put on the suspension calendar is outrageous. This means there will be no debate and no amendment votes. Such a move is a flagrant middle finger to all Americans interested in curbing our national debt and ensuring that our government isn’t exposing our families to the kind of moral hazard that led to the 2008 financial crisis.

The Senate outlook

The Senate returned yesterday afternoon to vote on Robert L. Wilkie to serve as the secretary of Veteran’s Affairs. Wilkie has vocally opposed “privatization” of the VA’s health care system, while simultaneously claiming he would break through the bureaucracy that has left veterans literally dying while waiting to receive treatment.

It remains to be seen how Wilkie expects to improve care and health outcomes in a system of socialized medicine without introducing market-based mechanisms that promote health care freedom and put the interests of veteran patients over the interests of bureaucrats.

The Senate will move to the appropriations minibus after settling the Wilkie nomination. This minibus will include several appropriations bills combined into one, including Financial Services, Transportation and Housing, Interior and Environment, and Agriculture.

The Senate spending levels for these bills are atrocious. For example, the Agriculture appropriations bill is $6.1 billion above the president’s proposed levels and $225 million over fiscal year 2018 levels. The Transportation appropriations bill is $1.1 billion above FY 2018 levels.

The United States is currently approaching $22 trillion in national debt. The White House is projecting $1 trillion deficits for 2019. And the Senate seemingly does not care.

Consequences of cowardice

Last week, we highlighted the nominations of Andrew Oldham and Ryan Bounds to serve on the Fifth Circuit and Ninth Circuit, respectively. Oldham was confirmed, but a last-minute defection from Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tanked the Bounds nomination, forcing McConnell to withdraw consideration.

The Ninth Circuit is hopelessly irredeemable, and the confirmation of Bounds, who was replacing the most conservative jurist on the court, would have done little to alter the balance on the Ninth Circuit. However, the ridiculous virtue-signaling from Sens. Scott and Rubio likely sets conservatives up for future court failures. The radical Left will be emboldened. These two senators helped deliver a scalp to the ravenous social justice warrior mob, which works to destroy the lives of anyone who doesn’t bow before its identity politics idol or share its Marxist worldview.

This is a reminder of how hard it is to advance a conservative agenda when so many on our own “team” simply do not share the same vision.

Bottom line: As usual, the Senate is doing very little to advance liberty. As of this moment, it seems that senators will remain in session for at least a portion of the August recess to process more of the president’s nominees.

Liberty outlook

Summary: The House is advancing multiple health savings accounts bills that promote cronyism, fail to implement pro-life protections, and arguably increase premiums for those with catastrophic plans. Additionally, the House is advancing an extension of the National Flood Insurance Program without any amendments and over the objections of the conservative committee chairman. This will expose taxpayers to greater risk that could lead to future bailouts on the backs of our families.

The Senate is advancing a minibus appropriations bill that increases spending and stands in stark contrast to the cuts proposed to these agencies and departments in the president’s budget.

This week’s liberty outlook is: Code red. As conservatives, this is an excellent week to remind your elected representatives in Washington that it is indeed an election year. We’re watching them. And we’re not happy.


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.