The Weekly Watchman: It’s cowards vs. crazies heading into the election

· October 16, 2018  
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The House outlook: Leadership’s transparent cynicism

The House of Representatives remains in recess until after the November election. As mentioned last week, members are expected to return on November 13 for the beginning of a “lame duck” session. These sessions occur after an election and before the swearing in of a new congress. And historically, they have resulted in very bad policy outcomes for conservatives — regardless of which party controls either legislative chamber or the White House.

House leadership is signaling its intent to fight on the continuing resolution (CR) following the November elections. This legislative vehicle was passed on September 26, funding the federal government at budget-busting levels in excess of $1.3 trillion and cementing progressive priorities that included funding for Planned Parenthood, Obamacare, and increased spending for the Department of Education.

Critically, the CR failed to provide funding for the border wall, defunding of sanctuary cities, or any policy riders on asylum reform and ending chain migration. As usual, it was a total punt by GOP leadership touted as “strategic savvy.” In reality, it was little more than a surrender to avoid the optics of a temporary government “shutdown.” The only thing entrenched establishment members fear more than losing re-election is a temporary lapse in funding for the federal government.

It’s no small irony, then, that their failure to risk such a funding lapse to secure immigration policy wins may well lead to their undoing.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has recently attempted to thump his chest on immigration and border policy in the lead-up to the midterm elections. He introduced a bill (H.R. 7059) on Friday that includes the following provisions:

  • A 7-year border wall funding provision totaling $23.4 billion. Roughly $16.6 billion would go to actual physical barriers. The remainder would be used for border operations, surveillance, and infrastructure needs for the U.S. Border Patrol.
  • Defunding of sanctuary cities. Those cities or states found not to be in compliance with the Immigration and Nationality Act would be ineligible to receive some federal grants.
  • Implementation of elements of Kate’s Law that would increase penalties for illegal immigrants who have been deported and return.

This is actually good policy. But it is never going to happen, because Congress has already recessed and stand-alone legislation like this doesn’t carry the pressure that a government funding bill does. Furthermore, McCarthy and other House leaders worked to stop many of these very same measures in the Goodlatte bill back in the summer. Indeed, the charlatans opted to promote a leadership bill for passage that only secured 121 votes — seventy-two fewer than the stronger Goodlatte bill’s 193 votes.

McCarthy’s bill is a vain attempt to stave off a leadership challenge from Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, whose bid for speaker is receiving increasing Republican support as he hammers home the simple message of “do what we said we would do.”

If the GOP loses the House next month, which appears likely, then there will be an appetite for new leadership. Rep. Jordan would stand to gain in such a scenario, and the establishment is very aware of that dynamic.

If the GOP manages to hold the House, then the conservative fighters in the House Freedom Caucus will potentially have increased clout to determine who ultimately succeeds Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., as speaker. Rep. Jordan would also gain in that scenario.

So the McCarthy bill is a toothless gesture aimed at building up policy strengths that he simply does not possess and has never possessed.

Three pressure points in the lame duck

There are three pieces of legislation during the “lame duck” session that present serious challenges for constitutional conservatives interested in security, fiscal sanity, and preserving liberty.

Legislation: The first pressure point is the CR to fund various departments within the federal government. This resolution deals with entities such as the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department that Congress failed to appropriate funds for prior to the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

Action: Regardless of the outcome of the election, conservatives must at a minimum fight for funding for the border wall and defunding of sanctuary cities. This is critical for securing our communities from criminal illegal aliens and the devastating effects of the cartel-fueled opioid crisis.

Legislation: The second pressure point is the conference report for the $1 trillion food and farm bill. This bill is roughly 75 percent food stamps. The remaining 25 percent is made up of agriculture subsidies that largely go to large agri-corporations and is a big chunk of taxpayer-funded cronyism.

Action: If the GOP holds on to both the House and Senate, conservatives must press for strong work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) to be included in the final package as well as a sunset trigger to begin permanent separation of the two issues. If Republicans loses the House, they should fight to secure work requirements in the final version of the bill, as an extension would likely lead to an even worse bill in 2019.

Legislation: The final pressure point is criminal justice reform. The media frenzy over Kanye West’s visit to the West Wing last week masked the very real possibility that Republicans will push their energy into releasing criminals without securing our borders. As Conservative Review senior editor Daniel Horowitz has been warning for months, this jailbreak legislation is totally antithetical to the president’s “tough on crime” rhetoric and only advances progressivism.

Action: Regardless of the outcome of the election, strong security hawks in the Senate especially, such as Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., must lead the effort to stop this bill. Should Republicans pass this bill after losing the House, they will be giving progressives what they want. Should Republicans pass this bill after holding on to the House, they will be ceding political and policy ground that could very well jeopardize the rest of their agenda for the next Congress.

The Senate’s recess

The Senate is expected to return on November 13 following the elections. A late agreement last week between Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., resulted in confirmation of fifteen judges in exchange for recessing through the election.

A stronger play in the aftermath of the Kavanaugh confirmation saga would have been to keep vulnerable red-state Democrats in session up until the elections in order to confirm as many judges as possible and to deny Democrats the ability to campaign. Yes, this would have run the risk of potentially harming the re-election prospects of Senators Dean Heller, R-Nevada, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, but the overall outlook would have heavily favored the GOP.

And the Texas race is starting to look more and more like Democrats poured in money to chase a shiny object, as Senator Cruz has opened up a nine-point lead over Rep. Beta … sorry, Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, in the latest round of polls.

When the Senate returns, it will move immediately to a bill that reauthorizes the Coast Guard as well as consideration of Michelle Bowman as a member of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve. Ms. Bowman is a former congressional staffer and Bush appointee who worked at FEMA. She is presently a banking commissioner in the state of Kansas.

It appears likely that the GOP will hold on to the Senate. The party may well pick up seats following the progressives’ Orwellian antics during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. If so, conservatives must at a minimum push their senators to fight for border security and sanctuary city defunding in the continuing resolution as well as abandoning any efforts to pass the “criminal justice reform” jailbreak bill.

These victories are crucial for building the policy backing and political energy for an actual conservative agenda in the 116th Congress.

Liberty outlook

Summary: Both chambers are in recess through the November elections. This means that neither legislative body can further infringe on our liberties, increase our national debt, or advance progressive priorities for at least another three weeks. Therefore, this week’s Liberty Outlook is: Code green.


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.