The Weekly Watchman: Missed opportunities as Washington wastes our money

· July 17, 2018  
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Money down the drain
Bill Oxford | Getty Images

The House outlook

The House of Representatives came back into session yesterday for the second full week of legislative work for the month of July. As discussed last week, House leadership moved back to more conventional and unifying legislative measures after the “compromise” amnesty fiasco at the end of June.

This included overwhelming passage of the Intelligence Reauthorization Act. Some libertarians understandably balked at the ease of its passage, noting continuing privacy concerns regarding how these agencies carry out surveillance and collect intelligence. The roll-call vote can be found here.

Additionally, the House passed a good government reform bill by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., that would, among many other positive reforms, require agencies to propose alternatives to regulations if new rules cost more than $100 million.

The primary focus this week will be the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill. The House continues to “fill in” portions of the recently passed $1.3 trillion omnibus travesty, in which the Republican-controlled Congress burst the existing budget caps by nearly $300 billion.

Other potential action includes the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill and a motion to go to conference (to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions) on the nearly $1 trillion food stamp and farm welfare bill.

Additionally, yet another wave of mostly useless suspension bills are lined up (38 thus far) for passage this week. Many will likely be passed by voice vote. Of particularly pressing concern seems to be the renaming of ten post offices and three federal courthouses.

Congress truly does have its finger on the pulse of the American people.

Floor focus

The House will take up the FY2019 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill this week. The total cost of this section of the omnibus comes out to $35.2 billion. Of interest will be the policy riders that Congress implements or chooses not to implement.

FY2019 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill

Sponsor: Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif.

Committee of Jurisdiction: Committee on Appropriations

What does the bill do? The bill provides funding for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Forest Service, and other “related” agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts for fiscal year 2019.

How much money are these Congresscritters spending? The total for this bill is $35.2 billion. The total appropriations omnibus package is $1.3 trillion—an increase of roughly $300 billion from last year’s numbers.

Should conservatives be concerned? Always. The bill increases funding to the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities by $2 million. President Trump’s budgets repeatedly called for these crony art welfare programs to be eliminated. Indeed, the NEA/NEH funding levels represent roughly 0.2 percent of total art assets in the U.S. The remaining 99.8 percent come from nonprofits and charities. These entities use our tax dollars to disproportionately fund wealthy art institutions run by coastal elites.

Furthermore, the bill increases the Bureau of Land Management’s budget by $55 million from FY2018 levels. This is a federal agency that has been at the center of many land disputes with private property owners.

Does the bill grow government? It certainly doesn’t shrink it.

Is there anything good in the bill? Sure. The bill attempts to prevent implementation of the EPA’s waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS), which was first proposed by the Obama Administration. WOTUS would essentially allow the federal government to regulate every waterway in the U.S., including, potentially, puddles and ditches on the properties of ranchers and farmers.

The bill also prevents the EPA from regulating lead content of ammunition and fishing tackle and excludes livestock producers from EPA greenhouse gas emissions regulations. The overall funding levels for the EPA are reduced by $100 million from FY2018.

Conservative contrast: Under no circumstance should the NEA and NEH receive higher funding levels. These entities should be eliminated outright. Additionally, the president’s 2018 budget called for a 23 percent decrease in funding to the EPA. That would have cut the agency’s budget by $2.5 billion. A GOP-controlled Congress should flex its muscle to continue reining in this agency that has foisted countless job-killing, freedom-infringing regulations on the American people.

Furthermore, special carve-outs for livestock producers may be beneficial for that particular group, but Congress should fully prohibit implementation of the EPA’s social cost of carbon regulatory scheme to benefit all Americans.

Conservative amendment watch

Separately, the House may also bring forward the FY2019 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill. Word on the street is that Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., is expected to offer an amendment that would prevent the District of Columbia from implementing its own version of Obamacare’s individual mandate.

Congress has full jurisdiction over the District of Columbia. If this occurs, expect Democrats and the D.C. City Council to lose their proverbial minds. While it would be refreshing to see Congress attempt to repeal Obamacare again, it is encouraging that some conservatives see an opportunity to fight and potentially notch policy wins where they can.

If they succeed, let the tears of the D.C. swamp creatures flow.

Bottom line: House leadership is continuing to waste time on the floor with either useless or marginally harmful suspension bills that fail to advance the cause of liberty. And while it’s the responsibility of the House to pass appropriations bills, a Republican-controlled Congress should be far more aggressive.

Furthermore, the announcement last night by House leadership that it would not be putting a progressive bill to abolish ICE on the floor is a missed opportunity to call the Left’s bluff and put its radicalism on full display.

The House played it safe last week but marginally advanced liberty with a good government reform bill. The speaker could stand to grow a spine this week.

The Senate outlook

The Senate returned yesterday to continue deliberation on several nominees put forward by the president. This will continue to be a theme for July, as Republicans seek to accelerate the slow pace of nominees still awaiting confirmation.

The Senate will debate and vote on two nominees to serve on the board of governors of the Federal Reserve as well as an assistant secretary at the Department of Education and two judges — one to serve on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and one to serve on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Andrew Oldham, the nominee to serve on the Fifth Circuit, is currently general counsel to Governor Greg Abbott, R-Texas. Oldham clerked for Justice Samuel Alito and supported Governor Abbott’s successful challenge to President Obama’s unlawful DACA executive amnesty. He is generally seen as a solid choice to serve on the Fifth Circuit among conservatives in Texas.

Ryan Bounds, the nominee to serve on the Ninth Circuit, is currently assistant United States attorney for the District Court of Oregon. He is set to replace Judge O’Scannlain, who was the most conservative judge on the Ninth Circuit until his retirement last year.

Bounds’ nomination has been characterized by the usual outrage from Democrats over his college writings critical of campus “diversity” politics and social justice thought police. He has been a member of the Federalist Society since 2000.

Considering that Bounds is set to replace the Ninth Circuit’s most conservative jurist, his confirmation won’t change the makeup of the court by any meaningful measure. It will remain insane and post-constitutional regardless of Bounds’ presence.

Bottom line: The Senate continues to plod through July attempting to confirm the president’s languishing nominees. There may be a potential pivot to appropriations bills next week. For now, the Senate seems to be the place where conservative policy fights — what few there are — go to die.

Liberty outlook

Summary: With the House wasting useful floor time on post office renaming and taking a pass on putting the radical Left in a box on border security, this week is characterized by opportunities missed by leadership. House Freedom Caucus members and more conservative elements of the Republican Study Committee are likely to agitate on the appropriations bills to try to advance conservative policy objectives. Whether they are successful or not remains to be seen.

The Senate continues to process the president’s nominees. As mentioned last week, outside the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, conservatives likely have very little to look forward to in the Senate for the rest of the calendar year.

This week’s liberty outlook is: Code yellow. Vigilance is always advised whenever Congress is voting on appropriations bills. Conservative priorities are often blocked as the Swamp continues its efforts to keep government growth on autopilot. Fighting to advance freedom is often an uncomfortable and messy process. And it is an election year, after all. Why risk actually energizing your base?


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.