The Weekly Watchman: ‘Twas the week of surrender all through the House…

· December 18, 2018  
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US Capitol Building Dome Night Christmas Tree Lights, Washington DC
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The House outlook: As brave as a mouse

The House is technically in recess this week as the continuing resolution (CR) to fund several departments and agencies is expected to expire this Friday. Included in the expiration is the Department of Homeland Security, which is the vehicle necessary for funding important border security and immigration enforcement policy provisions.

Such provisions include, but are not limited to, funding for the border wall, defunding of sanctuary cities, asylum reform, and ending chain migration. The president’s request has been limited thus far to providing $5 billion for the border wall.

As reminder, Congress punted the CR two weeks ago under the excuse that legislators didn’t want a “shutdown” to distract from the memorial services for former President George H.W. Bush. Now, House and Senate leadership is scrambling to “avert a shutdown” the weekend before Christmas — as I predicted two weeks ago that they would do.

However, a viral video of President Trump challenging Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., essentially put the ball back in the Democrats’ court last week.

The president announced that he would be proud to “shut the government down” over border security. This is exactly the right sentiment.

If only Republican members of Congress expressed such resolve. Especially since the continuing resolution only deals with 25 percent of all federal spending (excluding interest on the debt) — the rest has either already been appropriated (including Department of Defense funding) or sits on autopilot as part of a mandatory funding stream (e.g. Social Security and Medicare).

The idea that the government will shut down is an absolute farce. It will merely slow down.

Republicans have zero excuses for not demanding $5 billion for border barrier funding. And if Democrats refuse to pony up the votes needed to pass this provision, then they can explain to the American public, as they gather with their families for Christmas, why progressives care more about opening our borders to drug cartel operatives, violent criminal gangs, and human traffickers than they do about ensuring our communities are safe.

And in a sane world, that would be the only argument that the Republican Party would hammer day and night following a “shutdown” on Friday.

Instead, Congress is panicking.

Because when it comes to avoiding a fight over the policy promises they’ve made to their constituents, Speaker Paul Ryan. R-Wisc., and Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have no shortage of excuses and no evidence of a spine.

Indeed, it would appear that outside simply avoiding a shutdown, there is no plan of action whatsoever to ensure $5 billion of wall funding for border security and to make the Democrats own our lawless open borders. This despite high-profile murders of American citizens by criminal illegal aliens: Jared Vargas, Mollie Tibbetts, Ronald Da Silva, and Joshua Wilkerson.

How it likely plays out

The House’s posture largely signals that members are waiting to see what the Senate does regarding the continuing resolution. Instead of leading by drawing a bright red line in the sand, Speaker Paul Ryan, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., seem content to sit back, toss out a few platitudes about supporting border security, and then toss their hands up when the Senate sends them a bill that fails to include the president’s $5 billion border plan.

This is nonsense. And the outgoing GOP majority could easily put the pressure on nine Senate Democrats to provide the 60 votes needed to fund the border barrier. But such pressure would require effort and a deep desire to make good on a commitment to their constituents. And those are two things that long ago ceased to exist in GOP leadership.

Expect the House to pass whatever bill the Senate sends it. And expect that bill to largely fail to meet the bare minimum threshold for beginning the process of securing our border.

The Senate outlook: Criminal justice coal for the American people

The Senate returned yesterday for a cloture vote to begin debate on the First Step Act. I, along with a steady diet of strong commentary and analysis from Conservative Review senior editor Daniel Horowitz, have emphasized the policy failures of this bill. It should not be lost on conservatives that the Senate is staying in session this week not to focus on border security, health care freedom, or reining in the national debt, but rather to debate early release for violent and sexual offenders currently sitting in federal penitentiaries.

Furthermore, a new Congressional Budget Office report shows that one of the alleged positives of the bill — a reduction in spending due to reduced incarceration costs — is outweighed by an estimated increase in welfare expenditures.

Therefore, the bill will actually increase the deficit by roughly $350 million. It turns out that it costs a lot of taxpayer money and requires a lot of big government policies to “improve the behavior” of felons.

The Washington cartel’s interests are simply not the interests of the American people. Our government no longer truly represents the people. And as tribalism intensifies and our culture degenerates, our elected leaders’ failure to even remotely address the core priorities of families and taxpayers is paving a path toward fragmentation and a fraying of our republic’s foundational fabric.

Can’t afford your health insurance because of Obamacare insurance regulations? Oh well.

Can’t find a good doctor any more because Washington mandates have either driven them out or restricted your options? Too bad.

Find it increasingly difficult to put food on the table, fill up your gas tank, purchase diapers, or pay your power bill because of green energy mandates, tariffs, and federal central planning in food and agriculture? Tough luck.

Worried about sending your kids to public school or college because of artificially subsidized federal student loans, inflated tuition rates, and pervasive fascist radicalism in the classroom? Stop being such a privileged knuckle-dragging Luddite.

Fearful of your future as our government racks up over $22 trillion in debt — a third of which is held by hostile nations like China — and the likelihood of our economy collapsing under such weight? It’s okay. It’s somebody else’s money, after all.

Agonizing over burying a loved one killed by criminal illegal violence or trafficked opioids because our own government refuses to defend our nation’s sovereignty, secure our border, and enforce our immigration laws? You’re just one egg that has to be cracked to make the progressive dystopian omelet. And besides, you’re probably a racist.

Tom Cotton arrives

For years, the conservative movement has looked to a handful of senators to serve as its voice. Among these are Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rand Paul, R-Ky. Unfortunately all three have jumped aboard the First Step Act. Cruz announced that recent changes in the bill that would block out some violent offenders from receiving early release was enough to secure his support, assuming adoption of tougher restrictions.

But in a scathing piece in National Review, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., has provided a clear-cut rallying cry for law-and-order conservatives desperate for a champion. The debate over the details of the bill has largely been obfuscated by left-wing spin from the likes of the ACLU, Koch-funded think tanks, and Soros-funded progressive action groups.

Sen. Cotton, in conjunction with Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., has a series of three amendments designed to call the bluff of the First Step Act’s most ardent proponents. The first amendment would shore up the appalling number of loopholes in the bill by excluding a number of violent and sexual offenses eligible for “early release credits” under the bill.

Among the federal offenses eligible for early release:

  • Violent bank robberies
  • Carjackings resulting in physical injury
  • Violent assaults on law enforcement officers
  • Sex offenders who coerce children into obscene and illicit activities

Sen. Cotton’s amendment would prevent anyone who has committed such crimes from being eligible for early release. And it would double down by categorically excluding anyone who has committed a violent or sexual offense from being eligible for any of the early release programs.

It’s truly jaw-dropping that no Republican—especially no conservative—advocated to start under that policy paradigm. Thankfully, Sen. Cotton is leading.

Additionally, Sens. Cotton and Kennedy have two other amendments. The second amendment would require notifying victims of these criminals pending their potential early release, giving them recourse through an opportunity for preparing official statements outlining their fears and concerns to wardens. The last amendment would require the Bureau of Prisons to track these felons once they’re released so that data can be acquired on their recidivism rate and the efficacy of these so-called rehabilitation programs.

And in my view, as a new father to baby boy, is that any Republican who fails to vote for all three of these amendments deserves to be primaried. Plain and simple. No matter who you are.

Liberty outlook

Summary: The House is in recess this week pending possible action on the continuing resolution, which expires on Friday. The Senate is spending the majority of its floor time debating the First Step Act, which, without amendments offered by Sen. Tom Cotton, would constitute nothing short of cementing the GOP as a pro-criminal political party. This week’s congressional Liberty Outlook remains: Code red.

Get ready for a lot of Christmas coal from Congress before this lame-duck session ends.

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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.