The House and Senate have both gone into recess. The Senate will return on Monday, May 9, while the House will return on Tuesday, May 10.
LAST WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House returned last Monday, and immediately went to work on 19 bills on the Suspension Calendar.
On Wednesday, the House took up and passed H.R. 4923, the American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act, under Suspension of the Rules. MTB officially stands for “Miscellaneous Tariff Bill,” but House Republicans have unofficially renamed it “Manufacturing Tax Breaks.” The bill streamlines the process to allow manufacturing companies to cut costs on products imported from abroad for use in their manufacturing processes. Democrats liked it, too – it passed the House by a vote of 415-2.
Later on Wednesday, the House took up and passed H.R. 699, the Email Privacy Act, introduced by Rep. Kevin Yoder. The bill puts more safeguards on government access to personal information, such as requiring the government to obtain a search warrant from a court in criminal investigations before a telecomm service provider is required to disclose the contents of your email communications. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but under current law, the government is allowed to access any emails older than six months without a warrant, under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which merely requires a subpoena, rather than a warrant. The bill passed by a vote of 419-0.
On Thursday, the House took up and passed H.J. Res. 88, which would use the Congressional Review Act to block the Obama Administration’s proposed rule that would restrict access to affordable financial investment advice for lower- and middle-class Americans. The CRA resolution now moves to the Senate. The CRA resolution passed by a vote of 234-183.
Also on Thursday, the House took up and passed H.R. 4901, the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Reauthorization Act (or the SOAR Reauthorization Act), which allows children in the District of Columbia to go to private schools via scholarships. The bill passed by a vote of 224-181.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House is in recess this week. When they return, we expect they’ll take up measures to address the opioid epidemic. Bills from multiple committees – Energy and Commerce, Judiciary, Education and Workforce, and Veterans Affairs Committees that address multiple aspects of the crisis will see House floor time. And if the Speaker can get enough of his fellow Republicans on board, he’d like to move a budget resolution and a Puerto Rico debt relief bill.
LAST WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate came back to work on Monday. Their first vote, at 5:30 PM, was on an amendment to H.R. 2028, the vehicle for the FY 2017 Energy and Water Appropriations bill. Later Monday night, Senate Majority Leader McConnell filed cloture on both the Alexander substitute amendment and on the underlying bill, so that absent a Unanimous Consent Agreement, the cloture votes would ripen on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Leader McConnell filed cloture on the Motion To Proceed to H.R. 2577, the vehicle for the FY 2017 Transportation-Housing (THUD) Appropriations bill, setting up the next appropriations bill to see floor action, as soon as the Senate gets done with Energy and Water approps.
On Wednesday, Senate Democrats blocked a vote to end debate on H.R. 2028, the Energy and Water Appropriations bill, because they didn’t want to have to vote on an amendment they anticipated would be offered by Sen. Tom Cotton of AR that would have prohibited using any funds in the bill to purchase heavy water produced in Iran. So, rather than allow his Democratic colleagues to become vulnerable to that vote, Minority Leader Harry Reid instead tanked the whole bill. The measure to invoke cloture failed by a vote of 50-46, and the entire appropriations process in the Senate ground to a screeching halt. Majority Leader McConnell pointed out that Democrats were objecting to bringing the debate to a close not because they opposed the underlying bill – which had come out of committee with a unanimous, bipartisan vote – but because they opposed the possibility of having to vote on an amendment that hadn’t even been officially offered. Said McConnell, “It seems Democrats are more concerned with funding the acquisition of heavy water from Iran than funding water infrastructure here in America.”
After the failed cloture vote, Leader McConnell entered a motion to reconsider the vote.
We’ll go into this in a bit more detail in a moment.
Later on Wednesday evening, the Senate passed S. Res. 444, a resolution honoring Prince Rogers Nelson, better known as “Prince,” the 27th most influential artist of the rock era, according to Rolling Stone magazine, after his untimely death on April 21. Not surprisingly, the measure was cosponsored by Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken. And it was printed in purple ink.
And on Thursday, the day before the Senate broke for its week-long recess, several deals fell into place. Without taking up too much time on who did what to whom, let it suffice to say that as a result of a series of trades on nomination holds and related legislation, Sen. Marco Rubio of FL agreed to lift his hold on the President’s nominee to be U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Sen. Ted Cruz agreed to lift his hold on the State Department reauthorization bill, Senate leaders and the Administration agreed to extend for three more years a 2014 law that imposes sanctions on key officials of the Venezuelan government, and a bill that would rename the street in front of the Chinese Embassy in the District of Columbia after Liu Xiaobo, the noted Chinese human rights activist, is moving forward.
The Senate will convene for pro forma sessions, with no business conducted, on Monday, May 2, and Thursday, May 5, to prevent President Obama from forcing Merrick Garland onto the Supreme Court via recess appointment.
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate is in recess this week. When the Senate returns on May 9, they’ll resume consideration of H.R. 2028, the vehicle for the FY2017 Energy and Water Appropriations bill. The first vote will be at 5:30 PM, and it’ll be another cloture vote to attempt to break the Democratic filibuster.
The Pentagon sent a letter to the House Select Committee on Benghazi last week, telling the committee, effectively, to back off. At issue is what the Pentagon seems to think are the committee majority staff’s never-ending requests for information and interviews. The committee responded by saying a) as new information comes to light from interviews they conduct with members of the armed forces, it’s prudent for them to follow investigative leads, even if that means they have to send new requests for information and interviews, and b) we wouldn’t be demanding all this stuff on such a short timeline if y’all hadn’t delayed your responses to our original requests in the first place.
Another week, another week without a budget vote in the House. Speaker Ryan, former chairman of the House Budget Committee, really, really, really wants to pass a budget resolution. Not because he’s really all that determined to follow the law, which requires that a budget resolution pass the House by April 15 – as we’ve discussed, there are no enforcement mechanisms in that law – and not because he can’t move appropriations bills without successful passage of a budget resolution, because he can. No, it looks to me like it’s pretty clear Speaker Ryan wants to move a budget to the floor and pass it because … well, because he’s the former chairman of the House Budget Committee, it’s where he made his bones and made the leap to national superstar, it’s where he argued repeatedly and persuasively against Democrats that if you don’t pass a budget, you’re just spending money without any overall plan or priorities, and it means something to him personally. Keep this in mind – if House Republicans don’t pass a budget this year, they’ll be the first House GOP majority in two decades to fail to pass a budget. He’s personally embarrassed he cannot convince a majority of his House GOP colleagues to see things his way, let alone the 218 he would need to pass a budget resolution without having to rely on Democrat votes.
So on Friday morning, Speaker Ryan called a Members-only meeting, and kicked all the staffers out of a room in the Capitol basement so the House GOP Conference could hash things out. The meeting lasted an hour and a half, and many options were offered, though it appears nothing of substance was agreed to. So, the good news is, rank and file GOP Members were pleased they had a chance to sit and talk with Leadership about a big-ticket item; the bad news is, other than talk, not much was accomplished.
On Wednesday, during a mark up of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act – the NDAA – the House Armed Services Committee voted to require women to register for the draft.
The amendment was offered by Rep. Duncan Hunter of CA, who says he opposes women serving in combat roles. So why did he offer an amendment that would require women to register for a draft that doesn’t exist? Well, he says it’s because he wanted to force a conversation about whether or not 18- to 26-year-old women should be required to register, now that the Obama Administration has opened all combat positions to women. The likelihood is great, shall we say, that this is bunk – he didn’t have a good explanation for offering an amendment he opposed (and voted against) because the real reason was he simply wanted to put Democrats on the panel between a rock and a hard place. He figured none of them would want to go on record in favor of enabling the forcible conscription of our daughters, sisters, nieces, and even mothers against their will, and then he’d be able to pop them for hypocrisy. Instead, he found to his surprise that most of the Democrats on the committee were perfectly willing to use government coercion to be ready to force women to serve on the front lines against their will.
Worse, five Republicans on the committee – apparently afraid of being branded “sexist” for opposing the amendment – went along with the Democrats, and, as a result, the amendment passed, by a vote of 32-30.
Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry of TX already has a provision in his chairman’s mark requiring the armed forces to perform a study to see if a draft is even needed.
Were the Hunter amendment to survive the House floor and the Senate and be signed into law, it would change a policy put in place in 1981, when the Supreme Court ruled that because women could not serve in combat roles, they did not have to register for the draft.
Lest any of you think this is about changing gender roles, let me assure you, it’s not: The left knows that no matter what Americans might think about women VOLUNTEERING for combat roles, they also know that a significant majority of Americans will oppose the prospect of using government coercion to force women to serve on the front lines against their will. And that means future presidents will never be able to commit U.S. armed forces abroad. THAT is the REAL goal here, to defang the U.S. military and restrict forever after the ability of a president to commit forces abroad without major political blowback on the domestic front.
And THAT means, ironically, that future presidents will be MORE likely, NOT less, to ACTUALLY commit forces abroad – because they will HAVE to, to demonstrate to our adversaries that they are willing to follow through. No longer will threats of force be viewed as they once were; our adversaries won’t believe them. So, once again, the Left has it ass-backwards, and they’ll end up fostering a situation that’s the exact opposite of what they want, because they simply live in a dream world unpopulated by real human beings.
On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal ran a big story about Sen. Richard Shelby, Republican of AL, Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, who continues to use his authority to hold nominees to keep the Export-Import Bank from doing business it very much wants to do.
The issue is the Ex-Im Bank’s board of directors – there are five slots for directors, but only two of them are filled right now, and until the board gets at least one more member confirmed by the Senate, the Ex-Im Bank is prohibited by its own bylaws from approving loans or loan guarantees larger than $10 million. Shelby has kept a nominee for the third director’s chair in limbo for months, and shows no sign of letting up, no matter what the Obama Administration or Senate Majority Leader McConnell demand.
So, how important is this $10 million threshold? Well, in the fiscal year that ended last September, the Ex-Im Bank approved 140 loans or loan guarantees larger than $10 million. That represented just five percent of all the bank’s transactions, but 80 percent of all transactions if weighted by dollar volume.
And the inability of the bank to approve new large transactions has left it with a backlog of $10 billion in loan applications. So, two cheers for Sen. Shelby.
A week ago Friday, the Obama Administration agreed to buy 32 tons of heavy water from Iran. Heavy water contains a hydrogen isotope called deuterium, and is a key component in the nuclear weapons development process, and the Administration decided it was better to buy the heavy water directly from Iran rather than have the Iranians deal with the problem of excess capacity.
So, let’s review. The U.S. stopped making heavy water in 1981. Since then, we’ve bought whatever heavy water we’ve needed (about 75 tons a year, give or take) on the international market – mostly from Canada and India, which satisfy most of the global demand for heavy water for non-nuclear uses, which comes to about 100 tons per year.
The deal the Obama Administration struck with Iran last year requires Iran to reduce its stockpile of heavy water to no more than 130 tons in the early years of the deal, and to reduce further to no more than 90 tons in the years thereafter. So the problem is, what’s Iran going to do with its excess production of heavy water? And the answer here is, the U.S. will buy it.
Purchase price? $8.6 million.
Critics of the original deal pounced. On Capitol Hill, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce fired off a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, asking how the U.S. would pay for the heavy water and what guarantees did the Obama Administration have that the money would not be used to fund Iranian military or terrorist groups. Sen. Lamar Alexander of TN
And Speaker Ryan said, “For Tehran, the nuclear agreement is the gift that keeps on giving. This purchase – part of what appears to be the administration’s full-court press to sweeten the deal – will directly subsidize Iran’s nuclear program … It’s yet another unprecedented concession to the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism.”
U.S. officials would not specific exactly how the Department of Energy would pay for the heavy water.
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, finding no support from the House GOP Leadership and little support from his colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee for his resolution impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, is now discussing with colleagues a lesser form of discipline for Koskinen – a resolution of censure. “My foremost goal is impeachment and I’m not letting go of it,” he said to a Washington Post reporter. “But if censure is the right precursor while we go through the process of educating our members, I have a [censure] bill drafted and ready to go.”
And on Thursday, the House Ways and Means Committee marked up and passed H.R. 5053, the “Preventing IRS Abuse and Protecting Free Speech Act,” introduced by Rep. Peter Roskam of IL, which would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to prohibit the Secretary of the Treasury from requiring 501(c) tax-exempt, non-profit organizations to reveal the identities of their donors in their annual tax returns. Current law requires such entities to reveal the identities of any donor who contributes $5,000 or more in any year. We sent a letter to all the members of the committee urging them to support it, and, now that it has passed the committee and is ready for floor action, we will send a new letter to every Member of the House urging support.
Speaker Ryan is increasingly desperate to find a way to pass a Puerto Rico debt relief bill. He has remained mum on the question of whether the Majority of the Majority Rule – which used to be called the Hastert Rule, after former Speaker Denny Hastert, but no one wants to call it that anymore, for obvious reasons – will be applied to the consideration of any such legislation.
He’s so concerned about finding a way to move this bill that he arranged a special 90-minute Conference meeting on Friday with his GOP colleagues. Problem is, he also wanted to discuss with his colleagues two other issues – the inability of the House GOP Leadership to put together a budget resolution that can win 218 votes from inside the House GOP Conference, and the appropriate federal response to the Zika virus – and the budget discussion ran so long and was so involved that they never got to the other two issues.
TEA PARTY PATRIOTS:
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Hill: Tea Party Group Backs Challenge to House Transportation Chairman
Hill: Tea Party Challenger Uses Reps Relationship With Lobbyist As Ammo In Primary
Breitbart: Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund Endorses Paul Ryan Challenger Paul Nehlen
Ames Tribune: Why The Effort To Keep Merrick Garland Off The Supreme Court Has Been Remarkably Successful
Reuters: U.S. Senators Release Final Sentencing Reform Bill
Politico: GOP Clears Way For New Ambassador To Mexico
Politico: Roberta Jacobson Confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico
FOX: Four U.S. Representatives: Our Plan To Help Manufacturers and Revive American Prosperity
WE: Pentagon to Trey Gowdy and Benghazi Panel: Back Off
Hill: House GOP Reignites Push for Budget Plan
Politico: Ryan Calls Members-Only Meeting To Hash Out Budget
WE: House Committee Votes To Require Women To Sign Up For Draft
WaPo: Are Women Headed for the Draft? Support for the Idea Grows in Congress
WSJ: Ex-Im Bank Faces New Hurdle In Congress Over Board Nominees
WSJ: U.S. To Buy Material Used in Iran Nuclear Program
Science: U.S. Goes Shopping in Iran’s Nuclear Bazaar, Will Buy Heavy Water for Science
Politico: Dems Block Spending Bill over Iran
WaPo: Inside Republicans Backup Plan To Punish IRS Chief
Hill: Ryan Fights To Win GOP Majority On Puerto Rico
Ames Tribune: Why The Effort To Keep Merrick Garland Off The Supreme Court Has Been Remarkably Successful
Bloomberg: Obama’s Push For Court Pick Fizzles As Republicans Stand Firm
Politico: WH Allies Make New Push for Garland
Hill: House Conservatives Push For Strong Majority Of Majority Rule
Politico: Senate Passes Purple-Texted Resolution Honoring Prince
Forbes: Email Privacy Act Requiring Warrant From Feds Passes House, Flaws And All