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The House and Senate are in session this week.
We’re now in the 23rd day of this partial government shutdown, making it the longest lapse in appropriations on record. Prior to this shutdown, as we mentioned last week, the longest lapse took place between December 15, 1995 and January 6, 1996, which was also a partial shutdown. Congress passed seven appropriations bills between October 3, 1995 and December 1, 1995. The main issue during the 1995-1996 government shutdown were disagreements between President Bill Clinton and congressional Republicans over spending, how long it would take to balance the budget, and the source of data with which to balance the budget. In 1997, Congress would pass a balanced budget, beginning four consecutive years of budget surpluses.
With the inability of President Donald Trump, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to come to an agreement on funding for border security, it seems highly unlikely that the current stalemate will end anytime soon. The White House may declare an emergency to try to build the border wall, the constitutionality of which will almost certainly be challenged. Such a declaration will also certainly become a precedent for future presidents to accomplish some goal that Congress spurned. As much as we hate the phrase “slippery slope,” it’s appropriate in this situation.
The House returns today. Legislative business begins at 2:00 pm. Votes are expected at 6:30 pm. There are 15 bills on coming to the floor on suspension, although other legislation could be added.
Of the suspensions, the TANF Extension Act, H.R. 430, really sticks out. The is a clean reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program through June 30, 2019. The House Ways and Means Committee, under Republican control, tried last year to push legislation, the Jobs and Opportunity with Benefits and Services (JOBS) for Success Act, to reform the program. The bill was criticized by some conservatives because, they complained, it would continue some major aspects of the 2012 memo released by the Obama administration that undermined the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, the landmark welfare reform law. The JOBS for Success Act was marked up in committee in June 2018, but the bill didn’t come to the floor for a vote.
Although this could change, particularly if there’s some resolution to the current stalemate over government spending, the only rule bill on the calendar this week is the Supplemental Appropriations Act, H.R. 268. The bill spends additional money on disaster relief for areas affected by Hurricane Florence, Hurricane Michael, wildfires, and other recent natural disasters. The bill comes with a price tag of nearly $12 billion over ten years. The House Rules Committee will meet on Tuesday at 3:00 pm to consider the adoption of the rule governing consideration of H.R. 268 on the floor.
The FY 2020 budget resolution that House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) is planning to roll out will assume revenue increases through changes to the corporate income tax and individual income tax rates. Democrats are, of course, planning to bust the spending caps again. Remember, the FY 2018 and FY 2019 budget, the Bipartisan Budget Act, busted the spending caps by $296 billion over two years. “If we don’t change the caps, we’d be stuck with an 11 percent cut in defense spending and 9 percent cut in nondefense,” Chairman Yarmuth told Roll Call. “I don’t think either side would want to do that.” There will undoubtedly be at least some, probably many, Republicans who will trade higher nondefense discretionary spending for more defense spending, but conservatives in the conference won’t want to do that. House Democratic leadership is expected to bring the FY 2020 budget resolution to the floor in April and complete the appropriations process by the August recess. Keep in mind that because of the rule change, a vote in favor of the budget is a vote to suspend the debt limit through September 30, 2020.
We’re hearing that the so-called “For the People Act,” H.R. 1, which is really the Incumbent Protection Act, is expected to hit the floor before the end of January. The bill runs roughshod over the First Amendment and imposes mandates on the states, including the requiring states to create independent, bipartisan redistricting commissions. Unfortunately, H.R. 1 already has 223 cosponsors, all of whom are Democrats.
Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) is carrying the water for the White House on a bill that would give the president more power over trade. The United States Reciprocal Trade Act hasn’t been filed yet, but we’ve seen the text, and it’s pretty terrible. The bill would give a president the power to increase tariffs on goods imported to the United States to match the rates of other countries or to combat nontariff trade barriers. Although Section 3(g) of the bill requires the president to reduce the increased tariffs once a country has lowered its tariffs or nontariff trade barrier, there’s no measure for determination. Section 4 requires the president must notify the committees of jurisdiction over trade, Ways and Means in the House and Finance in the Senate, but there’s no mecbut it should also the bill that allows Congress to stop the unilateral action. The president is expected to ask Congress to pass the United States Reciprocal Trade Act in the State of the Union. Not only should Congress not pass the bill, it should reaffirm its Article I, Section 8 authority over trade by passing legislation that checks the administration.
We don’t expect much committee activity this week apart from the Rules Committee unless the House posts committee assignments.
The Senate returns today at 3:00 pm to resume consideration of the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, S. 1. We mentioned this bill in last week’s newsletter. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tried filed cloture twice last week on the motion to proceed, which requires 60 votes, but the Senate rejected the motion both time, by votes of 56 to 44 and 53 to 43. Although three Democrats voted for the motion to proceed, the bulk of the conference is blocking the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act because of government shutdown. But some Democrats have expressed concerns of over the bill and the possible infringement of free speech. Despite the two unsuccessful votes last week, Leader McConnell will try again to move the bill forward.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday at 9:30 am on the nomination of William Barr to serve as the next attorney general. There will be questions about the Russia investigation and other related topics, but expect questions about Barr’s controversial views on criminal justice reform and the implementation of the First Step Act. His views on those topics are important to several members of the committee, Republican and Democrat alike. We wouldn’t be surprised to hear questions about his past comments and writings on civil asset forfeiture and surveillance.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday at 10:00 am on the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to serve as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA). Wheeler has been the acting administrator of the EPA since July 2018. He was nominated to serve as administrator in November. Senate Democrats are going to complain about any EPA nominee this administration puts forward, but they’re whining about the EPA preparing for the hearing since the agency hasn’t been funded.
The committee schedule for the week can be found here.