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Capitol Hill Update: May 11, 2020

Schedule:

The Senate is in session. The House is out of session, for now.

Senate:

The Senate will return today at 3:00 pm and will resume consideration of the nomination of Brian D. Montgomery to serve as Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed the cloture motion on the nomination on Thursday. A vote on the cloture motion will take place around 5:30 pm. The Senate will also consider the nomination of Troy D. Edgar to serve as the Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Homeland Security, but we’re not sure of the timing of the vote.

The Senate is expected to vote -- likely Wednesday -- on a bill, H.R. 6172, to reauthorize authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA, which have been expired since March 15 of this year. This bill reauthorizes dubiously unconstitutional surveillance authorities with trifling reforms, especially in light of disturbing revelations about FBI malpractice in FISA applications against both President Trump’s campaign and against ordinary Americans. FreedomWorks opposed this bill when it passed the House and will continue to do so absent major upgrades to protect the due process rights of Americans against warrantless government surveillance.

Majority Leader McConnell is allowing votes on six amendments to H.R. 6172. This includes three good reform amendments sponsored by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Ky.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), as well as three side-by-side amendments by McConnell which are each weakened, less effective versions of the first three. FreedomWorks supports all three of the reforms amendments while opposing the McConnell amendments for what they are -- naked attempts to eviscerate significant reforms while giving national security hawks “cover votes” to pretend that they are concerned about civil liberties. FreedomWorks’ key vote notice, with a breakdown of each amendment and why we support or oppose them, is forthcoming later today.

Senate committees are meeting this week, with social distancing protocols and video conferencing technology in place. The full Senate committee schedule for the week is here.

  • COVID-19: Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; Tuesday at 10:00 am)
  • Oversight of Financial Regulators (Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; Tuesday at 10:00 am)
  • Nomination hearing for the Honorable Brian D. Miller to serve as the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery Designate for the U.S. Department of the Treasury and Dana T. Wade to serve as Assistant Secretary Designate for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; Tuesday at 2:30 pm)
  • Examining Liability During the COVID-19 Pandemic (Judiciary, Tuesday at 2:30 pm)
  • The State of Broadband Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic (Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Wednesday at 10:00 am)
  • Nominations Hearing (Foreign Relations, Wednesday at 2:30 pm)
  • Business Meeting on Nominations, Legislation, and Resolutions (Foreign Relations, Thursday at 9:30 am)
  • Business Meeting for District Court, Federal Claims Court, and U.S. Marshal Nominees (Thursday at 10:00 am)

House:

According to the congressional schedule released at the beginning of the year, the House was scheduled to be in session this week. However, they were also supposed to come back into session last week, but a last-minute flip-flop from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) changed that. It remains to be seen whether the House will come into session this week at all. We heard rumors that the House may come into session later this week, potentially Thursday, for one day of legislative activity, likely to pass another round of COVID-19 legislation (a.k.a. more spending). We received guidance that “it is possible that the House may meet this week, no earlier than Friday.” We’ve heard that House Democrats could roll out their next bill today or tomorrow, but if it is further slowed down, the vote(s) would be pushed into next week.

In the wise words of Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), though, “If we get called back to Congress when the next bill is ready to vote on, who is writing the bill?”

Unsurprisingly, Democrats have come out with a socialist spending spree of items they want included in the next package of COVID-19 relief. For Phase 4, they are seeking $1 trillion or more for state and local bailouts (more on this later), a bailout of the always-financially-defunct United States Postal Service, nationalization of mail-in ballots, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, expansion of things like SNAP (food stamps) as well as the earned income tax credit (EITC) and others, an "Essential Worker Bill of Rights,” some type of Universal Basic Income, and a flat-out ban on mergers… And that’s not even an exhaustive list.

In the words of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), “We need Franklin Rooseveltian-type action and we hope to take that in the House and Senate in a very big and bold way.” Well, this package certainly would be that. FreedomWorks will remind everybody, though, that FDR did not in fact save America. Far from it.

Fortunately, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin indicated that the White House is in no rush on the next phase of relief and has somewhat pumped the brakes on further negotiation. Good. There should be no Phase 4 of spending and growing government, especially not of “Rooseveltian” magnitude and more especially not rewarding the bad budgeting practices of blue states with a federal bailout of state and local governments.

As Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said in a new letter that he and ten of his colleagues sent to President Trump last week, “We cannot reinforce and exacerbate the years of bad precedent in which the federal government assumed responsibility for the duties, wants, and needs of state and local governments. It is time for these entities to focus on safely reopening their economies, reassessing their budgets and spending plans, and ending their reliance on the federal government. Our Founding Fathers never intended for the federal government to be the behemoth it has become. Nor did they intend for the wealth of Americans to be redistributed so that the citizens of one state are forced to pay for the poor decisions of another state.”