The House and Senate return tomorrow from their two-week Easter Recess. There will be no votes in the House before 6:30 PM, and the Majority Leader expects no votes after 3 PM Thursday. The Senate, on the other hand, will be in all week, with no votes in the Senate before 5:30 PM tomorrow.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
This week’s “theme of the week” in the House is “Tax Freedom and Financial Independence,” and it will feature a series of votes aimed at reducing government burdens on taxpayers and reforming the IRS, the CFPB, and other institutions.
The action will kick off Monday evening, when six bills will be handled under Suspension:
- R. 299, Capital Access for Small Community Financial Institutions Act of 2015 (Stivers)
- R. 601, Eliminate Privacy Notice Confusion Act (Luetkemeyer)
- R. 1259, Helping Expand Lending Practices in Rural Communities Act (Barr)
- R. 1265, Bureau Advisory Commission Transparency Act (Duffy)
- R. 1367, Applying the Expedited Funds Availability Act to American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands (Radewagen)
- R. 1480, SAFE Act Confidentiality and Privilege Enhancement Act (Dold)
On Tuesday, and for the remainder of the week, Leadership intends to bring nine more bills to the floor under Suspension:
- R. 1058, Taxpayer Bill of Rights Act of 2015 (Roskam)
- R. 1152, Prohibiting officers and employees of the Internal Revenue Service from using personal email accounts to conduct official business (Marchant)
- R. 1026, Taxpayer Knowledge of IRS Investigations Act (M. Kelly)
- R. 1314, Providing for a right to an administrative appeal relating to adverse determinations of tax-exempt status of certain organizations (Meehan)
- R. 1295, Improving the process for making determinations with respect to whether organizations are exempt from taxation under section 501(c)(4) of such Code (Holding)
- R. 709, Prevent Targeting at the IRS Act (Renacci)
- R. 1104, Fair Treatment for All Donations Act (Roskam)
- R. 1562, Contracting and Tax Accountability Act of 2015 (Chaffetz)
- R. 1563, Federal Employee Tax Accountability Act of 2015 (Chaffetz)
And then there are four more bills Leadership wants to bring to the floor, but they’ll need Rules, because they’re not likely to pass with the two-thirds vote needed under Suspension:
- R. 650, Preserving Access to Manufactured Housing Act of 2015 (Fincher)
- R. 685, Mortgage Choice Act of 2015 (Huizenga)
- R. 622, State and Local Sales Tax Deduction Fairness Act of 2015 (Brady)
- R. 1105, Death Tax Repeal Act of 2015 (Brady)
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate will return to work at 2 PM tomorrow, with the first vote scheduled for 5:30 PM – it’s a confirmation vote for a non-controversial judicial nominee in Texas.
There are five major items on the Senate agenda right now:
- 178, the human trafficking bill
- The confirmation vote for Loretta Lynch to serve as Attorney General
- R. 2, the “Doc Fix” fix
- 625, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, the Corker-Menendez bill that would mandate congressional review of any U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement
- The Budget Conference
Technically, now that the budget resolution has been passed, the underlying legislation on the floor is S. 178, the human trafficking bill that got stuck when Democrats complained about the inclusion of Hyde Amendment-type language on abortion.
But the item that really tops the legislative agenda is consideration of H.R. 2, the “Doc Fix” fix. That bill passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 392-37, despite the fact that CBO scored it as adding $141 billion to the deficit over the next decade.
The current patch expired on March 31, but CMS is holding claims until April 15 so as not to cut physicians’ reimbursements by 21 percent. If the Senate doesn’t move the bill before Wednesday, CMS will have to cut those reimbursements, so there’s a real sense of urgency.
Nevertheless, several conservative Senators – including Sens. Sessions, Sasse, Lee, Cruz, and Vitter – are considering an amendment to require that the cost of the bill be fully offset. As an amendment, though, it could be subject to a 60-vote threshold, so they may use parliamentary rules to achieve the same effect: They could simply offer a motion to strike the language in the bill that exempts it from Pay-As-You-Go budget rules. Because that’s really a Point of Order, it would only require one Senator to raise the objection, and then 51 votes to sustain it and strike the offensive language. Doing so would give Congress the rest of the year to find offsets, and that would allow the conservatives to vote for it in good conscience before the Wednesday deadline.
Of course, if they succeed in stripping out the exemption language, the bill will have to go back to the House. Some have suggested that Speaker Boehner sees no reason to take up the bill again, given how lopsided was the original vote on the bill, but if it comes back with changes, he’s going to have to put it on the floor … or deal with angry doctors. So I’m betting they’ll put the amended version on the floor if they have to.
Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said in an interview last week he’s almost sure Hillary’s email was hacked by a hostile foreign government. Appearing on FOX News, Flynn said there was a “very high” chance her account had been hacked by operatives working for China, Russia, Iran or North Korea.
Special Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy declared his intent to bring Hillary Clinton before his committee to testify about her emails before May 1. On Tuesday, the committee formally requested that she give a transcribed interview detailing the decision-making process she used to determine which emails would be considered personal (to be wiped clean) and which would be considered government records (to be turned over to the State Department).
In the letter to Mrs. Clinton’s attorneys, Congressman Gowdy made clear that as the emails are the subject of a congressional investigation, any action to destroy them would be illegal. He said that is why she must turn over her email server to a third party. Not surprisingly, Mrs. Clinton’s lawyers responded with a collective “Meh.”
While we were on the Easter recess, Federal District Judge Andrew Hanen rejected the Administration’s request to stay his order, and in a separate order said he believes DOJ attorneys deliberately misled him. He called the DOJ attorneys “disingenuous,” and said he could have just dismissed the Administration’s case entirely, but given the weighty matters before the court, he wanted the case to continue.
Meanwhile, even as the Administration’s attorneys fight in court not to have their boss’s orders overturned, they’re moving forward on other fronts. Within the past two weeks, we’ve learned of another, even more damaging program – it’s called the Central American Minors (CAM) Refugee/Parole Program. It’s essentially a new amnesty program, put in place on December 1, 2014, wherein minors in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are flown – at U.S. taxpayer expense – to the United States to be reunited with their parents, as long as their parents fall into one of the following categories: Permanent Resident Status, or Temporary Protected Status, or Parolee, or Deferred Action, or Deferred Enforced Departure or Withholding of Removal. You’ll note that “Deferred Action” is one of the eligible categories – that means they’re allowing parents who may themselves be illegal immigrants who have benefited from President Obama’s deferred action program to apply to bring their children here. So one illegal program is feeding off another.
Under the program, applicants are required to pay for their own travel and their medical clearances and costs. But those who get “refugee” status receive cash assistance, loans, and free travel and medical assistance. On a March 31 conference call hosted by the U.S. Department of State with friendly groups, a State Department official assured those on the call that refugee status would in the future be easier to get. Why? Because State is no longer going to require documentation of a credible fear of persecution, because “we want to make sure this program is open to as many people as possible.”
Arizona Republican Congressman Paul Gosar has been circulating a letter to the Administration demanding the immediate termination of the CAM program. We’ll keep a close watch as this develops.
After extending the talks beyond the deadline, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the successful conclusion of negotiations with his Iranian counterpart and other members of the so-called “P5+1” aimed at keeping Iran from developing nuclear arms.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately objected, warning that the deal as described would lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. So did former U.S. Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger – neither of whom is known as particularly hawkish on their foreign policy views – in an op-ed they jointly authored for the Wall Street Journal that I’ve included in this week’s Suggested Reading. Blind squirrels find nuts, and a stopped clock is right twice a day, and on this occasion, I find myself oddly and totally in agreement with their strategic insights and analysis, four words apparently not found in the vocabulary of the current Secretary of State or the President he serves.
Even some Democrats remain unconvinced. A week and a half ago, Virginia Democrat Mark Warner became the 66th Senator to publicly support the Corker-Menendez bill, meaning it’s now just one vote short of a veto-proof majority. Not that the Obama Administration would ever allow political considerations to influence key decisions, but this may help explain why Robert Menendez – the New Jersey Democrat who, as the Ranking Member on the Foreign Relations Committee, has become a major thorn in the side to Barack Obama on both Iran AND Cuba – was indicted just a few days ago by the Department of Justice.
IRS TARGETING SCANDAL:
A week and a half ago, the Department of Justice announced it would not seek criminal contempt charges against former IRS official Lois Lerner. That’s the referral that was sent to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia regarding her refusal to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The FBI is still investigating her and a number of others for the Tea Party targeting itself – that’s a separate investigation entirely.
The more important news on the IRS Targeting Scandal was the release by Judicial Watch of a new round of emails it had obtained through FOIA requests. Two emails in particular stand out – in the first, Lerner acknowledges that the original targeting “might raise questions,” and offering to take blame for not providing what she called “sufficient direction initially,” but refusing to accept the notion that, as she put it, “anything that occurred here shows that the IRS was politically motivated in the actions taken;” in the second, she acknowledges that she had met with staff members for two Senators who were highly critical of the Citizens United decision and wanted to press the IRS to target outside groups. Those two Senators were Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan and John McCain of Arizona.
And last week, Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist published a new book called “End the IRS Before It Ends Us,” in which he argues convincingly that the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups blocked the growth of the movement in time to save President Obama’s reelection.
In the book, he quotes Lerner from a speech she gave at Duke University in October 2010 in which she said the IRS was under extreme pressure. Speaking of the Citizens United decision, she said, “Everyone is up in arms because they don’t like it. The Federal Election Commission can’t do anything about it. They want the IRS to fix the problem. The IRS laws are not set up to fix the problem … so everyone is screaming at us right now: Fix it now, before the election.”
The result, argues Norquist, was a decision by Lerner and others to target Tea Party groups, block them from organizing, to stunt the growth of the movement and “kneecap” it before the 2012 Obama reelection campaign. And it worked.
The House and Senate Leadership will appoint conferees this week to the Budget Conference. Both House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi say they shouldn’t have too difficult a time coming to agreement on a Conference Report, which technically is due by Wednesday, April 15. They’re not going to make that deadline. But they shouldn’t take longer than a few weeks to knock out a budget agreement.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is already confident enough that a budget agreement will come to the floor in the next few weeks that he’s tentatively scheduled votes on the first two appropriations bills of the year – the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs bill, and the Energy and Water Development bill. These have historically been the easiest bills to pass.
They’re tentatively scheduled to come to the floor the last week of April, two weeks from now. Theoretically, they’re not supposed to be considered until there’s been a Budget Conference Report passed, so we’ll just see how that goes.