The Senate will return Monday and stay in session through Thursday. The House will return Tuesday and stay in session through Friday.
LAST WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House was in recess last week.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House will return Tuesday, with first votes set to begin at 6:30 PM. At that time, the House will attempt to consider five bills under Suspension of the Rules.
On Wednesday, the House will consider two bills – H.R. 4293, the Stress Test Improvement Act of 2017, and H.R. 4061, the Financial Stability Oversight Council Improvement Act of 2017.
On Thursday, the House is slated to consider H.J.Res. 2, a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, under Suspension of the Rules.
On Friday, the House will consider H.R. 4790, the Volcker Rule Regulatory Harmonization Act.
And then they’ll be done.
LAST WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate was in recess last week.
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate will return Monday, with the first vote set for 5:30 PM. At that time, the Senate will move to a roll call vote on the motion to invoke cloture on the nomination of Claria Bloom to be U.S. District Judge for the Eastern and Western Districts of Kentucky.
Following that vote, the Senate will proceed to move on the following nominations: John Ring to be a member of the National Labor Relations Board; Patrick Pizzella to be Deputy Secretary of Labor; Andrew Wheeler to be Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; John Broomes, to be U.S. District Judge for the District of Kansas; Rebecca Jennings to be U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Kentucky.
Also taking place in the Senate this week: The swearing-in on Monday of Cindy Hyde-Smith, who will be sworn in Monday to replace Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who has retired from the Senate.
BALANCED BUDGET AMENDMENT:
Because the House GOP leadership apparently believes American voters – or, at least, conservatives – are a bunch of rubes, less than three weeks after voting for a spending bill that busts the budget and will lead to a trillion-dollar deficit, the House will consider a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution.
But wait, it gets worse – because it’s not just ANY BBA, it’s a TERRIBLE BBA, the kind that contains no spending limitation provision. Which means that if it ever were enacted, some left-wing judge somewhere would rule in favor of some left-wing group’s challenge that taxes must be increased in order to meet the new constitutional requirement to balance the budget.
Washington’s biggest problem isn’t that it spends money it does not have. Don’t get me wrong, spending money we don’t have is a problem – because we borrow money from current lenders with a promise to pay it back with money taken from future generations that were never asked if it was okay to take their money in the first place. Deficit spending is IMMORAL.
But Washington’s BIGGER problem is simply the AMOUNT of money it spends. We don’t need an amendment to balance the budget as much as we need an amendment to limit federal spending.
Of course, it really makes no difference WHAT they vote on this week, because it’s all Kabuki theater, anyway. No one in the House GOP leadership believes that such an amendment has a chance of passage in the Senate.
On Monday, March 26, the Commerce Department – in response to a request from the Department of Justice – announced that it would include on the 2020 U.S. Census a question about citizenship status.
Democrats and the media, predictably, went nuts, claiming that including such a question would lead to reduced response rates from immigrants. But what Democrats and the media won’t tell you is that they’re not worried about reduced response rates from IMMIGRANTS, they’re worried about reduced response rates from ILLEGAL immigrants. An immigrant who is a U.S. citizen or who has a green card or some other form of legal status would have nothing to fear from answering a question about citizenship status. And, parenthetically, neither would an illegal immigrant, for that matter, because the Census Bureau is prohibited by law from sharing the information it collects with other government agencies.
In fact, the FAQ from the U.S. Census Bureau says, “All data collected by Census is confidential under [the law]. The statute only allows the Census Bureau to use the data for statistical purposes and prohibits the disclosure or publication of data that personally identifies an individual or business. The Privacy Act of 1974 prohibits the disclosure of personal information maintained by an agency without the written consent of the individual.”
Nevertheless, the state of California immediately filed a lawsuit challenging the inclusion of a citizenship question on the Census. And seventeen other states, the District of Columbia, and six cities also sued to block the addition of the citizenship question, claiming it is unconstitutional. Given that the Census regularly asked a citizenship question until 1950, I doubt critics are going to be able to make that argument successfully. But I’m not a lawyer, so we’ll keep our eyes on this.
On Thursday, March 29, Attorney General Jeff Sessions revealed in a letter to lawmakers that he has, at this point, seen no need for a second special counsel to investigate charges of abuse of the FISA surveillance process by the FBI and the DOJ, and that he is instead satisfied with the ongoing investigation being conducted by U.S. Attorney John Huber of Utah. Sessions said in his letter that upon completion of Huber’s investigation, he would receive a recommendation from Huber as to whether or not a second special counsel is warranted.
As a U.S. Attorney, Huber has the power to subpoena any witness he wants, and the authority to empanel a grand jury if he believes it is necessary.
Two weeks ago, as Congress began its Easter recess in the immediate aftermath of the passage of the omnibus spending bill that contained no funding for construction of a border wall, we were getting questions about the possibility of having the president order the military to construct a wall for national security purposes. And the president himself seemed to be entertaining the idea – in his mind, apparently, the fact that the Department of Defense had just received $700 billion in appropriated funds meant the Pentagon had plenty of money, and surely the Pentagon could provide $25 billion to build the wall.
But that’s not the way it works. Those funds are programmed for certain purposes already, and any attempt to reprogram them to that extent would require an act of Congress. And that’s not likely.
On Tuesday, the White House announced that President Trump planned to send the National Guard to the southern border to assist the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement in challenging a growing threat of illegal immigrants and drug traffickers. On Thursday, President Trump put a number on the deployment – he said he wanted to see 2,000 to 4,000 troops on the border.
Federal law prohibits the use of the armed forces for law enforcement activities, so none of the troops would be able to apprehend any illegal immigrants. Instead, they would conduct surveillance and other forms of assistance that could free up Border Patrol personnel for stepped up enforcement activities.
On Friday, President Trump signed a memorandum ordering federal agencies to “expeditiously end” the so-called “catch and release” policy that allows illegal immigrants to be released while their cases work their way through the legal system. As part of that memo, he made clear his desire to increase the detainment capacity – he asked for “a detailed list of all existing facilities, including military facilities, that could be used, modified, or repurposed to detain aliens for violations of immigration law at or near the borders of the United States.”
The Department of Justice announced Friday that it is implementing what it calls a “zero-tolerance” policy for prosecuting immigrants caught attempting to enter the country in violation of the law. According to the Trump Administration, the number of attempted illegal border crossings was 203 percent higher in March 2018 compared to March 2017.
This latest move includes an order to U.S. Attorneys along the border to prosecute all referrals from the Department of Homeland Security of illegal entry and attempted illegal entry into the United States.
On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller informed President Trump’s attorneys last month that the president is a “subject,” rather than a “target,” of his ongoing investigation. According to The Post, “Prosecutors view someone as a subject when that person has engaged in conduct that is under investigation but there is not sufficient evidence to bring charges.”
This does not mean the president is off the hook. Subjects of investigation often become targets of investigation as more information is gathered.
The Post reported further that Mueller appears to be preparing two reports for his superior, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – the first will be a report examining the question of potential obstruction of justice, and the second will be a report on the question of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
According to press reports, President Trump was stung by the blowback from conservatives after he signed into law the massive omnibus spending bill, and he wants to do something about it. So for the last two weeks White House staff has been working with staff of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to see if they can put together a rescissions package to present to the House and Senate as a means to claw back some of those appropriated funds.
The Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 removed from the president the power to impound funds – that is, the right to refuse to spend appropriated funds. In its place, it gave the president the power to suggest rescissions of funds to the Congress, with a 45-day timelines. If both houses of Congress pass a rescissions bill within 45 days, then the money is rescinded; if both don’t, then it is not. One advantage of the rescissions process is that it is not subject to filibuster in the Senate, so there’s no need to cross the 60-vote threshold.
Last time we spoke, I gave you bad information, and I apologize. I said no president since 1974 had successfully used the rescission power. That’s not accurate. In fact, every president from Ford to Clinton rescinded funds – a total of just less than $25 billion between 1974-1997. More than 60 percent of those rescinded funds came in just two years, under Ronald Reagan. And that $25 billion in rescinded funds represents about one-third of the more than $75 billion in rescission requests made by all those presidents.
We’re still very early in the process, and the package has not yet been finalized. We’re hearing numbers as high as $60 billion as a potential target.
This is going to be a heavy lift. Speaker Ryan has said nothing publicly yet about the prospect, and neither has Senate Majority Leader McConnell. But keep in mind, the GOP majority in the Senate is only 51-49, and with Sen. McCain’s absence due to illness, that’s an effective 50-49 majority. So all it takes is one Republican who does not want to vote on a rescissions package and Leader McConnell likely won’t bring it to the floor.
Plus, you’ve got the political problem of requiring Members of Congress to vote to overturn something they just voted on. That’s never an easy thing to do.
On Wednesday, March 28, President Trump announced he was removing Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin from his position and replacing him with his White House physician, Adm. Ronny Jackson.
And for the last two weeks, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has been the subject of a blistering attack. Make no mistake, he’s being targeted for a simple reason – he’s been effective at carrying out President Trump’s directives to drain the swamp. The swamp doesn’t like that, and is pushing back hard.
Last Monday, China announced it would slap tariffs on 128 products imported from America in response to President Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
The following day, the Trump Administration announced that it would place a 25 percent tariff on 1,300 different products imported from China as a means to penalize China for its long-standing theft of American intellectual property and other trade practices. The tariffs deliberately excluded many Chinese-made consumer products available for purchase at places like Walmart and Target, like shoes, clothing, and toys, and target instead machinery and high-tech components. The tariffs will be imposed on $50 billion worth of Chinese products every year, the Administration said, and it’s important to note that the $50 billion is not the value of the tariffs, but the value of the goods that will be taxed – so the cost to American end consumers will be significantly less than $50 billion.
The tariffs themselves will not be imposed until after a public comment period. American businesses that use these products will have until May 22 to file final objections.
China responded by releasing its own list of American products valued at roughly $50 billion that it would target for tariffs if the Trump Administration followed through. The targets included, in particular, soybean imports. So President Trump raised the ante, threatening on Thursday to impose tariffs on another $100 billion worth of Chinese imports. Those tariffs, too, would not actually go into effect until after a public comment period.
So what’s going on here is setting the stage for negotiations. None of these proposed tariffs has yet gone into effect, and none will, if negotiators from both sides agree. The Chinese don’t want to lose access to the American market any more than Americans want to lose access to the Chinese market. So look for a face-saving agreement, the kind that allows the Chinese to deny they’ve ever stolen any American intellectual property, and then promise they’ll never do it again.
JENNY BETH MARTIN/TEA PARTY PATRIOTS: