Chatting with Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY)
“[T]he House and the Senate control the purse strings. It’s the only check that we have besides some oversight on the Executive Branch. And so I’m going to be part of that group that goes into this August recess and goes back home and says, ‘I will not vote for a continuing resolution that funds ObamaCare.’” - Rep. Thomas Massie
The last couple of election cycles have led to several interesting, liberty-minded Republicans being sent to Congress. On Tuesday, United Liberty had a chance to chat with one of those Republicans, Rep. Thomas Massie, who represents Kentucky’s Fourth Congressional District.
Elected last year with strong supports from grassroots groups, Massie quickly established his libertarian tendencies by taking strong stands for civil liberties and economic freedom. He’s an approachable guy and very down to Earth.
Along with Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), Massie fought hard to get a vote last week on an amendment to the defense appropriations bill to defund the National Security Agency’s broad surveillance of American citizens.
Massie offered an inside baseball account of how a vote on the amendment, which was offered by Amash, came to pass in the face of fierce opposition from President Barack Obama, congressional leaders from both parties and the nation’s security apparatus.
“[T]he real battle was getting it to a vote. The amendment process sort of allow for a voice from the members of Congress who aren’t committee chairmen. And getting an amendment allowed is sometimes an arduous task,” Massie told United Liberty. “But we stuck together, we built a coalition of people who were interested in votes on three different amendments. We said if we don’t get a vote on Syria, Egypt and the NSA, in the context of the Department of Defense appropriations bill, then we’re going to vote against the rule for the bill.”
“I didn’t know this until I got to Congress — but before every bill, you vote on the rules for debating the bill. And so there are closed rules, open rules and structured rules. Under a closed rule, no amendments will be allowed. And under an open rule, anyone can offer an amendment. This is the promise that the Republican leadership made when they came into power in 2010 — on all of the appropriations bills, there will be open rules,” he noted. “Well, on this one they didn’t want an open rule because they didn’t want a vote on NSA, Syria or Egypt. And so we stuck to our guns. They weren’t quite sure if we had enough votes to take down a rule. Ostensibly, it takes 17 or 18 Republicans to take down a rule. If the Democrats all vote against it and 18 vote join with them.”
Massie pushed the Egypt amendment, which prevents the United States from providing military aid or assistance without congressional approval. It passed unanimously by voice vote. He offered a similar amendment on Syria, but it was not allowed to come to the floor for a vote. However, Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL) offered a similar, though slightly watered down amendment to prevent the Obama Administration from sending American military to Syria. It, too, passed by voice vote.
“This is part of the reason I came to Congress, to enjoin in this battle. If you go back and look at my campaign literature, I was campaigning against the PATRIOT Act,” he explained. “And if you look at what we’ve accomplished, especially with Justin [Amash] leading — we had the President against us, we had Nancy Pelosi against us, we had the Speaker of the House, the entire leadership and all of the chairmen here in Congress against us, and it still almost passed.”
“But the real victory here was getting people on record. Nobody that voted against this amendment wanted to do that publicly. They were all dreading that,” Massie continued. “This is the first week since that vote we’ve all been home in our district for the weekend and on radio shows, and I can tell you I know two Congressmen that got hammered on the shows because of their votes.”
Massie was quick to note that the concerns over the NSA’s surveillance programs did not die with this vote. He pointed to Amash’s LIBERT-E Act, on which the Kentucky Republican is a cosponsor, as an example of the next push to protect Americans’ privacy.
The discussion moved onto some some domestic issues, including Massie support of an amendment to the recently passed Farm Bill that would allow colleges and universities to grow and conduct research on industrial hemp.
“[Y]ou’re sitting on the couch in my office next to my hemp pillow. So I’ve got a pillow made out of hemp right there. Hemp is grown in every industrialized country in the world except for the United States. And we import it, it’s legal to import, it’s legal to make products with it, we just don’t allow our farmers to grow it,” said Massie. “And it’s part of the war on drugs — misguided part of the war on drugs. We’ve denied our farmers in this country an opportunity for a crop, especially in Kentucky where it would grow very well. It’s legal in Kentucky if the Feds would allow it.”
He noted that he has introduced a stand alone measure that would allow farmers to cultivate and produce hemp, which could be an economic boon to his district and state. He noted that this particular bill, previously a pet issue of former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), has 45 co-sponsors.
Massie also gave us an update on the Marketplace Fairness Act, the Internet sales tax that has already passed the Senate and is currently in the House. “The Marketplace Fairness Act is a euphemism for an Internet Tax for Interstate Commerce Tax, if you will. So it would do — it would allow state governments to impose their tax laws on retailers in every state in the United States,” he explained. “It’s higher taxes and it’s more regulation and it’s horrible.”
Massie, who has taken the lead in the House on this issue, recalled his work to raise awareness to the issue, noting that he was on the receiving in from lobbyists for big box retailers who are supporting the Internet sales tax. He explained that though many House members say they oppose the measure in private, they’re reluctant to go on record opposing it in public for fear of losing influential donors.
“I implored our leadership not to let it come to a vote. They kind of intimated to me that they didn’t want it to come to a vote either,” he noted. “But here again, I don’t think they want to come out and say this will never come to a vote because you have people donating to members of Congress with the implied and explicit understanding that at some point there’s a quid pro quo and they’re gonna get a vote on this and they’re gonna get a new tax that’s gonna punish the competition.”
And with the focus on ObamaCare recently, in light of the Obama Administration’s decision to delay the employer mandate, and movement inside both chambers of Congress to defund the law. Such a move could lead to a government shutdown, which has some Republicans worried could haunt them in next year’s mid-terms. Massie, however, declared his support for the effort to defund ObamaCare, calling it the “last opportunity” to target its funding before the major parts of the law take effect.
“[Utah Sen.] Mike Lee has put his stake in the ground and said, ‘I’m not gonna vote for any sort of continuing resolution that funds ObamaCare.’ And I think it’s a great stance to take, because he’s right. People are gonna start signing up in October, and they’re gonna start being part of ObamaCare on January 1st. This is our last opportunity,” Massie emphasized. “Congress, the House and the Senate control the purse strings. It’s the only check that we have besides some oversight on the Executive Branch. And so I’m going to be part of that group that goes into this August recess and goes back home and says, ‘I will not vote for a continuing resolution that funds ObamaCare.’”
“We don’t have to be the bad guys in the House — we can go ahead and pass the continuing resolution with a little rider on it that says, ‘None of these funds shall be used to implement the Affordable Care Act,’” he added. “Pass that, send it to the Senate, say, ‘Look, we’re not shutting down the government, we funded it. Fully funded it for the next year. It’s up to you all if you’re gonna be adamant on trying to implement a program that the President’s already acknowledged can’t work and he’s gonna delay it then you all shut down the government, not us.’”
There is much, much more to this interview, including a further discussion on agriculture policy and the Keystone XL Pipeline. You can listen to all of that in the audio at the top of the post.
If you interested in learning more about Rep. Thomas Massie and the issues he’s pushing in Congress, you can keep tabs on him on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. You can also learn more via his congressional website.