appropriations

House to vote on amendment to limit NSA funding

After some wrangling with Speaker John Boehner, Rep. Justin Amash’s amendment to the FY 2014 defense spending bill that would reinforce already existing limitations on the National Security Agency (NSA) will come to the floor for a vote as early as tomorrow.

This controversial part of the 2001 anti-terrorism law allows intelligence and law enforcement agencies to access third-party records pertaining to an investigation into criminal activity. News broke early last month that the NSA has used this authority under the PATRIOT Act to gain access to virtually every Americans’ phone records, even if they aren’t suspected of wrongdoing.

Just last week, it looked as though Amash’s amendment wouldn’t be approved for debate by the House Rules Committee. If House leaders kept the amendment off the floor, it’s possible that the entire defense spending measure would have been held up. This led to Amash and Boehner — the two have some rocky history — working together to forge a workable amendment that could be brought to the House floor for a vote.

Amash tweeted out his gratitude to Boehner for bringing the amendment out of committee and to the the floor for an up or down vote:

Stuck in the Senate: House-passed government funding measures stalled by Harry Reid

“One of my great frustrations with Congress is the chaos,” said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) before members of the Carrollton Rotary Club on August 27. “I think we need a change in Washington, D.C., but when you get there you realize why there is so much inertia and how hard it is to change things when you get there.”

During the speech, Rep. Massie highlighted his frustration with the Senate’s lack of enthusiasm for going over the appropriation bills the House has passed so they may pass it before Congress hits the September 30th deadline. According to Massie, the Senate won’t review any of the nine bills that have passed so far:

“They’re not planning on passing any of them in the Senate. They are planning on doing one bill continuing resolution.”

While the House has spent the summer ensuring the bills funding the government for the new fiscal year are passed, Senate members have been reluctant to go over the specifics. The difference between passing several bills and one major bill, Massie explained, is that a continuing resolution will be their last shot at keeping the government functioning once they run out of time, putting the decision in the hands of four people, instead of the whole congressional body.

Republicans have a responsibility to take on Barack Obama if he illegally bails out health insurance companies

There could be a legal complication for health insurance companies relying on a bailout from the Obama administration in the (likely) event that they lose money because of Obamacare. Peter Suderman recently explained that Congress hasn’t appropriated any money to pay for this bailout:

Last month, buried in a 435-page regulatory filing from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Obama administration attempted to reassure the health insurance industry that, if necessary, federal officials would find money to make payments for Obamacare’s “risk corridors”—the temporary shared-risk financing system built into the health law that has been dubbed a bailout of the health insurance industry.

The regulatory filing reiterated the administration’s position that the program would likely be revenue neutral. But in the event that it’s not, it seemed designed to suggest that insurers shouldn’t worry.
[…]
The complication comes from the final phrase: “subject to the availability of appropriations.”

That could be a problem. Because according to a January memo from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), there do not appear to be appropriations available to make the payments. Although the health law does direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to make risk corridor payments, the CRS memo explains that the legislation “does not specify a source from which those payments are to be made.”

Appropriations deal prohibits IRS targeting, slashes Obamacare slush fund

Congress is poised to pass a $1.1 trillion appropriations measure in the coming days, which, if you’re a fiscal conservative, is just another reminder of the Republican surrender on hard-fought, bipartisan spending cuts won in April 2011.

Though there is little to be happy about in terms of the overall spending deal, there is a silver-lining. Congressional negotiators have apparently agreed to language that would prohibit the Internet Revenue Service (IRS) from targeting groups because of their political ideology, according The Washington Times, and significant cuts to the Obamacare slush fund, in addition to preserving incandescent light bulbs:

[S]ome of the most interesting action happened on the sidelines, where negotiators agreed to strict rules to prevent the from targeting groups for ideological scrutiny, and specifically banning the agency from targeting citizens “for exercising any right guaranteed under the First Amendment.”

Negotiators also agreed to block the from imposing standards that effectively would prohibit the sale of incandescent light bulbs. The move continues a prohibition that Republicans imposed when they took control of the  in 2011.

House passes measure to pay death benefits to soldiers’ families

Fallen Soldiers

Death gratuity payments to the families of soldiers killed in action may soon be restored, bringing an end to one of the real world implications of the ongoing political stalemate in Washington.

The House of Representatives unanimously approved H.J. Res. 91 — “Honoring the Families of Fallen Soldiers Act.” This measure, sponsored by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) appropriates money to the Defense Department to pay gratuities and benefits for the families and/or survivors of American soldiers killed in action.

The House passed the measure after Defense Department acknowledged that it had delayed payments to the families of four Americans who were killed last weekend in Afghanistan. Survivors of American soldiers are entitled to a one-time, tax-free payment of $100,000 within three days of the servicemembers’ death.

The a spokesperson for Defense Department said that they lacked legal authority to make the payments because no appropriations bill had been passed by Congress. House leaders disputed that claim, noting that Congress had passed and President Barack Obama had signed a measure — the “Pay Our Military Act” — to provide the Defense Department with the authority to pay the military, including survivors benefits.

Heritage Foundation debunks myths about defunding ObamaCare

Heritage Foundation -- Defund ObamaCare

Next month could bring a fight in Congress as some Republicans in both chambers and conservative organizations mount a push to defund ObamaCare. Talking heads and pundits are pushing back against the idea, listing off a number of various reasons why they believe the push is a bad idea.

But the Heritage Foundation contests some of these reasons. They conservative think tank released a new video that seeks to debunk what they call “myths” about defunding ObamaCare.

Some, including Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), have insisted that Congress can’t defund ObamaCare because most of the spending is mandatory — or “baked in the budgetary cake,” if you will.

“That’s just not true,” asserts Chris Jacobs, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. “Congress defunds mandatory spending on appropriations bills every year. In fact, in 2011, Congress defunded [$2.2 billion] in mandatory spending from the ObamaCare co-op program.”

“That’s a good start. We just think Congress needs to finish the job,” he added.

Jacobs also disputes the notion that Republicans and conservative critics of ObamaCare want to shutdown the government. “The only person threatening to shutdown the federal government is President Obama,” he noted.

“President Obama has threatened to shutdown the government because he wants to replace the sequester spending cuts with more tax increases,” said Jacobs. “Conservatives want to keep the federal government open. We just want to shutdown ObamaCare.”

Chatting with Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA)

“We want to get rid of ObamaCare and replace it with something that empowers families and individuals or, actually, what the President said years ago, he said if you like your insurance you can keep it. We sort of would like to see that happen, and that’s not happening right now.” — Rep. Tom Graves

In 2010, Republicans were able to capitalize on distrust of ObamaCare and the continued effects of the economic downturn and gain control of the House of Representatives. What many don’t realize is that the Tea Party wave was first kicked off during a special election for a open House seat in Georgia.

Tom Graves made a name for himself in the Peach State, taking principled stances for fiscal restraint and reform in the state legislature over the party line. He was able to dispatch an establishment-backed candidate in the special election and has taken his message of free markets and individual liberty to Washington.

On Tuesday, United Liberty caught up with Graves, who represents Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, to discuss the latest on the push to defund ObamaCare, which is one of his biggest legislative issues, and much more.

Graves explained that the push to defund ObamaCare is nothing new for him. This has been one of his goals since first coming to Congress, but he, like many in Washington, has been embolden by the Obama Administration’s recent delay of the individual mandate.

Michigan Republican pushes to defund unconstitutional NSA snooping

The House of Representatives could take up the annual defense appropriations bill this week, but may take the extraordinary step of limiting amendments in what seems to be an attempt to stop an effort to defend the National Security Agency’s unconstitutional spying program.

On Monday, The Hill reported that Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) was urging House Republican leaders to allow his amendment to come to the floor for a vote:

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) is mounting a push this week to defund the surveillance programs at the National Security Agency.

Amash said Monday that the defense appropriations bill, which could come to the House floor this week, was a chance to stop the NSA’s “unconstitutional spying on Americans.”

“Most important bill this week: DoD Approps. We can defund #NSA’s unconstitutional spying on Americans—if House leaders allow amendments, Amash tweeted Monday.

A national debt clock on the House floor?

Yeah, I kinda like this idea:

Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) last week introduced a resolution that would place a clock measuring the U.S. debt in the House chamber as a “visual gesture” that reminds members of the need to reduce spending.

“We are currently borrowing $58,000 per second,” Reed said last week. “We borrow at least forty cents of each dollar we spend. That is unsustainable. The debt clock will be a distinct reminder that our national debt must always be our first consideration as we continue to spend money that we do not have.”

Sometimes-libertarian talk show host Neal Boortz had a good idea awhile back. He floated the idea a few years ago to require an addendum to every spending bill:

The undersigned sponsors of the foregoing legislation do hereby state and affirm their belief that it is more important for the federal government to spend the funds necessary for the implementation of this legislation than it would be for the taxpayer who actually worked for and earned these funds to retain them for use in caring for and investing in the future of their own families.

I’m sure members of both parties would have a problem with that.

Congress sends budget to President Obama

Yesterday afternoon, Congress passed appropriations for the rest of the fiscal year containing what is being passed off at nearly $40 billion in spending cuts, not even a dent in the projected $1.6 billion budget deficit for the year:

Congress approved a measure Thursday to slash spending and fund the government through September, clearing the way for a raucous fight over the nation’s broader fiscal crisis.

The House voted 260-167 to approve the legislation, with 59 Republicans rejecting the bipartisan deal Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) struck with President Obama and Senate Democrats.

Eighty-one Democrats voted in favor of the deal — 108 split with Obama to oppose it.

The Senate signed off hours later on a vote of 81-19, sending the bill to Obama for his signature. The legislation, along with earlier stopgap measures, cuts $39.9 billion from current spending. Had it failed, funding for the federal government would have run out Friday night.

The House roll call vote is here. The Senate vote here. The sham bill will now head to President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature, and they’ll continue to tell us they are cutting spending when it’s obvious that Congress has done nothing.

Next up is the budget for FY 2012, which will begin to be put together in the next month or so. Given the reaction to Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan, it looks like we’re going to be deadlocked again.


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