“[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.
After a embarrassing defeat last month and despite a veto threat from the White House, House Republican leaders were able to save some face yesterday by passing the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM Act), otherwise known as the “Farm Bill.”
The vote was close, 216 to 208, with every Democrat voting against the measure because food stamp funding was separated from the bill for the first time in several decades. Twelve Republicans voted against the measure because they say it spends too much and didn’t offer any real reform.
While separating food stamps from the Farm Bill — which accounted for nearly 79% of the $940 billion measure that the House voted down last month — does substantially bring down, the $202 billion proposal passed yesterday by the Republican-controlled House, according to The Hill, cuts less in subsidies than the bill passed by the Senate.
As much as I never like to question anyone’s intentions, I finally find myself asking this week, do House Republicans really want to reform Washington?
Perhaps it was naïve, but after the defeat of the Farm Bill, I thought hope was in the air for agriculture policy reform. Numerous Republicans had offered strong amendments, many of which were rejected at the onset by the Rules Committee. And a fair number of the remaining amendments were defeated on the floor at the urging of leadership. This egregious flouting of their party’s desire to curb spending pushed members over the edge. Sixty-two fiscally conservative Republicans revolted against the bill, proving to leadership once and for all that, indeed, they are here to actually make changes.
This failure appeared to make leadership desperate, forcing them to take the drastic step they’d previously vowed to avoid – splitting the bill into two portions, one for food assistance and one for agriculture programs. Reform advocates long have tossed around splitting the bill. Their logic is simple: neither portion of the bill is strong enough to stand alone. Nutrition program supporters and farm program enthusiasts need each other to get the bill across the finish line. So for those who find the programs to be bloated, forcing each portion through on its own merit seemed more likely to yield change than the current back-scratching arrangement.
With pressure in the Senate to pass the Farm Bill this week (they approved cloture this morning) and showmanship killing any consideration of further amendments, things aren’t looking good for reformers. This leaves taxpayers on the hook for an expanded crop insurance program with incredibly few taxpayer protections built in.
The Senate lauds this as progress, claiming $24 billion in savings over ten years. But a simple breakdown makes it clear that these supposed savings will never be realized. Luckily, the American Enterprise Institute has a great infographic presenting the numbers as they are likely to look over the next ten years. Instead of finding $24.4 billion in savings, the AEI graphic shows $31.2 billion of increased spending, which they rightly term a “bait-and-switch” for the taxpayer.
So where do these costs come from? The answer is the Agriculture Risk Coverage provision, a proposed “shallow loss” program that would make up the difference for revenue not covered by crop insurance. The program works with crop insurance to guarantee revenues, basically ensuring farmers 89 percent of their average revenue over the last five years. So if prices fall or your yield decreases, ARC will smooth over the difference.
Over the last six years, I’ve been watching Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) very closely. Back in 2008, Chambliss faced a tough challenge in a three-way, finding himself in a runoff against Jim Martin, a liberal Democrat.
Part of the problem was campaign organization. Insider Advantage quoted an unidentified Republican who said that Chambliss and company had the organization of a “bad state House race,” calling it a “embarrassing campaign.” There was also the perception of Chambliss among Georgia Republicans. Insider Advantage again quoted a unidentified Republican who said, “Saxby’s reputation is that he’s spent six years in Washington playing golf. He’s gone on lots of trips. He hasn’t done the down-and-dirty constituent work.”
“Saxby bragged about it his first four years – how much golf he was getting in. It was a real problem and it irked a lot of people,” said the unnamed Republican source. Many Republicans in the state were less than thrilled with Chambliss, who hadn’t been able to endear himself to the state party the way Sen. Johnny Isakson had.
Another issue that hurt Chambliss was that he had lost the support of many fiscal conservatives in Georgia because of his votes that put taxpayers at risk.
American-owned candymakers have gotten tired of the protectionism that driving up the cost of sugar, according to the Wall Street Journal, and they’re responding to the market-distorting policy by taking their operations overseas:
The squeeze explains why Atkinson Candy Co. has moved 80% of its peppermint-candy production to a factory in Guatemala that opened in 2010. That means it can sell bite-size Mint Twists to retailers for 10% to 20% less.
“It wasn’t like we did it for profit reasons. We did it for survival reasons,” said Eric Atkinson, president of the family-owned candy maker, based in Lufkin, Texas. “These are 60 jobs down there…that could be in the U.S.,” he added. “It’s a damn shame.”
Jelly Belly Candy Co. is finishing its second expansion of a factory in Thailand that was opened by the Fairfield, Calif., company in 2007. The sixth-generation family-owned firm sells about 20% of its jelly beans, made in flavors from buttered popcorn to very cherry, outside the U.S.
Sugar makes up about half of the ingredients and cost of a typical jelly bean, said Bob Simpson, Jelly Belly’s president and chief operating officer. Thailand is the world’s fourth-largest sugar producer and gives Jelly Belly access to cheaper sugar, labor and other raw materials than the candy maker has in the U.S.
Back in December, a few conservative House Republicans were removed from their committee assignments by leadership because they voted against the budget plan offered by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). The move was heavily criticized by fiscal conservative and grassroots groups who took the action taken by leadership to stifle dissent in the House Republican Conference.
Unfortunately, it appears that the strongarming from House Republican leaders is back. Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) has lost his leadership post because of the role he played in the in the Farm Bill fiasco that backfired on Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA):
Republican officials removed Stutzman, R-3rd, as an assistant whip, or vote counter, this summer because he opposed their procedures for advancing the five-year agriculture and nutrition bill.
“I did vote against the rule, and I knew it would cost me my position as assistant whip,” Stutzman said Monday outside Community Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Indiana, where he spoke at a 30th anniversary celebration.
A whip team surveys a political party’s representatives on how they plan to vote on legislation, giving caucus leaders a better idea of whether a bill will pass or fail. Stutzman’s removal was first reported by the political newsletter Indiana Legislative Insight.
“One of the requirements is you have to vote for all the rules with leadership if you’re on the whip team,” Stutzman said.
News broke earlier today that the House will proceed with consideration of a “farm only” Farm Bill this week after deciding to split the agriculture and nutrition portions. The combined package failed on the House floor last month after several key crop insurance reforms were narrowly defeated and additional food stamp cuts were added.
While conservatives long have supported bifurcating the bill in this manner, the early word is that the farm portion was going to be considered under a closed rule, meaning no amendments whatsoever would be considered. That’s why we at R Street spearheaded a coalition letter of more than 20 conservative and libertarian organizations and thought leaders urging the House to pursue an open process for the bill.
The entire point of splitting the bills in the first place was to secure more serious reforms than were possible in combined legislation, due to the unique rural-urban coalition that existed for the broad package. Splitting the bills and then immediately closing off any avenues to reform just defeats the purpose.
If the House pursues this method, here’s the top seven amendments that would improve policy substantially that they’ll never even get a chance to weigh in on. Most of these were simply stonewalled by the House Rules Committee; a few were withdrawn; and others were combined into a larger package that made it impossible to deal with them individually. What they all have in common is that they never received votes the last time around and never will if a farm-only bill truly proceeds under a closed rule.
After an embarrassing defeat last month, House Republican leaders have decided to separate food stamp funding from the Farm Bill in hopes that they can appease special interest groups lobbying for more taxpayer money:
House Republican leaders have decided to drop food stamps from the farm bill and are whipping the farm-only portion of the bill for a vote that will likely come this week, according to a GOP leadership aide.
The nutrition portion of the bill would be dealt with later.
House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas said Tuesday morning that he would support splitting the farm bill — as long as it can pass the House.
“I’m willing to do what it takes to get a farm bill done,” Lucas said as he exited a Republican Conference meeting Tuesday morning. “If that means doing it unconventionally, maybe we got to give it a try.”
Republican leadership has tried to blame everybody themselves, including Democrats and fiscal conservatives in the House, for the Farm Bill’s failure. Big spending, rank-and-file Republicans have also lashed out at fiscal conservatives for not voting for the bill.
Republicans in California will have a shot next year to defeat Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), who is considered to be one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the House. But there is very strong disagreement whether or not a former Republican Congressman should run.
Former Rep. Doug Ose, who served in Congress from 1999 to 2005, sees an opening to return to Washington and is apparently being courted by some in state’s political establishment to run in the CA-07.
Ose, who lost a congressional primary bid in 2008, is telling the media that he isn’t happy with the state of affairs in Washington and around the country. But there are some who believe that Ose wouldn’t do much to help fix Washington based on his past support of big government policies.
A group of California-based Tea Party and conservative activists sent a letter to Ose on Monday, warning him that he can expect active opposition to his candidacy should he decide to run.
“It has come to our attention that you are considering running for Congress in California’s 7th Congressional District. We have also heard that you do not want to see a ‘bloody primary’ for the Republican nomination,” wrote the activists. “We agree. That’s why we are writing today to encourage you not to run in CA-07.”