House Democrats offer a "mess of pottage"
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Members of the House of Representatives were back in DC last week, but it wasn’t exactly a normal session. They had been sitting on the sidelines most of the time since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, doing goodness knows what in their home districts or elsewhere.
Social distancing and face masks were now the norm. Broadcasts on C-Span and other channels showed that the House chamber was lightly populated. And whether the proposals to be voted on were wise or not, they were definitely not routine legislative business.
The big day for debate and voting was Friday, May 15, with three items on the agenda: H.Res. 967; H.Res. 965; and H.R. 6800 (the HEROES Act). All three measures were stoutly opposed by House Republicans, so passage would require strong Democratic support.
A. House Resolution 967 – Introduced and placed on the House calendar the day before, H.Res 967 provided the ground rules for consideration of H.Res. 965 and H.R. 6800. It also set the stage for the House to be in recess from May 19 through July 22, with the exception of pro forma sessions to prevent the president from making any recess appointments, unless recalled earlier by the House Speaker.
After an hour of debate (evenly divided between the two parties), H.Res. 967 was voted on – a time-consuming process due to social distancing observance - and passed. The action was completed at 12:31 PM.
B. House Resolution 965 – For the first time in House history, based on the presumed exigencies of the coronavirus pandemic, this measure authorized proxy voting for absent members pursuant to previous instructions to present members. Proxy holders were permitted to represent up to ten members, meaning the House could function with fewer than 50 of its 430+ members present.
H.Res. 965 also provided procedures for virtual meetings and voting by House committees, and authorized the further study and potential adoption of measures for virtual voting on the House floor.
House Republicans viewed these measures as unnecessary. With a bit of extra effort, they argued, federal legislators could readily come to Washington and participate in person. Why should Americans expect police officers, doctors & nurses, truck drivers, postal service employees, etc. to keep things going in this country, while not expecting a similar level of commitment from the members of Congress? Kevin McCarthy slams new remote Congress rules, Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner, 5/15/20.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy denounced a looming rules change that would end the 230-year-old requirement that lawmakers vote and conduct legislative business in person at the Capitol. “The founders would be ashamed of today,” the California Republican told reporters at a press conference in the Capitol Friday.
No matter, after another hour of debate the members voted on and passed H.Res. 965 by a voice vote at 2:32 PM. Republicans demanded a rollcall vote, which step was postponed in order to take up H.R. 6800. The rollcall vote took place several hours later, and H.Res. 965 was declared passed at 7:18 PM.
C. House of Representatives 6800 – This 1,800 page bill provides a host of spending measures and tax law changes (mainly cuts for now, but watch out for big increases after the elections). The official title is “Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act,’’ or HEROES Act for short.
Main headings from the table of contents (seemingly involving some degree of duplication): Coronavirus Recovery – Revenue – Health – Retirement – Continued Assistance to Unemployed Workers – Accountability & Government Operations – Veterans & Service Members – Small Business – Essential Workers, At-risk Individuals, Families & Communities – COVID-19 Heroes – Families, Workers & Community Support – Consumer Protection & Telecommunications – Retirement Options to Workers – Education & Other Programs – Access – COVID-19 Heroes Fund – Child Nutrition & Related – Other Matters – Additional Other Matters.
The overall price tag for the government would be about $3 trillion, which would approximately double the already massive amount of economic relief measures that have been enacted. House “economic relief” bill of $3T, Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner, 5/12/20. Among the benefits provided (there are many others):
•Another round of $1,200 per person relief payments, this time allowing $1,200 per child vs. $500 and not limited to citizens;
•Extension of extra federal contributions to unemployment benefits until the end of the year without fixing the glitch that would result in many unemployed workers receiving more than they would have been paid for working.
•Some $1 trillion in payments to state and local governments, the bulk of which would not be tied to combatting the coronavirus pandemic.
•Bailouts for insolvent multi-employer pension plans and the US Postal Service.
•Enhanced food stamp (aka “SNAP”) benefits.
Put together without any Republican participation, this bill was apparently designed to please the influential liberal (aka progressive) wing of the Democratic party. House liberals flex their leverage in Pelosi’s one-sided spending bill, Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner, 5/14/20.
Two hours of debate ensued and then, following passage of H.Res. 965, two more time-consuming votes. One was a motion to recommit H.R. 6800 with the intent of eliminating “economic relief” payments for illegal immigrants; the second was to pass or reject the bill. The majority prevailed in both cases, but the second vote margin was slim.
Republicans have labeled H.R. 6800 a “liberal wish list,” suggesting that many of its provisions weren’t designed to fight the coronavirus crisis (pandemic plus losses from the economic shutdown) and would primarily serve to expand the size, scope and power of the federal government. Supporters of the bill argued otherwise, but their case seems unpersuasive. Pelosi slips, admits no amount of gov’t spending would satisfy Dems, Carmine Sabia, westernjournal.com, 5/14/20.
The three pillars: Honor our heroes by supporting our state and local entities, so that they don’t lose their jobs, these heroes don’t lose their jobs, open up government by testing, tracing, treatment, et cetera. And the third is putting money in the pockets of the American people, all of it timed and centric to the coronavirus. “It would be an endless amount of money if we put our wish list for the future in there. But that is not what the case is.
Fourteen Democrats (mainly from more conservative districts) voted “Nay” on the bill. As a matter of local interest, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) voted “aye,” missing a chance to demonstrate her independence. One Republican (retiring Rep. Pete King from New York) voted for the bill. Action was completed at 9:26 PM.
H.R. 6800 stands no realistic chance of passage in the Senate, but Democrats will use its provisions for leverage in ensuing negotiations. Also, the rejected demands may serve as a statement of Democratic goals in the upcoming elections. Pelosi’s presidential platform, Wall Street Journal, 5/14/20.
Mrs. Pelosi’s new Heroes Act is the clearest evidence so far of what [bills put in front of a President Joe Biden to sign] would be. In its vast scope and cost, the bill essentially attempts to replace the private economy crushed by the shutdown with government programs—old, new and expanded. It uses the economic damage caused by the government shutdowns as an opening for a huge expansion of the welfare state that would keep millions of Americans on the government payroll into 2021 and make the private recovery that much slower.
D. Path forward – We’re not privy to Speaker Pelosi’s strategy, but would expect her to make good on the threat to suspend further House activity (other than oversight hearings to harass the president) for now and hope Republicans will be blamed for not coming up with a bill to provide more handouts for disgruntled factions. Having passed H.R. 6800, it would be hard to imagine a legislative encore that wouldn’t seem somewhat anti-climactic.
A protracted House recess would put Republicans in the position of bargaining to get the House Democrats back to the table, and in negotiations it’s seldom advantageous for a party to begin its campaign with an ask.
While it would be easy to complain about details of this vast legislative package, that would risk falling into the trap of starting to concede that some provisions might make a certain amount of sense and winding up accepting a goodly portion of the “dead on arrival” package after all. Don’t count on Republicans opposing Pelosi’s panic bill, make sure of it, Daniel Horowitz, conservativereview.com, 5/13/20.
So yes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans might promise that this bill is “dead on arrival” in the Senate, but it’s only dead in this exact form. The more they focus on fighting the cranberry sauce and pecan pie of the bill, the more we will see them acquiesce to the turkey itself. Like Lucy and Charlie Brown with the football, this happens every time.
If the House wants to depart DC again and leave Republicans stewing in their own juice, let them. Don’t argue about the HEROES Act, ignore it, and focus on having the Senate draft whatever legislation Republicans feel is needed under the circumstances. Caveat: Let’s hope the GOP doesn’t propose its own multi-trillion dollar spending bill.
Would Senate Democrats seek to filibuster the proposals, blocking consideration and a vote, in order to show solidarity with House Democrats? Republicans still have a majority in the Senate, and if necessary they should be willing to use it.
Could Speaker Pelosi thwart Republican plans by refusing to have the House consider Senate-passed legislation? It appears that the president has the constitutional authority to force her hand, much as Harry Truman did in July 1948. Truman convenes special session of Congress, Andrew Glass, politico.com, 7/26/07.
SAFE’s influence is limited, but some larger conservative groups may be thinking along similar lines. In any case, we were pleased to join in a 5/14/20 coalition letter to congressional leaders from 20 groups (Americans for Prosperity, Heritage Action, Freedom Works, Heartland Institute, etc.) that explicitly opposed bailouts for fiscally irresponsible state and local governments.
On behalf of our respective organizations, and the millions of members and activists around the country we represent, we ask that you reject proposals for the federal government to bail out state and local governments, including the one included in H.R. 6800, the HEROES Act. The bill would send even more funding to state and local governments, including $915 billion in aid meant to backfill revenue losses, including those not specifically related to coronavirus spending. In short, federal taxpayers should not be asked to pay for irresponsible policy decisions made by state politicians.
There may also be opportunities to advocate policy changes to improve government operations without spending more money if anyone is paying attention to such ideas. Here’s a 5/12/20 coalition letter in which SAFE joined, this one supported by 36 conservative groups, which advocated permanent adoption of some of the regulatory fixes that have proven useful in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
CMS regulatory changes that have "saved countless lives during the COVID-19 crisis" should be made permanent. Subjects: telehealth consultations, professional licensing requirements, physician supervision, and patient privacy.
Success cannot be guaranteed, but this is no time to ensure failure by giving up. America is not for sale!
#Amen! SAFE director