Catching up on Congressional news, last week the U.S. House approved a joint Republican framework setting top-line numbers for the federal budget as well as the first two spending bills for the 2016 fiscal year, which begins on October 1. Along the way, House members considered amendments covering a wide range of issues, from regulations on incandescent light bulbs to “prevailing wage” rules for federal construction projects to medical marijuana advice for Americans who receive their health care through the Veterans Administration.
Follow me after the jump for details on the latest votes by Iowa Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04).
Before taking up detailed spending bills covering federal departments and agencies, the House approved a broad framework on federal spending for fiscal year 2016 and a plan to balance the budget over the next decade. Bernie Becker covered a few key points for The Hill:
The GOP budget, crafted by [House Budget Committee Chairman Tom] Price and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), sticks to the budget ceiling of $1.017 trillion for fiscal 2016 that was put into place by the 2011 deal to raise the debt ceiling.
But to win over defense hawks, the framework gives a more than $90 billion boost to an off-the-books war fund that critics on both sides of the aisle have termed a “slush fund.” The spending caps for next year limit defense spending to $523 billion, and funding for non-defense domestic initiatives to $493 billion.
Republicans also seek $430 billion worth of cuts to Medicare, though the joint framework drops the controversial plan from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that offered seniors the chance to use subsidies to purchase private insurance.
Medicaid, food stamps and other safety net programs would face cuts as well under the GOP plan. But for many conservatives, the major draw of the plan was the chance to repeal the Affordable Care Act through a budgetary maneuver known as reconciliation, which requires only 51 votes in the Senate.
Writing for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Robert Greenstein and Richard Kogan highlighted “Ten Serious Flaws in the Congressional Budget Plan.” I recommend clicking through to read their whole piece. Here are a few excerpts:
The budget conference agreement calls for nearly $5 trillion in cuts in domestic programs over ten years, with no deficit-reduction contribution from revenue increases of any sort. […]
Despite wide inequality and bipartisan calls to expand opportunity for people from modest backgrounds, at least 63 percent of the non-defense cuts in the budget plan over the decade come from programs for the less fortunate. […] despite the fact that such programs constitute just over one-fourth of total non-defense spending […].
By 2025, the budget conference agreement shrinks programs for low- and moderate-income households by at least 38 percent, on average. (See Figure 2.) The budget repeals health reform and cuts Medicaid deeply on top of that. It reduces basic food assistance for low-income families and individuals substantially and significantly cuts grants and loans to help low-income students afford college. The budget also allows key provisions of tax credits for working-poor families to expire after 2017, which would push 16 million people into — or deeper into — poverty. […]
The budget conference agreement repeals health reform, including its roughly $1 trillion of revenue increases over ten years, but assumes the same amount of total federal revenues each year as if these revenue-raising provisions remained in effect. Either the budget overstates revenues and understates deficits by about $1 trillion or it assumes offsetting tax increases that are never even hinted at and that appear to have virtually no support among the Republican congressional majority.
Most House Republicans voted for the budget framework on April 30; just fourteen GOP members (mostly fiscal hawks) joined the entire Democratic caucus in rejecting it. The 226 to 197 roll call shows that the Iowans split along party lines, with Loebsack opposed and the three Republicans in favor.
When Young, Blum, and King brag about voting for a “balanced budget,” Iowans should challenge them to defend the morally bankrupt choices and accounting gimmicks used to reach that target by 2025.
The joint Republican budget sets overall spending levels, but twelve separate appropriations bills determine how each federal department or agency will allocate its funds. The first of those bills to reach the House floor covered spending on the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction projects. Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill that while VA and military construction spending is “traditionally considered the easiest” appropriations bill to pass, a bump in the road appeared last week:
[A]n amendment from Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, and Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, appeared to be a potential problem for passage of the bill. The amendment offered by the political odd couple would strike provisions of the bill that pay for military construction projects with the Pentagon’s war fund.
Both Van Hollen and Mulvaney argued that using the war fund in such a way amounts to a budgetary “gimmick” to avoid spending caps established by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA).
“Let’s not go around the BCA. Let’s not use a slush fund or something that is off budget,” Mulvaney said during floor debate. “Let’s not be disingenuous.” […]
“There is clearly bipartisan opposition to using the Overseas Contingency Operations budget as a slush fund for non-war related projects. I will continue to work with Congressman Mulvaney and my other colleagues to fight against this abuse of the budget process,” Van Hollen said in a statement.
Van Hollen and Mulvaney drafted three amendments to eliminate “$530 million of OCO money that’s supposed to be used for construction projects on military bases and installations.” Mulvaney was able to bring over some Republicans, but not enough to pass the amendments, even if the all the House Democrats had voted for them. In any event, the House Democratic caucus includes some 20 defense hawks who opposed each attempt to remove defense spending from the overseas contingency operations “slush fund.”
Click through to view roll calls on the Van Hollen amendment, the first Mulvaney amendment, and the second Mulvaney amendment. Loebsack supported all three efforts, while Blum, Young, and King opposed them all.
Remember those votes next time Iowa’s House Republicans posture as deficit hawks.
Side note: I noticed that Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate, voted against all three Mulvaney and Van Hollen amendments, even though he has previously called the use of the OCO to evade defense spending caps “a backdoor loophole that undermines the integrity of the budget process.”
Next, House members considered an amendment proposed by New York Democrat Jerry Nadler. He was trying to remove a provision in the bill that would block the closure of the Guantánamo Bay facility where the U.S. has detained many terrorism suspects. Just four Republicans joined 163 Democrats, including Loebsack, to support the amendment. Blum, Young, and King were among the majority that voted it down.
The next Democratic amendment came surprisingly close to passing. Cristina Marcos reported,
The House rejected a proposal Thursday to allow doctors at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals to discuss the use of medical marijuana with patients. […]
Medical marijuana is legal in more than 30 states and the District of Columbia. But VA doctors are prohibited from completing patient forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding medical marijuana to treat conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A 2012 VA report found nearly 30 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD or depression.
Lawmakers from both parties argued veterans should at least be able to receive recommendations from their doctors about the drug’s merits. They stressed the amendment wouldn’t force doctors to recommend medical marijuana or authorize marijuana possession at VA facilities.
This amendment failed on a vote of 210 to 213, with 35 House Republicans voting yes along with most Democrats. That’s less than ten votes short of what would be needed to approve the amendment. Given how quickly support for medical marijuana has grown around the country, maybe a similar provision could pass next year.
To his credit, Blum joined Loebsack in support of the medical marijuana amendment. Young and King voted against letting VA doctors discuss the option with patients, even in states where medical marijuana is already legal.
King proposed one of the other amendments that drew a lot of attention during the House debate over the VA and military construction bill. It would have prohibited Davis-Bacon “prevailing wage” requirements for any projects funded through those appropriations. Several conservative advocacy groups, such as Heritage Action for America and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, made King’s amendment a scorecard issue. But 52 House Republicans joined all 183 Democrats to vote it down. Iowa’s four members split along the expected party lines.
Another anti-labor GOP amendment also failed because 49 Republicans joined all the Democrats to oppose it. Blum, King, and Young backed that anti-union amendment too, while Loebsack helped to vote it down.
Finally, the House approved the VA and military construction bill by 255 votes to 163. Iowa’s three Republicans voted yes, along with most of their caucus. Loebsack voted no, along with most House Democrats.
Next up on the House calendar: a resolution “to overturn the District of Columbia’s law prohibiting workplace discrimination based on reproductive health choices.” Cristina Marcos reported,
Passage of the resolution formally disapproving of Washington’s local law fell mostly along party lines on a vote of 228-192. Thirteen Republicans joined the opposition, and three Democrats voted in favor.
It marked the first time either chamber of Congress has passed legislation to stop a D.C. law since 1991, when the House voted to disapprove of the city council’s action to amend a law that restricts the height of the District’s buildings.
The D.C. law, known as the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act, prohibits employers from discriminating against workers, their spouses or dependents for obtaining contraception or family planning services. The law further bans employees from retaliation for having abortions.
The roll call shows that Blum, Young, and King all supported this resolution, while Loebsack opposed it. As usual, Republicans are happy to vote against “local control” when other ideology is in play–in this case GOP antipathy to reproductive rights.
Next, House leaders brought up an appropriations bill covering the Department of Energy and various water projects. Again, members considered quite a few amendments; the roll call votes can be found here and here. One of the amendments that passed continued the Republican war on energy-efficiency standards for light bulbs.
A 2007 energy law gradually requires the phase-out of incandescent light bulbs sold in the U.S. in favor of fluorescent, halogen or LED bulbs. However, the more energy efficient bulbs can be more expensive.
“If new energy efficient light bulbs save money and are better for the environment, we should trust the American people to make that choice on their own and move to these bulbs,” Burgess said during floor debate.
“We should not be forcing these light bulbs on the American public,” Burgess said. “The bottom line is the federal government has no business taking away the freedom of Americans to choose what bulbs to put in their homes.”
Again, the Iowans split along the expected party lines, with all three Republicans voting to block enforcement of energy efficiency standards for light bulbs and Loebsack voting against the amendment.
House members finished debate and passed the energy appropriations bill on May 1. Cristina Marcos reported,
Passed 240-177 along party lines, the measure would provide $35.4 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Energy and nuclear weapons programs.
The measure provides $1.2 billion more than the current enacted spending level, but $633 million less than what the Obama administration requested. […]
The bill would also support the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository and deny an Obama administration proposal for non-Yucca nuclear waste activities. In total, the measure provides $150 million for the Nuclear Waste Disposal Program. Members rejected by voice vote an amendment from Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) to eliminate all funding in the bill for Yucca Mountain.
President Obama issued a veto threat against the legislation, warning it “drastically underfunds” energy programs.
The Obama administration also objected to a provision in the bill that prohibits the Army Corps of Engineers from enforcing its ban on guns at water resources development projects.
The roll call shows another party-line split for the Iowans, with Loebsack against the energy appropriations bill and the three Republicans supporting it.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.