Congress comes back Tuesday this week. The real work will be done off the floor as Congressional leaders continue to work on an end-of-year spending bill.
The debate is not just over spending levels and what gifts to special interests to cram into the end-of-year bill. But Congress is debating whether to pass a short-term spending resolution in order to allow President-elect Trump and the new Congress to pass the long-term spending bill early next year.
Of course, President Obama is unlikely to sign a short-term spending bill, but is it really so bad to have the government “shut down” for a little over a month? (Spoiler Alert: NO).
While negotiations go on over the spending bill, Congress will consider two conference reports. The first one is the 21st Century Cures Act. Fortunately, the bill does not contain the Creates Act.
However, there are still major concerns about the bill, many of which I highlighted in this blog post. The bill also creates a new billion dollar per year grant for states to fight opioid abuse. You can read more about Congress’ legislation on opioids here, here, and here.
The bill also incorporates the text of legislation creating new federal “mental health” programs. For more on that, see Michael Cannon’s “Do Conservatives only oppose big government health care schemes when proposed by Democrats?.”
Campaign for Liberty members should call their Representatives and tell them to oppose the CURES Act.
The second conference report is the National Defense Authorization Act. I will post more details on this as they become available.
Right now, the only thing I have heard is that this year’s NDAA authorizes as much as $9 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations.
The most significant is the Intelligence Authorization Act, which was placed on the House calendar before it even had a bill number. This bill reauthorizes American intelligence programs and authorizes funding for them.
Unfortunately, taxpayers are unable to know how much of their money is going to the intelligence agencies because those amounts are classified.
The intelligence bill also fans the flames of Cold War II with Russia. One of the ways it does this is by limiting the the ability of Russian diplomats and personnel working at the Russian embassy and consulates in the US from traveling more than 25 miles from their diplomatic posts.
The second (and more disturbing) provision creates a “interagency committee to counter Russian attempts to exercise covert influence” on American elections. The committee will consist of the Secretaries of State, Treasury, Energy, as well as the National Intelligence Director, the directors of the Central Intelligence Agency and FBI, as well as any other agency head designated by the President.
The Committee is tasked with developing measures to counter efforts by Russia to interfere in other nation’s elections. In addition to serving as another justification for intervention in foreign countries, this could justify federal action against domestic news sources critical of US foreign policy.
As some of you may know, last week, the Washington Post reported on a study claiming that many news organizations reported Russian propaganda designed to discredit Hillary Clinton. Among the sites listed where the Ron Paul Institute, Anitwar.com, and Zero Hedge. The goal of this effort is to discredit any criticisms of US foreign policy, and even many domestic policies, as nothing more than Russian propaganda.
Is it so crazy to think that these provisions may be used to exert government pressure on sites that dare question US interventionism?
For more on the attempt to smear critics of US policy as Russian agents, see this interview with RPI Executive Director Daniel McAdams.
Campaign for Liberty members should call their Representatives and tell them to oppose the Intelligence Authorization bill.
Congress will also consider the following bills under suspension of the rules:
1. HR 5458– This may be the best bill considered by Congress this week. It allows veterans to dis-enroll from the Federal Tricare program and instead receive tax-free contributions to a Health Savings Account (HSA) thus giving them increased control over their health care.
2. HR 5384– This bill stops automatic printing of the Federal Register. The Congressional office would have to specifically request an issue, or request a subscription to receive a printed copy.
This is something suggested to House leadership when I was on the hill. Most printed copies of the register sit in Congressional offices collecting dust. When staffers need to use the Federal Resister, they use the Internet.
3. HR 6009– One of those bills that seems like a good idea, but you wonder why it has to be put in a bill. It requires the General Service Agency to provide guidance to other federal agencies for “effective mail processing.”
The GSA: … must promote economy and efficiency in the selection and utilization of space, staff, equipment, and supplies for federal mail processing facilities; and (2) may inspect the mail processing practices and programs of federal agencies for purposes of recommending improvements.
The bill also provides authority for the GSA to set goals for the establishment and maintenance of federal records management systems or techniques.
4. H.Con. Res. 165– Expresses the sense of Congress being against any unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. The resolution also encourages bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. It also calls on other countries and the UN to not interfere with Israel-Palestinian relations like the US does.
5.HR 5047– This bill directs VA employees counseling veterans education opportunities to inform them what credits will transfer to what other colleges. So this was really an issue? How screwed up is the VA that this needs to be put into law?
6. HR 539- Requires VA physicians to report any activity by another VA employee that “…consists of or causes the provision of impaired, incompetent, or unethical health care that requires direct reporting under the Code of Medical Ethics of the American Medical Association.” Again, how screwed up is the VA that this has to be be put into law?
7. HR 2577– Renews various federal programs aimed at helping crime victims, as well as authorizes continued funding for the programs. While these programs may be well-intentioned, Congress has no constitutional authority to intervene in these matters.
8. S. 546– Directs FEMA to evaluate the effectiveness of first responder training and resource allocation for hazardous material incidents involving rail transport.
The House will also consider HR 6392. This bill reforms the destinations used to determine if a Bank Holding Company presents a systemic risk and thus should receive greater supervision. The bill may remove some bank holding companies from unnecessary government interference, but the real solution is to end both government regulations and government subsidies to banks.