Want to talk to your Members of Congress? Check this list

Conservative accountability goes beyond casting a vote. Building a society in which freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and the civil society flourish requires a sustained effort.  That is why we have compiled a non-exhaustive list of upcoming townhalls, all of which provide excellent opportunities to discuss important issues with members of Congress.

As always, make sure to confirm the details with the Representative or Senator’s office.

Email Matthew.Lauer@heritageaction.com for any further details.

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A Vote for a Maloney-style Amendment is a vote for President Obama’s Radical Transgender Bathroom Guidance

Tomorrow the House of Representatives will most likely vote on an amendment that supports President Obama’s executive order elevating sexual orientation and gender identity into a federal protected class.

In July 2014, President Obama issued E.O. 13672, unilaterally elevating sexual orientation and gender identity to special status for purposes of federal contracts. This means that federal bureaucrats could discriminate against, and strip contracts from, contractors that, for example, do not give biological men unfettered access to employee bathrooms designated for women. Congress has repeatedly voted down ENDA — the so-called Employment Non-Discrimination Act — to avoid forcing just such a radical national bathroom policy on American business.

The Maloney Amendment would constitute Congress’s blessing and ratification of the President’s end-run around Congress. It constitutes bad policy that unnecessarily regulates businesses on sensitive matters. Finally it risks undoing the Russell Amendment which was included in the House-passed NDAA, which takes longstanding protections in civil rights law and makes clear that the president’s orders are not exempt from them.

According to Roger Severino, the Director of the DeVos Institute for Religion and Civil Society, the Maloney-style amendments would:

  • “Ratify and give Congress’s blessing to Obama’s executive overreach, thereby encouraging him to do more of it.Solidify SOGI protection as national policy.

    • This would be cited by judges as a reason to uphold Obama’s overreaching and often lawless executive actions imposing SOGI policies (including bathroom access) on schools, private employers, housing providers, medical professionals, and health insurers.
    • This would be used by judges as further reason to declare SOGI a protected class under the Constitution.
  • Affirm the left’s propaganda that SOGI is equivalent to race and that there is massive unjust discrimination against LGBT persons in America today that requires a federal response.

  • Effectively impose ENDA on federal contractors.

    • This would require contractors to grant biologically male employees who identify as women unfettered access to women’s lockers, showers, and bathrooms. It would also require employees address co-workers by the pronouns of their choice regardless of biological sex. It would also require contractors to provide spousal employee benefits to same-sex spouses to the same extent provided to husband-wife couples.
  • Harm religious liberty.

    • Although Maloney contains some protection for employers to hire according to their “particular religion,” it protects only religious non-profits and the Obama administration or courts can interpret the protection narrowly to deny protection of religiously-motivated employee conduct standards. The Obama administration has explicitly refused to say that such conduct standards are protected for religious non-profits. As a result, courts and the administration may (and likely will) say that contractors like Catholic Charities are free to hire only baptized Catholics, but may not deny employees access to the bathroom of their choice or same-sex spousal benefits.
    • For-profit contractors that exercise religious beliefs while they earn a living, such as Hobby Lobby, would get no protection whatsoever under Maloney.
  • May undo the Russell Amendment.

    • The Russell Amendment protects religious non-profit contractors by applying the ADA’s explicit protection of faith-based employee conduct policies. Depending on the timing of when Russell vs. Maloney become law, Maloney may be interpreted to supersede this vital protection.

Conscience, freedom of speech and association, and religious freedom would suffer as an unavoidable consequence of Maloney (some on the left consider this the goal, not byproduct of Maloney). Although some harms can be mitigated through aggressive subsequent amendments, no amendment will eliminate those harms completely. Some harms, such as ratifying overreach, elevating SOGI to a protected class, and harming the culture cannot be mitigated at all by any amendment short of striking Maloney completely.”

As we saw last week, undermining religious liberty is not a prerequisite to passing appropriations measures in the House. Moving forward, it will be critical that House Republicans defeat any attempt by Democrats to further erode our First Amendment rights by codifying President Obama’s executive order through the appropriations process. House Republicans should expect Democrats to offer similar amendments on every appropriations bill moving forward, and must be prepared to defeat these amendments that threaten the very foundations of our civil society.

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Puerto Rico and the PROMESA Act: Claims and Responses

Claim: If conservatives don’t agree to this bill, the alternative is  a $72 billion bailout package.

Response: Things are going to get worse in Puerto Rico before they get better. Even though there is no reason to believe a Republican-controlled Congress would ever pass a direct taxpayer bailout, calls for such action are likely to increase whether or not PROMESA (H.R. 4900) is passed, as Puerto Rico will likely continue to experience economic and fiscal troubles. Congress and Puerto Rico need to pass economic reforms to slow and reverse the ruinous outmigration of Puerto Rico’s young workers. PROMESA reshuffles the deck, but it doesn’t change the game.

Claim: If Congress doesn’t pass some sort of assistance package, Puerto Ricans are just going to abandon the island and move to the mainland, causing an economic death spiral.

Response: Puerto Ricans are moving to the mainland in large numbers because of the lack of economic growth and opportunity on the island — not, for the most part, because of the government’s financial distress and liquidity issues. Regardless of what happens with Puerto Rico’s government debt, this exodus will continue if Puerto Rico can’t return to growth, which it can only do by creating opportunities for young adults and attracting and keeping businesses on the island. There is no reason to believe this bill would create those economic opportunities.

Claim: The fiscal oversight board has the tools it needs to jumpstart Puerto Rico’s economy.

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First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) FAQs

What is FADA and what would it do?

The First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), S. 1598 and H.R. 2802, is a religious liberty protection bill introduced by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) in the Senate and Representative Raul Labrador (R-ID) in the House. FADA would prevent the federal government from discriminating against individuals, associations, or businesses, such as churches and religious colleges, by denying a tax exemption, grant, contract, license, or certification because they believe marriage is a union of one man and one woman.

Why is FADA necessary?

FADA was introduced in Congress on June 17, 2015, shortly before the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that all laws defining marriage as the union of a husband and wife were unconstitutional. This ruling redefined marriage across the country and opened the floodgates for the government to discriminate against citizens who continue to live out their religious and moral convictions about marriage as they always have.

In oral arguments before the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Alito asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli whether a university or college might lose its nonprofit tax status if it doesn’t abandon its views on marriage as the union of husband and wife. Verrilli’s response was telling: “It’s certainly going to be an issue. I – I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is – it is going to be an issue.”

FADA was introduced to prevent this very scenario from happening.

Doesn’t the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and other State Religious Freedom Restoration Acts already protect religious liberty?

No. RFRAs provide generalized protections that require judges to engage in a balancing test when assessing religious liberty claims. The courts first determine if a government action substantially burdens religious exercise, and if so, it then assess whether the government has a compelling justification that is implemented in a way that does the least harm to religious liberty.

In contrast, FADA provides highly specific protections and limits judicial discretion, thereby taking much of the potential for mischief from activist judges out of the equation. FADA would take the debate out of the hands of the most non-democratic branch of government and put it back into the hands of the American people and their elected officials. FADA takes a surgical approach that does the balancing on the “front end” by protecting precisely the beliefs under assault in precisely the contexts where they are most threatened.

While RFRA’s general protections are vital for countering threats to religious liberty we may not foresee, FADA’s specific protections are vital for countering threats to religious liberty that are right in front of us, right now.

But isn’t the marriage debate a politically toxic issue for Republicans? Just look at what happened in Indiana.

It is true that last year the state of Indiana watered down its newly enacted RFRA law after it was hit with a coordinated surprise attack from LGBT interest groups, the media, and some members of the business community. But recently lawmakers have regained their footing on the issue. Efforts to further undermine religious liberty rights through sexual orientation and gender identity “bathroom bills” were defeated in the Indiana state house earlier this year and by a popular vote of 61% by the people of Houston. Republican members of Congress should not be afraid of “another Indiana” because Indiana, Houston, Missouri, North Carolina, Kentucky and many others, are fighting to defend religious liberty. Momentum in support of religious liberty is gaining steam across the country. Republicans should champion this issue, not run away from it.

Why should the government be involved in religious matters at all?

Freedom of religion is our very first freedom laid out in the Bill of Rights because if we are not guaranteed the natural right to speak and act in accordance with one’s own religious beliefs, all other rights are illusory. Thousands of religious organizations and millions of Americans are doing good work in our communities by running schools, colleges, charities, churches, and adoption agencies. The same faith and moral convictions that motivate organizations and individuals to seek the good for their children and their communities, has also led many to acknowledge marriage between a man and a woman as the indispensable backbone for civil society in America. Their religious liberty deserves protection, and the Constitution charges all branches of government with the duty to protect it, especially Congress.

Why did FADA’s text change and will it be changed again?

The sponsors changed the bill text to ensure it could not be mischaracterized by opponents as Indiana’s RFRA was. According to Senator Lee, the change “makes crystal clear that we are only seeking to prevent federal government discrimination against people and institutions that define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.” Outside of the regular amendment process, the bill text is now finalized and will not be altered again.

Will FADA authorize employees of the federal government to refuse to process the tax returns, visa applications, or Social Security checks of same-sex couples?

No. The bill expressly excludes federal employees acting within the scope of their employment and thus does not permit government employees to refuse people any services or benefits. FADA would simply protect federal employees from losing their job for religious beliefs expressed outside of the scope of their employment.

Will FADA authorize for-profit contractors to deny services or benefits to same-sex couples and/or eliminate any anti-discrimination?

No. The bill does not permit for-profit contractors to refuse services to same-sex couples. FADA would simply protect federal contractors from losing their contracts because of religious beliefs expressed outside of the scope of their contracts. FADA also does not protect publicly-traded corporations.

Will FADA authorize hospitals to refuse care to same-sex couples?

No. The bill expressly excludes “hospitals, clinics, hospices, nursing homes, or other medical or residential custodial facilities with respect to visitation, recognition of a designated representative for health care decision-making, or refusal to provide medical treatment necessary.”

FADA ensures a hospital will not lose its tax-exempt status or have its federal benefits revoked because, for example, a doctor does not wish to provide marital counseling services in a manner that violates his or her sincerely held religious beliefs.

Will FADA undermine federal civil rights protections, such as those available to employees and customers of for-profit businesses?

No. The bill does not alter or modify civil rights laws protecting people from discrimination in, for example, housing, credit, public accommodations, voting, and does not impact the American Disabilities Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and other federal civil rights laws. Employees and customers will have recourse to applicable protections under federal or state law just as before.

Will FADA preempt any state non-discrimination laws?

No. The bill applies to the federal government only and does not preempt any state or municipal non-discrimination laws, including those relating to sexual orientation or gender identity.

Will FADA grant religious individuals and institutions special privileges before the law?

No. FADA does not give special privileges to religious individuals or institutions, rather it clarifies that the federal government cannot discriminate against individuals and institutions simply because they believe and act in accordance with their religious belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. FADA is aimed specifically toward the federal government and executive agencies that are currently operating under the premise that the First Amendment no longer protects the belief in marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Will FADA take away the right of members of the LGBT community to challenge religious individuals and institutions in court?

No. FADA does not prevent members of the LGBT community from taking anyone to court. The problem we are seeing now is that the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges has left the courts in confusion, empowering liberal activist judges to rule however they desire. FADA offers specific protection to those who still believe marriage is a union between one man and one woman in order to limit judicial discretion in current cases.

We should have faith in the courts to not hold religious defendants liable for discrimination if they are innocent. FADA would just increase government intervention in our lives.

Unfortunately, it would be naive to believe liberal activist courts will rule fairly. FADA simply puts guardrails in place for judges to ensure they rule in accordance with First Amendment rights. The Constitution charges Congress, first and foremost, to protect the rights of the people to speak and act in accordance with their religious beliefs, including marriage.

On the contrary, FADA ensures the federal government stays out of the lives of American citizens. FADA helps prevent the federal government from intervening in civil society to force people, and their businesses, to provide goods or services they feel are against their religious beliefs.

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Congressional Boarding Pass

Setting the 2017 Policy Agenda

No more favors for the few. Opportunity for all—that is our motto.
— Speaker Paul D. Ryan

Americans are hungry for leaders who will address concerns about the relationship between mobility, economic dynamism, concentrated power, and collusion between special interests and government.

The Heritage Foundation’s American Perception Initiative (API) “demonstrates the centrality of the two core themes of this vision—’opportunity’ without the corrupting influence of ‘favoritism’.” That is the central challenge facing our nation: creating opportunity for all and favoritism to none.

BUDGET

While nonbinding and frequently ignored, the budget is an opportunity to put forward a roadmap to reduce the size and scope of the federal government. Heritage market research found conservatives have “high credibility” on issues related to government spending and reform.

Balance. A 2013 NRCC poll found a balanced budget message proved to be a winning argument, even in purple districts. The budget should balance at lower spending levels, without gimmicks, and without relying on Obamacare’s tax revenues, which will be repealed come 2017.

Recommit to Premium Support. The House and Senate budgets should explicitly reaffirm the GOP’s commitment to advancing premium support in Medicare.

OBAMA AGENDA

Congress must find new leverage points to reassert its constitutional authority and rein in executive overreach — guns, amnesty, environment, labor, etc — during the final year of the Obama administration.

Legislative Riders. Appropriations riders can be part of the strategy, but final action is unlikely before September. In the interim, riders should be attached to bipartisan priorities that are likely to move through the process.

Nominees. Given the Obama administration’s disregard for Congress’s role in our constitutional system of government, the Senate should refuse to confirm the president’s nominees unless those nominees are directly related to our national security.

WELFARE REFORM

In 1996, Congress reformed one welfare program out of roughly 80 means-tested programs. Heritage market research found the conservative approach to welfare reform “has the ability to significantly increase support for the conservative vision for America.”

Strong Work Requirement. The most notable component of the 1996 welfare reform was a work requirement. Any welfare reform proposal should include strong work requirements. Last year in Maine, work requirements for childless, able-bodied adults without dependents caused an 80-percent reduction in that group’s food stamp use.

Restore Federalism. The 1996 reform also froze nominal spending on TANF — a cap that remains in place today. Congress should aim to restore federalism in welfare policy by reducing the long-term federal footprint through real spending reductions and a nominal cap, allowing states to make decisions about how much revenue should be devoted to their welfare programs.

HEALTHCARE REFORM

According to Heritage’s market research, a fresh start for health care reform “is overall one of the strongest issues on the conservative agenda” and offers “a significant ability to further increase identification with the conservative vision for America.”

Pre-Obamacare Baselines. America’s health care system prior to Obamacare was deeply flawed. Any conservative reform proposal should envision a smaller federal role than that which existed before Obamacare, with the goal of reducing overall healthcare costs rather than matching Obamacare’s aspiration for universal coverage. At a bare minimum that means reverting back to the pre-Obamacare spending and tax baselines. Simply redirecting and rebranding bloated Obamacare spending towards a less bad system is unacceptable.

TAX REFORM

The current tax system is stifling opportunity for all Americans, not just corporations. Heritage market research finds that tax reform “is the most relevant issue of the conservative agenda.” The conservative approach — fair and simple, reward work and savings, and eliminate loopholes for special interests — “is highly credible and recognized as a strong solution.”

Ditch Neutrality. The beltway orthodoxy — tax reform should be revenue neutral, distributionally neutral, and conform with other liberal constructs — crippled Mitt Romney’s ability to campaign on reform and stifled the most recent congressional effort to draft pro-growth reforms. With revenues as a percentage of GDP approaching Clinton-era levels, congressional reform efforts should reflect this emerging consensus on the right.

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