Coming Soon: No Child Left Behind Reauthorization

According to reports, lawmakers have reached an agreement to reauthorize the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law for four years.  In December 2014, The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke put forward four crucial benchmarks for any NCLB overhaul:

  • enable states to completely opt out of the programs that fall under No Child Left Behind;
  • eliminate programs and reduce spending;
  • eliminate all the burdensome federal mandates; and,
  • provide states the option of full Title 1 portability.

Those reports, confirmed by “a GOP aide who participated in the negotiations,” suggest the pre-conferenced agreement falls short on each and every requirement.  Additionally, Education Week reports the House’s testing opt-out language – a priority for many conservative lawmakers – was abandoned:

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Conservatives Priorities for Omnibus Package

During the last week of October, Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. The bill abandoned conservative fiscal policy, choosing instead to suspend our nation’s debt limit until March 2017 (an estimated $1.5 trillion hike) and increase total federal spending by at least $111 billion over the next three years, blowing through the caps established by the Budget Control Act.

With this new spending framework established by the Bipartisan Budget Act, Congress will attempt to pass appropriations legislation to allocate these spending increases by December 11th. Unfortunately, congressional leadership is attempting to bundle 12 pieces of appropriations legislation together into one omnibus spending bill. Conservatives stand opposed to such a package. In addition to using the leverage of the appropriations process to restrain the executive and attain key conservative policy objectives (including provisions defunding Planned Parenthood and executive amnesty), the bill should only appropriate spending within the original budget cap levels.

Spend Within Budget Caps: The framework established by the Bipartisan Budget Act allows for an additional $111 billion is spending. But this framework passed with unified Democratic support, and a minority of Republicans. There is a reason that Congress is under a new leadership team, and appropriations legislation does not need to allocate spending at this heightened level. There is still an opportunity for Congress to exercise restraint and fiscal responsibilities, and only allocating spending at the levels authorized by the original budget caps. Such a policy would communicate to the American people that Congress intends to pursue responsible spending practices.

Defund Planned Parenthood: In July 2015, the Center for Medical Progress began releasing a series of undercover videos documenting Planned Parenthood executives haggling over fetal body parts, as well as describing the use of the illegal partial-birth abortion procedure to secure intact organs. These atrocities are currently funded by the government of the United States, which supplied Planned Parenthood with 41% of its total revenue last year ($528 million). This has led Planned Parenthood to become the largest abortion provider in the country, performing over 327,000 abortions last year (1 of every 3 abortions performed in the United States). This all occurred while federal law prevents the use of federal dollars in performing abortions – a provision circumvented by Planned Parenthood’s creative accounting and the fungibility of federal dollars.

A legislative rider defunding Planned Parenthood by name is necessary to effectively shut off federal funds to the organization, as it would both remove Title X funding and prohibit Medicaid funds from being awarded under the “choose your own provider” provision. 151 Republicans voted against a two month continuing resolution that funded Planned Parenthood. Those members need to be encouraged to maintain their positions against a spending bill that funds Planned Parenthood in December.

Defund Executive Amnesty: The clearest example of the president’s overstep of his executive powers through the illegal use of executive orders can be found in his executive amnesty program. It is the responsibility of members of Congress to craft laws governing United States immigration policy, and the role of the executive to implement those laws. By unilaterally implementing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, and by widely expanding the program in 2014 (DAPA), the president ignored the constitutional separation of powers and took the legislative powers of Congress upon himself.

Twenty-six states filed suit, claiming an abuse of executive power, and the Fifth Circuit upheld an injunction against the program earlier this year. But a leaked memo indicates that the administration is planning on circumventing the court’s injunction and issuing several hundred thousand additional worker visas. In light of this administration’s repeated abuses of executive power, the bill should contain a provision defunding the executive amnesty program.

Refugee Resettlement: The United States currently maintains the most generous refugee program in the world. But the President has proposed expanding this program by increasing the number of refugees to 45,000 by the end of 2016. This influx of refugees presents a series of national security concerns, which the current administration has been negligent in addressing. Due to significant linguistic and cultural differences, lack of documentation, and the opacity of refugees concerning motivations, it is incredibly difficult to effectively screen refugees. This problem is compounded by widespread fraud and a significant risk of refugees being targeted for recruitment by terror groups while present in their country of resettlement. The Obama administration has consistently demonstrated its unwillingness to establish systems for effectively screening refugees, with grave implications on national security.

Congress should push for a thorough and transparent vetting process, and should deny funding to the president’s program until such a process is established. The December 11th appropriations deadline provides an opportunity for Congress to use a legislative rider defunding the president’s expansion, after which Congress may work with security experts to pass legislation establishing a thorough screening process, and a mechanism for lawmakers to affirm the administration is implementing the new process correctly.

Conclusion: The power of the purse is a constitutionally-established power of Congress, and appropriations legislation provides the clearest opportunity for its use. These are not the only conservative policies that can be pursued during the appropriations process, but they are critical ones. Current members of Congress were elected with a clear mandate to pursue conservative policies and spending reforms, and should not abandon the fight on key points of leverage.

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Stop the Export-Import Bank

The Export-Import Bank expired on June 30th, over 100 days ago. . This was a major policy victory for conservatives looking to roll back corporate welfare and stop Washington from picking winners and losers in the economy.

However, as Ronald Reagan once said “The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program.” The Export-Import Bank’s supporters are trying to resurrect this now defunct government agency.

As Washington continues to play politics with the bank, here are 10 facts you should remember about the Export-Import Bank.

Top Ten Ex-Im Facts

  1. Boeing, GE, and Caterpillar received 87% of Ex-Im loan guarantees in FY13.
  2. The Ex-Im Bank provided export financing for just 0.009 percent of America’s small businesses.
  3. The vast majority of exporters—98 percent—never received assistance from the Ex-Im Bank.
  4. Export financing didn’t create new jobs, but merely redistributed jobs across America’s economy.
  5. Among the top 10 buyers of Ex-Im exports, 5 were state-controlled and raked in millions of dollars from their own governments in addition to Ex-Im Bank subsidies.
  6. There are 31 open corruption and fraud investigations into the bank.
  7. The top beneficiaries of Ex-Im also had massive backlogs of orders, meaning jobs were not immediately lost when the bank expires.
  8. Ex-Im subsidies benefited China, Venezuela, Cuba, and Russia. State-owned foreign airlines have received $16 billion in subsidized financing since 2009.
  9. Taxpayers were on the hook for nearly $140 billion in the Ex-Im loan portfolio.
  10. The companies advocating for the reauthorization of Ex-Im have admitted they do NOT actually need it.

Don’t let the Export-Import come back from the dead.

Join us in the fight to #EndExIm by emailing your Representatives and urge them to oppose reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.

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What You Need to Know: Boehner’s Zombie Budget

When John Boehner announced his resignation from Speaker of the House at the end of September, he stated his intent to “clean the barn” before the arrival of the next speaker. Now, with just a few days left in his speakership, Boehner and his leadership team have bundled together the massive Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. The bill is expected on the House floor before the leadership election later this week.

Like most massive budget deals, the act bundles together massive increases in spending and an increase of the debt limit, in exchange for token promises and minor changes. Here are a few of the problems with the act.

$1.5 Trillion Debt Limit Increase

Established in 1917, the U.S. debt limit is a legal cap on the total amount of national debt that can be issued by the U.S. Treasury. Intended to serve as a red flag for excessive federal spending, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) notes that the debt ceiling “imposes a form of fiscal accountability that compels Congress and the President to take visible action to allow further federal borrowing when the federal government spends more than it collects in revenues.”

But in recent years, the debt limit has been “suspended” indiscriminately by a Congress that has abandoned responsible budget practices. The current debt limit sits at $18.1 trillion, though the U.S. Treasury hit the limit in March and has been employing “extraordinary measures” to continue payments on the national debt. The Treasury currently estimates that it will run out of extraordinary measures on November 3, 2015.

This deadline should provide an opportunity for lawmakers to reevaluate current spending levels and make needed financial reforms. GOP lawmakers should use the debt limit as leverage to extract significant spending concessions from Democrats, who constantly push for a “clean” debt limit raise, if not an outright abolition of a cap they call “archaic.”

But instead of pressing the fight for conservative spending reforms, this bill will further suspend the debt limit until March 2017 equal to $1.5 trillion in new debt. According to Congressional Quarterly, this was bundled with other budget provisions so Republicans could “sell the package as raising the debt limit in exchange for constraints on spending,” while Democrats tout a clean debt limit increase to their constituents.

Budget Cap Busting

Established by the Budget Control Act of 2011, the budget caps are a limit on the federal government’s discretionary spending. These caps ostensibly force fiscal responsibility by mandating sequestration cuts if Congress continues out-of-control spending and fails to accomplish its stated aims of deficit reduction. But instead, this bill raises the caps, authorizing an additional $80 billion worth of spending over the next two years. In addition to an $80 billion cap increase, the bill provides for an additional $32 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funding which is not subject to the caps, combining for a total $112 billion spending increase over two years. The bill also allocates additional funding of $484 million over the caps for Social Security fraud enforcement over the next four years.

Social Security Disability Bailout

The SSDI program is broken and insolvent, and registered it sixth annual net deficit in 2014 – declining by $30.2 billion since 2013. Each dollar awarded was only paired with 77 cents in payroll tax contributions. Keeping the fund solvent would require either cutting benefits by 20% or increasing taxes by 17%. But the problem is worse – the $30.2 billion deficit comes despite a series of interest payments into the fund from previous loans issued to prop up other programs – payments which come out of general revenues. The deficit caused by these payments has added up to $213 billion over the past decade.

The reason for this unsustainability is a drastic increase in the number of individuals on disability. While workers are healthier and jobs are safer, the percentage of the working-age population on disability increased from 2.3% to 5.1% over the past 15 years. This increase comes as a response to perverse incentives instituted by Congress in 1978, which added non-medical, vocational factors such as age, education, and ability to speak English to the list of disability qualifications (so-called “grid factors”). Currently, about 43 percent of disability awards are based on these factors. In the 1980s, Congress further loosened standards, causing a higher portion of disability awards to be based on difficult-to-verify claims such as depression and musculoskeletal pain. These subjective standards are often arbitrary, leading to inconsistent application and an ability to game the system.

In order to keep the fund afloat, Democrats have advocated reallocating a portion of payroll taxes from Old Age and Survivor’s Insurance (OASI) – the more well-known Social Security program – to the disability fund. This raid will cause OASI to run dry sooner. This budget act embraces this policy, using OASI to bail out the disability fund for six years, in exchange for token concession that do not address the perverse incentives at the foundation of the program.

Medicare Spending Increase

Medicare is in need of serious reform at the core. The current system is built on a model of arbitrary price controls that are unresponsive to changes in the market, either causing taxpayer dollars to be wasted or payments to be set too low to justly compensate the physician. The bureaucracy that has emerged surrounding Medicare has drastically skewed the healthcare services market, causing medical costs across the board to skyrocket. The program needs to shift to a model of premium support that fosters competition in the healthcare market.

At the start of 2016, insurance premiums for 30% of seniors covered under Medicare Part B (those not living on a fixed income) are set to increase from $104.90 a month to $159.30 – a 50% increase. This increase is intended to subsidize rising costs for all seniors on Medicare (due to a provision that prevents premiums from rising for seniors who live on a fixed Social Security income). This hike should serve as a red flag and prompt reform, but Congress has instead painted it as a false choice between increasing Medicare spending or allowing medicare premiums to increase.

Predictably, this bill continues Congress’s tired old tactic of throwing money at a problem. The bill freezes premiums at $120 per month, increasing the cost of Medicare for taxpayers.

Gimmicky Offsets

The bill uses gimmicky offsets to provide some illusion of fiscal responsibility. For instance, Congress has promised to extend sequestration time for an additional two years, from 2023 to 2025, with the idea that future cuts will support current overspending. This is a gimmick meant to provide justification for spending now.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 is precisely what one would expect in a behemoth budget conglomeration – spending hikes, increased debt, and plenty of showy gimmicks to hide the expansion of government. This bill should be rejected unequivocally, and the GOP conference should get back to work, using each point of legislative leverage individually to extract meaningful conservative reforms.

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Reconciliation: Americans deserve the full repeal of Obamacare

This week, the House will be considering the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act, which would repeal the individual and employer mandates from Obamacare, as well as place a one-year moratorium on some Planned Parenthood funding. Heritage Action has endorsed the use of the tool to repeal Obamacare in its entirety, but believes this use of reconciliation is a mistake and that the bill should be opposed.

In the Obamacare fight, reconciliation’s aim is to set a legislative precedent for a Republican president to follow. Forcing a presidential veto of a bill repealing Obamacare will cause every presidential candidate to answer a simple question – what would you have done? Every serious Republican candidate will answer that they would repeal it in a heartbeat. But if reconciliation is simply used to remove a few provisions, it does not provoke the conversation and force a Republican nominee to continue to support repealing Obamacare in its entirety.

In addition to leaving one of Planned Parenthood’s main funding sources intact, the reconciliation tool is ineffective in defunding Planned Parenthood because it does not contain sufficient leverage to succeed. The reconciliation tool can only place a standalone bill on the President’s desk, which would be promptly vetoed. But because of the recent Center for Medical Progress videos, there is sufficient political will to carry a defund effort past the finish line. Those seeking to use reconciliation for Planned Parenthood prematurely concede defeat and content themselves with “putting a bill on the President’s desk,” when a legislative rider on the continuing resolution could succeed.

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