Amendments to House 2018 Omnibus Spending Package (H.R. 3354)

Heritage Action will key vote the following amendment(s) to the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2018 [Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act of 2018] (H.R. 3354).

Key Vote Alert: “YES” on McClintock Amendment to reduce funding for the Essential Air Service Program by $150 million (#85)

The House will vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) to H.R. 3354, the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending measure. The amendment would reduce funding for the Essential Air Services (EAS) program by $150 million and apply the savings to the spending reduction account.

The EAS program provides subsidies to commuter and regional airlines to increase service to rural airports that may not be economically viable absent federal subsidies. Michael Sargent, Policy Analyst in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, specifically critiques the EAS program in his report on the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016:

“Furthermore, the bill maintains the wasteful Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes rural flights that are less than half full on average and often nearly empty. This inefficient program was originally intended to be temporary and subsidizes convenience for a small group of travelers at the expense of taxpayers and the overall aviation system. It should be eliminated.”

Conservatives have long sought to eliminate, reduce or otherwise reform the EAS program as it has outgrown its original purpose and continues to grow in cost. The Congressional Budget Office identified the program in its deficit reduction options report released in December. The Government Accountability Office recommended in its annual report on duplicative government programs that Congress pursue more efficient alternatives to EAS.

While the program should be eliminated altogether (and doing so on the mandatory side would save $299 million in FY 2018), the $150 million discretionary reduction proposed in the McClintock Amendment is a good first step to reduce spending on a program that has increased 600 percent since 1996. As lawmakers struggle to reduce America’s crushing debt and deficits, eliminating this subsidy should be an easy lift.

Heritage Action supports the McClintock Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

Key Vote Alert: “YES” on Budd Amendment to eliminate a $900 million Amtrak ‘earmark’ between Newark and New York City (#83)

The House will vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) to H.R. 3354, the  fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending measure. The amendment would eliminate $900 million in specifically designated spending contained in the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) appropriations bill that would go directly to the Gateway project – a $29.5 billion tunnel, bridge and infrastructure project intended to improve Amtrak’s passenger rail service between Newark and New York City. Partial funding for this project comes from eliminating the wasteful Obama-era Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program.

Including $900 million in an underlying appropriations bill to the benefit of two states is not the right way to fund our nation’s infrastructure projects. The Gateway project may deserve funding, but this should be done at the state and local level, or at the very least through a fair and open legislative process. The Trump administration agrees with this perspective. In its Statement of Policy on T-HUD, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) writes:

“The Administration appreciates that the bill supports the FY 2018 Budget request to eliminate funding for TIGER Grants, given that Federal funding should not be directed to projects with localized benefits that often do not rise to the level of national or regional significance.”   

By eliminating the TIGER grant program and the Gateway Project earmark, the Budd Amendment honors both the Trump administration’s position and the spirit of the six-year commitment to ban earmarks made by congressional Republicans. This amendment would transfer $474 million from the TIGER grant program toward deficit reduction. The rest of the $900 million earmark would go into the national New Starts Account rather than a single pet project, allowing projects around the country, including the Gateway project, to secure funding in a transparent way.

Michael Sargent, Policy Analyst in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, issued the following statement:

“By eliminating the TIGER program and allocating the savings to deficit reduction, the Budd amendment will end federal funding of streetcars, pedestrian promenades, and countless other wasteful local projects, laudably allocating the savings not for more spending elsewhere (as is general practice), but to limit the fiscal burden on future generations. Furthermore, while the amendment could go further by reducing funding for Capital Investment Grants, ridding the bill of a questionably inserted earmark is good policy that will prevent the future Congressional malpractice of directing spending to politically favored projects.”

Heritage Action supports the Budd Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

Key Vote Alert: “YES” on Grothman Amendment to reduce funding for the Project-Based Rental Assistance Housing Program by $266 million (#69)

The House will vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) to H.R. 3354, the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending measure. The amendment would reduce funding for the Project-Based Rental Assistance Housing Program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by $266 million and apply the savings to the spending reduction account.

H.R. 3354 currently funds several project-based and tenant-based programs that are duplicative or inefficient, including $10 billion for the Project-Based Rental Assistance Housing Program, which the Grothman Amendment reasonably proposes to reduce by $266 million.

In its “Blueprint for Reorganization: An Analysis of Federal Departments and Agencies,” The Heritage Foundation recommends transferring housing assistance programs to the states to cut waste and better address the needs of local populations:

“Returning financial responsibility for subsidized housing programs to the states is appropriate because housing needs, availability, and costs vary significantly across states and localities, as do the levels of needed and available assistance. Instead of primarily federally funded programs that often provide substantial benefits for some while leaving others in similar circumstances with nothing, the federal government should begin transferring the responsibility for both the administration and costs of low-income housing programs to the states. States are better equipped to assess and meet the needs of their populations, given their unique economic climates and housing situations.”

State and local governments are simply better equipped to navigate local housing needs. The Grothman Amendment is consistent with the conservative principle of federalism and seeks to protect taxpayers by cutting wasteful programs. A dose of fiscal restraint in our current legislative environment deserves the support of all Republicans.  

Heritage Action supports the Grothman Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

Key Vote Alert: “YES” on Norman Amendment to cut EPA funding (#64)

The House will vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) to H.R. 3354, the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending measure. The amendment would reduce total appropriations to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by $1,869,087,000.

The cuts proposed in the Norman Amendment align with the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal for the EPA. Diana Katz, Senior Research Fellow in Regulatory Policy, Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity at The Heritage Foundation wrote about the plan (which amounts to a “24 percent proposed cut to the EPA’s $8 billion budget”) shortly before its submission:

“In many respects, the need for an overhaul of the EPA has never been greater. The nation’s primary environmental statutes are woefully outdated and do not reflect current conditions. EPA officials routinely ignore regulatory costs, exaggerate benefits, and breach legislative and constitutional boundaries.”

The EPA is in a position to make this turnaround a reality. Heritage Action supported current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s nomination earlier this year. Pruitt and the Trump administration have already taken positive steps forward on the regulatory side, including rolling back an Obama administration overreach known as the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule.  

Nicolas Loris, Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow in Energy and Environmental Policy, Center for Free Markets and Regulatory Reform at The Heritage Foundation summarized priorities on the funding side:

“Cutting the EPA’s budget does not mean a world of unchecked polluters and environmental degradation in America. Tightening the agency’s purse will rein in the EPA’s heavy-handed, unilateral reach into the economy.”

The Norman Amendment would help restore the EPA to its role as a regulatory agency, not an environmental left-wing activist organization.

Heritage Action supports the Norman Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

Key Vote Alert: “YES” on Palmer Amendment to prohibit funding for D.C.’s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act (#33)

The House will vote on an amendment offered by Reps. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) to H.R. 3354, the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending measure. The amendment would prohibit funding to implement the D.C. Reproductive Health Non Discrimination Amendment Act (RHNDA).

As Heritage Action previously noted following RHNDA’s passage, the D.C. law would force pro-life employers in the District of Columbia to cover elective, surgical abortions in their health plans. The D.C. city council later amended RHNDA to clarify that the language should “not be construed to require an employer to provide insurance coverage related to a reproductive health decision.”

This clarification, however, is insufficient in addressing concerns because the act could still force religious and pro-life employers opposed to abortion to hire openly pro-choice employees. For private organizations to be required to hire someone with a viewpoint diametrically opposed to their core principles is a serious infringement on the right of free association.

The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson, William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy, and Sarah Torre, Visiting Fellow, Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, explain: “[r]ather than tinker with the legislation after the fact, the city should have never passed such a legally suspect law in the first place.”

RHNDA passed the D.C. city council in January of 2015. Following initial approval by the mayor, Heritage Action supported a congressional resolution of disapproval under the D.C. Home Rule to nullify the act. Despite passing the House, this push ultimately failed and the timeframe to outright nullify RHNDA under the Home Rule has since expired.

Fortunately, Congress remains within its constitutional authority to prohibit funding to implement RHNDA. This is exactly what the Palmer Amendment proposes. The Heritage Foundation explains:

“Congress has a special responsibility to protect the freedom of the people of the District of Columbia because of the power delegated to Congress by the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 8) to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever over such District”. Congress should, therefore, displace the effects of RHNDA…by appropriate provisions in the federal DC Appropriations Act to the extent necessary to protect religious liberty and the exercise of conscience.”

Failure to act on RHNDA would further embolden D.C. city council’s extreme political agenda, which continues to threaten pro-life organizations based in the District of Columbia and the religious liberty of all Americans.

Heritage Action supports the Palmer Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

Amendments relating to the Davis-Bacon Act and Project Labor Agreements

The Heritage Foundation has long opposed Davis-Bacon prevailing wage provisions, which “inflate federal construction costs by approximately 10 percent.” Similarly, Heritage notes that PLAs raise “the cost of public construction projects by 12 to 18 percent.” Heritage Action expects multiple amendments to suspend or otherwise eliminate the Davis-Bacon Act or Project Labor Agreements. Heritage Action encourages  lawmakers to support all those amendments and intends to add one Davis-Bacon vote and one PLA vote to the scorecard.

“YES” on the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act (H.R. 2997)

In September, the House could vote on the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act (H.R. 2997), introduced by Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.). The bill would turn the Air Traffic Control (ATC) system into a standalone government-sanctioned, non-profit corporation and reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for fiscal years 2018-2023.    

While not perfect, the 21st Century AIRR Act represents a substantial improvement over American’s current aviation system that has fallen well behind our foreign counterparts due to excessive government regulation and a broken aviation finance system. Separating air traffic control services from federal government bureaucrats will allow the new entity to innovate and improve while ensuring safety remains the number one priority of FAA oversight.   

Heritage Action expressed a number of concerns with last year’s version of this bill and laid out four critical changes before moving forward, including the Budget Committee “ensur[ing] that the BCA caps in 2020 and 2021 are adjusted down” to reflect the bill’s projected savings and the Ways and Means Committee “report[ing] their tax-reducing portion of the bill.”

In addition to tackling those problems, H.R. 2997 addressed several critically flawed labor provisions identified by conservatives. Michael Sargent, Policy Analyst in Transportation and Infrastructure at The Heritage Foundation explains in his recent report 2018 FAA Reauthorization: Potential for Positive Air Traffic Control Reforms, But More Policy Improvements Needed:

“Significantly, the bill also improves on the 2016 AIRR Act by explicitly laying out penalties for workers who participate in a strike, work stoppage, or slowdown against the corporation, and ensures speedy resolution of labor disputes (Sections 91109 and 91107, respectively). Furthermore, Section 91104 prohibits supervisors and managers from joining a union, another improvement over the 2016 AIRR Act.”

Reforming our nation’s air traffic control services would not represent a significant improvement over the status quo if the new corporation is hamstrung by union demands. These updated labor provisions in the 21st Century AIRR Act ensure air traffic control services cannot be held hostage by labor unions — ensuring a key Reagan legacy is preserved.

Congress could take additional steps to strengthen the bill by 1) uncapping the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) and lowering Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants and ticket taxes proportionally so our nation’s airports can become self-sufficient, 2) eliminating the wasteful essential air service (EAS) program that “subsidizes convenience for a small group of travelers at the expense of taxpayers and the overall aviation system,” and 3) establishing federalism in the regulation of small unmanned aircraft operations in low altitude airspace. These are important policies that deserve full, open debate and votes on the House floor.

These conservative reforms would benefit both the consumer and taxpayer, but as Sargent acknowledges, the bill is still “an improvement over the existing system and a step in the right direction for establishing an independent, market-driven provider of air traffic control” especially in light of the disappointing Senate proposal that “solidifies the broken status quo and exacerbates many existing problems.”

Some members of Congress remain opposed to the 21st Century AIRR Act due to concerns expressed by the General Aviation (GA) community. Those claims stand in stark contrast to the degree to which the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee attempted to appease their concerns. For example, the bill exempts GA aircraft from all future fees levied by the new corporation in Section 90313(d)(7) while also providing them two seats on the new corporate board. These provisions alone are generous considering under the current system, business jets pay less than 1 percent of total aviation taxes that support air traffic control but account for more than 10 percent of controlled operations.

Congress should not allow special interest groups to undermine substantial reforms to our broken aviation system in an effort to protect the status quo. As The Heritage Foundation wrote in 1982, “The only interest groups likely to oppose [a private sector approach] are general aviation and the FAA bureaucracy itself.” The reforms included in the 21st Century AIRR Act will help modernize and improve the system, spur innovation, and increase consumer choice to the benefit of the aviation community as a whole.

***Heritage Action supports H.R. 2997 and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.***        

Heritage Foundation: Another Bogus Score for Air Traffic Control Reform (2017)
Heritage Foundation: 2018 FAA Reauthorization: Potential for Positive Air Traffic Control Reforms, But More Policy Improvements Needed (2017)
Heritage Foundation: End of the Runway: Rethinking the Airport Improvement Program and the Federal Role in Airport Funding (2016)
Heritage Foundation: Senate’s FAA Authorization Perpetuates Big-Government Intrusion into Aviation Industry (2016)
Heritage Action: Concerns Emerge on House FAA Overhaul (2016)

Amendments to House Security Minibus (H.R. 3219)

Heritage Action will key vote the following amendments to H.R. 3219, or Security “Minibus,” which provides fiscal year 2018 appropriations for Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Energy and Water, and Legislative Branch.

In addition to the key votes specified below, Heritage Action intends to key vote against at least one of the amendments (Castor #38, Norcross #39, Quigley #40, Polis #41, Perry #43, Esty #44, Larson #45) that increase funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. The Heritage Foundation’s budget blueprint recommends eliminating the entire office:

“YES” on the Congressional Disapproval of the CFPB’s “Arbitration Rule” (H.J. Res. 111)

Today the House is scheduled to vote on a Joint Resolution (H.J. Res. 111) providing for congressional disapproval of the rule issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Protection Bureau (CFPB) related to “Arbitration Agreements.” Sponsored by Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.), H.J. Res. 111 would use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn a new rule issued by the CFPB intended to ban financial service providers (banks, credit card companies, small dollar lenders, etc.) from using mandatory arbitration clauses to resolve their disputes and avoid class action lawsuits.    

Arbitration has a long history of providing consumers with efficient, cost-effective and fair results in disputes with financial service providers. The Heritage Foundation explains the “only real alternative” to arbitration is “expensive and time-consuming litigation that in many cases does more to line trial lawyers’ pockets than redress consumers’ injuries.” In other words, “any action to curtail arbitration would only injure consumers and workers.” In a recent commentary, Norbert Michel, Director of the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation, elaborated:

“Many trial lawyers oppose arbitration because it denies them of exorbitant class-action lawsuit fees—it is an inexpensive alternative to courtroom litigation. Arbitration is undeniably a fair and effective alternative for resolving disputes, particularly between businesses and consumers. Proponents of the bureau’s rule are upset that financial services companies often use mandatory arbitration clauses in their contracts, thus preventing customers from resolving disputes through class-action litigation.”

Congress authorized the CFPB to study arbitration agreements in the misnamed Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010. According to Diane Katz, Senior Research Fellow in Regulatory Policy at The Heritage Foundation:

“The statute also authorized the bureau to regulate arbitration agreements “if the bureau finds that such a prohibition or imposition of conditions or limitations is in the public interest and for the protection of consumers. The findings in such rule shall be consistent with the study conducted under subsection (a).” The bureau produced an arbitration study in 2015, but the content was methodologically meaningless and the rule is not, in fact, consistent with the study.”

In response to the CFPB study, more than 50 members of Congress called upon Director Richard Cordray to reexamine the bureau’s “fatally-flawed study.” The Arbitration Rule is just the latest of many unwarranted and costly regulations perpetrated by the CFPB that undermine consumer choice and offend the Constitution’s separation of powers.

Ultimately, Congress should act to eliminate the CFPB altogether or at least dismantle the Bureau as outlined in the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017 (H.R. 10). In the meantime, passing H.J. Res. 111 will protect consumers and send a clear message to federal agencies that Article I’s legislative powers are vested in Congress, not Washington, D.C. bureaucrats.

***Heritage Action supports H.J. Res. 111 and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.***        

Heritage Foundation: The Unfair Attack on Arbitration: Harming Consumers by Eliminating a Proven Dispute Resolution System (2013)
Heritage Foundation: Time to Eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (2016)
Heritage Action: Congress Must Roll Back CFPB’s Costly Arbitration Rule (2017)
Heritage Foundation: This Official Had the Spine to Stand Up to the Powerful CFPB. Congress Should Follow His Lead (2017)
Heritage Foundation: House and Senate Set to Protect Consumers From an Overreaching Federal Agency (2017)

Co-Sponsorship of the Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act (H.R. 2832 / S. 1290)

The Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act (H.R. 2832 & S. 1290), introduced by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), would help reduce poverty and government dependency, increase self-sufficiency, restore families, and strengthen the effective and popular work requirements on means-tested welfare programs that have been gutted by the Obama administration.

In 1996, President Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, which became popularly known as “welfare reform,” into law. The legislation transformed the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) into Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a program intended to provide temporary financial assistance to low-income families while encouraging work and self-sufficiency. Most significantly, the 1996 welfare reform included mandatory federal work requirements, stipulating that welfare recipients must be engaged in work or some type of work activity in order to receive TANF benefits.

According to Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow in Domestic Policy Studies in the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity at the Heritage Foundation, and Rachel Sheffield’s paper Setting Priorities for Welfare Reform:

“Mandatory federal work requirements for recipients were at the heart of the change, which led to significant decreases in the program’s rolls, increased work among former recipients, and historic reductions in child poverty.”

Despite the success of the 1996 welfare reform, 20 years later there’s still much to be done to ensure that the welfare system moves people toward work and self-sufficiency rather than toward government dependency. Rector and Sheffield continue:

“The United States’ means-tested welfare system [still] consists of over 80 programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and social services to poor and lower-income Americans. Total annual spending on these programs reached $1 trillion in 2015. More than 75 percent of this funding comes from the federal government….

“Although the welfare reform of the 1990s was popular and initially successful, it was actually quite limited. Of 80 welfare programs, only TANF was reformed, and even in TANF, the vigor of reform has nearly disappeared.”

Rep. Jordan and Sen. Lee have restarted the conversation, advocating for conservative reforms that will help reduce poverty and government dependency, increase self-sufficiency, restore families, and strengthen the effective and popular work requirements that have been gutted by the Obama administration. These ideas, and more, are found in the most comprehensive and serious welfare reform legislation introduced since Republicans regained control of Congress in 2010: The newly reintroduced Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act (H.R. 2832/S. 1290).

The bill contains five major policy reforms:

  1.      Improves accounting of government welfare spending by requiring the federal government to report all means-tested welfare spending–including state and local––as well as to report estimated spending levels over the next decade.
  2.      Strengthens work requirements for all able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDS) who receive food stamps (SNAP). Similar reforms have been implemented in Maine, Kansas, and Alabama with great success. It also creates a new work requirement for parents in SNAP, modeled after the 1996 TANF law.
  3.      Strengthens TANF work requirements by implementing a new “work preparation requirement” for the 50% of the TANF caseload that is currently completely idle.
  4.      Phases down the federal involvement in subsidized housing programs by decreasing the federal share of funding by 50% over ten years and transferring fiscal responsibility for these programs to the states.
  5.      Prohibits any funding for abortion.

While there is more to be done to achieve comprehensive welfare reform, such as rooting out fraud in the Earned Income Tax Credit and Additional Child Tax Credit and eliminating marriage penalties, Senator Lee and Congressman Jordan’s Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act is not just a white paper, but a serious and significant first step toward real welfare reform.

This bill builds on the successful 1996 law by restoring and strengthening TANF work requirements and by placing real work requirements into SNAP, the second largest means-tested welfare program in operation today. It requires accountability for welfare spending and moves toward creating true federalism in America’s welfare system. If enacted, this legislation would be the start of Welfare Reform 2.0, by compassionately encouraging work while saving the taxpayers trillions of dollars over the next twenty years.

Heritage Action supports H.R. 2832 / S. 1290 and will include CO-SPONSORSHIP of this legislation in our scorecard.