Key Vote: “NO” on FY17 Omnibus Spending Bill (H.R. 244)

This week, the House and Senate will consider the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 (H.R. 244), a 1,665-page omnibus spending package that would fund the federal government through September 30, 2017. The Heritage Foundation explains that while the bill, which was released publicly at 2 AM Monday morning, “does make progress” on some issues, “it woefully fails the test of fiscal responsibility and does not advance important conservative policies.”  

Many conservatives went along with a short-term continuing resolution last December based on a promise that the current deadline would be used to advance key policy priorities. Instead, the bill is widely viewed as a rebuke to President Trump’s agenda and conservative priorities.

Overall, the Trump administration requested an additional $30 billion in military, $1.5 billion to continue construction of the southern border wall, and $18 billion in discretionary cuts. The bill provides only $15 billion for defense (of which $2.5 billion is withheld until the administration submits a plan to combat ISIS), provides no funding for the border wall, and actually increases domestic discretionary spending. Through a combination of emergency funding and overseas contingency operations funds, the bill pushes discretionary spending $93 billion above the budget caps.

The Trump administration was rebuked at the program level as well. The Department of Energy’s Office of Science will receive an additional $42 million, whereas the administration requested a $900 million reduction. Funding for Community Development Block Grants was kept level despite a $1.5 billion requested reduction. The list goes on, as CQ Roll Call reported (sub. req’d) earlier this week: “Trump proposed killing off more than a dozen federal programs in his fiscal 2018 budget outline, but it doesn’t appear appropriators are inclined to reduce or eliminate federal funding for any of those line items.”

Liberals celebrated the bill as a victory over President Trump and claimed they successfully blocked “more than 160 Republican poison pill riders.” Heritage notes the omnibus “fails to advance almost any key conservative policies” as “it would continue to provide funding for Planned Parenthood and do nothing to restrict funding to sanctuary cities.”

Along with a lack of conservative policy riders, the bill contains a $1.3 billion bailout for the United Workers of America, a union that represents about 10 percent of all coal production in the U.S. today. Coal miners deserve proper health care and retirement benefits, but it is the job of the union and private companies that made those promises, not taxpayers, to provide those benefits.

H.R. 244 contains a second health care bailout to Puerto Rico. In passing a bill to help Puerto Rico restructure its debts last year, lawmakers promised there would be no cash bailout. Yet, this bill would give the mismanaged and politically corrupt Puerto Rican government $296 million in taxpayer dollars to cover their shortage in Medicaid funds.  

Coupled with these two bailouts, the omnibus spending bill also funds liberal priorities and initiatives. H.R. 244 includes millions in increased funding for Department of Energy (DOE) pet projects, national parks, Amtrak, Head Start, college tuition assistance, the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and even a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sage grouse conservation project.

When spending bills provide more funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) than border security, as this bill does, it’s fair for conservatives to ask if this resembles more of an Obama administration-era spending bill than a Trump one.

The Heritage Foundation’s Justin Bogie and Rachel Greszler acknowledge the bill “does make progress” on some issues, but they add:

“Unfortunately, the additional $15 billion in defense spending is only half of what President Donald Trump requested earlier this year and is inadequate to meet global threats facing the country.

“The additional $1.5 billion for border security is important in the battle to curb illegal immigration. However, none of these funds can be used for construction of a border wall, one of the president’s top priorities.

“Unfortunately, none of the increases in spending proposed by this bill would be offset. Earlier this year, the president released a ‘skinny budget’ which proposed $18 billion in 2017 cuts, yet none of those cuts made it into the latest budget deal.”

Heritage Action opposes H.R. 244 and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.  

Heritage: Massive Spending Bill Fails to Meet Conservative Priorities

Key Vote: “YES” on the Nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court

Later this week, the Senate is expected to vote on the confirmation of Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Judge Gorsuch was nominated by President Donald Trump on January 31, 2017.

Judge Gorsuch is a Supreme Court nominee very much in the mold of the late Justice Antonin Scalia who will, based on his record, interpret the text of the U.S. Constitution as originally written and honor the separation of powers laid out in the Constitution. One recent study singled out Gorsuch as one of the top judges whose approach to interpreting the law was closest to that of Justice Scalia’s approach. Gorsuch ranked second out of 15 judges in “Scalia-ness.”

Gorsuch is a “judge’s judge” who maintains a record of deciding cases based on the law rather than political or personal opinions, or a willingness to create unwritten rights supposedly hidden between the lines. He once wrote: “In our legal order it is for Congress and not the courts to write new laws. It is the role of judges to apply, not alter, the work of the people’s representatives. A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge, reaching for results he prefers rather than those the law compels.”

John Malcom, Heritage Foundation Director of the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and the Ed Gilbertson and Sherry Lindberg Gilbertson Senior Legal Fellow, writes:

“Gorsuch has thought deeply about the judge’s proper role in our society and about separation of powers — a constitutional construct that serves to protect the liberties of all Americans. He understands that policy judgments are to be made by legislators, not judges.

“In a tribute to Scalia, Gorsuch noted that “legislators may appeal to their own moral convictions and to claims about social utility to reshape the law as they think it should be in the future.” However, he observed, judges are different. Their job is “to apply the law as it is, focusing backward, not forward, and looking to text, structure and history to decide what a reasonable reader at the time of the events in question would have understood the law to be — not to decide cases based on their own moral convictions or the policy consequences they believe might serve society best.

“Clearly, then, Gorsuch is a judge cut from the same mold as Scalia. He approaches important cases by studying the text and structure of the Constitution and trying to interpret its words and phrases in accordance with how those words and phrases would have been understood by the people who ratified them. As he put it so eloquently in one of his opinions, the Constitution “isn’t some inkblot on which litigants may project their hopes and dreams … but a carefully drafted text judges are charged with applying according to its original public meaning.”

During his ten years on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Gorsuch demonstrated a robust record of conservative jurisprudence. He upheld religious liberty rights of employers to not pay for health insurance plans that violated their religious beliefs in the cases of Hobby Lobby v. Burwell and Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell. He also challenged the practice of Chevron deference in Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch, which forces judges to defer to a federal agency’s interpretation of their own ambiguous statute. And he defended the Fourth Amendment rights of property owners from unreasonable searches and seizures from the federal government in United States v. Carloss.

Judge Gorsuch is a highly-qualified nominee with a long list of credentials. He received his bachelor’s degree with honors from Columbia University in 1998 and went on to attend Harvard Law School as a Harry Truman Scholar, graduating in 1991 with honors. After law school, he attended Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar, and he received his Doctorate in Philosophy in 2004. Gorsuch clerked for Justice Byron White and Justice Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court as well as Judge David Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. On July 20, 2006, Judge Gorsuch was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals by a voice vote, without recorded opposition. 11 current Democrat Senators, including current Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, were in office when Judge Gorsuch was confirmed.

Neal Katyal, who served as acting solicitor general in the Obama administration, stated:

“I have no doubt that, if confirmed, Judge Gorsuch would help to restore confidence in the rule of law. His years on the bench reveal a commitment to judicial independence — a record that should give the American people confidence that he will not compromise principle to favor the president who appointed him.”

Judge Neil Gorsuch is a highly-qualified nominee who will, based on his record, interpret the text of the Constitution as it was written, honor the separation of powers, uphold the rule of law, and defend religious liberty and all other individual rights established in the Constitution.

Over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell explained that “filibustering judges at all is a rather recent phenomenon” and noted that Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed 52 to 48, and even though he was controversial at the time, “not a single senator said, ‘He has to get 60 votes.’”  The Senate should carry out its ‘Advise and Consent’ role and confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.    

Heritage Action supports the Gorsuch nomination and will include his confirmation vote on our legislative scorecard.

Related Links:
A Closer Look at Neil Gorsuch, an Excellent Choice for the Supreme Court
Trump’s Supreme Court Pick Is Antonin Scalia’s Mirror Image
Approach to The Law Makes Gorsuch Good Fit For Supreme Court
Judge Gorsuch Deserves Support For Supreme Court
Legal Experts Say Hearings Show Gorsuch Will Be ‘Excellent’ Justice, Predict Confirmation
6 Takeaways From Neil Gorsuch’s First Day of Questioning

Key Vote: “YES” on Disapproval of the HHS Rule requiring Title X funds to go to Planned Parenthood

This week, the Senate will consider House-passed H.J.Res. 43,a disapproval resolution sponsored by Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) 85% and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) 60%. The disapproval resolution would overturn a  final rule submitted by Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) relating to compliance with Title X requirements by project recipients in selecting sub-recipients. Title X of the Public Health Service Act provides federal funds to states for family planning grants. Once states receive the funds, they have the ability to prioritize subrecipients, directing funds to organizations like community health centers and family health clinics. While federal law prohibits government funding for abortion, it does allow certain public dollars, like the Title X grants, to support abortion providers if the funds are directed to non-abortion related health services. Under this exception, Planned Parenthood has been eligible to receive Title X funds, per the states’ discretion.

Key Vote: “YES” on the Nomination of Scott Pruitt for EPA Administrator

This week, the Senate is expected to vote on the confirmation of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be the next Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt was nominated by President Donald Trump on December 7, 2016.

Attorney General Pruitt has a long and distinguished record of defending American values and prioritizing the wellbeing of American families over big government policies, which makes him an excellent choice to lead one of the largest regulatory agencies in our country. During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Pruitt demonstrated expertise on environmental laws and championed the states’ roles in implementing those laws, highlighting the importance of cooperative federalism. Previously, he served as an Oklahoma State Senator from 1998 to 2006 and then as Oklahoma’s Attorney General from 2011 until he was nominated to lead the EPA.

During his time as AG of Oklahoma, Pruitt led the charge against then-President Obama’s repeated regulatory overreach, filing briefs in 14 lawsuits against the EPA. Most notably, he led the fight against the egregious “Waters of the United States” rule – a regulation so overreaching that it would have subjected even small ditches to federal regulation. He also worked to protect small businesses and hardworking Americans from the devastating impacts of the EPA’s mercury regulation for power plants and climate change regulations. Heritage Foundation expert Nicolas Loris writes in his article Scott Pruitt Provides an Opportunity to Rein in a Rogue EPA:

“…critics of Pruitt questioned his ability to lead an agency he has sued as a state attorney general. But as attorney general, that’s exactly what he is supposed to do: protect his state from overreach when the EPA does not comply with the law.

“And he wasn’t the only one. Twenty-seven states sued the Obama administration over the Clean Power Plan global warming regulations, and similarly, 27 states sued over the EPA’s Waters of the United States regulation that is a massive threat to private property rights.

“If you’ve heard anything from the activists protesting Pruitt’s nomination, you’d think he’s going to lead the United States on a path to the air and water quality of China. But the truth is that Pruitt has an opportunity to lead a responsible EPA, not an overzealous one like it is today.”

Mr. Pruitt’s commitment to prudent environmental protections that help ensure American’s have access to clean air and water is evident. During his time as AG he negotiated a deal to protect the Illinois River by reducing phosphorus via runoff controls. He also negotiated a water deal with between the state, local Tribes and Oklahoma City to protect the environment and water sources, ending a 19th century dispute. Pruitt even sued BP for double-dipping in the reclamation fund.

At the same time, Mr. Pruitt has demonstrated an even more fundamental commitment to the Constitution and rule of law. His leadership is exactly what is needed at this time to rein in an out-of-control EPA. Confirming Mr. Pruitt as EPA Administrator is a critical first step toward restoring the appropriate balance between both economic growth and environmental protection, limited regulation, a timely approval process, and prioritizing the role of states in local regulation by the EPA, instead of promoting a liberal agenda.

Heritage Action supports the Pruitt nomination and will include his confirmation vote on our legislative scorecard.

Key Vote: “YES” on the Nomination of Senator Sessions for Attorney General

Tonight, the Senate is expected to vote on the confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to be the next Attorney General of the United States. Senator Sessions was nominated by President Donald Trump on November 18, 2016.

There is no question that Senator Sessions is an excellent choice to restore law, order and a respect for the Constitution to a Justice Department that became little more than a radical political operation under former President Obama. In his opening remarks, Sessions made clear he would change course:

“In the last several years, law enforcement as a whole has been unfairly maligned and blamed for the unacceptable actions of a few bad actors. They believe the political leadership of this country abandoned them.”

It should come as no surprise then that numerous federal and state law enforcement officers, including former National Drug Control Policy Director Bob Bennett, National Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Jonathan Thompson, and former Deputy Attorney General of the United States Larry Thompson, have praised President Trump’s nomination of Sessions.

Former Justice Department official Hans A. von Spakovsky, who is currently a Senior Legal Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, explains the importance of Sessions nomination at this moment in our nation’s history:

“In a time where we face a federal government that has expanded its power far outside the boundaries set by the Constitution, often with the help of the U.S. Supreme Court, having an attorney general who believes in the limited government intended by our Founders and respects the sovereignty of local governments is essential to preserving our freedoms, our liberties, and our constitutional republic.

“Sessions’ experience as a U.S. senator also gives him a valuable perspective on the job at Justice.  He understands and appreciates the importance of the constitutional oversight role of Congress.  This is important given the dismissive and contemptuous attitude displayed by former Attorney General Eric Holder and other Obama political appointees towards congressional oversight.”

During his confirmation hearing, Sessions made clear the lack of enforcement of existing laws is causing problems in our nation. In particular, America’s immigration system “has not been working right,” Sessions said. “We’ve entered more and more millions of people illegally into the country. Each one of them produces some sort of humanitarian concern. But it is particularly true for children. We’ve been placed in a particularly bad situation.”

Sessions also realized there are key areas of overreach, specifically noting a secretive DOJ program known as Operation Choke Point. “A lawful business should not be attacked by having other lawful businesses pressured not to do business with the first business,” Sessions said.

Prior to serving four terms as Senator from Alabama, Sessions was an Army Captain, and the Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. In 1981 Senator Sessions was nominated by President Reagan and confirmed by the Senate to serve as the United States Attorney for Alabama’s Southern District, serving from 1981 until 1993. Sessions was then elected Alabama Attorney General in 1995, serving as the state’s chief legal officer until 1997, when he was elected to the United States Senate.  

His experience, record and commitment to the United States Constitution make Sessions a tremendously well-qualified and much-need nominee.  

Heritage Action supports the Sessions nomination and will include his confirmation vote on our legislative scorecard.