“YES” on Amash Amendment to Strike $500 Million Buyoff

On Friday, the House will vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) 91% to H.R. 702, a bill that would lift the decades-old embargo on exporting crude oil.  A new, stealthily added provision to the bill would “increase the annual operating stipend for the 60 ship Maritime Security Fleet.”  The Amash Amendment would strike that provision, which has caused a good bill to become entangled in corporate welfare and a $500 million labor union buyoff.

The Maritime Security Program (MSP) was established in 1996 and currently provides contract payments of $3.1 million a year to vessels participating in the program.  The program was reauthorized for ten years on January 2, 2013.  Last week, 270 Representatives voted for the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1735), which included the following language:

SEC. 3504. PAYMENT FOR MARITIME SECURITY FLEET VESSELS. (a) PER-VESSEL AUTHORIZATION.—Notwithstanding section 53106(a)(1)(C) of title 46, United States Code, and subject to the availability of appropriations, there is authorized to be paid to each contractor for an operating agreement (as those terms are used in that section) for fiscal year 2016, $3,500,000 for each vessel that is covered by the operating agreement. (emphasis added)

That represents a 12.9-percent increase over current levels, whereas the bill intended to implement free-market energy changes would increase the funding per ship by 61.3 percent.  If providing $5 million per ship per year was truly a matter of national security, there is every reason to expect it would have been included in the defense bill that is now heading to the president’s desk.

Instead, the Wall Street Journal reports the provision “is aimed at enticing Democrats who might be on the fence on oil exports to support the legislation lifting the ban.”  It is reminiscent of the earmarking days, with taxpayer money being used to literally buy votes.  Earlier this week, Bloomberg BNA wrote that the $500 million provision was “a tweak backed by maritime unions that could draw more Democratic support for the bill.”   According to ClearView Energy Partners, a Washington research firm, the provision “seems transparently intended” to buy Democrat votes.  Another GOP lobbyists with ties to the oil industry said “As a Democrat, it’s hard to look at the maritime guys and say ‘no.’”

The payoff is even more incredible considering a new president – who will take office in about 15 months – has the authority to lift ban.  There is no reason lawmakers should cede to the cronyist demands of long-shore unions and a handful of massive, international shipping companies.

Washington isn’t broken. It is a well-oiled machine that works for the well-connected and responds to the well-heeled. This corrupt nexus of favoritism and cronyism tends to leave hardworking Americans behind. If the Republican-controlled House wants to change that perception, it will adopt the Amash Amendment and strip the $500 million provision from an otherwise commendable bill and redirect that money toward deficit reduction.

Heritage Action supports the Amash Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.  If the amendment is adopted, Heritage Action will also key vote in favor of H.R 702 and include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.