Update on Congress

Last week, the House passed H.R. 268, a $12.1 billion disaster relief bill. This is a $4 billion increase from the disaster aid bill that was unresolved at the end of the last Congress. The bill provides aid to those affected by last year’s natural disasters.

Since this is ”emergency” spending there is no need for Congress to concern itself with budget limitations or offsetting any spending. Many of the provisions of the bill have little or nothing to do with disaster relief. For instance, it authorizes $52 million for health care services through Medicaid for America territories. It also changed the federal cost share for some relief for Puerto Rico to 100%.

Perhaps the worst part of this bill is that it provides $1.1 billion for agricultural losses. The bill expands eligibility to cover poultry, livestock, milk, and private forests. The bill also provides disaster aid for 70% if losses suffered by farmers who did not buy private crop insurance even if insurance was available. Talk about a moral hazard! Why buy insurance when the government will cover most of your losses? (Oh maybe because if you bought insurance the government will cover 90% of your losses.)

The bill does require anyone who takes advantage of these programs to buy crop insurance, but it allows disaster payments to be used to pay the 1-3 percent of insurance premiums not always paid for by taxpayers.

Since FEMA has enough in their existing accounts to pay for all outstanding claims, this bill is not even necessary to help those suffering from disasters!

Here is the roll-call vote.

Every Democrat voted yes, while only the following six Republicans voted yes (Republicans vote against wasteful spending only when proposed by Democrats):

Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01)
Jamie Herrera Beutler (WA-03)
William Hurd (TX-23)
Christopher Smith (NJ-04)
Elsie Stefanik (NY-21)

This is the same bill the Senate Republicans are adding to the border security-Dreamer “fix” bill in hopes of “embarrassing” the Democrats by forcing them to vote against disaster relief. But Senate Republicans should be embarrassed by voting for a big spending bill that was rejected by the majority of their House GOP colleagues.

Last week, the cloture motion on S. 109 was held which prohibits taxpayer-funding of abortions. The vote was 48-47, with every Republican except Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voting for cloture and every Democrat voting against it.

Here is the roll-call vote.

Finally, the House passed, and the Senate rejected, a resolution disapproving of the administration’s lifting of sanctions against three Russian companies. Those voting for this resolution did so even though the companies are no longer controlled by the businessman whose alleged actions justified the sanctions.

Here is the Senate vote. Only nine Republicans voted for it:

John Boozman (AR)
Tom Cotton (AZ)
Steve Daines (MT)
Cory Gardner (CO)
Josh Hawley (MO)
John Kennedy (LA)
Martha McSally (AZ)
Jerry Moran (KS)
Marco Rubio (FL)
Ben Sasse (NE)

Here is the House vote. Every Democrat and most Republicans voted for it. Only 53 Republicans voted no.

Below is a piece by Daniel McAdams, Executive Director of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity on the vote:

The Democrat-controlled US House has broken with the Senate and voted in favor of House Joint Resolution 30, disapproving President Trump’s proposal to lift sanctions on three Russian-owned companies.

The original sanctions targeted Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska, who held a controlling stake in the three companies, United Co. Rusal, En+ Group Plc, and EuroSibEnergo JSC. Democrats in both chambers sought to force the president to maintain sanctions on the three companies despite Deripaska’s ouster from company leadership.

House Democrats – including “rebel” new Member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez –voted unanimously against lifting the sanctions, demonstrating that even among those touted as breaths of fresh air there is unanimity when it comes to promoting Cold War 2.0 with Russia.

The House vote to disapprove of sanctions relief comes one day after the Republican-controlled Senate managed to barely defeat a companion motion by a vote of 57-42, leaving the fate of the measure in serious question.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had traveled to Capitol Hill to urge Republicans to reject the Democrat measure. Continued sanctions on aluminum manufacturing giant Rusal, warned Mnuchin, could upset global aluminum markets. The Administration also noted that since the sanctions were on Deripaska himself and not the companies as such, after the removal of the Russian businessman from control of the companies the justification for sanctions was likewise removed.

With the requirements of the original sanctions the Russian firms met, a reversal by the US would signal once again that the US does not keep to its word in international matters.

After yesterday’s Senate vote, Democrats argued that honoring the terms of the agreement and lifting sanctions on the Russian firm would be a gift to Russian president Vladimir Putin. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, "In the face of this global assault on Western democracies, of course we have seen that the Trump administration has been shamefully and suspiciously weak on President Putin."

Despite passage in the House, the vote being apparently permanently stalled in the Senate suggests that the US Treasury Department will move forward with its plan announced Dec. 19 to lift sanctions against three companies.

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