This Week in Congress: FISA and Spending

Here is the roll-call vote on the motion to proceed with Section 702 of the FISA Act. The vote means that Senator Rand Paul will be forced to end his filibuster and will not be able to offer the USA Rights Act as an amendment to the bill.

Campaign for Liberty will continue to fight to roll-back the surveillance state and restore our Constitutional rights. While it is disappointing to lose this vote, we are making progress in this fight. The Senate cloture vote took over an hour and the fact that they barely passed the bill is a sign of our progress.

Congress is also working on funding the government. At this point it looks like the plan is to pass another short-term funding bill. There is talk that the bill will include an extension of the Children Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and a delay of Obamacare’s “Cadillac” tax on “generous” employer-provided health Insurance plans, the health insurance tax, and the medical device tax. See here for more details.

When Congress finally passes their long-term spending bill the GOP’s defense hawks will finally get their dearest wish as the Republican leadership is willing to break the spending caps.

This story from Congressional Quarterly provides details:

GOP Seeking Nearly $250 Billion, Two-Year Spending Cap Increase

Jan. 10, 2018 – 5:17 p.m. - By Paul M. Krawzak, CQ

Republican leaders are considering a nearly $250 billion increase in discretionary spending caps over the next two years, with defense accounting for about 62 percent of the total, according to people familiar with the discussions.

A GOP proposal under discussion would raise the defense cap by $72 billion in fiscal 2018 and $80 billion in fiscal 2019, while increasing the nondefense cap by $45 billion in 2018 and $50 billion in 2019, a person with knowledge of the talks said.

Democrats are not on board at this point, which suggests the numbers could yet change, but Democratic and Republican leadership aides said it is possible to get a caps agreement by next week. That would give leaders time to possibly add language increasing the caps in the 2011 deficit reduction law (PL 112-25) to the next stopgap continuing resolution, which is necessary to avert a partial government shutdown after midnight Jan. 19.

GOP leaders are considering a short-term measure extending current appropriations levels until Feb. 16, though a March deadline has also been discussed, according to House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J.

Increasing the defense figure by $72 billion would match the increase allowed under the initial House version of the fiscal 2018 budget resolution (H Con Res 71), and incorporated into a 12-bill appropriations package (HR 3354) the House passed in September.

House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, pushed for the higher figure, and he and other defense hawks have urged GOP leaders not to come down from that number. The House defense appropriations bill also contained about $10 billion over President Donald Trump's request for defense funds with an Overseas Contingency Operations designation, exempting the money from discretionary caps.

The GOP proposal would also substantially boost nondefense appropriations, by about $50 billion over what the House approved in September on a mostly party-line vote. But Democrats — who are seeking equal dollar increases in the discretionary spending caps — said they have not agreed to those levels.

And a resolution of the ongoing standoff over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remained a key sticking point that potentially could derail a deal. Democrats are pushing hard for an agreement that removes the threat of deportation for so-called “Dreamers” in addition to other priorities including equal increases for defense and nondefense.

Democrats also are stressing the need for a reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a priority for many Republicans as well. Republicans are likely to include at least a five-year CHIP reauthorization in the stopgap appropriations bill next week, with the duration of the bill also potentially increasing after favorable scoring came back from the Congressional Budget Office on Tuesday.

Some Republicans think Democrats could be persuaded to accept $17 billion or more in what are called Changes in Mandatory Programs, or CHIMPs, as contributors to “parity,” the term Democrats use to describe equal dollar-for-dollar increases in defense and nondefense caps.

The CHIMPs are on the nondefense side and represent reductions in mandatory spending — sometimes illusory —which are used to increase discretionary spending by the same amount above statutory limits. If CHIMPs were included, the nondefense cap increase could be smaller than the defense increase, but Congress would have more discretionary dollars to spend than reflected in the cap increase.

GOP staff are also developing a package of tax cut extensions — typically called tax extenders — as well as cost sharing reduction subsidies or other initiatives aimed at reducing the cost of or increasing the availability of health care insurance, which could go in a budget deal. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and ranking member Patty Murray, D-Wash., met Wednesday to discuss shoring up the insurance exchanges set up by the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148PL 111-152), with a goal of readying legislation to attach to one of the upcoming spending vehicles.

Democrats are also pushing for additional funding for opioid abuse treatment and prevention, and to shore up underfunded pension plans for coal miners, truckers and other workers — initiatives that could result in higher nondefense spending on the mandatory side.

Jennifer Shutt and Joe Williams contributed to this report.

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