Freedom First Society

Issue: H.R. 240 Making appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2015, and for other purposes.  Question: On Motion to Recede and Concur in the Senate Amendment.

Result: Passed in House, 257 to 167, 9 not voting. Became Public Law 114-4 (signed by the President 3-4-2015). GOP and Democrats scored.

Freedom First Society: The original House appropriations bill sent to the Senate in January had prohibited any spending to implement President Obama’s executive orders providing “temporary” amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants. The Senate refused to go to conference and stripped out the language. Here the House GOP leadership threw in the towel and allowed the stripped Senate version to come to a vote, angering many conservative Republicans.

We have assigned (good vote) to the Nays and (bad vote) to the Yeas. (P = voted present; ? = not voting; blank = not listed on roll call.)

Bill Summary: H.R. 240 authorized appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security through the remainder of the 2015 fiscal year. The original House bill sent to the Senate in January had prohibited any spending to implement President Obama’s executive orders providing “temporary” amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants.This roll call was on accepting the Senate version, which had stripped out the language prohibiting such spending.

Background: In December of 2014, the previous Congress passed H.R. 83, “The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015,” which the President signed and became public law.

That measure brought together into one omnibus spending bill 11 of the 12 regular appropriations bills that fund the federal government through September 30, 2015 (the end of Fiscal Year 2015). H.R. 83 also contained a continuing resolution (CR) funding the Department of Homeland Security through February 27th — hence the measure’s description as a “cromnibus.”

The GOP plan, announced at that time, was to allow the new 114th Congress, with the GOP controlling both the House and the Senate, to finish the appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security by including language to block President Obama’s executive orders regarding immigration and temporary amnesty.   The House sent such a measure to the Senate on January 14, 2015 (Roll Call 35). On February 27th, the Senate refused to go to conference and voted instead to approve H.R. 240 without the language to defund execution of the President’s amnesty order (Senate Vote 62).

A further Continuing Resolution in late February extended funding for a few more days to permit action to break the House-Senate impasse.

Analysis: On March 3, the House GOP leadership threw in the towel and allowed the stripped Senate version to come to a vote (this roll call) and urged its passage. (See also our analysis of the Senate action in Senate Vote 62).

This GOP leadership action angered many conservative Republicans, who protested that there was still time to negotiate a better deal. House Democrats unanimously supported the capitulation (182 to 0) against the opposition of the majority of rank and file GOP representatives (75 to 167).

Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID) managed the floor debates for the House GOP leadership. Simpson argued: “There is no funding in this bill for the President’s actions. Everybody knows that, don’t we?”

Simpson’s remark may be strictly true, as much of the bureaucracy necessary to enforce the President’s action appeared to be funded largely by fees rather than congressional appropriations. However, Simpson ignored the fact that the Aderholt amendment to the original House-passed bill explicitly prohibited the use of any of those fees, as well as appropriations, to implement the president’s orders.

Moreover, Simpson continued with a deplorable copout:

“Mr. Speaker, there is a difference of opinion between the Republicans and Democrats and between the administration and Congress as to whether the actions that the President made were constitutional or not….

“When there are differences of opinion as to what is constitutional and what is not constitutional, a court makes that determination.”

 Absolutely false. Court decisions are the law of the case, not the law of the land. All branches of the government, and especially the people, are responsible for enforcing the people’s contract with government — the U.S. Constitution.

In support of this copout, Simpson went on to cite the Supreme Court’s decision in the famous 1803 Marbury v. Madison case, which helped to establish the doctrine of judicial supremacy under which the nation suffers today.

While several proponents of capitulation argued that Congress should let the courts work it out, as one judge had already ruled against the administration, it was encouraging to see other representatives denounce that approach on correct constitutional grounds.

Notable opposition quotes

•  Representative Ron DeSantis (FL): “Mr. Speaker, I hear that we just need to let the courts work their will to defend the Constitution, as if we don’t have an independent obligation to do that. We took the oath that we would support it. We didn’t say we would be in Congress, pass bills, and let the courts support and defend the Constitution.

“Here is the problem, though, beyond just that basic insight. If I were representing the Department of Justice in front of the fifth circuit to try to get this injunction overturned, the first sentence in my brief would be that the United States Congress has voted, knowing this program was in existence, to fully fund all operations. Courts, you should step out of this dispute. It is between the political branches, and they have settled it.”

•  Representative Matt Salmon (AZ): “Mr. Speaker, I think this is a very, very sad day when we have to make a Hobson’s choice of either funding our national security or standing for the Constitution.

“We actually took an oath just a few short weeks ago to defend this Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. That is our role; that is our responsibility. If not now, then when? It is never going to be easy. It is never going to be easy. It has never been easy to stand up for freedom.

“I have heard some people say: Well, you Republicans, you just need to learn how to govern. If it was just about governing, then I think that the American people can just close shop and let the President just run everything, but we actually have a Constitution that we have to adhere to.

“Despots all over the world, they govern. They keep the trains running on time. But we stand for something different. We stand for a constitutional republic, where we have three coequal branches that all have an equal say. The Founding Fathers gave us a tool to deal with [at] a time just like this. It is called the power of the purse.” [Emphasis added.]

•  Representative Jeff Duncan (SC): “Mr. Speaker, last week, the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Brown) said, Why are we here? She got all upset.

“Let me tell you why we are here: because the President of the United States violated the constitutional separation of powers. Regardless of how you feel about immigration or immigration reform or even amnesty, surely you believe in the United States Constitution that you swore an oath to. Surely you believe in this institution that we are debating in today.

“He said 22 times that he did not have the power to unilaterally make law or change the law, yet that is, in fact, what he did. That is why this debate is so important today. It really has nothing to do with DHS funding, amnesty, or immigration. That is the vehicle that we are using, sure. But it has everything to do with the United States Constitution and the sacred separation of powers that says the executive branch executes the laws. We make the law in this Chamber. We are the only ones to have the constitutional authority to do that.”

•  Representative Louie Gohmert (TX): “Mr. Speaker, last December, we were told that the best way to approach the matter — despite some of us thinking to the contrary — was to fund everything but DHS. We were told, ‘This is the play.’

“Well, some of us were afraid that if we did that, that we would come to this point and totally cave and would allow at least a congressional statement that we are not going to take action to defund illegal, unconstitutional amnesty….

“[T]oday we are being told by our leadership that the only alternative to this bad deal is a government shutdown. That is not true. The alternative to this bad deal today is a better deal. It is to force the Senate to actually go to conference so both the House and the Senate can speak the will of the American people.” [Emphasis added.]

•  Representative David Schweikert (AZ): “One of my heartbreaks here is I believe there were creative things we could have done, but we are completely dearth of the willingness to try.

“Mr. Speaker, this is about trying to defend the U.S. Constitution that we all raised our hands to uphold, and yet are we going to allow a vote to go forward to walk away from that fight?

“This should break everyone’s heart in this body.”

•  Representative Ted Yoho (FL): “We are asking to put safeguards in there so that we don’t move with an executive order that has been deemed illegal by a Federal judge. That is all we are asking. And we need to have that language in this bill.

“I don’t know anybody in here who doesn’t want to fund DHS.

“Mr. Speaker, for us to vote for this … without that language in there blocking what this President wants to do, and if we vote for that, we are voting against our Constitution. Article I, section 8 is very clear that we have the authority for naturalization, and I say we vote against funding without that safeguard.”

•  Representative Jody B. Hice (GA): “Mr. Speaker, as we all know, we are in this predicament and in this mess because of the unconstitutional and unilateral decisions from the President to ignore our Constitution, and the only thing standing in the way of that progressing is a stay from the courts. As thankful as I am for the courts, the reality is we must stand up and defend our Constitution. It is a constitutional issue, Mr. Speaker, and we have the responsibility to stand for that cause.

“This is not a time to watch this body be obstructed from multiple attempts to make it dysfunctional. It is a constitutional issue. This is a time to stand upon the Constitution, and I urge this body to do so.”

•  Representative Thomas Massie (KY), who managed the opposition team floor arguments: “Mr. Speaker, in closing, the Congress and, in particular, the House of Representatives has the power of the purse. Our Constitution gives this power to the legislative branch, not the executive branch. This means that the President cannot fund his illegal executive actions on immigration unless we, the House of Representatives, let him.

“If today we agree to just give the President all the taxpayer funds he wants so that he can implement his illegal actions, why should the American people ever trust us again? They will realize that all our bluster about border security is just that, bluster. They will realize that we don’t actually care about the best interests of the American people and that, instead, we just care about going along to get along, even if that means going along with the unconstitutional and illegal actions of the executive branch….

“We need to stand up, use the power of the purse, and exercise our constitutional duty to fund only legal and constitutional activities.” [Emphasis added.]

House Power of the Purse

In The Federalist, No. 58, Father of the Constitution James Madison explained the awesome unused power of the purse, which the Constitution assigns to the House of Representatives:

“The House of Representatives can not only refuse, but they alone can propose the supplies requisite for the support of the government. They, in a word, hold the purse — that powerful instrument [for] finally reducing … all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the government. This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”

Of course, effective use of this power presumes that the House of Representatives has the backbone to roll back an out-of-control federal government, using the Constitution as its guide.   That backbone has to come from an informed public back home. (The challenge is to create that informed electorate in the face of a big-government promoting Establishment media.)

In order to force the other branches to accept the roll back, in the face of a hostile press, it is necessary for the House to send individual trimmed appropriations bills to the Senate and insist that the Senate deal with those.

With so many Americans now dependent on various federal programs, the House habit of passing a last-minute omnibus appropriations bill forfeits this leverage. Any House-passed omnibus bill that included serious program and spending cuts would allow the Senate or President to refuse the entire package as unacceptable. As recent experience shows, a cooperative media would put the blame on a House that is unwilling to compromise as responsible for shutting the entire government down.

Although with H.R. 240, as expected, the House failed in the end to follow a strategy to capitalize on its power of the purse, the successful GOP action of separating out the DHS funding from last year’s massive omnibus provided a useful reminder of what could be done with sufficient will and good strategy. It showed us that, even in modern times, a House truly determined to enforce the Constitution and phase out unconstitutional departments and programs could do so.

Of course, such a determined House majority does not yet exist. Nevertheless, each representative needs to honor his or her oath to uphold the Constitution and, by not compromising on that oath, set the example for future reinforcements to follow.

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