Issue: H.R. 601, Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development Act. Amended to become the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2018 and Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Requirements Act, 2017. Question: On motion that the House agree to the Senate amendment to the House amendment to the Senate amendment.
Result: Passed in House, 316 to 90, 27 not voting. The Senate amended and approved this final bill, the previous day (See Senate Vote Number 192). Became Public Law 115-56 (signed by the President, 9-8-17). GOP and Democrats scored.
Freedom First Society: By using the emotion over the devastation from Hurricane Harvey, the GOP-led House and Senate were able to win sufficient support for a creative package of several controversial big-government measures. No Democrat opposed the Senate-approved version of H.R. 601, yet 90 Republicans in the House and 17 in the Senate stood tall and voted against their leadership. There were serious constitutional objections to the package, and the strategy behind the package favored the continued growth of unconstitutional government.
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: The original topic of H.R. 601, the Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development Act, was an unconstitutional acceptance of federal responsibility for improving educational opportunities in developing nations. Originally passed in January by voice vote, the version here had been amended to include three other unrelated topics: 1) $15 billion in disaster relief from Hurricane Harvey; 2) a Continuing Resolution to fund all government departments and programs into the new fiscal year until December 8; and 3) raising the national debt ceiling to cover authorized expenditures during that same period. We quote excerpts here from the Congressional Research Services summary of the 4 divisions of the bill (emphasis added):
Division A — Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development Act or the READ Act.
(Sec. 3) Amends the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to state that it shall be U.S. policy to work with partner countries, other donors, multilateral institutions, the private sector, and nongovernmental and civil society organizations (including faith-based organizations and organizations that represent teachers, students, and parents) to promote basic education through programs that: (1) respond to the needs and capacities of developing countries to improve literacy and other basic skills; (2) strengthen educational systems, expand access to safe learning environments (including by breaking down barriers to basic education for women and girls), and support the engagement of parents in their children’s education; (3) promote education as a foundation for economic growth; (4) monitor and evaluate basic education programs in partner countries; and (5) promote U.S. values, especially respect for all persons and freedoms of religion, speech, and the press.
(Sec. 5) Establishes within the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) the position of Senior Coordinator of United States International Basic Education Assistance, who shall have primary responsibility for the oversight and coordination of U.S. government resources and activities relating to the promotion of international basic education.
Division B — SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS FOR DISASTER RELIEF REQUIREMENTS ACT, 2017
Provides $15.25 billion in FY2017 supplemental appropriations to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Small Business Administration (SBA), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for disaster relief requirements, such as response and recovery efforts from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma…. (Emergency spending is exempt from discretionary spending limits and other budget enforcement rules.)
Division C — TEMPORARY EXTENSION OF PUBLIC DEBT RELIEF
(Sec. 101) Suspends the public debt limit through December 8, 2017. Increases the limit on December 9, 2017, to accommodate obligations issued during the suspension period.
Division D — CONTINUING APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2018
(This division provides continuing appropriations to federal agencies through December 8, 2017, or the enactment of specified appropriations legislation. It is known as a continuing resolution [CR] and prevents a government shutdown that would otherwise occur when FY2018 begins on October 1, 2017, if the twelve FY2017 regular appropriations bills that fund the federal government have not been enacted….)
(Sec. 101) Provides FY2018 appropriations to federal agencies for continuing projects or activities at the levels of, and under the terms and conditions of specified FY2017 appropriations Acts, reduced by 0.6791%.
Analysis: One significant objection to this package is the very fact that it is a package, a package designed to win Democratic support for a continuation of big-government business as usual. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who voted for the measure, which included Hurricane Harvey relief aid to his home state, stated before the vote:
“It is unfortunate that Congressional leadership and the Administration chose to tie Harvey relief to short-term extensions to the [continuing resolution] and the debt ceiling. I would have much preferred a clean Harvey relief bill — which would have passed both Houses nearly unanimously.”
Let’s look at each division individually:
Division A. Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development Act or the READ Act.
Comments during the January House “debate” over this division illustrate just how far leading members of Congress are from the vision of limited constitutional government:
Representative Ed Royce (R-CA-39): For women in particular, a primary school education is directly correlated very strongly with improved maternal-child health and improved survival rates. Yet, around the world, as we know here, there are 120 million children that are not in school. More than one-third of these children, as Nita Lowey [The sponsor of the measure] can testify, come from countries that are embroiled in war, embroiled in conflict, and many of these recent conflicts have lasted for over a decade. We are now seeing entire generations of these young children who are failing to receive even the most basic education. You want to talk about a humanitarian crisis? This is it. There are clear implications for global stability and for our security…. This bill, the READ Act, introduces the new guidelines and the increased accountability for existing U.S. efforts to improve access to basic education in developing and conflict-torn countries…. It also requires increased attention to what is most important here, and that is to the specific barriers to education that are faced by women and girls.
Representative Nita M. Lowey (D-NY-17): Mr. Speaker, I rise in full support of bipartisan legislation that would increase transparency and congressional oversight of U.S. basic education programs around the world. H.R. 601, the Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development– READ–Act, which I introduced with my colleague, Representative David Reichert, would elevate the importance of education while improving USAID’s efforts and ensuring that taxpayer dollars are well spent. The challenge is clear. Nearly 60 million primary school-age children and 65 million adolescents are out of school around the world. Millions more are expected to never enroll. Women and girls are disproportionately out of school. The United States has a clear moral, economic, and security interest in promoting universal basic education as a fundamental human right.
Representative Brenda Lawrence (D-MI-14): Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H.R. 601. As a parent who was very involved in my children’s education and served as President of the Southfield Public Schools Board of Education, I firmly believe the importance of promoting education to all regions of the world. Education is a universal human right that should be obtained by every young mind of the world. Access to basic education is a human right that must be guaranteed to all children. In my role as the Vice Chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Women’s Caucus during the 115th Congress, I will work with my colleagues in a bipartisan manner to highlight barriers to basic education, specifically focusing on girls’ education in the developing world. Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty. Educated women are less likely to get married, more likely to have healthy babies, and are more likely to understand the value of education…. I am grateful that our Chamber has taken this important step to ensure that the United States dedicates our time and resources to helping the future of the world gain an education. I want to thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their continued support of universal education for all.
Division B. — SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS FOR DISASTER RELIEF REQUIREMENTS ACT, 2017 ($15.25 billion in FY2017).
Following Hurricane Irene, another natural disaster that hit Texas in 2011, the House grappled with a number of bills to replenish “federal disaster aid funds.” Following an early House vote, the Establishment’s New York Times commented:
“Democrats and Republicans agree that [disaster] assistance is one of the government’s main responsibilities, but disagree over how much of the cost can be anticipated and how much, if any, should be offset.” [Emphasis added.] —“House Rebukes G.O.P. Leaders Over Spending,” New York Times, 9/21/11
If the Times was correct, then both parties agreed that the Constitution is irrelevant. And both parties supported this measure in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. There was no opposition from the Democrats and Republicans supported the measure, 133 to 90. GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan commented:
“Nothing can really capture just how big and wide this devastation is,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said, speaking about the damage left by Hurricane Harvey. “You hear a lot of numbers. Tens of thousands of people in shelters. Hundreds of thousands of homes damaged. Nothing can really capture this.”
However, nothing in the Constitution authorizes the federal government to provide state and local disaster aid. At one time in our nation’s history, that was understood.
In one of his most famous vetoes, President Grover Cleveland rejected the “Texas Seed Bill” that would have provided minimal disaster assistance to a number of drought-stricken Texas counties. On February 16, 1886, Cleveland delivered his veto message to the House of Representatives. The following excerpt speaks to principles long ignored by today’s collectivist-oriented media:
“I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadily resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people.
“The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.”
Instead of asserting an unconstitutional responsibility to provide disaster aid, government’s main responsibility should be to get us out of the unconstitutional mess it has created.
Correcting the mess doesn’t necessarily mean going “cold turkey” on all unconstitutional spending. In some cases, it just means letting programs run their course and expire. But restoring constitutional government does means slashing the enormous borrowing, taxing, and spending of the federal government, so the states can acquire the revenue to do what the voters want their states to do and the voters have the means to provide private charity and “strengthen the bonds of a common brotherhood.”
Division C — TEMPORARY EXTENSION OF PUBLIC DEBT RELIEF
The Trump administration was calling for a “clean” debt limit increase, divorced of “partisan” policy riders, and it got its way. Although no one wants to see the federal government default on its debt, we need to realize that the debt is driven by unconstitutional spending, programs, and departments. The best place to tackle this problem, when an informed public gives Congress the backbone to do so, is with appropriations (and the House using its power of the purse, see next).
Division D — CONTINUING APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2018
The primary questions re any continuing appropriations (CR) measure should be why and for what? Why is more time needed (since the federal fiscal year was advanced 3 months in 1976 to give Congress more time) and to accomplish what?
In this case, the CR was clearly for the purpose of fashioning an omnibus spending bill, which is exactly the wrong approach for bringing government under control. And, in fact, within a week, the House passed its own omnibus appropriations measure for FY2018 (see Roll Call 528, 9-14-17), opening the door for a compromise with Senate liberals before the CR expires.
Wielding the Power of the Purse
Two widely perpetuated myths provide cover for the House’s unwillingness to use its power of the purse to trim spending. The first is the notion that when pushed against deadlines the House needs to include all 12 appropriations measures in a single omnibus measure for an up-or-down vote. With an omnibus bill, the big spenders can use the specter of a government-wide shutdown to scare a public increasingly dependent on federal spending in order to obtain congressional support.
In reality, the House could easily schedule several independent votes and play hardball with one or more of the areas. The bottom line is that we need to insist that our representatives refuse to support omnibus appropriations measures. And the House could even craft CRs to exclude appropriations bills it had already passed, if it were bent on really trimming the federal government.
The Compromise Myth
The other destructive myth is an ostensible need for compromise. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell repeated it recently when he stated that spending bills “cannot be done by one party alone.” The idea that appropriation legislation has to be a compromise with socialists, as happened here, is a sure road to our destruction.
The Founding Fathers gave the House the power of the purse so that an informed public could use its leverage with their elected representatives to give the federal government its marching orders.
Separate votes on the 12 appropriations measures would help restore the House’s leverage. Unfortunately, that is not the program of the House leadership. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks often of returning to regular order (12 independent votes), but Ryan and his GOP predecessors are always willing to kick this can down the road to the following year.