Last night, in a record-short vote-a-rama, the Senate voted along party lines to advance the FY18 Budget Resolution. This does a few things that I began to outline yesterday.
This legislation, once it has all been written, will face another vote-a-rama in the Senate before it goes to the White House.
There were some tidbits that got into the final language last night:
- A Hatch amendment creating a deficit-neutral reserve fund to protect Medicare and Medicaid. Don't be fooled - this is what we call a side-by-side to a Sanders amendment that had specific language protecting Medicare and Medicaid programs that the Budget Resolution "scaled down" over 10 years. This Hatch amendment is a farce that has some weak language about how the programs are important, but nothing more.
- A Heller amendment providing tax relief to families with children. I believe this has to do with the Child Tax Deduction. But again, it's a weaker version of an amendment that a Democrat proposed.
- A bipartisan amendment offered by Susan Collins giving tax relief to small businesses.
- A Flake amendment pushing for a simpler tax code.
- A Donnelly amendment creating a point of order (prohibition) against any legislation giving tax breaks to US companies for outsourcing American jobs.
- A Kaine amendment to require a CBO score on any legislation 28 hours before hitting the floor FAILED because Enzi, the chairman of the Budget Committee, interprets the Budget Act to mean that he, as chairman, has the power and discretion to score the bill himself, using any scoring entity. What he doesn't realize is that this will bite him when the Democrats gain the majority again, and he no longer has that power.
- A Capito amendment reducing deductibility of Federal deductions (like the state and local tax deduction) for low- and middle-income families.
- A Portman amendment providing an international tax incentive to companies who want to invest in the US and provide US jobs.
- A Fischer amendment providing tax relief for families while maintaining the progressivity of the current system.
- A Udall amendment providing for a deficit-neutral reserve fund to provide full and mandatory funding to the payment in lieu of taxes program.
- Enzi also provided a big amendment of final negotiation points with the House in the hopes of expediting the conference period.
What didn't pass was the slew of Lee and Paul amendments to instruct the HELP Committee to repeal the ACA, among other really awful amendments.
On the whole, there were a lot of places in this tax reform debate where Dems and Rs agree - where they don't agree is the process by which this is going down.
All of the amendments that passed, with the exception of the Enzi amendment, are what we call "feel-good" amendments. The entire process last night seemed like an exercise in passing these amendments and vociferously rejecting all Paul and Lee amendments (none of them had more than 5 Yes votes).
Lamar Alexander was overheard last night saying something to the effect of: They should just stop trying to repeal Obamacare. They're hurting people.
I'm still not sure where this bipartisan bill will go, and when. My feeling is that most Senators feel that this bill, while not ideal, is better than nothing.
I imagine it will be chucked into the end-of-year spending package.
Schumer is really trying to strong-arm McConnell into bringing it to the floor though. They have the votes (60), and if McConnell refuses, the Dems will use it as a dagger for the GOP in 2018. I can just see the attack ads now..."McConnell blocked a bipartisan agreement to save healthcare from getting to the Senate floor..."
We'll see what happens...
TEXAS IMMIGRANT ABORTION
The administration pulled together a hasty appeal on this case yesterday, and have yet again delayed this poor girl's abortion, which was going to happen today or tomorrow.
A DC Appeals court will hear the case today. Incidentally, this panel will be occupied by Merrick Garland, who will allow live audio streaming during arguments.
Unfortunately the three-judge panel is stacked 2-1 with right-leaning judges. The girl, however, has done everything she legally needs to do to have this abortion in Texas though. The only sticking point is that she is undocumented and being held at a detention facility. We'll see what happens with this case today.
John McCain is furious right now because (Chairman of the Armed Services Committee) hasn't gotten a satisfactory briefing on this tragedy. He is considering a subpoena to compel testimony. He suggested yesterday that the Administration is not being completely forthcoming about what happen.
I have only heard bits and pieces, but this is what I've got:
- Chad was becoming a strong US ally against Boko Haram and other al Qaida factions in that region. The Council on Foreign Relations did write a piece yesterday suggesting that they pulled their troops out of Niger in retaliation to being included in the Administration's latest travel ban. This seems legitimate. Rachel Maddow also reported on this last night, with a more Maddow-esque bent.
- There is also information floating around that the three soldiers that initially went into this ISIS-infested area in Niger were given bad intel FROM THE PENTAGON. This is the part of the story that pundits are calling Benghazi-like. Here's the story as I'm hearing it - and I cannot independently verify it because we're not hearing anything directly from the Pentagon:
-- Three US soldiers went to a meeting in an area close to the border of Mali, which is known to be ISIS infested.
-- These soldiers did not have US backup (ground and air support), they were backed up by the French military, who is not authorized to intervene or even fire in US opps in that region.
-- So as to avoid suspicion, the US soldiered traveled in pickup trucks, not armored vehicles.
-- The alleged faulty intel that our guys were given said that they were unlikely to be confronted by ISIS in this region, but that wasn't the case. They walked into an ISIS ambush.
-- It took their French "backup" 30 minutes to respond, and remember, they were not authorized to help.
-- About a dozen Green Berets (including the soldier called Johnson whose wife the president spoke to in that awful way) came and fought a battle with more than 50 ISIS fighters.
-- Eventually a US rescue helicopter arrived, but it wasn't a military helicopter. It was a helicopter contracted out by the military from a private operator/contractor. They landed and performed triage.
-- However, these contractors did not have an official roster of US soldiers on the ground, which is how Sgt. La David Johnson was left behind.
-- According to the Pentagon, his locator beacon was activated on the battlefield, which means he was alive when the contractors left.
-- His body was recovered 48 hours later, and according to his widow, she could not have an open casket. This suggests that his body was mutilated after he was left for dead.
Again, these are all claims that experts and reporters are putting together based on what little information the Pentagon has provided. I would like to see McCain go full maverick on this, just like the GOP-controlled Congress did for Benghazi. He's pissed and got nothing to lose, and he controls the committee that would investigate this, so I am optimistic that action will be taken.
This also highlights an entirely different, but not unrelated conversation about private military contractors and the dangers they pose to our military personnel.
CONGRESS THIS FALL
Next week the Senate will vote on the supplemental funding bill to provide relief to Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and I believe also Texas and Florida. The only reason this is going to quickly make it through is because Cornyn got a promise from Mick Mulvaney and the WH that there will be yet ANOTHER supplemental before Thanksgiving.
Other than that, there's nothing other than nominations up on the Senate calendar for the fall. You know what this means? This means, I get to use my boredom looking deeply into every nominee so that YOU and your networks can bombard Senators' offices with calls to reject their nominations. McConnell really wants to focus on judicial nominees, and there are LOTS of REALLY terrible people up for nomination in that category.
While you're at it, you could tell them to do some legislating, rather than pushing it all to the end of the year and risking a government shutdown.