By all appearances, Republicans will suffer some serious losses in the upcoming election. The House may remain in GOP hands, but the Republican majority is expected to shrink. The Senate, on the other hand, is tilting towards Democratic control.
If the Republicans Party loses its majorities, the GOP’s ability to lead conservatives in Congress will have lasted a measly two years. During that time, they have accomplished little. However, the time for Republicans to adopt something — hell, anything — remotely conservative, is now. There are only a few opportunities available, but perhaps none is as important as the upcoming spending bill, known as the Continuing Resolution (CR).
In a matter of days, 2016 spending authorization will expire, and it will soon become evident whether Republicans are prepared to fight for conservative principles — or relent to Obama. Unfortunately, in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. (F, 42%) has already expressed interest in caving to Democrat demands by passing a short-term CR into December. House conservatives, on the other hand, want to lock in conservative spending priorities for a longer term, or at least for the next nine months.
McConnell knows that this December represents a lame-duck session of Congress. Lame-duck sessions are dangerous times for Congress. As my former colleague, Andy Koenig, noted in the Wall Street Journal,
Dozens of lawmakers on Capitol Hill will retire after November’s election, some voluntarily, some not. But many of them, on both sides of the aisle, are demanding a last chance to pass their preferred policies – in a lame-duck session, this time without interference from pesky voters.
Yes, those pesky voters mean YOU. While we should be clinging to one last chance to sway conservative policy in the CR, we must simultaneously fear the speed at which McConnell is so ready to allow liberals the last word. Here’s what has us concerned.
Lame-duck spending bills are synonymous with more spending.
During the 2012 lame duck, Congress passed the “fiscal cliff” budget deal, which increased spending by $47 billion. The same scenario played out the following December, in 2013. Republicans again relented to Democrat demands for additional spending, agreeing to reverse austerity measures passed in the Budget Control Act (a 2011 conservative bill that was designed to reduce spending by $1.2 trillion over a decade). The 2013 lame-duck spending bill, however, increased spending for two years; a $45 billion increase for 2014 and an $18 billion increase for 2015.
There was more of the same this past December. Congressional Republicans agreed to increase spending by $80 billion; $50 billion of which was tacked on to this year; the other was designed for next year.
If Congress is consistent at all, it’s in their desire to increase spending during December; particularly during a lame duck. Senator McConnell’s interest in jamming through a spending bill during the lame duck indicates that we should expect more of the same.
Last week, thousands of unionized coal miners from the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) protested around the U.S. Capitol. Their demonstrations were meant to pressure Congress into providing a bailout for their broken pension and healthcare system. Those miners, in particular, expect Congress to write a check for nearly $490 million — per year.
That amount will cover just a fraction of the short-fall each year. In total, the miners’ pension fund is short nearly six billion in promised benefits. And pleas from the unions are starting to find sympathy among politicians. In July, The USA today reported bipartisan support for Congressional action, especially from Ohio’s Senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio (F, 11%) and Republican, Rob Portman, R-Ohio (F, 49%).
The dangerous precedent Congress will set by bailing out this one constituency could lead to one of the world’s largest bailouts. As I wrote last week, unions in total (not just miners) across America have underfunded pension funds totaling more than $600 billion. Furthermore, there are other private, non-unionized plans that need $760 billion in order to fulfill pension promises — or more than $1.3 trillion.
Will Congress offer bailouts for some Americans and not others? Unlikely. Therefore, December could be the start of a multi-trillion dollar pension bailouts.
Last Friday, the Obama Administration released a discreet memo to every health insurer effectively offering an additional Obamacare bailout. The bailout is related to Obamacare’s risk corridors, created to help insurance companies initially transition into the exchanges. Companies with large profits were asked to deposit part of those gains with the government in order to help other insurance companies that were operating at a loss.
As you can imagine, this plan only works if the insurance companies are actually making money. As Chris Jacobs writes at National Review, “As with most things Obamacare, risk corridors haven’t turned out quite like the administration promised. In 2014, insurers paid in a total of $362 million into the risk-corridor program – but requested $2.87 billion in disbursements.”
Without the necessary funds to bailout all the insurance companies, the Obama administration attempted instead to use taxpayer dollars — a move that turned out to be illegal. It was actually Congress, shockingly enough, that stepped in to prevent Obama from using any funds for this purpose.
Yet, sure enough, Obama found a loophole. The administration has since been sending public notices that insurers are permitted to sue the United States government. Yes, you read that right — “Please sue me.” That letter, sent out in November 2015, signified that all unpaid risk corridor charges were “an obligation of the United States Government for which full payment is required.”
Therefore, instead of complying with the Congressional prohibition on bailouts, the Obama administration has instead encouraged insurance companies to litigate their case before a court; a procedure that would allow the Obama administration to pay the insurance companies from another taxpayer fund, the Judgement Fund of the Treasury; a fund that is used to pay out claims against the U.S.
Absent any action from Congress, Republicans could end up bailing out Obamacare. By doing nothing, Obama will continue to pay-off the insurance companies through the Judgement Fund, blatantly ignoring the intention of Congress.
Previous spending bills have been used to stop Obamacare bailouts; in this instance, Congress can once again prohibit insurance companies receiving payment from the Judgement Fund.
In the end, Congress may proactively bailout out the insurance companies — or do nothing, and accomplish the same end. But just remember, the health care lobby is massive, not to mention wealthy — and there will be many members leaving Congress who would like new employment.
Unneeded Emergency Funding
Flooding and severe storms wreaked havoc on Louisiana last month. In total, 20 parishes were declared a major disaster; at least 60,000 homes were damaged. The governor of the state is expecting damages could exceed $8.4 billion. Of course, that is a preliminary estimate — and everyone is hoping the federal government will pick up the tab.
At first glance, there appears to be enough money in existing federal coffers to help Louisiana. According to Roll Call, FEMA’s emergency fund has $5.3 billion available in its Disaster Relief Fund, not to mention another $7.4 billion that was appropriated this year. In total, the federal government has more than $12 billion available, more than enough to assist Louisiana.
Yet, that isn’t stopping Republican members of Congress from asking for more! In fact, Republican Senators David Vitter, R-La. (D, 69%) and Bill Cassidy, R-La. (F, 50%) along with House Republican Whip, Steve Scalise, R-La. (D, 64%) and the rest of the Louisiana delegation, sent President Obama a letter requesting more emergency funding, “With Congress considering appropriation bills to fund the federal government, it is crucial that a Louisiana supplemental disaster funding component be included as part of the funding bill.”
Congress has long been known to use emergency funding as an excuse to increase spending, even when it’s not particularly needed. Might we see more of this in the lame duck?
Controversy has surrounded Zika since early summer when the first confirmed cases showed up in Florida. In late June, Congress departed for a summer break without consensus on Zika funding. Despite the government having access to $590 million, left over from Ebola fuding, both parties want at least an additional $1 billion. Republicans requested $1.1 billion, while Democrats demanded $1.9 billion. However, Democrats want more than simply an extra $800 million – they wanted that additional cash to get funneled to Planned Parenthood. That request left the two parties in stalemate.
Until today, that is. According to press reports, it appears Mitch McConnell is willing to relent in order to get a deal done on Zika. That means that in addition to the $550 million the federal government already sends to Planned Parenthood, they may now qualify for more federal money — this, let me remind you, is under a Republican Congress.
To clarify, this agreement may get done before the new fiscal year. But if Republicans and Democrats can’t settle the Zika debate in its entirety — or if the virus gets any worse, we should all prepare to see this issue addressed further in the lame duck.
Republicans spent years working to regain the House, and fought even longer to recapture the Senate. The opportunities that Republican gained by taking control of Congress were endless. Yet few, if any, truly conservative goals were accomplished. Instead, this Republican moment will be remembered for higher spending, larger debts, and bigger deficits. They have one more chance to make a name for themselves — this time by avoiding a complete sell out during this year’s lame duck. (For more from the author of “5 Reasons to Expect an Absolute Nightmare This December” please click HERE)