I’ve got a rare bright spot to tell you all about this week. In the midst of an extraordinarily unproductive time in Washington, one vital piece of legislation is still being thoughtfully crafted, carefully deliberated, and overwhelmingly approved. That bill, my friends, is the annual National Defense Authorization Act. Any longtime readers of this newsletter will know how this process works, but for the sake of any new readers, I’ll give you the basic overview.
Most committees in Congress approve dozens of bills over the course of the year. Some are partisan, some are unanimous. Some are single page and some are massive. The House Armed Services Committee (which I am a very proud member of) only passes one single bill a year – the “NDAA”.
A year’s worth of work goes into it. We pour over every line item in the military’s budget. We consider policy changes, resource allocation, new programs, old programs, regional issues, global issues. We break everything down into subcommittees so we can specialize in various aspects of defense – personnel matters, sea power, emerging threats, nuclear deterrence, and so forth.
By and large, it works. The committee has a long and distinguished record of consensus building and genuine cooperation. We’ve passed our bill with bipartisan support and had it signed into law 54 years in a row. There is nothing comparable anywhere else in Congress.
Politics largely stops when it comes to the defense of this nation and that’s exactly as it should be. Of course there are some cheap shot amendments along the way and always a few gotcha votes, but compared to the rest of what goes on in Washington, it’s nothing short of a miracle each and every year.
On Wednesday morning at 10:00 AM, we began the marathon markup of the 794 page bill. We kept right on going, page by page, issue by issue until 2:45 am Thursday morning. We stopped only for votes on the House floor.
By the time the committee was done, having considered over three hundred separate amendments whittled down from 2,000 plus initial proposals, we voted on the bill as a whole and sent it to the full House for consideration by a vote of 60-2.
It may not seem it, but when you consider how divisive politics tends to get, how scarce the resources are, how big the budget is, how different the philosophies tend to be, to get that many people on the same page is pretty extraordinary. By and large, as I reflect on what I’ve seen during my time in Congress, I think it’s a pretty good model for how things should work.
We spend an entire year slowly and carefully moving through the weeds. When we hit a snag, we either work it out or we table it and revisit later. We build consensus one person at a time and one issue at a time. Everybody gets to have their voice heard and their suggestions considered. In many cases, including some policy provisions of my own, you spend years building that consensus. The first year you take a small step, perhaps asking the DOD to conduct a study on the feasibility of something. The next year, you ask some questions in committee hearings start to raise awareness and general knowledge. You spot the flaws and refine your own idea. The next year, having earned some support, you establish a pilot program and spend the year watching carefully to see how it goes. You make some tweaks, you talk to your colleagues, you talk to DOD and you see where things stand. Sometimes the support is there to move forward, sometimes you realize what you set out to do just isn’t feasible. Either way, because the process is so deliberate and careful, you tend to arrive at the correct conclusion and pretty much everybody is in agreement.
Too often in Congress, bills are written by a small group of insiders and the text is released at the very last minute. The bill then gets promptly rammed through without much input and with very little effort made to reach a real point of agreement. Nobody likes being on the receiving end of that. It’s basic human nature.
In addition, the more eyes you have on something, the more likely it is that you’ll spot the weaknesses. When you allow your critics to weigh in, instead of limiting input to a bunch of yes men, you’re going to end up with a better work product. It’s as simple as that.
The Armed Services Committee has a long history of working this way and that’s a huge part of the reason why it has continued to be successful – even in the midst of highly partisan spats over the wars we may be fighting or the commander in chief overseeing them.
Congress as a whole used to have that kind of collegial respect. We may fight like hell over just about everything (that’s what the Founders intended), but there was at least a real effort to build some trust and respect. I don’t think anybody in Washington feels that’s the case now. People are either intractable or left out of the process. They hate each other on TV and in real life. There is no sense of greater purpose for a lot of people. It’s all about winning the news cycle in an effort to win the election cycle. And while it would be unrealistic to think politicians will ever ignore such basic realities, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect some actual results along the way.
In any case, the institution had a good week. By extension, the nation it represents also had a good week. I’ve always been very proud to be a member of the House Armed Services Committee, but this week more than most.
Member of Congress
Over the past five years I have received countless letters from constituents expressing a general distaste for the Internal Revenue Service. And let me tell you, I share in the frustration. Although another tax day has come and gone, the IRS is always lurking.
Let’s recap some highlights (rather, lowlights) briefly. I think we all remember when the IRS deliberately targeted and audited groups based on their political beliefs. How about when they distributed nearly $50 million in fraudulent tax returns? Just last year, hundreds of IRS employees were found to have neglected the agency’s own guidelines when filing their own taxes. What’s worse, a handful of IRS employees failed to even file their taxes in the first place! To top it all off, the IRS recently issued millions in bonuses to its employees.
Give me a break.
The American people shouldn’t be afraid of their government. The government should be focused on serving the people. When bureaucratic agencies continue to abuse taxpayer dollars (and their power), it's no wonder that we the people distrust an agency like the IRS.
In light of all this, I am happy to report that your United States House of Representatives went to bat for you this week. Among other things, we passed a bill prohibiting the IRS from rehiring employees who have been fired for misconduct (probably shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place). We voted to eliminate the agency’s internal slush fund that was being filled by taxpayer user fees. We blocked the IRS from issuing employee bonuses. We’ve also passed legislation creating real incentives for the IRS to turn around its horrendous customer service record. Finally, if the Senate passes our bills and the President signs them, the IRS will be forbidden from hiring any new employee until it can certify that no IRS employees are delinquent on their own taxes.
While all of these measures are helpful, I’d really prefer to just get rid of the IRS in its entirety. I am one of the dedicated sponsors of a bill to do just that. The FairTax (which I think many of you already know) is an idea that I have been championing since the day I stepped into Congress. Frankly, I think it’s about time for our country to see taxation in a more sensible, just and transparent way.
As policymakers, our aim should be to make paying taxes as painless as possible, the burden as low as possible, and the efficiency as great as possible. The tax code we’re operating under now achieves none of those goals. Instead, it supports an agency vulnerable to bad actors, abuse and mismanagement. It’s time we scrapped the current code and started over with something better. The FairTax is that solution.
Taxes ensure a strong national defense and a robust infrastructure system along with the well-being of Social Security and Medicare programs. Taxes are a civic duty and the reality of a safe and secure country. As Benjamin Franklin once quipped, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” But the latter should not have to feel like the former.
Usually at this point I would ask to hear your thoughts about how you feel about the IRS – but, let’s be honest, it’s an agency that has little fanfare. Even though we may disagree from time to time, I think we can all stand in a shared disdain for the Tax Man.
And to that end, if you are having trouble with the IRS or any other federal entity, feel free to reach out to my office. We are here to help.
Member of Congress
Earlier this week, and in an unconvincing fashion, the President tried to tell the American people (again) that permanently closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay would be a good idea. Since stepping into office, he has released 147 prisoners, stopped the admission of new detainees and now is looking for a way to bring a large number of them into the American prison system. This, by the way, is against the law. Quite a few of the released detainees have returned to the battlefield and there is a good reason Congress has made transferring detainees to the U.S. illegal. But that hasn’t stopped the Administration from looking for a way to get around Congress.
The President claims that keeping GITMO open “weakens our national security.” I wholeheartedly disagree.
Members of al-Qaeda and others terrorist groups do not get to enjoy the same freedoms as you, me and our neighbors. They aren’t criminals. They are sworn enemies. Period.
We must continue to fight the war on terror with all available resources, and this includes Guantanamo Bay.
Moving on to some local news, you may remember that last month I wrote about Arlene Sollis, a Spring Hill resident who suffers from cerebral palsy and has been fighting for a much needed sidewalk and crosswalk since 2012. Right now, she and dozens of other senior residents in her community, have to walk down a dangerous road just to get groceries, just to get to the hospital. We are talking about a 1,000 feet of sidewalk and a small amount of paint for a crosswalk, not a big ask in my opinion and certainly not a project that should take four years to get noticed and another two to complete.
So this past Tuesday, as promised, I appeared before the Hernando County Board of Commissioners along with Arlene and many of her neighbors to discuss the dangerous situation on Quality Drive. The county informed us that this particular sidewalk project is underway and has been approved for funding, but won’t be completed until 2018. That’s pretty hard to fathom and as some senior citizens stated in the meeting, a few years can mean a lifetime.
The Hernando County School Board expressed a dire need for building this sidewalk system as it impacts their students’ safety as well. That fact alone should make it clear that this needs to be a top priority for the county. Even local radio host Mike Reeves suggested starting a private crowdfunding campaign as a way to help expedite the funds for the 1,000 feet needed. Let’s not let bureaucracy grind this to a halt. As Arlene put it at the hearing after years of raising concern, “Why do we have to wait six years for a sidewalk? This is not too much to ask.”
To close things out, I want to highlight one more time a warning about scam calls coming from criminals claiming that they are the IRS asking for the person to send a check or they’ll be arrested. Many constituents have contacted my office stating that they have received such fraudulent calls. My wife and I were also recent targets of this phishing scheme. Let me be clear, the real Internal Revenue Service will only ever contact you via paper mail, they will never actually call you, especially asking for a check and threatening jail time. Its terrible that this type of predatory activity continue to take place. Let’s not give the bad guys any additional reason to carry on their scams. Please do not fall for this.
That’s about it for this week. I hope you continue to reach out with your thoughts and concerns regarding local, national and international issues. Even if we may disagree, its important that I know where you stand. Thanks again and have a great weekend.
Member of Congress
The President released his budget on Tuesday and it was much of what we have come to expect out of his office: more taxes, more spending, and more debt. It even included an inexplicable $10-a-barrel tax on oil. You think the oil companies will incur this cost? Absolutely not. They will no doubt pass this financial burden on to consumers, potentially increasing the price per gallon you pay at the pump by nearly 25 cents. And you can imagine what this tax might do to airline, tourism and shipping customers. The point is, the Administration continues to punish the middle class by siding against America’s energy resources.
But, we have to remember that this budget proposal is just that, a suggestion.
So it's now up to us in Congress to find a realistic and affordable solution, one that balances job creation and a strengthened military with improved economic prospects for each and every American.
In other news, the Supreme Court dealt another blow to the President’s executive overreach. Essentially, the justices ordered a halt to his unilateral “Clean Power Plan,” a failed strategy that would close coal power plants, cut jobs and increase the cost of energy. Marking the third time in the last few months that the court has ruled against the Administration, this legal opinion is significant because it further confirms the abuse of executive powers that we have been pushing back against for years.
With sons serving in the military and in law enforcement, national security is always top of mind. So, a few days ago, I met with a group of Sheriffs from 50 of the largest counties in the country to chat about this very issue. A common concern among the group was how the advent of social media has helped terrorist groups push their propaganda messaging right into every corner of the planet. This means that local police have now become the de facto first line of defense to the war on terror. Law enforcement and government officials have been calling for technology companies to step up in the fight against ISIS and others for some time. That is why I am pleased to finally hear that Facebook and Twitter have removed hundreds of thousands of accounts that promote and facilitate terrorism. This is the sort of private-public cooperation that will begin to erode the very core of those who wish to do us harm.
That’s about it for now. As the 2016 budget season gets into full swing in Washington, please continue to reach out with any questions, concerns and comment that might be on your mind. Even if we disagree, it is important to let me know where you stand.
Thanks again and enjoy the weekend.
Member of Congress
(WASHINGTON, DC) – Following the release of the President’s proposed budget, Rep. Rich Nugent (FL-11) issued the following statement:
“President Obama’s last ditch budget manifesto will contribute trillions of dollars to our nation’s debt while directly undermining the needs of our economy and armed forces.”
“It’s the House’s job to put forward a workable alternative. As an institution, we cannot fail to pass a budget. I am confident that under Speaker Ryan’s leadership – bringing the entire conference together – the House will put forth a realistic and balanced approach, one that values job creation, a strengthened military and improved economic prospects for each and every American.”
This upcoming Tuesday, the President is set to unveil his budget proposal for 2017. With reports seeping out over the past week, it appears this plan is shaping up to be one of the most costly yet – cutting where we are most vulnerable and spending where we cannot afford another dime.
But if you’re the President and you've got nothing to lose – and we’re already $19-plus trillion in debt – why not bet the farm and spend a little more? In his final year in office, don't let the White House communications staff fool you – under this scheme, the federal deficit will jump by more than $100 billion from last year and this will be the first time since 2009 that it will increase relative to its portion of the economy.
In any case, stay tuned for a breakdown on the specifics next week.
In other legislative news, the House this week took an override vote on the President’s veto of an Obamacare repeal bill that Congress sent him in January. The final tally was 241-186. Although falling short of the mandatory two-thirds threshold, this vote demonstrated that repeal and replacement is possible in 2017.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, UN-brokered peace talks regarding the conflict in Syria and its related humanitarian crisis broke down on Wednesday. Why? Because Russia continues to view an autonomous military solution, one void of international consensus, as the preferred diplomatic tactic. Obviously the region continues to be a hot bed for ISIS terrorism, which is fueling massive refugee migrations, so the international community must be unified in its commitment to end the human toll and defeat the ever real threat of terrorism.
Speaking of protection, I met with the good men and women of the Fraternal Order of Police this week. Congratulating the organization on their 100th anniversary, it served as another reminder that law enforcement and their families are the lifeblood and safeguards of our communities. We owe our greatest of freedoms, that seemingly are under constant attack, to folks who put their lives on the line everyday to keep us safe and secure. I am proud to have been a part of this brotherhood and encourage everyone to join me in thanking them for their constant commitment to serving the public.
Please continue to reach out to me with questions, concerns and comments regarding anything that might be on your mind. The biggest of issues will be on display throughout 2016 and even if we disagree, it is important to let me know where you stand.
Thanks again and enjoy the cooler temps over the course of the weekend.
Member of Congress
Just a quick recap for you of a very eventful week. First off, the President delivered his final State of the Union address. If you’ve seen any of the other ones, you probably could have skipped this one. As I told the press afterwards, seventy percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, even the President’s biggest supporters have trouble defending his foreign policy decisions, and the threats just keep getting worse. Instead of taking some responsibility, he just did what he always does lecture, lecture, and lecture. The most striking thing was actually seeing the television coverage panning the room showing virtually every congressional Democrat looking tired and bored. It was a pretty sad sight for our country. In any case, the speech happened and I am sure it was a big deal somewhere.
In other news, ten American sailors were captured by Iranian forces. We’re still not sure exactly what happened. I expect to know more soon. Bottom line, the Iranians boarded the American vessels, arrested our personnel, then paraded them around in front of the cameras and clearly had a good time doing it. This came right on the heels of the Iranians flagrantly violating UN Security Council resolutions with their ballistic missile tests. The White House indicated they were going to reapply sanctions, then they back-peddled, now they might do the sanctions again. As for the arrests, Secretary Kerry had nothing but nice things to say about how the Iranians treated our sailors. See above reference to questionable foreign policy decision-making.
Also in the news, a refugee from Syria blew himself up in the tourist section of Istanbul taking the lives of nine Germans and one Peruvian. The bomber’s fingerprints were scanned and he was “vetted” by checking those prints against the mythical, non-existent Syrian databases (which we have been saying for weeks won’t work for refugees here either). Another suicide attack went off in Jakarta, Indonesia. Meanwhile, back home, two Palestinian refugees were arrested in America on charges of providing material support to ISIS and lying to cover up terrorist activities. Those two individuals were in communication with one another.
All in all, it wasn’t a very confidence inspiring week on the strong Commander-in-Chief / strong national security front. That needs to change and soon.
On a completely unrelated note, I wanted to highlight something I’ve been involved with recently that I think merits community-wide awareness. Some weeks ago, a young lady in her eighties came to see me in DC. As she explained, a medical condition requires the use of a wheelchair and fairly regular medical visits. She noted that she lives directly across from her health facility (not a coincidence) and directly across from a shopping center where she can get food and other essentials without needing to drive. She explained that she has been trying desperately to get a crosswalk installed so that she can safely cross the street, but the county won’t budge. In addition to the lack of a crosswalk for this community, the sidewalk in front of her house also inexplicably dead ends into a grass patch instead of making it all the way to the street.
Now this is very definitely a local issue and I have exactly zero legal authority here from the federal level, but Wendy and I were so fired up about the apparent inaction from the county that we decided to visit her home and see for ourselves. Sure enough, it was exactly as she had described it. So, I sent a series of letters to each of the county commissioners and to the county administrator asking what was causing the holdup. That was back in the middle of November. I’ve heard crickets since then. We followed up with voicemails and finally got a call back today saying that the sidewalk is in the “planning stages”, that they’re looking for a “funding mechanism”, and they hope for this short little section of sidewalk to “be constructed in 2018”. In the meantime, they are going to relay information about “alternative routes” for this community to use to access the store and health facilities. I’m about to lose it. A local scout troop could tackle this project in a weekend and the county is ignoring it instead of solving it.
If this were my mother, simply trying to safely cross the street, I would hope that the county would do the right thing. As I said, I don’t have the power to make the sidewalk decision myself, but I do have a big megaphone and I intend to use it.
For now, I’m not going to say which county it is. I’m going to give them one more chance to get this right before the public pressure starts building. And in any case, when we start showing up at their commission hearings with a horde of angry residents and a contingent of local television news reporters, you’ll know exactly which county I’ve been talking about.
That’s all for now. More to follow next week.
Member of Congress
Not a whole lot to report this week. The major legislation on the floor was the third leg of a three part trade package you heard a lot about earlier in the year. The first piece was so-called “Trade Promotion Authority” or TPA for short. That legislation authorized the President to submit a trade agreement involving various Pacific nations for an expedited up-or-down vote (without amendment). The basic theory behind that is that it is difficult to reach a politically sensitive resolution with a dozen different countries if each one takes that agreement home and has it changed by their respective legislatures. That’s fine and all, but frankly, a lot of my colleagues and I don’t trust this President to negotiate well for this country and didn’t trust the leadership to give the agreement the full measure of consideration and transparency it required. I voted against giving him that authority.
The second piece of the three-part package is the actual trade agreement itself. Without rehashing the whole enormous affair, my suspicions remain and there is a huge amount of skepticism on both sides of the aisle. Just this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned the President publicly about sending the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement up for a vote before the elections next November. Not a good sign for the President’s supporters, but I think it is a good sign for the American people. This shouldn’t be taken lightly. It took the better part of a decade to negotiate because the issues are so tough. Congress shouldn’t rush a rubber stamp vote. That’s just one man’s opinion.
In any case, this week’s vote was on the third piece of the package. The bill focuses on customs and trade enforcement mechanisms. When a country like China subsidizes the production of a certain good let’s say steel pipes and then sells that product on the market for less than the actual production price, that’s what trade law refers to as “dumping”. If we detect dumping, we file a suit with the World Trade Organization and if successful, we begin applying what is known as “countervailing duties”. In practice, it means we slap a tariff on a good equivalent to the amount the other country is subsidizing, thus returning the good to a fair market price. It’s a big problem and so stepping up the actual mechanical enforcement mechanisms is a positive.
The bill, which I voted for, also included a negotiated provision to make the ban on taxing access to the internet permanent. You might not have paid much attention to that issue in the past, but trust me, if the taxes ever started you definitely wouldn’t have been happy about it. We’ve been trying to get that ban made permanent for a long time and it’s great to see it headed to the President’s desk.
Next week, Congress will be considering a spending bill to cover the various government agencies for the next fiscal year. There are still furious negotiations going on and I will have a much better idea of what we’re actually looking at after we see the text on Monday. If you all need anything in the meantime, you know where to find me.
Thanks, as always, and I hope you all have a great weekend.
Member of Congress
As many of you may have seen by now, I announced on Monday that I will not be running for reelection at the end of 2016. The reason, in the end, was pretty simple… family comes first. As I explained to the press:
“It is with decidedly mixed emotions that I am announcing today that I will not be seeking another term in Congress.
“As a citizen of this great nation, I can think of few greater honors than to be sent to Washington by your peers and trusted by them to advocate on their behalf. And although it is immensely frustrating at times, serving in Congress can also be a remarkably fulfilling endeavor. We’ve been able to dramatically reduce the deficit, to protect our troops, and a on a personal level, to help thousands of people over the years in their struggles with the bureaucracy.
“But serving in Congress also requires a tremendous amount of time away from family. As I remarked to a colleague during one of my first months in Congress, ‘It feels like I’ve spent more time away from my wife in the last three weeks than I have in the last thirty years.’ Sensing how unhappy I was about it, my colleague tried to assure me that it would get easier with time. In reality, the opposite was true. After five years of living out of a suitcase, saying goodbye almost weekly to my beloved wife, and seeing pictures of the grandkids instead of spending more of that quality time with them, the tug of being apart from family has just become too great.
“Wendy and I have always tried to teach our sons, ‘service before self’. But we have also tried to instill in them that after God, family comes first. When service and family are in conflict with one another, you make the best decision you can. The troops, in particular, can tell you that.
“For me, I know somebody can and will fill my shoes as a congressional representative, but there is no one else who can do my job as a husband, father, grandfather and friend.
“Our community cares deeply about the nation’s veterans. We care deeply about shrinking the size and scope of government. We care deeply about restoring America’s place in the world. We’ll get somebody new – somebody with real fire in the belly – who shares our beliefs and is ready to give it a shot in Washington. In the meantime, I want to thank our community for their overwhelming support over the years and I look forward to finishing strong.”
So that’s that. I’ll be in Congress for another fourteen months and I look forward to finishing strong.
In other congressional news, we got our first glimpse this week of how Paul Ryan intends to run the House as our new Speaker. This will get a little process-heavy, but bear with me.
For every bill that Congress considers, there is a rule governing the debate and the amendment process for that legislation. Traditionally, the Speaker of the House uses that rule to control which amendments will be allowed and which won’t. The idea is to exert the Speaker’s influence over the final version of the legislation and to prevent members of Congress from having to take awkward votes. Paul Ryan, to his credit, promised colleagues that he was going to open up the process… and open it, he did.
The major legislation of the week was a 6-year highway construction and maintenance bill worth hundreds of billions of dollars. The process was wide open and members of Congress took advantage. Hundreds of amendments were considered. We stayed up voting till midnight to work through them all. It was impressive to see such a spectacle because I haven’t really seen it during my five years here. The House traditionally allows unlimited amendments to spending bills, but that’s about it.
Ryan has been given the benefit of the doubt early because of his reputation as a leader and consensus builder. What he does from here is up to him. So far, I like what I’ve seen.
In any case, that’s the big news of the week. If you all need anything from me, you know where to find me. Thanks, as always, and I hope you all have a safe and restful weekend.
Member of Congress
Well… it’s been an interesting week. Interesting, but not altogether surprising.
First up, the budget deal. As has been customary these last few years, a budget deal worth trillions of dollars was negotiated in secret and unveiled at the very last moment possible. There were no committee hearings, no amendments, no input, and scant details provided. In fact, it was so bad this time that after personally asking for detailed cost estimates for each of the provisions, we only started getting them via the press after the bill was passed.
Some people vote for multi-trillion dollar bills without seeing the fine print first. I am not one of those people.
Nevertheless, here’s the basic background on the bill so you can make up your own mind. The “Bipartisan Budget Act” will raise the current spending caps on both defense and non-defense spending (a priority for the Democrats) by a little over $80 billion. The deal will suspend the debt ceiling through March of 2017 (which contrary to some rumors, does not in fact give the President a blank check – the debt only goes up according to the spending and tax provisions that Congress authorizes). And finally, in exchange for the spending increases and debt limit suspension, the deal included a great many reforms. Some of those reforms are real and some are a little less than real. In fact, some are just nonsense.
On the good side, compliance efforts to go after tax and disability fraud will be improved – that means more money for taxpayer priorities. The imminent threat of the automatic Medicare Part B premium explosion has been dealt with. And the Social Security Disability Trust Fund (which was supposed to run out of cash by the fall of next year) has been propped up for at least a few more years.
That brings me to the not-so-good parts. For starters, they prop up the Soc. Sec. Disability Trust Fund by reallocating a portion of the payroll tax away from the main Social Security Trust Fund and into the Disability Fund. Robbing Peter to pay Paul. The problem is that the main trust fund is also going to go bankrupt and Congress has just hastened its demise, if only by a bit. That to me is an issue of principle as much as sound fiscal management.
Consider also just a couple of examples using the “ten year budget window” rules to create imaginary savings out of thin air. As many of you may already know, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is the official scorekeeper which creates the budget estimates for legislation. They are an independent agency within Congress and per our own rules, what they say goes. CBO is instructed by Congress to consider the budget impact of any new proposal on the deficit for the immediate next ten years – no more, no less. Just the next ten years.
In simple terms, Congress has a bad habit of exploiting the massive blind spot (everything outside the ten year window). When President Bush passed his famous / infamous tax cuts, he scheduled them to expire before the end of the ten year window so the full ten year score would record as deficit neutral. There was no intention for those tax cuts to ever expire. When President Obama passed his healthcare law, he played a similar game by setting the bill up to start the tax increases immediately, but delay the spending portions of the bill for four years after passage. As it turned out, ten years of taxes and only six years of spending would be seen as “deficit neutral” inside the ten year window CBO is limited to considering. Outside that first ten years…? It’s anybody’s guess.
It’s an easy system to rig and Congress frequently rigs it. Rigging, it would appear, is easier than actually making sufficient cuts to get things to be deficit neutral.
How does this apply to the budget deal? Pick a page, any page. I’m exaggerating there, but only a little bit. Consider a commonly used accounting gimmick involving pensions they included in this deal. In current law, pensions are recorded for tax purposes in the tenth month of the year. Since the federal government’s fiscal year ends on September 30th and the next fiscal year begins on the first day of the tenth month (October 1st), pension reporting occurs every year at the beginning of the fiscal year. That means ten years worth of pension related tax revenue during ten fiscal years.
A clever (but nonsense) provision in the debt deal switches the reporting date in the final year of the window to the “ninth month” instead of the “tenth month”. All of a sudden you can “pull” the 11th year tax revenue forward and into the ten-year budget window. Presto-chango, you have extra money to play with. Now, of course, this doesn’t mean the government will actually collect one extra nickel or spend one less nickel, but as far as CBO’s strict scorekeeping rules are concerned, Congress has magically reduced the ten year deficit projection by bringing new revenue into the picture. It’s complete and utter nonsense, but if all you care about is making it look like the budget deal saves money on paper, this kind of gimmick “works”.
Consider another provision. Following the oil embargo in the 70s, Congress created the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR)to ensure that in the event of a major supply disruption, America would always have a ready supply in reserve. One provision in the budget deal calls for selling 58 million barrels of oil out of the SPR to fund spending this year and next. As I found out after I voted against the bill, the CBO estimates that this will earn us $5.05 billion in cash. Now, as the article went on to explain, that assumes a sales price of roughly $87 per barrel. The trading price right now is $49 per barrel.
Now many of us question the wisdom of selling strategic emergency assets to pay for every day operating expenses and we certainly question the wisdom of selling those assets at historically low prices… But to assume for budget purposes that we can sell those assets for 80% higher than the going rate is beyond any kind of questioning. That’s just lunacy. Do you all know what the price of oil is going to be a year from now? I sure don’t. And if you can find any oil trading experts out there who can quote you $87 with any degree of certainty, I’d like to meet them.
I could give you ten pages worth of the nonsense, but I think you get the picture. At the end of the day, the American people know that Congress is up to shenanigans. They may not be able to articulate exactly why, but as a whole, the American people have a very well-tuned sense of smell and they can tell when something doesn’t smell quite right. This bill doesn’t smell right. In fact, it stinks.
We knew these deadlines were coming for months. As I feel like I’ve said a hundred times before, there is no reason to leave this stuff to the last minute other than trying to jam a crummy bill through. At the last minute, there is precious little time to ask serious questions or to reevaluate any alternatives. It’s a take it or leave it proposition.
When the final vote came down, the striking thing to me was how many of the various committee chairmen voted against the bill. Normally, if you wield a gavel, you are expected to take one for the team and vote with your leadership. So to have the chairman of the House Budget Committee (among others) publicly voting against the Speaker’s budget deal says an awful lot. This is the way the House has been run for years and there are an awful lot of us who think that needs to change.
John Boehner is a conservative guy. His lifetime conservative rating ranks him something like 8th most conservative overall in the House. I didn’t vote against him back in January because he failed some ideological test. I voted against him because way too many bills like this moved across the floor under his leadership.
…Which brings me to the other news of the week. Speaker Boehner is now officially “former House Speaker John Boehner”. The young, bright, aggressive Paul Ryan is the newly sworn in Speaker of the House. Before the vote had even happened, some radio commentators and others started stirring up a storm saying Ryan is a squish and he can’t be trusted. Ryan, I can tell you, is at the very least a strong conservative when it comes to the budget. If we have disagreements on other stuff, so be it. The reality is that if we don’t get this budget situation sorted, nothing else is going to matter because we aren’t going to have a country anymore. In the end, all but nine of the two hundred and forty-seven House Republicans voted to give him a shot. It’s a trial run. An audition. He gave a very nice speech saying we’re done with these last minute bills and that we’re going to get back to “regular order” (doing the due diligence in committee first and then opening things up for amendment on the floor). He said a lot of nice things that made a lot of us happy. But words don’t mean much in the final analysis. If he can’t live up to those promises or if the conservatives who backed him feel like they were sold a bill of goods, he’s out. I guarantee it.
In the meantime, well… we are where we are. I’d love to get your thoughts on that and where we should be moving forward. Thanks, as always, for your time and I look forward to hearing from you all.
Member of Congress
1727 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
First, let me say what an honor it is to be your representative in Congress. While this may be a “digital” introduction, I really look forward to having a chance to meet with you in person and to hear your views on where this country should be headed. In the meantime, let me take just a minute to tell you bit about who I am and where I come from.
I was born and raised in a suburb of Chicago. My father was a steel worker and my mother, a dedicated homemaker. And while not without its ups and downs, I was mighty lucky to grow up in a time when America was at her best.
Right out of high school, I joined the Illinois Air National Guard. And as anybody who has spent time in America’s military can tell you, young people inevitably learn the value of leadership, teamwork, discipline, and self-reliance. My experience as a young man was no different. Honorably discharged after six years, I decided to continue serving as a police officer in the city of Romeoville, Illinois.
After twelve years, having achieved the rank of sergeant, my wife Wendy and I moved with our young son Ryan to beautiful Hernando County. I joined the Sheriff’s Office as a deputy and have been with them ever since. Over the years, I worked hard and rose through the ranks – eventually becoming Sheriff in 2000.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost thirty years since we came to Florida. All three of our boys, Ryan, Kyle, and Casey are now grown and as a Dad, I couldn’t be prouder of them. Ryan, our oldest, graduated West Point in 2004. Having spent a year in South Korea before a 15 month combat deployment in Afghanistan, he is now a Captain assigned to the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at Hohenfels Training Area in Germany. Before finishing his tour in Afghanistan, he signed up for three more years.
Kyle, his younger brother, is an Army ROTC graduate of the University of Tampa and is now assigned to the Florida National Guard as a Blackhawk pilot. And Casey, our youngest, is also following in his brothers’ footsteps. He graduated from West Point and is now a Lieutenant with the 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley.
As parents, it means the world to us to see our children putting service before self. Wendy and I have always emphasized the importance of service – to whom much is given, much is expected. We believe that as Americans, we owe it to future generations to make the sacrifices necessary so that this country will always be the greatest on earth.
Throughout my career as a police officer, I have seen the best and worst in our community. I know the great potential that lies there. My wife Wendy, as a school teacher, believes the same. Our experiences have shown us that the best solutions in our communities will come from small business owners, local leaders, and private citizens – all working together; not, as some believe, from the politicians and bureaucrats in Washington.
In my view, a government for the people and by the people, must be made up of the people. The best representative is a member of the community first, and a Member of Congress second. In keeping with that ideal, I promise you that I will always be available and ready to listen. I will always come back to the District because it’s my home and that’s where my family is. I hope that you will always feel free to reach out to me if you have questions or concerns, or even just to say hello. In the meantime, I wish you all the best and I hope to meet you soon.
Retweeted by reprichnugent
Retweeted by reprichnugent
Chatted w/ Fraternal Order of Police, too often those who protect & serve us have their needs heard the least https://t.co/CJWfYD1SV2
Retweeted by reprichnugent
Retweeted by reprichnugent
Thx for support, but Jobs & Keystone is more important to me than a committee slot. I’m voting Yes on Rule. http://t.co/X8uMfoiofu
Retweeted by reprichnugent
ICYMI - My take on the payroll tax situation: http://t.co/oqtz8fL4
Wendy delivered once again. Literally. I’m not sure exactly how many kids have benefitted at this point from her surplus books program with
Last week the House took steps to mitigate fraud and abuse at the IRS – read more in my weekly Situation Report here: https://nugent.house.gov/media-center/weekly-reports/sitrep-april-23rd-2016
Our veterans have given everything to protect our freedom and it’s no surprise that private businesses often reward this sacrifice with discounts
I want to thank and congratulate all the contestants in this year’s Congressional Art Competition. We had so many impressive submissions from
The Hernando Sun with more sidewalk details from last week's County Commissioners meeting: