Vote Notes: H.R. 3731, The Secret Service Retention and Recruitment Act of 2017
Too often in solving problems with government answers, we never get down to addressing the real problem. And getting to the root of the problem is in fact the key to fixing it.
Think about it this way. You or I drive down a lonely stretch of road, and we get a flat tire. We get towed to the local station, and they do a good job of fixing it. We’re appreciative. We’ve been helped. If we simply focus on this part of what’s transpired, we may look at more help or a bigger tow truck or better phone connections between our lonely spot and the filling station as ways of making future service to other travelers better.
But it turns out that the very station we’ve visited has been sprinkling nails in the road. We didn’t know it, but in fact, they were the root cause of the problems we dealt with and might attempt to make better for future travelers.
My long-winded analogy in this case fits with last week’s vote on H.R. 3731, the Secret Service Retention and Recruitment Act of 2017. It authorized overtime pay for secret service agents, and I voted against it - not because I in any way don’t appreciate the great work done by many Secret Service agents who put their life on the line...but because we weren’t looking at the root cause of why so many of them have been going into overtime pay status. The bill passed 407 to 4, and I was obviously one of the four that voted against it.
Let me explain a little more….
The Presidential Protection Assistance Act of 1976 capped Secret Service protection costs for each of a president’s non-primary homes at $200,000. If the Secret Service was going to exceed the $200,000 cap, Congress had to vote to approve or deny that spending. This was sensible because it created at least a check and balance on Secret Service expenditure. No function in our federal government, however valid, should be without oversight. However, earlier this year, Congress voted to waive the mandatory vote to exceed this cap. As a result, Congress no longer approves or denies additional spending for protection for the president’s secondary homes. It’s on automatic pilot.
This is a problem because the Secret Service has spent over $60 million in overtime pay in presidential protection this year alone.
It was for this reason that when the Department of Homeland Security’s Authorization was voted on two months ago, I attempted to introduce an amendment that would have kept the vote to waive this cap in place. However, I was not allowed to offer my amendment. Some thought it would be viewed as an embarrassment to the president...my view was that it had nothing to do with the president and everything to do with checks and balances in our political system. This president is certainly unlike any that we’ve had in the past, given the number of secondary homes he has relative to past presidents, but this does not change the importance of Congress looking under the hood of how the Secret Service affords him and his family protection. It’s a simple issue - only Congress has the power of the purse. By removing the mandatory vote to approve more funds for secondary homes protection, Congress voluntarily gave away that power.
So, to recap: $60 million one way or another won’t bankrupt our nation, but abandoning the discipline of congressional oversight just might. And that’s, at the end of the day, what this vote was all about.