Vote Notes: Omnibus Amendments
Over the past couple of weeks, the House has held votes on a host of amendments to the omnibus bill that will fund the federal government in 2018. May I highlight a handful of them?
An amendment offered by Congressman Jason Smith would deny federal funding to cities and states that choose to openly defy federal immigration laws. This struck me as reasonable because you and I don’t get to pick and choose which laws we will abide by.
I disagree with the amount of taxes I have to pay...but until we change the law, I am not given license to simply ignore them because I disagree with them. Our Founding Fathers envisioned a nation of laws and not men...and part of what this meant was that no one, and no entity, could be above them. That's the only path to equal justice. They cannot be enforced in patchwork form and still function in equal form. Again, this amendment simply says that cities and states cannot use federal funds in contravention of existing federal laws. I therefore voted in favor of the amendment, which passed 225 to 195.
A number of amendments offered by Congressman Steve King would have prohibited any funds appropriated in various sections of the bill from being used to enforce Davis-Bacon wage requirements. The Davis-Bacon Act, now 86 years old, authorizes the payment of a “prevailing wage” for workers on federal construction projects. The original intent was to protect local workers from large national contractors that could offer lower bids for federal projects by bringing in lower-priced workers. However, Davis-Bacon predates the establishment of federal minimum wage laws, other labor protection laws, and a whole host of government regulations concerning fair bidding for contracts. Today, this Act pushes up labor costs for federal construction projects. The Congressional Budget Office estimated it will add $15.7 billion over the next 10 years.
As an example, it looks like, with the higher budget numbers, the military will get started on a number of long-term modernization projects that have spent the past few years on the budgetary backburner. In doing so, Congress owes it to the American people to ensure that their tax dollars are being spent efficiently, and ensuring things cost more does not do this. There were three of these amendments: one specific to the agriculture division, another specific to the transportation, housing, and urban development section, and a third covering the rest of the bill. I voted in favor of all three, but none of them passed.
An amendment offered by Congressman Salud Carbajal echoed my own efforts to block any new oil drilling activities off the Atlantic Coast. In fact, my office submitted a very similar amendment to Mr. Carbajal’s, which unfortunately was blocked from being allowed for a floor vote. By moving ahead, the federal government has decided to ignore more than 120 municipalities, including every single coastal municipality in South Carolina, who have all formally opposed oil and gas development off the Atlantic coast. Whether you are for or against offshore drilling, I think we could all agree that locals should have some degree of voice on matters that affect them. Not all decisions need to be made from Washington. In this case, all we have been asking for is some local authority in determining what happens next in local communities - because the onshore infrastructure necessary to support offshore operations impacts communities onshore. Some cities want the industrial infrastructure necessary to support offshore operations...some don’t.
In all this, the principal is simple…The government closest to the people generally governs best – and, in that regard, we should all pause in thinking about a process in which South Carolina would not have material influence on an issue that might impact tourism and the unique look and feel of our coastline. I therefore voted in favor of the amendment, which failed 177 to 230.
An amendment offered by Rep. Tom McClintock would have eliminated funding for something called the Essential Air Service, which provides subsidies to commuter and regional airlines in order to serve rural airports that are not otherwise economically viable. According to the Transportation Security Administration, in 2014, the Essential Air Service averaged only one-third of total flight capacity for 44 of the 113 routes it covers. One route, which flies round-trip from Kansas City, Missouri to Great Bend, Kansas twice per day, usually serves only one or two people despite receiving approximately $1.4 million per year in subsidies from the Essential Air Service. This program puts taxpayers on the hook for the losses in unprofitable routes. I therefore voted in favor of the amendment, which failed 140 to 280.
There were two amendments that dealt with Amtrak, the government-operated and subsidized passenger rail service. The first, offered by Congressman Mo Brooks, would have eliminated Amtrak’s federal subsidy. Between 2010 and 2015, the federal government provided Amtrak with $40 billion in taxpayer funds. Yet, since it was created in 1971, Amtrak has never turned a profit. Between 2007 and 2011, the federal subsidy for each Amtrak ticket averaged almost $51. Given that approximately 30 million passengers buy Amtrak tickets each year, the total passenger subsidy during that period was approximately $1.5 billion per year. Amtrak lost $600 million between 2006 and 2012 in their food and beverage service alone. It’s time for the federal government to break from the status quo here, and accordingly, I voted for the amendment, which failed 128 to 293.
The second, an amendment offered by Congressman Ted Budd, would have eliminated a $900 million earmark for the upgrade of an Amtrak rail line between Newark, NJ and New York City. The upgrade is part of the larger Gateway project, a $29.5 billion tunnel, bridge, and infrastructure upgrade led by Amtrak to improve passenger rail service between Newark and New York City. This project has been fraught with delays and cost overruns. It is also controversial because it won't increase fare revenues enough to offset its cost in the long run. I voted for the amendment, which failed 160 to 260.
Finally, an amendment offered by Congressman Gary Palmer would have eliminated funding for something called the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Criminal Enforcement Division. Each year, the EPA spends approximately $50 million a year to employ nearly 200 armed federal agents at $216,000 per year, plus benefits, travel, training, and other expenses. Standing side-by-side, it’d be difficult to tell the difference between one of these agents and an Army Ranger. They are equipped with sophisticated guns, ammunition up to 30mm, camouflage, night vision goggles, unmanned aerial vehicles, and other pieces of highly advanced, war-fighting hardware.
The EPA is just one of more than 70 federal agencies that now have what can safely be described as para-military enforcement divisions. This militarization of federal agencies is a troubling trend that should not be allowed to continue unchecked. Federal agencies can rely on local law enforcement or the U.S. Marshals when there is a clear need for armed protection. I voted for the amendment, which passed 216 to 186.
The list continues to be long, so I’ll post on several more tomorrow....