06.25.2014 1

McConnell-Reid fight over amendments on appropriations creates opportunity for GOP

mcconnellBy Robert Romano

“It was my hope we could get forward on this appropriation bill with a full and open amendment process and a reasonable number of amendments from both sides.”

That was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week pushing for simple majority amendments to a $180 billion Senate appropriations measure combining the budgets of Agriculture, Transportation-Housing and Urban Development and Commerce-Justice-Science.

McConnell is pushing to get an up-or-down vote on an amendment that would rein in an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon emissions regulation requiring costly retrofitting of existing coal-fired power plants.

The amendment would “require certification that neither electricity prices would go up, nor jobs be eliminated, as a result of implementing new rules on existing power plants. Without such a certification, the rules would not be able to move forward,” as reported by Roll Call.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), however, appears desperate not to allow McConnell’s amendment to come to floor for a simple majority vote. So much so that he pulled the entire appropriations bill off the floor.

Maybe he’s afraid it might actually pass. Or, simply that it could be a tough vote for vulnerable Democrat senators up for reelection in 2014, including Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Udall of Colorado, Mark Warner of Virginia and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.

In addition, it would be a tough vote for Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).

McConnell, who himself is in a closely contested reelection battle in the coal state of Kentucky, needs this fight. With a current Democrat majority of 55 to 45, a swing of six votes or more to the Republican side would be enough to pass the amendment.

Even if the vote failed, it could be enough to help shore up his reelection hopes, and enable Republicans to reclaim the Senate majority.

The ensuing stalemate therefore is unsurprising, but it creates a problem for Reid, who wants to complete the appropriations process on these bills. And, it creates an opportunity for Senate Republicans to double down and offer even more amendments.

One such amendment that McConnell might fight to get on the floor, offered by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), would defund implementation of the “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” rule, which in October will empower the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to condition eligibility of more than $3 billion of community development block grants on redrawing zoning maps to achieve racial and income integration.

The rule will use these racial and income housing quotas to engage in social engineering, creating a back-door opportunity for the Obama administration to gerrymander districts.

The amendment has already passed the House narrowly by 219 to 207, and was offered by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.).

Another opportunity for an amendment, although it has no Senate champion as of yet, would deny funding to the Obama administration to transition control over the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and the domain name system (DNS) to an as of yet unnamed international body.

To date, the Commerce Department has failed to release its legal justification that the Obama administration can even transition the Internet’s names and numbers authorities without a vote in Congress. In the meantime, the transition would eliminate the current First Amendment protections afforded to those names and numbers.

On May 30, such a defund amendment offered by Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) to the Department of Commerce appropriations bill passed the House of Representatives by a 229 to 178 vote.

There could be many more. As McConnell noted, “The only restrictions on amendments to this bill are those in the standing rules of the Senate.” If the sky’s the limit, then it’s time for Senate Republicans to take the gloves off and start forcing some tough votes.

Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government. 

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