July 12, 2017
The busiest people on Capitol Hill today may be travel agents. Most senators are probably scrambling to change their vacation plans after the GOP's announcement that the chamber was cutting its August recess short. Instead of adjourning on July 28th for the usual summer break, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell thinks there's too much unfinished business to leave town. If members are upset about working overtime, McConnell says, take it up with Democrats.
"In order to provide more time to complete action on important legislative items and process nominees that have been stalled by a lack of cooperation from our friends across the aisle, the Senate will delay the start of the August recess until the third week of August." The jab at Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's (D-N.Y.) party comes after weeks of Democratic hijinks and procedural moves that have slowed the confirmation process to a glacial pace. And although health care is stealing most of the headlines, the reality is that the Senate has plenty on its plate apart from the messy debate over a replacement plan. National defense, judicial nominees, administration appointments, and the start of tax reform are all bearing down on a chamber that isn't exactly known for its efficiency.
But not everyone is upset about the lost vacation time. In fact, several Republicans had asked to stay and work. Led by David Perdue (R-Ga.), at least eight senators called on leadership to postpone recess. "Wouldn't it be a refreshing thing if the American people could actually see a seriousness about doing things on time for a change, even if it meant disrupting a planned schedule?" Senator Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), one of the letter's signers, said. Across the Capitol, House offices breathed a sigh of relief that their calendars were unchanged. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said that his members would only return if the Senate managed to pass an Obamacare repeal. In that case, he vowed, his chamber would be back in D.C. within 72 hours and eager to get to work fulfilling their biggest promise to America.
McConnell is still hopeful that won't be necessary, explaining that he still intends to hold a vote next week on one of the two versions of the legislation floating around the Senate. "We're going to do health care next week, and in the reconciliation process, of course, you get to the end," he guaranteed. "Sometimes it can be as a result of exhaustion, but you get to the end." Republicans got a sneak peak at the latest rewrite at yesterday's policy lunch. Most senators have probably lost count of the number of bill drafts that have landed on their desks, but McConnell is determined to find the sweet spot of compromise. For right or wrong, part of that will depend on the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) score on the changes, which isn't expected until tomorrow or Friday. And while the CBO is about as accurate as a weatherman, most senators still take their cost estimates seriously.
Meanwhile, the House isn't exactly twiddling its fingers in the lead-up to summer recess. One of the heaviest lifts of every year -- the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) -- is winding its way through the committee process on its way to the floor. More than 370 amendments have been filed in the Rules Committee, and although not all of them will get the benefit of debate, several crucial ones will. They include Rep. Mark Sanford's (R-S.C.) measure to stop the military from watering down its physical standards in the face of so much political correctness. With the possibility of women joining infantry units or people who identify as transgender in the ranks, Sanford is as concerned as the rest of us that the Pentagon would lower its bar to accommodate the Left's demands for "inclusion."
At the same time, our good friend Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) is desperately trying to spare taxpayers the $3.7 billion price tag for the sexual reassignment surgery that would be guaranteed to people who identify as transgender if the Trump administration doesn't overturn the Obama policy permanently. Under her measure, the military would be barred from spending a single cent on the extreme makeover of troops who, ironically, will be unfit for deployment after the procedure. Instead, she's fighting to put that money where it belongs: on actual military priorities like equipment, service members' pay, and vital training.
This is ought to be a political no-brainer for both parties. Only 23 percent of Americans think that even allowing the gender-confused into the military is a good idea. Good luck finding that many who think paying for a completely elective sex change operation is a better use of taxpayer dollars than 3,700 tomahawk missiles, 22 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Planes, or 116 Chinook helicopters. Click here to add your voice to the millions of Americans who want the military to do its job -- not the bidding of the fringe Left!
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.