CD014: Marching Towards Sequester

Hydropower and veterans get some love from the House this week, while churches get taxpayer money and Federal workers get screwed… again.

H.R. 267: Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act

* Fast Tracks licensing for hydro-power generation on existing dams.
* Passed with 0 No votes.
* Only 3% of the 80,000 dams in the U.S. currently generate electricity

H.R. 235: Veteran Emergency Medical Technician Support Act

Federal grants will be awarded to States to streamline State requirements and procedures for veterans who were military emergency medical technicians while serving in the Armed Forces to meet certification, licensing, and other requirements applicable to becoming an emergency medical technician in their State.

The State must show they have a shortage of emergency medical technicians to be eligible for the money.

Funding: $1,000,000 for the period of fiscal years 2014 through 2018.”

$5,000 per state, per year.

Rural Communities and big cities have shortages of emergency medical personnel; in fact, many of our emergency services are volunteer.

H.R. 592: Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act (Tax Money to Churches Act)

Re-categorizes houses of worship, regardless of which religion, as public buildings on par with community centers, museums, homeless shelters, etc. in order to allow churches, synagogues, and other religious buildings access to cash grants to repair, restore, or rebuild buildings used for a primarily religious purpose.

Problems:

  • Direct government funding of religious buildings is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Supreme Court ruling on State grants for maintaining religious schools:

“If the State may not erect buildings in which religious activities are to take place, it may not maintain such buildings or renovate them when they fall into disrepair.”

  • Religious buildings are not available for use by the general public.
  • Prayer and worship are not essential government functions.
  • Bill never went through committee process. No amendments were allowed.
  • Religious buildings have access to FEMA money and SBA loans
  • Religions don’t pay taxes.

Passed the House, with 72 voting No. The 72 were an interesting mix of liberal and Tea Party Congressmen.

H.R. 273: Eliminate Promised .5% Pay Increase to Federal Workers

Eliminates the pay increase that was promised to Federal workers via an Obama Executive order because they have been given no cost of living adjustment in 2 years.

Freezes Congressional pay until December, even though it’s already frozen through October because of the fiscal cliff bill.

They spent two days on this bill even though the sequester takes effect March 1.

JIM MCGOVERN (MA)

“The Republicans are going to go on vacation tomorrow. We’re not going to be back for a week, and then we’ll have 4 legislative days left to deal with this thing called ‘‘sequestration.” On March 1, all of these across-the-board cuts go into play. And guess what? We’re going to lose at least 750,000 jobs. That’s not my estimate. That’s what the head of OMB says. There will be 750,000 Americans unemployed because of their inaction. Guess what? What are these people going to do? They’re going to have to look for employment. They’re going to be without work. It’s going to slow down our economic growth. Give me a break. There should be some urgency here.”

Job loss estimates range from 750,000 at the low end and over 2 million at the high end.

ROB WOODALL (GA)

Here we are at midnight on sequestration day, saying, Hey, let’s do it. Folks, let’s do it. Let’s do it. Back in May, we passed a bill here. Let’s do it with the bill we passed in August to solve the fiscal cliff. Let’s do it with the one we passed in September. Let’s do it with the one we passed in December.

What did the House’s sequester-solving bills do?

  • Reduced food funding
  • Defunded health insurance exchanges
  • Repealed the part of Wall Street reform that provides for the orderly break up of criminal banks
  • Eliminated the program that lets homeowners renegotiate their mortgage rates
  • Limited medical injury lawsuits
  • Put a $250,000 cap on punitive damages (a cap the jury would be prohibited by law from knowing about)
  • Deleted all defense cuts from the sequester

How might the sequester be avoided?

Chris Van Hollen of Maryland has a bill that the House leadershiop won’t allow a vote on.

The Senate: An agreement made that will allow votes on sequester replacement bills – one from D’s, one from R’s – on Monday or Tuesday, Fed 25 or 26, after their vacation.

Department of Defense Excess Weapons Going to States 

Max Blumenthal article

Defense Property Disposal Service established in 1972.

Responsible for disposal and sale of surplus and excess defense equipment and supplies.

Half of their extra goodies go to the foreign military sales program.

Operates in 16 countries with field offices in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait

NDAA 2013 appropriated $250 million per year for equipment (“excess defense articles”) in Afghanistan, but there are no caps in 2013 and 2014.

Other half of the extra military gear is available to other government agencies.

NDAA 2011 (Section 1072) broadened the categories of sate and local organizations that would be eligible for surplus military equipment to include state and local law enforcement, firefighting, homeland security, and EMS.

2011: State police forces were given 700,000 military items worth $500 million.

Article from Wired Magazine on military gear that is being transferred to States.

Since 9/11 – total grants given to police to buy military equipment have totaled $34 billion

Posse Comitatus Act – passed in 1878, limits the powers of the Federal government in using federal military to enforce State laws.

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