Summer has evaporated...well I guess I'm choosing the wrong analogy...as its been soaked this year! My point is that its flown by, and I trust yours has gone well. From my end, it's hard to believe that I've already been in Washington 11 weeks. The last 80 days have certainly flown by! We have more or less built the office team, but still have a ways to go in getting systems and procedures up and in place.
As I have said from the beginning, one of our aims as an office is to be transparent about the votes I cast and the stands I take, and more importantly I want to be transparent about soliciting your ideas about upcoming issues. For this reason I write to you now.
Since May, we have been in the middle of appropriations season and progress has been slow. Congress has passed only four bills to fund aspects of the US Government and has eight more outstanding to complete the process. This means it is likely that come September, leadership will want to consider a Continuing Resolution, which would essentially package up all the remaining spending priorities for passage as one big item..
This approach is dangerous for the taxpayer because of the lack of thorough examination that comes with these giant bills. I'd prefer for legislation tied to our finances be considered and passed one spending category at a time, because that way there are greater safeguards for the taxpayer. Big bills that combine different subject areas don't offer accountability because they allow office holders an excuse to have reason to be for or against every bill...often times depending on the vantage point of who they are talking to!
The financial year for the government ends September 30th and as the October 1st deadline for keeping the government funded and running approaches, I will keep you updated on developments because year end funding is sure to provoke something of a storm in Washington. In the midst of all this will be the nation hitting the debt ceiling, and as this issue heats up I'd ask that you consider a few things:
- It's important to keep in mind that the problem we have on our hands isn't actually a "debt ceiling" issue, but a debt issue.
- What's happened in Washington is that politicians have promised far more than they can deliver and as a consequence we are all in a financial pickle. I have fought consistently for near twenty years against the expansion of government promises, but that viewpoint, ultimately, was not the prevailing one and now we are currently locked in a cycle of continual ceiling raises.
- Deficits have been running about a trillion a year over the last five years and the national debt has tripled since 2000. In fact the debt has grown from $6 trillion in 2000 to nearly $17 trillion today. By the year 2025 there will only be enough government revenue for interest and entitlement spending -- which means no money for defense or any other area of government without substantially borrowing more or raising taxes.
- Being honest about where we are as a nation is crucial to starting the process of climbing out of this financial hole. Part of the process of recognizing how steep our climb is, is to recognize that our accounting methods for gauging our long term financial obligations, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, lack transparency and do not really reflect today's taxpayers the true cost of continuing our current policies.
- Think about it this way, government accounting functions on a cash flow basis, which limits itself to only the comparison of yearly revenues with yearly expenses. No corporation in America would be allowed to account for its liabilities this way because government law prohibits it! They must use accrual accounting in quantifying their liabilities and so too should government. Cash accounting fails to take into account how the spending policies of today are actually redistributing resources from future generations to today's generation. One study estimated that the real cost of our current entitlement programs amounts to $65 trillion, with large amounts of that cost being financed by an intergenerational transfer of wealth from future generations to cover current ones.
- Our nation's accounting methods under represent the challenges we face on the spending front and by undertaking changes to them I think we can shed more light on the problem and draw more public attention to it. One possible improvement here is to move to a generational accounting model, and I am now starting work with Senator John Thune, who I served with when I as last in Congress, on such a bill.
In the meantime, I believe it is vital that we hold each bill that comes to the House Floor to a standard of whether or not it will rack up the debts already owed by the American taxpayer. Take a look at the Farm Bill that passed a few weeks back. While the House was able to separate the costly food stamp portion from the bill, crop insurance programs that could put the taxpayer on the hook for really significant amounts in the future remained in the final legislation. More on that bill follows.
All this said, I hope you are enjoying the summer and if you have the time, please find an update below that I hope will give you a good sense of our recent work in Washington.
Take good care,
RECENTLY IN WASHINGTON
PROTECTING OUR CIVIL LIBERTIES
Sanford Supports Amash Amendment
Rep. Sanford supported an amendment, introduced by Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) to the FY 2014 Defense Appropriations bill, that would defund the National Security Agency's bulk telephone data collection project. By defunding the program the government would no longer be authorized, under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, to hold a pool of metadata on every phone call of every American. Unfortunately, the amendment failed to pass the House by a 12- vote margin. More information on this amendment and what it would have done to prevent further unwarranted government surveillance is available here.
Sanford Joins Petition to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court In light of the news that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been conducting broad surveillance tactics on millions of American phone users, Rep. Sanford has joined fifteen of his House colleagues in filing what's known as an "amicus brief" supporting a motion--submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) requesting that the "secret" court responsible for authorizing the NSA's telephone surveillance program begin releasing their opinions to Members of Congress for review. A copy of the amicus brief is available here. Rep. Sanford's official statement on the amicus brief is available here.
Leaders in both the House and Senate have identified immigration reform as a legislative priority in the 113th Congress. The Senate has already passed an immigration reform bill, S. 744. Below is Rep. Sanford's latest statement on the issue:
"We don't need amnesty and we need border security before we look any further into immigration reform. While the Senate bill throws a lot of money at things, it does not accomplish this from my perspective and that of so many who have contacted me on this issue.
It strikes me that there are two fairly simple principles at play in this larger debate. First, that we can learn from history. In 1986, our nation offered amnesty to three million illegal workers with the promise that enforcement would follow. It never did. As a consequence, we find ourselves with eleven million undocumented workers, and most people I talk to tell me that if amnesty with only the promise of enforcement didn't work then, what's to make it work now? The second is that most people I talk to believe that this is not only a debate about the degree to which we look past or honor laws currently on the books, but that it's ultimately a spending issue. It's no surprise to anyone that we can't afford the entitlements now promised Americans, and one would have to scratch one's head in figuring how we could afford to add eleven million people to the list of people that we already can't afford. There are obviously a number of other principles at play here, but I will call it quits in simply saying that I agree with your larger points.
Let me add one warning, though. In September, this issue will likely return to the House and I believe the key problem in the debate going forward lies in the fact that the targeted bills the House is now contemplating - while acceptable to most conservatives, could simply wind up being vehicles for the Senate bill. The way it would work is as follows. A great micro-bill on immigration leaves the House and goes to conference with the Senate. Presume the Senate bill prevails. That conference bill comes back to the House carrying the Senate language and ultimately passes because of Democratic votes who would like to see the Senate bill.
The current action by the Senate has created an environment where amnesty opponents in the House are left with very little recourse, but to oppose sending legislation to conference with the Senate. As expressed from the time of the campaign forward, I do not believe that Congress should move forward on any aspect of immigration reform until we secure America's borders. My view is based on conversations with people across the district over the five months of the campaign, and in them I got a loud and clear consensus that they want secure borders and that they don't believe in amnesty. Amnesty, as contemplated in the Senate bill, was indeed tried back in 1986 with the promise that enforcement and a secure border would come later, but it never came. I don't want to repeat myself, but given that we have an example of what does not work, I think it's important we learn from that decision and take "paths" away from enforcement and toward amnesty of any kind off the discussion table until we get our borders secure."
On Friday, July 12, the House voted on and passed its second iteration of the Farm Bill. Unlike the previous version of the Farm Bill, which was voted down on June 19, this bill decoupled the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- commonly known as food stamps -- from the agriculture programs portion of the bill, so that the House could consider and vote separately on these two issues. The House has, so far, considered only the agriculture portion of the Farm Bill. Rep. Sanford voted against the Farm Bill. His statement on the bill is available below:
"This afternoon I voted against the latest version of the Farm Bill to come before the House, and I applaud my colleagues in the House Agricultural Committee for their work to bring about this bill. Their efforts were earnest and in good faith, but I ultimately voted no because I have seen this dance toward reform come up short of watching out for the taxpayer since I first voted for the Freedom to Farm bill in the mid 90's. This version is certainly better; for instance, to their credit, this bill was brought to the floor without the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. While I am pleased that SNAP is being decoupled from the agricultural portion of the bill, this legislation does not go far enough in enacting needed reforms to our expenditures on farm subsidies, and so I believe the bill is still wanting for the following reasons:
Insurance may prove even more costly than direct payment. While it is good news that the direct payments program (where farmers received money even if they weren't cultivating their land) is being replaced, the crop insurance program that replaces it could very well end up costing more. The crop insurance program will mean farmers earning more when prices drop from their current historical highs, than they would normally because a price drop in commodities, such as corn or soybeans, would trigger a support payment that would exceed what their income would have been in the present system.
Furthermore, these price triggers are set at points that if prices drop to their lower historical averages, this could lead to runaway payments for taxpayers. For this reason, an amendment was put in place in this legislation to cap the potential downside of the new insurance spending .but while the crop insurance program is permanent, the taxpayer protection element lasts for only the first 6 years of the legislation. Similarly, we were promised that the conferees between the House and Senate bill would be instructed to include an amendment capping these payments for farmers making over $250,000 dollars. But it's not binding, as there is no way to force the Senate conferees to subscribe to what the House has instructed. It's reasonable for farmers to want coverage in case of catastrophe, but taxpayers should not be responsible for providing a price backstop for commodity markets.
Lastly, this Farm Bill repeals the underlying 1938 and 1949 permanent farm law. Over the years, reformers have been rebuffed with charges that not passing a bill would result in reverting to this draconian legislation that would end up costing taxpayers even more than the bill currently being considered. While I welcome this change, because of the opportunities it would in theory provide to further reforming agricultural subsidies, this Farm Bill would instead become the new permanent law. Meaning we'd lock in these new crop insurance programs and high commodity prices in perpetuity. After the six years mentioned previously, the provisions limiting payments, and thereby potential cost to the taxpayer, would expire and not be part of the permanent law. All proponents of such programs would need to do to maintain their price guarantees is to then protect the new permanent law. This would make future reform even more difficult. For these reasons I cast my vote against the Farm Bill."
Visit Rep. Sanford's Facebook page for his latest statements on major votes.
NEW LEGISLATION INTRODUCED
During the final week before recess, Rep. Sanford introduced his first piece of legislation, the Coastal Extension Act of 2013. This was written on the heels of Congress' push last month to lift the drilling ban off the coast of South Carolina and other states on the East Coast. At the time, Rep. Sanford cast his vote against the legislation because the bill gave the federal government sole authority and final say on all negotiations with oil and gas parties, though coastal states have a compelling interest in both the appearance and effect of exploration and extraction efforts off their coast. The bill would allow a rig to be built roughly 15,000 feet from the South Carolina shoreline (3 miles) and in plain sight from the beaches of the Isle of Palms or Hilton Head, with no ability of anyone in the state to impact that decision. His original statement on the vote can be found here. Rep. Sanford's new piece of legislation would change the boundary to 12 miles, ensuring that the state of South Carolina would maintain the final say on oil and gas leases off the coast past the horizon line. In effect protecting the economic interests of South Carolina by granting them sole authority within sight from land. Whether you agree or disagree with offshore drilling, Rep. Sanford believes most would agree with the principle of federalism that would dictate that states affected maintain a degree of local voice and control. This is particularly the case given that Gulf states like Texas already have control this far off their coast.
Rep. Sanford is now a co-sponsor of H.R. 25, The FairTax, which is a bill that would eliminate all federal income taxes and replace them with a single, revenue-neutral consumption tax on all goods and services. The current tax system strips Americans and businesses of the incentive to work hard and pursue success. Rep. Sanford believes in fixing the federal tax code, and that the FairTax is one of a number of unique solutions that should considered in the broader tax reform conversation.
Rep. Sanford joined freshman Members of Congress in sending a letter to Mike Froman, the United States Trade Representative, in support of expanding opportunities to strengthen the United States' role in the global marketplace through trade. The letter specifically addresses Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which clarifies the working relationship between the Executive and Legislative branches on trade issues. Under TPA, Congress considers legislation to authorize trade agreements negotiated by the President on an up-or-down vote. This letter demonstrates support for continuing trade negotiations under that process.