Congress is back in session and the first week has already provided a number of fireworks -- questions about authorizing military action in Syria, debates over how to fund the government past Sept. 30th, whether Obamacare should be defunded...among others.
But before we delve into all of that, August was a busy month for us, even though Congress was out of session. In the district, we toured businesses, met with organizations, held Neighborhood Office Hours and continued our "Open Door After 4" office hours. Our Washington staff worked diligently to eliminate the mail backlog that had built up from our rapid transition from the campaign to DC and I am happy to report that we are up to speed on answering most inquiries within two weeks. Please do know that letters sent to us via the US Postal Service take a little longer in processing because the Capitol screens our mail before sending it to our office, resulting in a delay of 10 days on average before we even see it. For that reason keep in mind you can contact us online by submitting your comments here.
We have been receiving an abundance of mail, calls and visits from constituents regarding the situation in Syria, and given this influx of concern and the President's address this past Tuesday evening, I wanted to take a second to offer my thinking on the issue...
I am a firm believer in the "Powell doctrine" of withholding military force unless it is in our country's strategic interest, unless engagement would produce clear and tangible results, and unless there is a clear exit strategy. I don't think the President has answered any one of those questions, much less all three, and for this reason I must withhold my support. My promised no vote I think is in line with common sense, the majority view of the district, financial reality as we cannot afford to police the entire world, and several military considerations -- among them the need for surprise in operations.
Three reasons I am hearing from constituents really struck me for opposing action:
One, military action in this case weakens what the President himself has described as our strategic interest. While we would all agree that the use of chemical weapons is appalling, defining it as such, and a strategic threat and then yet proposing nothing more than a very limited response undercuts the very notion of strategic interest. This "shot across the bow," like any warning, will only be as effective as the consequences that are promised, and what the President has assured is not much in the way of consequence.
Two, the military ought to be used when it produces an effect. The President has promised that there would not be one. No regime change, no change to the balance of power within the country -- at this point not even surprise in action that might enhance the odds of effect. The President's plan has been so widely publicized that major news outlets have reported the transfer of Syrian military assets into densely populated civilian areas to be used as human shields.
Three, it's a lot easier to engage in military action than it is to disengage. We have seen that most recently over the last 12 years in Iraq and Afghanistan as our country has spent more than $2 trillion and over 6,600 American lives were lost. If our government goes into Syria, I think it would be vital that the President clearly define "success" and the exit that would come with it.
If the goal in Syria is neither regime change nor an ultimatum that we are prepared to enforce every time it happens, what is the point of intervening at all in a military sense? And why should the American military be involved in a situation where red lines have been repeatedly drawn, erased, and redrawn, but still fail to convey our purpose for intervention? These are the types of questions I have been asked by the people of the Lowcountry, and I believe they all point to the fact that we should stay out of Syria. We will continue to monitor the situation in Syria and will be sure to keep you up to date on our thinking.
With that said, please take a look below at a forecast of what we expect to be voting on over the next few weeks, as well as explanations for some recent votes.
Take good care,
The Weeks Ahead
Funding the Government -- The Continuing Resolution
The House GOP leadership's plan for the Continuing Resolution (CR), which will fund the government post-September 30th, has still not been determined. As you may know, the House has only passed 4 of the 12 bills necessary to fund the federal government past September 30th. The Senate has actually passed no bills to do so. As such, a Continuing Resolution will be used to bridge the gap by funding government at last year's levels.
Plans floated this week regarding how the Continuing Resolution will be written and whether it will defund Obamacare have split the Republican Conference, and there is an ongoing debate about what to do now. Something must happen before the end of September, or the government will shut down.
The Debt Ceiling
The U.S. will reach the debt ceiling sometime between October 18th and November 5th. This means that if there is no deal before that time to raise the debt ceiling, the country will not be able to pay its bills. Continuing to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars that we do not have without making reforms to how we spend is not sustainable either. Right now, House GOP leadership has said it will demand delaying Obamacare for one year in return for raising the debt ceiling. The President has said he will not negotiate over the debt ceiling, but stay tuned because I suspect there will be major fireworks.
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA)
One of the most important pieces of legislation that will come before the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, on which I serve, is WRRDA. This bill authorizes funding for infrastructure improvements to the nation's ports and waterways. It is designed to shorten the process of getting projects approved, strengthen Congressional oversight of the Army Corps of Engineers, increase private investment in water infrastructure, and clear some of the backlog that has built up through years of inaction. Additionally, this WRRDA bill is the first ever to not contain any earmarks. I have long been an advocate for ending the process of earmarking -- given its tendency to lead to pork barrel spending. The goal of WRRDA is to provide the most bang for the buck for the taxpayer by prioritizing the projects that have the greatest impact on growth and competitiveness.
This is particularly important to the 1st District given the need to dredge the Port of Charleston to fifty feet in order to keep pace with the increasingly large ships that will call on the Port, once the Panama Canal expansion is complete. In order for the Port to receive the federal funds and approval to dredge the harbor, it needs to be authorized by the Army Corps of Engineers Chief's Report. However, the report won't be done in time to get funding in this bill. This will not be a problem if we get back to passing WRRDA bills on a regular basis, but there is some concern in Washington that if we cannot restart that process, Charleston could be left in the lurch. We are working closely with the rest of the South Carolina delegation on this matter to ensure that the WRRDA bill we pass this year is good for taxpayers and for the 1st District.
Immigration is on the backburner in the House for now until the budget battles are over, but after that Congress is expected to deal with some of the five immigration bills that have currently gone through the Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees. 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 already passed 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. That being said, the process going forward is still unclear at this time and we will be sure to keep you updated as legislation begins to move.
Recently in the News
One quick note on an issue recently in the news, which is my trip to Israel in August. It goes without saying that the region is more than volatile, and there are a whole host of American interests in the region the most obvious of which is our energy supply. With that in mind, when I was invited by the American Israel Education Foundation to attend the trip, I accepted. It was a completely privately funded trip with no cost to taxpayers, and I believe that as a matter of due diligence, it's important for members of Congress to gain the insight on issues and areas that often come with travel - even though at times it's viewed in unpopular terms.
I thought it particularly important given the fact that two-thirds of the freshman class attended this trip. This trip is put together every Congress for freshman members of Congress, and although I have served in past Congresses, in technical terms I am a freshman in this Congress. If you are going to be effective in Congress you need to get to know other members, and I thought it a worthwhile investment of one week of the five week recess to do so. It still gave me more than four weeks to move around the district, visit people at home and listen to their opinions on a whole host of issues. I invited my fiancée because 25 of 26 members were traveling with their spouses, and my experience has been to travel alone if other members travel alone, but as they were traveling with spouses, I considered it appropriate to bring my fiancée. The bottom line in all this is that I thought it was a worthwhile trip as I learned a lot both in getting to know other members and in getting to better understand that incredibly volatile part of the world.
And lastly, below are statements regarding my thinking on a few recent votes, please give them a read if you have the time to see how we are reacting to and voting on legislation:
H.R. 1155: National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers Reform Act of 2013
I voted against H.R. 1155, which would have created a national body to regulate insurance agents and brokers as they move their businesses across state lines. The bill eventually passed with a vote of 397-6.
Though the bill was well-intentioned and on its face a bill aimed at streamlining government, I opposed it because I believe the federal government should not be usurping state power. Our founding fathers were explicit in the Constitution when they stated that all powers not given to the federal government would be given to the states. For two hundred years, each state has regulated the licenses needed to sell insurance within its own borders, and I think it makes sense to leave the decisions in state control. It's not as if doing so precludes states from independently making agreements to accept licenses from other states. Over the past fifteen years, 47 states have made reciprocity agreements, which make it easier for agents to sell insurance in multiple states.
Our federal system has worked because each level of government took on a certain amount of responsibility, which ideally leads to a more localized structure of government, not one with an increasing level of authority vested in the federal government.
S. 130: Powell Shooting Range Land Conveyance Act
On Tuesday, I voted in opposition to S.130, which would have given 322 acres of federal land to the city of Powell, Wyoming's Recreations District, which currently uses the land as a shooting range. The House voted, with a vote of 400-1, to pass S. 130.
I opposed the measure because I believe that good decisions in government need to reflect financial reality. One, how can a government that is $16 trillion in debt be in the business of giving away property? Two, when the federal government gives away assets for free, it misrepresents the cost of government to taxpayers. Simply, the cost of the federal government giving away the asset is inflated, while the cost of the local government receiving the asset is kept artificially low. I have had a consistent record on this position over the years...as governor I refused to sign bills that came to my desk that gave away state assets and when I served in Congress previously I offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have stopped similar practices.
My vote is in no way a reflection on the city of Powell or the use to which it is putting the land, but rather a comment on how our federal government should make decisions about its resources. Acting as if the government's resources, in this case land, are worth nothing, given the size of our debt and our financial difficulties, is not something I can support.
Another Study -- You've got to be kidding me
Yesterday evening I was one of 32 Republican members voting no on H.R. 2052, which would direct the Secretary of Commerce to conduct a review of the global competitiveness of the United States in attracting foreign direct investment, a study with a cost of $1 million. The bill passed 379-32.
I originally intended to vote yes given the fact that I've long been an advocate and believer in the vital necessity of capital investment in raising both productivity and people's incomes. Unfortunately, as I stood on the House floor contemplating the vote before me, it struck me that we're in serious trouble as a civilization if our first step towards becoming more competitive lies in a $1 million study between now and 2018, and accordingly I voted no.
During my eight years as Governor, oftentimes a way of not dealing with an issue was to commission yet another study. The steps toward inviting more capital investment are not a mystery, they're an act of will. Tax, regulatory and other cost of government issues are simple drivers in repelling or inviting capital. In fact, during my governorship, I was an advocate for capital investment. Our administration attracted more capital investment, $24 billion, than during any other eight year period in South Carolina history. We did this by lowering regulations, enacting tort reform, cutting the small business tax rate from 7% to 5% and signing the largest recurring tax cut in state history for an annual savings to taxpayers of an additional $220 million...and more. In short, we worked to attract investment by creating the necessary soil conditions for business growth, and it's no different at the federal level.
So my simple take away was that we don't need to study this more, we need to do more in improving the underlying soil conditions for business growth in the country - which is ultimately why I decided to vote against the measure that came to the floor last night.