Co-Sponsorship of the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A-PLUS) Act (H.R. 719 / S. 221)

The Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A-PLUS) Act (H.R. 719 & S. 221), introduced by Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) and Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), would allow states to opt out of programs that fall under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — formerly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) — and repurpose those federal funds on a consolidated basis “to advance the educational policy of the State.”

During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump promised to return educational decision making back to the state and local level by ending common core and prompting school choice. A-PLUS would go a long way in fulfilling this promise by potentially transferring $23 billion in funding that currently goes to ineffective and duplicative federal programs authorized by ESSA, to state-run educational programs that better target the needs of local communities.

According to Lindsey Burke, Director of the Center for Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation, the A-PLUS Act would:

“Give flexibility to states and local communities, reduce administrative costs and the federal compliance burden associated with accessing federal education funding; and free states and localities from their role as compliance entities subordinate to the federal government, making them accountable to parents and taxpayers instead.”

State and local governments finance 90 percent of all K-12 education spending but must comply with burdensome federal mandates and regulations or risk losing billions in federal funding. This federal overreach hinders the ability of state and local governments from engaging in innovative educational initiatives, such as school choice programs like the successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

School choice programs put parents, not federal bureaucrats or unions, in charge of their children’s education and makes local schools more accountable to parents and taxpayers. The A-PLUS Act would free up states through additional resources and less federal mandates, allowing them to pursue student-centered education reforms. Burke writes:

“Language within the A-PLUS proposal explicitly recognizes that accountability is strengthened when directed toward parents. Allowing states to put their dollars toward state and locally determined priorities would enable them to respond more directly to parents and taxpayers. Specifically, and with conservative leadership at the helm in most states, it would create space for states to establish and grow choice-based options for families—the ultimate accountability mechanism.”

With a unified Republican government and the vast majority of House Republicans having already voted for A-PLUS last session, now is the time for Congress to begin to restore federalism in education, empower parents and students, and remove archaic obstacles that have prevented true opportunity for all.

Heritage Action supports H.R. 719 and S. 221 and will include CO-SPONSORSHIP of this legislation in our scorecard.

Co-Sponsorship of the Agency Accountability Act (H.R. 850 / S. 299)

The Agency Accountability Act of 2017 (H.R. 850 & S. 299), introduced by Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), would restore Congress’ power of the purse found in Article I of the Constitution over unelected federal bureaucrats by requiring “any agency that receives a fee, fine, penalty, or proceeds from a settlement” to “deposit such amount in the general fund of the Treasury.”  

Under current law, federal agencies that confiscate taxpayer dollars through fines, fees and proceeds from legal settlements — such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Financial Stability Oversight Council — may repurpose those dollars as they see fit. The Agency Accountability Act would subject this revenue to the regular appropriations process and empower lawmakers, not federal bureaucrats, to determine how best to allocate scarce resources.

Justin Bogie, The Heritage Foundation’s Senior Policy Analyst in Fiscal Affairs, explains:

“Under current law, agencies have the ability to use funds received through fines, fees, and proceeds from legal settlements without going through the formal appropriations process, thus avoiding congressional oversight.

“The Agency Accountability Act seeks to correct this problem by requiring that (with limited exceptions) any fees, fines, penalties, or proceeds from a legal settlement be deposited into the Treasury’s general fund. The funds would then be available to the respective agencies, but only through the formal appropriations process.”

This legislation restores power back to Congress to make funding decisions. It also increases transparency within federal agencies by shining a light on the amount of revenue raised from agency fees and penalties, and the source of that revenue. Bogie continues:

“According to a report from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, agencies collected $83 billion in fines between fiscal years 2010 and 2015. The committee found that the amount of power given to agencies to pursue penalties and legal settlements allows them to act as both judge and jury.

“By forcing agencies to return these revenues to the Treasury’s general fund before they are appropriated back to the agencies, Congress would be able to fully account for how much revenue these agencies collect and what sources they collect from.”

Under this legislation, lawmakers would also have the option of keeping this revenue in the general fund for the purpose of deficit reduction. In fiscal year 2015 alone, agencies collected $516 billion through a wide array of user fees.

The Agency Accountability Act is a win for lawmakers who want to reclaim their rightful power of the purse and for those who care about fiscal sustainability and the negative economic effects of our growing national debt. With nearly two-thirds of the annual federal budget already consisting of “auto-pilot” mandatory spending, Congress should use this opportunity to pass the Agency Accountability Act and take back the power of the purse.

Heritage Action supports H.R. 850 / S. 299 and will include CO-SPONSORSHIP of this legislation in our scorecard.

Key Vote: “NO” on FY17 Omnibus Spending Bill (H.R. 244)

This week, the House and Senate will consider the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 (H.R. 244), a 1,665-page omnibus spending package that would fund the federal government through September 30, 2017. The Heritage Foundation explains that while the bill, which was released publicly at 2 AM Monday morning, “does make progress” on some issues, “it woefully fails the test of fiscal responsibility and does not advance important conservative policies.”  

Many conservatives went along with a short-term continuing resolution last December based on a promise that the current deadline would be used to advance key policy priorities. Instead, the bill is widely viewed as a rebuke to President Trump’s agenda and conservative priorities.

Overall, the Trump administration requested an additional $30 billion in military, $1.5 billion to continue construction of the southern border wall, and $18 billion in discretionary cuts. The bill provides only $15 billion for defense (of which $2.5 billion is withheld until the administration submits a plan to combat ISIS), provides no funding for the border wall, and actually increases domestic discretionary spending. Through a combination of emergency funding and overseas contingency operations funds, the bill pushes discretionary spending $93 billion above the budget caps.

The Trump administration was rebuked at the program level as well. The Department of Energy’s Office of Science will receive an additional $42 million, whereas the administration requested a $900 million reduction. Funding for Community Development Block Grants was kept level despite a $1.5 billion requested reduction. The list goes on, as CQ Roll Call reported (sub. req’d) earlier this week: “Trump proposed killing off more than a dozen federal programs in his fiscal 2018 budget outline, but it doesn’t appear appropriators are inclined to reduce or eliminate federal funding for any of those line items.”

Liberals celebrated the bill as a victory over President Trump and claimed they successfully blocked “more than 160 Republican poison pill riders.” Heritage notes the omnibus “fails to advance almost any key conservative policies” as “it would continue to provide funding for Planned Parenthood and do nothing to restrict funding to sanctuary cities.”

Along with a lack of conservative policy riders, the bill contains a $1.3 billion bailout for the United Workers of America, a union that represents about 10 percent of all coal production in the U.S. today. Coal miners deserve proper health care and retirement benefits, but it is the job of the union and private companies that made those promises, not taxpayers, to provide those benefits.

H.R. 244 contains a second health care bailout to Puerto Rico. In passing a bill to help Puerto Rico restructure its debts last year, lawmakers promised there would be no cash bailout. Yet, this bill would give the mismanaged and politically corrupt Puerto Rican government $296 million in taxpayer dollars to cover their shortage in Medicaid funds.  

Coupled with these two bailouts, the omnibus spending bill also funds liberal priorities and initiatives. H.R. 244 includes millions in increased funding for Department of Energy (DOE) pet projects, national parks, Amtrak, Head Start, college tuition assistance, the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and even a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sage grouse conservation project.

When spending bills provide more funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) than border security, as this bill does, it’s fair for conservatives to ask if this resembles more of an Obama administration-era spending bill than a Trump one.

The Heritage Foundation’s Justin Bogie and Rachel Greszler acknowledge the bill “does make progress” on some issues, but they add:

“Unfortunately, the additional $15 billion in defense spending is only half of what President Donald Trump requested earlier this year and is inadequate to meet global threats facing the country.

“The additional $1.5 billion for border security is important in the battle to curb illegal immigration. However, none of these funds can be used for construction of a border wall, one of the president’s top priorities.

“Unfortunately, none of the increases in spending proposed by this bill would be offset. Earlier this year, the president released a ‘skinny budget’ which proposed $18 billion in 2017 cuts, yet none of those cuts made it into the latest budget deal.”

Heritage Action opposes H.R. 244 and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.  

Related:
Heritage: Massive Spending Bill Fails to Meet Conservative Priorities

Key Vote: “YES” on the Nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court

Later this week, the Senate is expected to vote on the confirmation of Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Judge Gorsuch was nominated by President Donald Trump on January 31, 2017.

Judge Gorsuch is a Supreme Court nominee very much in the mold of the late Justice Antonin Scalia who will, based on his record, interpret the text of the U.S. Constitution as originally written and honor the separation of powers laid out in the Constitution. One recent study singled out Gorsuch as one of the top judges whose approach to interpreting the law was closest to that of Justice Scalia’s approach. Gorsuch ranked second out of 15 judges in “Scalia-ness.”

Gorsuch is a “judge’s judge” who maintains a record of deciding cases based on the law rather than political or personal opinions, or a willingness to create unwritten rights supposedly hidden between the lines. He once wrote: “In our legal order it is for Congress and not the courts to write new laws. It is the role of judges to apply, not alter, the work of the people’s representatives. A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge, reaching for results he prefers rather than those the law compels.”

John Malcom, Heritage Foundation Director of the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and the Ed Gilbertson and Sherry Lindberg Gilbertson Senior Legal Fellow, writes:

“Gorsuch has thought deeply about the judge’s proper role in our society and about separation of powers — a constitutional construct that serves to protect the liberties of all Americans. He understands that policy judgments are to be made by legislators, not judges.

“In a tribute to Scalia, Gorsuch noted that “legislators may appeal to their own moral convictions and to claims about social utility to reshape the law as they think it should be in the future.” However, he observed, judges are different. Their job is “to apply the law as it is, focusing backward, not forward, and looking to text, structure and history to decide what a reasonable reader at the time of the events in question would have understood the law to be — not to decide cases based on their own moral convictions or the policy consequences they believe might serve society best.

“Clearly, then, Gorsuch is a judge cut from the same mold as Scalia. He approaches important cases by studying the text and structure of the Constitution and trying to interpret its words and phrases in accordance with how those words and phrases would have been understood by the people who ratified them. As he put it so eloquently in one of his opinions, the Constitution “isn’t some inkblot on which litigants may project their hopes and dreams … but a carefully drafted text judges are charged with applying according to its original public meaning.”

During his ten years on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Gorsuch demonstrated a robust record of conservative jurisprudence. He upheld religious liberty rights of employers to not pay for health insurance plans that violated their religious beliefs in the cases of Hobby Lobby v. Burwell and Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell. He also challenged the practice of Chevron deference in Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch, which forces judges to defer to a federal agency’s interpretation of their own ambiguous statute. And he defended the Fourth Amendment rights of property owners from unreasonable searches and seizures from the federal government in United States v. Carloss.

Judge Gorsuch is a highly-qualified nominee with a long list of credentials. He received his bachelor’s degree with honors from Columbia University in 1998 and went on to attend Harvard Law School as a Harry Truman Scholar, graduating in 1991 with honors. After law school, he attended Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar, and he received his Doctorate in Philosophy in 2004. Gorsuch clerked for Justice Byron White and Justice Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court as well as Judge David Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. On July 20, 2006, Judge Gorsuch was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals by a voice vote, without recorded opposition. 11 current Democrat Senators, including current Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, were in office when Judge Gorsuch was confirmed.

Neal Katyal, who served as acting solicitor general in the Obama administration, stated:

“I have no doubt that, if confirmed, Judge Gorsuch would help to restore confidence in the rule of law. His years on the bench reveal a commitment to judicial independence — a record that should give the American people confidence that he will not compromise principle to favor the president who appointed him.”

Judge Neil Gorsuch is a highly-qualified nominee who will, based on his record, interpret the text of the Constitution as it was written, honor the separation of powers, uphold the rule of law, and defend religious liberty and all other individual rights established in the Constitution.

Over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell explained that “filibustering judges at all is a rather recent phenomenon” and noted that Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed 52 to 48, and even though he was controversial at the time, “not a single senator said, ‘He has to get 60 votes.’”  The Senate should carry out its ‘Advise and Consent’ role and confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.    

Heritage Action supports the Gorsuch nomination and will include his confirmation vote on our legislative scorecard.

Related Links:
A Closer Look at Neil Gorsuch, an Excellent Choice for the Supreme Court
Trump’s Supreme Court Pick Is Antonin Scalia’s Mirror Image
Approach to The Law Makes Gorsuch Good Fit For Supreme Court
Judge Gorsuch Deserves Support For Supreme Court
Legal Experts Say Hearings Show Gorsuch Will Be ‘Excellent’ Justice, Predict Confirmation
6 Takeaways From Neil Gorsuch’s First Day of Questioning

Key Vote: “YES” on Disapproval of the HHS Rule requiring Title X funds to go to Planned Parenthood

This week, the Senate will consider House-passed H.J.Res. 43,a disapproval resolution sponsored by Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) 85% and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) 60%. The disapproval resolution would overturn a  final rule submitted by Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) relating to compliance with Title X requirements by project recipients in selecting sub-recipients. Title X of the Public Health Service Act provides federal funds to states for family planning grants. Once states receive the funds, they have the ability to prioritize subrecipients, directing funds to organizations like community health centers and family health clinics. While federal law prohibits government funding for abortion, it does allow certain public dollars, like the Title X grants, to support abortion providers if the funds are directed to non-abortion related health services. Under this exception, Planned Parenthood has been eligible to receive Title X funds, per the states’ discretion.