Key Vote Alert: NO on Mandatory GMO Labeling Act

Later this week, the Senate is scheduled to vote on S. 764, the GMO labeling compromise reached by Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), which would create a federal labeling requirement for GMO products.

The Roberts-Stabenow bill is in response to an onerous Vermont law that requires GMO labeling on product packages themselves. S. 764 would preempt this law to allow for alternative disclosure methods, such as bar codes and websites, but it would still create a nationwide requirement that information about genetic engineering be conveyed. As such, S. 764 takes one bad law in one state and expands its premises to all 50 states. While it may make it easier for companies doing business in Vermont, this legislation ignores all the food manufacturers that do not do business in Vermont. Those companies will now have to comply with a massive new federal regulatory regime that they otherwise would not have to address.

While the food industry has legitimate claims against the burdens of the Vermont law, S. 764 is a misguided overreach by the federal government. If the burden of Vermont’s food labeling law is so bad, the food industry could simply stop selling its food in Vermont, thereby forcing them to face predictable consequences of their own bad law. There is also not yet an overly burdensome “patchwork” of state laws that would even begin to justify federal preemption in this manner. As the Heritage Foundation’s Daren Bakst explains:

“The food industry has a legitimate concern regarding labeling costs. However, these costs pale in comparison to the much bigger problems with mandatory labeling in general; problems that are made far worse by the federal government ensuring that labeling requirements exist in all states and providing legitimacy to mandatory labeling.”

Perhaps worst of all, this bill puts federal legitimacy behind a dangerous movement intent on American agriculture. Just in recent weeks, the House of Representatives released their “Better Way” regulatory paper, which correctly touched on this issue, noting:

“a vocal minority of citizens are creating doubt in the minds of many consumers and policymakers through misinformation about the safety of genetically engineered inputs. This misinformation is influencing policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels and could threaten our farmers’ ability to feed an ever-growing population and increase the cost of food for consumers.”

And, as Heritage’s Bakst continues:

“Genetic engineering is widely used in agriculture. Genetically engineered crops include alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soybeans, squash, and sugar beets. About half of U.S. cropland (169 million acres) was used to grow genetically engineered corn, cotton, and soybeans in 2013. Policymakers should be aware of the harm that labeling would create for farmers and states that grow a significant amount of genetically engineered crops, as well as for consumers.”

Instead of overreacting to one bad law in one state, Congress should take a step back before instituting a new labeling mandate. For instance, the House approach, H.R. 1599, which passed with 275 votes, simply preempted Vermont’s law and instead created a voluntary labeling standard. The heavy-handed Senate approach, in contrast, will lead to harmful repercussions for consumers, agriculture, and technological innovations that can help feed the world.

Heritage Action opposes S. 764 and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

“NO” on Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (H.R. 5278)

This week, the Senate is scheduled to consider H.R. 5278, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), which attempts to address Puerto Rico’s current debt crisis.

Since June 2015, The Heritage Foundation has written over 20 reports and commentary pieces analyzing the situation in Puerto Rico, proposing needed reforms, and analyzing Congressional proposals. In March 2016, Heritage Action laid out what a conservative response to Puerto Rico’s debt crisis would look like. To summarize those efforts:

  1. Pro-growth reforms are essential, particularly exemptions from the Jones Act and federal minimum wage
  2. No direct cash bailouts or indirect bailouts of any kind
  3. No coercive debt restructuring or other violation of creditors’ legal claims

Unfortunately, PROMESA falls woefully short on pro-growth reforms. The legislation does nothing to limit the Jones Act’s restrictions on Puerto Rico’s ability to openly trade with the U.S. mainland, and its minimum wage provision is extremely limited, even if Puerto Rico’s governor decides to implement it. In fact, Puerto Rico’s non-voting member of Congress Pedro R. Pierluisi told CQ “that in his interpretation it was mostly ‘meaningless’ in that it will never be implemented.” Without these measures, Puerto Rico has little chance to grow, making it more likely that Puerto Rico will be back again soon asking for a bailout.

Key Vote “NO” on Revised Collins Gun Control Amendment (H.R. 2578)

Today the Senate is expected to vote on a revised amendment offered by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) which would strip Fifth Amendment due process rights away from law-abiding citizens and threaten their Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms.

Pitched under the guise of “no fly, no buy” — a liberal talking point trying to imply that all this legislation would do is stop terrorists on the “No Fly List ” from buying guns — the Collins Amendment directs Attorney General Loretta Lynch to deny a lawfully purchased firearm to any person who is on the “No Fly List” or the “Selectee List.”  While national security should be a number one priority in the wake of the Islamist terrorist attack in Orlando, these lists are unreliable, making them a terrible standard for stripping constitutional rights away from law abiding citizens.  According to The Heritage Foundation’s Legal Scholar, Hans von Spakovsky, and National Security and Homeland Security Expert, Cully Stimson,

“Let’s be clear—we don’t want terrorists buying guns in this country. Nor do we think that they have a Second Amendment right to do so. But this blunt instrument is not the right solution.

We don’t know what evidence is required by the government or what the standards are for the government having a “reasonable suspicion” that would place any American citizen on the no-fly list. And more than one court has held that the procedures for an American who may have mistakenly gotten onto the list to get off are inadequate. The ACLU complains that the government often fails to “provide meaningful notice“ and to explain why an individual is listed.”

Under the Collins Amendment, if an American is denied their right to purchase a firearm, they then have to file an appeal and go to court against the U.S. government to “get their rights back.”  But this process can be an expensive and lengthy fight – with no guaranteed victory for the innocent Americans who were put on one of these secret lists through no fault of their own (the lists have even flagged Congressman, infants, U.S. Marines, federal air marshals, and college students). Michael Hammond, the Chief Legal Counsel at Gun Owners of America, says:

“The “right to review” is triggered by an official notice of denial issued by the Attorney General.  But [Collins] gives the Attorney General the written statutory right to refuse to assign a unique identification number, apparently indefinitely. And most large retailers refuse to sell a firearm until this unique identification number is received, even if they are legally entitled to do so.

Collins may not understand that ‘legal fees’ provisions have been in place for people fighting the government since the Buckley amendment in 1976. But these provisions have had little impact for non-wealthy litigants forced to pay the costs of litigation up-front and faced with, at best, a slight chance of reimbursement at the end of the process.”

Senate Republicans should reject this attempt to undermine due process rights and attack the Second Amendment in the name of safety and security, and instead begin a real debate on policies that would protect our homeland.  As Genevieve Wood noted on Tuesday,

“In the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Orlando—the largest in the United States since 9/11—lawmakers on Capitol Hill have yet to introduce one piece of legislation that would actually fight terrorism. Not one.

Instead, the Republican-controlled Senate has not only allowed Democrats to define the debate and make this an issue about gun control, but they’ve joined the tour de farce.”

The four failed votes on gun control measures that the Senate took earlier this week should have been enough.  But the continued effort by Senator Collins to attack constitutional rights must be opposed as well.  Even in the wake of Orlando, there is no need to trade away our liberties piece by piece for misguided policies that do nothing to protect Americans from future terrorist attacks.

Heritage Action opposes the Collins Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scored.

“NO” on National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017 (S. 2943)

The Senate will soon vote on S. 2943, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017. The Heritage Foundation has articulated numerous problems with the bill reported out of committee, including the inclusion of a provision in the base bill that forces young women between the ages of 18 and 26 to sign up for the Selective Service, making them eligible for conscription if Congress reinstates the draft for future military needs.

Amendments to Senate NDAA (S. 2943)

Heritage Action will key vote the following amendment(s) to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (S. 2943):

Key Vote Alert: “NO” on Durbin Amendment on Non-Defense Research Spending

This week, the Senate could vote on an amendment offered by Sen. Dick Durbin to S. 2943, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017. His amendment would strike two provisions in the base bill restricting funding for non-defense research priorities.

Our military is facing real challenges as budget constraints have squeezed capabilities and impacted readiness. Justin Johnson, a defense budget analyst at The Heritage Foundation, recently highlighted the real life consequences for our military. His piece included these examples: