Putting Priorities on House Activity : Abortion, Post Offices, Human Trafficking, ALS

House Republicans have a way to tell us what their priorities are … in campaign messages and press releases … and then there is in approving legislation.

Cast in point : Human Trafficking.

From the Roundtable … January 10, 2014

Will Sex-Trafficking Save the GOP ?

Paulsen Talks Sex-Trafficking; House Votes on Obamacare

In political elections, perception is everything.
Do you want to be known as a leading obstructionist in the Do-Nothing Congress … or do you want to find an issue, develop bi-partisan support and enact it ?

The jest of the commentary was that sex trafficking was an issue that had broad appeal and the Republicans would feature that in campaign ads … praising each other in the process :

As the November elections moved closer, so did the mentions in campaign advertisements … Erik Paulsen first commercial was about human trafficking — a subject that John Kline also featured in his first campaign ad … implying that through bipartisan efforts, Congress had acted.

But we know now that Erik Paulsen (and John Kline) were issuing press releases in January self-congratulating themselves for passing new human trafficking legislation. Of course, that is just one chamber of Congress … so it was up to the Senate to act.

As readers of the Star-Tribune learned :

Abortion provision jeopardizes bipartisan sex-trafficking measure

Republicans added the abortion funding language, senators say.

March 12, 2015 —

Suddenly a measure with strong bipartisan support became tinged with high-stakes abortion politics.
“There is no reason it should be included in these bills. This issue is far too important to tie it up with an unrelated fight with politics as usual,” U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minnesota said. “To me, this is about saving lives.”
Both the House and the Senate measures offer enhanced community policing funding for states that enforce the act, and victims would be able to take advantage of free education and training programs. The Senate’s bill brings together federal, state and local efforts to fight sex trafficking.

Eventually, the Senate was able to resolve the abortion question and approved S.178 : Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 by a vote of 99-0 on April 22, 2015.

So, it took a while … but the Senate got it done and passed it back to the House for them to approve or reject.

The Senate was doing a few other things between March 12 and April 22, which prompted a press release from Senator David Vitter (R-LA)

Friday, March 27, 2015
(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) announced that the Senate unanimously passed his bipartisan legislation, the Steve Gleason Act of 2015 as an amendment to the budget bill last night.

Vitter’s bipartisan bill is co-sponsored by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine). Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) introduced the companion bill in the House of Representatives along with original co-sponsors Congressmen Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.). The legislation is endorsed by Steve Gleason’s advocacy organization, Team Gleason, the ALS Association, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, Center for Medicare Advocacy, the American Occupational Therapy Association, and the United Spinal Association.

Formally, Senator Vitter’s bill S.984 – Steve Gleason Act of 2015 was approved on April 22 and sent to the House for their approval. CBO puts a price tag of $30 million (over ten years) on the legislation.

Hmmm … so the House got two bills on April 22nd that should get a quick approval … which one would they take up first … Human Trafficking or ALS … or something else.

Well, Erik Paulsen made a pitch for both

So let’s look at what bills the House approved since April 22 … in fact, let’s give them three business days (which they promoted as part of their Pillars of a New Majority program) so that the bills could be read … and start on April 28 and while acknowledging that the House did approve a couple appropriations bills and NSA spying bills, there were some others that may not seem to be high on the priority list

April 28 H.R. 172: To designate the United States courthouse located at 501 East Court Street in Jackson, Mississippi, as the “R. Jess Brown United States Courthouse”.

April 28 H.R. 984: To amend the National Trails System Act to direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study on the feasibility of designating the Chief Standing Bear National Historic Trail, and for other purposes.

April 30 H.J.Res. 43: Disapproving the action of the District of Columbia Council in approving the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014.

So, with action being taken on some pretty insignificant matters, on May 7th, a bipartisan group of 11 Members sent a letter to Speaker Boehner and the other House leaders demanding a vote. The letter’s signatories included Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Renee Ellmers (R-NC), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Joe Heck (R-NV), Karen Bass (D-CA), Mark Walker (R-NC), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Kristi Noem (R-SD), Joyce Beatty (D-OH) and Gwen Moore (D-WI) … notably absent in the signatories is Erik Paulsen.

So what did the House act on … well it voted on

May 12 H.R. 723: Fallen Heroes Flag Act of 2015

May 13 H.R. 36: Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

And finally on May 18th, the House debated S.178 : Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 … and as citizens watched on C-SPAN saw, the House shutdown for the day and moved the vote for another day. Finally, the House approved the Senate bill on May 19th by a vote of 420-3.

Noted speaking on behalf of the bill was Kristi Noem … who promptly contacted reporters :
I’m very excited to see that our human trafficking legislation is passing through the House and will go to President Barack Obama. … I’m certainly hopeful the president signs it as soon as possible, to not only help create more resources but to make sure our law enforcement officials have every tool they need to stop this industry in its tracks.”

John Kline’s Education and Workforce Committee issued a press release stating :
Congress has responded to a national crisis with new tools to fight a heinous crime that affects millions of innocent individuals each year, including hundreds of thousands of youth. I applaud my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for recognizing the seriousness of this crime, reaffirming our commitment to the victims and their families, and sending this critical piece of legislation to the president’s desk.

Erik Paulsen twitted the good news …

Hmmm … the common message, “We did it” … when the heck will the President act ? Well, don’t be surprised that this doesn’t take another week for the President to sign it … if he wants the House leaders to hold a public signing ceremony since the House is on recess this week.

Oh, and you guessed it … this means at least another week that the ALS legislation ( S.984 – Steve Gleason Act of 2015 ) sits idle in the House … but don’t be surprised that once the House does decide to act on it, that it will receive an overwhelming support and that Erik Paulsen will push more press releases about his efforts.

The mid-term elections gave the Republicans complete control of the legislative body … yet all the House seems able to do successfully is take recesses … and issuing self-promoting press releases and tweets.

This illustrates the politicization of the process.
Human trafficking was never a controversial issue … as the Roundtable has cited before the House bills were passed via voice votes and when recorded votes were made, there was zero opposition.
Abortion on the other hand is a controversial issue … the resolution the House approved is that a resolution – not an Act. The Pain-Capable bill was delayed before when some Republicans feared that it would respark the “legitimate rape” question … finally scheduling the vote for the second anniversary of the conviction of Kermit Gosnell. Ya gotta wonder if Mr. Gosnell had been convicted in October, would have have delayed the vote (well, if it was an election year, the answer would be obvious.) The President is likely to veto the bill if the Senate every passes it … so this was more about campaign messaging then legislative accomplishment.
The naming of Post Offices (and honoring sports teams) was something that former Majority Leader Eric Canter wanted to do in mass … but too seems to have changed (incidentally, the Senate has approved S. 179 to rename the Chisholm MN post office in Jim Oberstar’s name … but the House has yet to act on the identical bill H.R. 316).
Yet, the naming of post offices took precedence over human trafficking.

American needs a House of Representatives that works … it is a sham that these people cannot even act on a timely manner on legislation that has overwhelming support.

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