Congress began their week-long Memorial Day break, and that is our cue to review the previous weeks of legislative action in this 118th Congress under the leadership of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. This is our opportunity to see if our self-proclaimed “moderate” and “bipartisan” Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick actually lives up to his marketing, or if his votes are pushing forward the MAGA Republican House agenda. You can find previous Bucks County Beacon coverage of Brian Fitzpatrick’s votes from January to February here, and March to mid-April here.
Fitzpatrick joins the hostage-takers in the MAGA Default Crisis
Vote taken 04/26/23, Passed 217-215, Fitzpatrick voted YES
We are currently awaiting full details about the debt-ceiling agreement reached by President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy over Memorial Day weekend. But as far back as the 2022 holiday season, when Senator Joe Manchin blocked a solution for the debt ceiling while Democrats had the governing trifecta of the House, Senate and Presidency, we knew that the MAGA Republican House majority of this 118th Congress would create havoc over the debt ceiling. And a big piece of that havoc was this bill, where the Republicans laid out their demands for avoiding default.
In exchange for preserving the full faith and credit of the United States, the Republicans passed a wish list of conservative demands, including massive cuts to food stamps, affordable housing, Headstart and other education programs. In addition to adding work requirements for a number of social safety net programs, the Republicans in the House also enacted cuts on a number of their most hyped priorities, like services for veterans, customs and border patrol as well as law enforcement. For a full rundown of the programs cut, visit the House Budget Committee Democrats’ Default on America Act website.
The House voted on this list of demands to avoid default on 04/26/23, and the bill just barely passed, 217-215. The four Republicans who voted against the bill did so because it did not go far enough in shredding the social safety net. Unsurprisingly, Brin Fitzpatrick voted YES, in support of this MAGA Republican measure.
George Santos is A-OK with the GOP
On Motion to Refer: H.Res. 114: In the matter of George Santos
Vote taken 05/17/23, Passed 221-204, Fitzpatrick voted YES
Earlier this month Republican Representative George Santos was indicted for 13 counts of money laundering, stealing public money, wire fraud and making false statements to Congress. In years gone by, even a law enforcement investigation would be enough to cause implicated lawmakers to resign. But Rep. Santos has no shame, so resignation was never an option. And even the recent indictment was not enough to cause the House Republican majority to force the lying lawmaker out.
This vote was on a Democratic resolution to expel Santos from the House. But it was brought to the floor for a vote to “refer” the measure, which is effectively killing it. Accordingly, a YES vote means the lawmaker wants to toss out the bill and keep George Santos around as a voting member of the House of Representatives. This passed on party lines, with all Republicans voting to protect Santos (YES) and Democrats voting to expel Santos (NO). Brian Fitzpatrick voted YES.
Trans students under attack by the GOP
H.R. 734: Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act
Vote taken 04/20/23, Passed 219-203, Fitzpatrick voted YES.
Scapegoating is a long tradition of the Republican Party, and in our decade the favorite GOP targets are members of the transgender community. It seems as if every facet of their lives has come under fire in GOP-majority state houses, from bans on gender affirming care to regulation of restrooms. The GOP majority in the House waded into the fracas with their own bill that would ban the participation of transgender students in sports.
Reuters explains, “If passed, the bill would change the civil rights law known as Title IX to require that a student’s sex be ‘based on an individual’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.’ Enacted in 1972, Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs or activities that receive federal funding. It was created to ensure equal opportunity for participation and opened the door for more women in sports.” Accordingly, if passed, this measure would force a student into participating in sports based on their gender at their birth, blocking trans students from playing on teams with their identified gender.
This vote marked the biggest about-face for Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick. In past legislative terms, Fitzpatrick has shown a level of openness to LGBTQ+ bills, voting YES on the Equality Act, a codification of non-discriminatory policies brought to the floor under then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when Democrats were in the majority. But that is now a thing of the past, with Fitzpatrick voting alongside the entire Republican party in punching down at an already marginalized group. We all need to remember this reversal when Fitzpatrick trots out his rainbow signs for the 2024 election season.
GOP pushes forward their Fossil Fuel Agenda
H.R. 1: Lower Energy Costs Act
Vote taken 03/30/23, Passed 225-204, Fitzpatrick voted NO
All bills are given a numerical designation, with H.R. 1 reserved for the usage of the Speaker, for the premier legislative goal of the House Majority for a given legislative session. Under the last Congress, Democrats had prioritized campaign finance and ethics reform. In this Republican-controlled session, the premier bill was reserved for bolstering fossil fuel production. As The Hill noted, this bill is “aimed at boosting the production and sales of oil and gas.”
H.R. 1 would force the Interior Department to hold a set number of sales for oil and gas drilling leases. It reduces the payments that private corporations would make for drilling offshore. The measure would block any bans on fracking, and make it easier for companies to sell fossil fuel products abroad. On top of that, the bill reduces permitting requirements, and cuts back on the type of environmental impact studies required for fossil fuel extraction projects. This could have been named the “Drill Baby Drill” Bill.
We can always count on Brian Fitzpatrick to make one vote against the Republican majority so that he can continue calling himself the most independent lawmaker. Brian Fitzpatrick was the only Republican to vote NO on H.R. 1, which is dead on arrival in the Senate.
The Republicans nibble at the edges of the Biden Agenda
The Congressional Review Act (CRA) is a mechanism that can be used by the party in charge of the legislature to overturn the rules of bureaucratic agencies as implemented by a President’s Administration. Vox explains that the CRA, which was introduced in the 1990s, “gives Congress extensive power to invalidate rules established by federal agencies and, in doing so, making it more difficult for any future administrations to resurrect the policies that lawmakers have struck down.”
The CRA can be used in two ways. First, it can be directed toward the administrative rules of a previous administration, the way the GOP-controlled House and Senate in the 115th Congress worked to overturn Obama-era regulations. Remember the talk of overturning restrictions on slaughtering hibernating bears in Alaska, and stopping the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from looking at discriminatory car loan practices? That was how the GOP used the CRA when given the chance. And Democrats used the same tool to overturn some Trump Administration decisions, like reinstating the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of methane, which Trump’s EPA had ceased.
The second way that the Congress can use the CRA is applicable in times of divided government, and that is what we are seeing right now. Since the party of one of the Houses of Congress is in opposition to the president’s party, the House has begun to pick through Biden Administration regulations, to find ones they can try to overturn. This is of particular interest to them, because these CRA actions are not subject to the filibuster, so they need only find two amenable Democrats or Independents in the Senate to pass such an action. And since both Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin thrive on making ostentatious displays of opposition to President Biden, the House GOP is throwing all the CRA spaghetti at the wall, just to see what will stick with the two contrarian senators.
Student Loans – In October 2022, the Biden Administration announced a student loan debt forgiveness program via the Department of Education. The House took a CRA vote on 05/24/23 to reverse this rule. This passed the House with a vote of 218-203, and Brian Fitzpatrick voted YES. This CRA action now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Vehicle Exhaust – In January 2023, the EPA established new rules about vehicle exhaust and air pollution, modifying the standards for new heavy duty engines and vehicles. The CRA vote in the House was taken on 05/23/23, and it passed 221-203. Brian Fitzpatrick voted NO. This CRA action already passed the Senate, so it now goes to President Biden for a potential veto.
Waters of the U.S. – The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and EPA issued a new rule in January 2023 that redefined the scope of the Waters of the United States. The changes expanded the bodies of water covered under the Clean Water Act to include wetlands and waters that flow on a seasonal basis. President Biden had already vetoed the CRA attempt by the House and the Senate, so this most recent vote was an attempt at a veto override. Such overrides need a 2/3 supermajority, and the House Republicans failed to garner enough votes. The April 18 attempt failed with a 227-196 vote. Brian Fitzpatrick voted NO.
Solar energy supply chain – The Biden Administration took steps via the Commerce Department to reduce tariffs on solar energy supplies produced in Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. These nations supply most of the products used by U.S. companies in our growing solar energy sector. Both the House and the Senate have already used the CRA to reverse this rule earlier in 2023, but President Biden vetoed it. To overturn a veto, both the House and the Senate would have to find 2/3 supermajorities. On May 24 the House tried to overturn the veto, but they failed. The final vote was 214-205, nowhere near the supermajority needed. Brian Fitzptrick voted YES.
Other Votes of Note
Opioids – The HALT (Halt All Lethal Trafficking) Fentanyl Act is a bill that modifies the list of Schedule I narcotics and includes substances that are chemically related to fentanyl. While that is not particularly controversial, the same bill also expands mandatory minimum sentences, a measure that hundreds of criminal justice reform and civil rights organizations, led by Human Rights Watch, oppose. The bill passed the House, 289-133, and Bian Fitzpatrick voted YES. This bill now heads to the Senate.
Unemployment Fraud – Millions of Americans had some level of financial security through the pandemic because of expanded unemployment payments. Republicans believe that many of those funds were distributed to individuals who had no right to receive payments. For an example of such behavior, one need look no further than Republican Representative George Santos, who was recently indicted for unemployment insurance fraud. The Protecting Taxpayers and Victims of Unemployment Fraud Act incentivizes states who investigate such fraudulent behavior, allowing the states to keep some of the recovered funds. The House voted on this bill and it passed, 230-200. Brian Fitzpatrick voted YES.
Immigration and Law enforcement – There are bills that are pure exercises in messaging to the base – and this is clearly one of them. This bill makes it a deportable offense if a legally-resident non-citizen assaults a law enforcement officer or other first responder. Most crimes are good cause for a person to lose their green card, so this measure is recodifying something that is already present in our legal system. That didn’t stop the MAGA Republican-controlled House, who passed this bill in a 255-175 vote. Brian Fitzpatrick voted YES.
War Powers and Somalia – The MAGA Republicans in the House forced a War Powers-related bill onto the schedule. They attempted to force President Biden to remove all United States troops from Somalia. This is similar to another War Powers bill that they pushed onto the schedule in March, and it failed in the same manner. What makes both of these votes interesting is simply the power displayed in getting them onto the schedule. Past House Speakers of both parties never allowed bills to come forward that they were not sure could pass. But Kevin McCarthy was legislatively emasculated by the agreement he made to secure a winning Speaker vote in his 15th try, and part of the price he is paying for that qualified-win is the growing pile of losing bills he has been forced to put forth for votes. This measure failed in a 102-321 vote, and Brian Fitzpatrick joined majorities in both parties and voted NO.
DC Criminal Justice Reform – Last year the City Council in Washington, D.C., passed a number of law enforcement reforms, such as banning chokeholds, expanding the use of officer body cameras, and making police disciplinary records more accessible. But the Congress has the ability to nullify local governance in Washington, D.C., and the House introduced this bill to invalidate those law enforcement reforms. This measure passed 229-189, and Brian Fitzpatrick voted YES.
Border Security – The Republicans passed a 213-page border security bill that aims to build new sections of wall, restrict the asylum process, and cut off almost all forms of legal immigration to the United States. The bill, which has no path forward in the Senate, passed in a 219-213 vote. Brian Fitzpatrick voted YES.
While Brian Fitzparick balked at his party on a couple of bills related to the environment, he backed the Republican bosses on the majority of bills that Kevin McCarthy brought to the floor. Congress is due back in Washington on June 5, and will be working there for three weeks before they take a two-week break for Independence Day.