Friday, December 13, 2019

House approves $738 billion defense bill recognizing Donald Trump's Space Force as the sixth branch of the military and approving paid family leave for federal workers

The House of Representatives approved on Wednesday a $738 billion bill setting policy for the U.S. Department of Defense on everything from family leave to fighter jets and the creation of a Space Force that has been a priority for President Donald Trump.

The count in the Democratic-controlled chamber was 377-48, enough to send the conference report on the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, to the Senate, where a vote is expected by the end of next week. Trump has promised to sign the legislation as soon as it passes Congress.

Trump had crowed about the 'U.S. Space Force' provision, which mostly reorganizes existing personnel into a new branch of the Air Force. The House had passed the idea in previous years under GOP control only to see it die in the Senate.

The fiscal 2020 NDAA increases defense spending by about $20 billion, or about 2.8%, and creates a Space Force as a new branch of the U.S. military, both Trump priorities.

It increases pay for the troops by 3.1% and mandates 12 weeks' paid leave so federal workers can care for their families.

And it includes foreign policy provisions including sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of a Russian missile defense system, and a tough response to North Korea's efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

A handful of mostly left-leaning House Democrats opposed the bill because it did not include policy planks including a ban on support for Saudi Arabia's air campaign in Yemen and a measure barring Trump from using military funds to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., absorbed a lot of criticism for abandoning Democratic provisions that ran into a wall of opposition from the White House and congressional Republicans.

Democrats dropped a provision to block Trump from transferring money from Pentagon accounts to constructing a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. They also dropped protections for transgender troops, and tougher regulations on toxic chemicals that are found in firefighting foam used at military installations.

'Ït´s basically hard to negotiate when your side wants 100 things and the other side wants nothing,' Smith said in an interview. But he hailed the parental leave benefit, as well as a repeal of the so-called widow's tax on military death benefits. That provision required 65,000 people whose spouses have been killed in action to forfeit part of their Pentagon death benefit when they also received benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

'I was able to get them to enthusiastically support the largest expansion of the social welfare state since the Affordable Care Act - the widow's tax and paid parental leave,' Smith said. 'That was an enormous accomplishment, OK? I got them to do things that they never wanted to do.'

Democrats also agreed to let go of House-passed provisions to restrict Trump from waging war against Iran unless Congress approves; ban deployment of new submarine-launched, low-yield nuclear weapons; and ban U.S. military assistance for strikes by Saudi-led forces in Yemen.

While Democrats retreated from their assault on Trump's ability to transfer Pentagon money to his border wall, Republicans agreed to drop a Trump demand to budget $7.2 billion in defense funds for the wall. The wall battle has instead migrated to talks on a mammoth government-wide spending package.

The annual defense policy bill has now passed for 59 years in a row, reflecting strong support among lawmakers for military personnel - who would receive a 3.1 percent pay raise, the largest in a decade - and the economic boost that military installations and defense contractors provide back home.



One  Minor Judge Shouldn’t Be Able to Block Trump’s Agenda

I have previously argued as the writer below does. A point of divergence, however, is that I don't think Congress needs to act.  Trump can quite legally refuse to recognize such "ulta vires" rulings.  His recognition of them so far is care to pick his issues, nothing more

When a federal district judge issued a nationwide injunction preventing the Trump administration from blocking funds for sanctuary cities, conservatives protested and liberals cheered.

Liberals were similarly thrilled by a district court ruling that halted the president’s order blocking travel to the U.S. from certain Middle Eastern nations.

Yet when several red states sued to block Obamacare, law professors writing in The Atlantic asked, “Can one judge really impose his ruling from one coast to the other?”

District courts—whose reach should be limited to the area within their geographic jurisdictions except in certain narrowly-defined circumstances—have inappropriately claimed authority to block presidential and congressional actions throughout the entire nation.

In particular, these courts issuing nationwide injunctions against several constitutional border security solutions has greatly worsened the ongoing humanitarian disaster.

It’s time for Congress and the higher courts to push back on these illegitimate overreaches. Doing so would move the nation closer to a lasting solution on the border and restore a proper understanding of the role of district courts.

Nationwide injunctions are a fairly new development. Activists who cannot accomplish their goals through legislation have increasingly turned to a court system composed of a small group of unelected judges.

But in the same way that the Texas state legislature cannot make laws for Oklahoma, district courts only have authority over a single district—a limited area. By issuing a nationwide injunction, these courts are inappropriately claiming authority over other courts’ districts.

This leads activists and interest groups to go “forum shopping,” gaming the system to make sure their case is heard by a court (or even a specific judge) whom they expect will rule favorably. If they can find the right court, they can hijack the legal process to, in essence, create laws that bind the entire country.

This is not only a threat to our republican form of government, but a threat to the legitimacy of the judicial branch. When the public perceives that a small group of judges, chosen specifically for their partisan viewpoints, are shaping national policy, they lose confidence in the objectivity of the entire legal system.

For example, this year, anti-border security activists pushed for catch-and-release requirements for illegal immigrants at a notoriously liberal California-based court. A single Obama-appointed judge obliged, reinterpreting a decades-old legal agreement known as the Flores settlement to require the release of detained migrant children—and their parents—within 20 days of their detention.

This ruling set the stage for the current border crisis, as migrants began to realize that our border agencies’ hands were tied when it came to detaining migrants who cross illegally with children.

Migrants discovered that simply arriving with a child would swiftly secure their release, incentivizing them to bring children along for the dangerous journey across Mexico, during which one in three females is sexually assaulted.

Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants have arrived already this year, stretching our Border Patrol’s resources to the breaking point and enriching the criminal cartels that traffic migrants into the United States.

So the president’s announcement in August that he would be terminating the Flores settlement came as welcome news. The president should not be bound by a court that lacks nationwide jurisdiction.

In another recent example, a U.S. district judge in Manhattan struck down a Trump administration rule that would protect the consciences of health care workers. The rule would have ensured doctors and nurses who do not want to actively participate in abortion procedures, assisted suicide, or sterilizations don’t have to. It bolstered laws already in place that protect religious freedom.

There are countless other examples of federal judges overreaching their proper bounds. Congress should exercise its constitutional authority to set limits on “such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish” in order to prevent federal courts—besides the Supreme Court—from blocking policies outside that particular court’s geographic area of authority.

As long as activists can find sympathetic district courts to block the other side’s policies across the entire nation, our constitutional form of government is at risk. This is not how our government was meant to function, and Congress should end this illegitimate exercise of judicial power.



America's very own 'Brezhnev Doctrine'

Jeff Jacoby on "food stamps"

DURING THE COLD WAR, the Soviet Union enforced a policy known as the the Brezhnev Doctrine. It declared that no communist country would be permitted to voluntarily leave what Moscow called "the world socialist system." When Czechoslovakia's government adopted a program of democratic reforms in 1968, the Soviets sent in the tanks to quash them. Under the Brezhnev Doctrine, communism could never be rolled back. Anywhere it was imposed, it must remain forever.

The Soviet Union is gone now, but the spirit of the Brezhnev Doctrine lives on among defenders of the American welfare state. When it comes to any entitlement, the attitude of the liberal Democratic establishment is that nothing can ever be reduced. Welfare handouts can only be enlarged, not restricted. Eligibility may be loosened, but never tightened. If government expands the population that qualifies for the dole, that expansion must remain forever.

So when the Trump administration last week issued a new rule that will close some widely abused loopholes in the federal food stamp program, the liberal-industrial complex erupted with predictable outrage.

"Just in time for Christmas," fumed a Washington Post writer, "the Trump administration [is] requiring more people to go hungry." Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer blasted the White House for its "deep and shameful cruelness." His fellow New Yorker, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, pointed out that her family used food stamps after her father died in 2008, while she was a teenager. Had the new rules been in place then, she tweeted, "we might've just starved. Now many people will."

This is the sort of apocalyptic rhetoric liberals roll out whenever anyone proposes to adjust a welfare entitlement that has grown too extravagant, or is being exploited in ways that lawmakers never intended. The historic welfare reform act signed by Bill Clinton in 1996 was denounced with just the same world-is-ending hysteria. Critics at the time wailed that the new law would wreak social devastation, condemning vast numbers of people, including a million children, to poverty, malnutrition, and death. In reality, welfare reform was a signal success. The welfare caseload shrunk by two-thirds, most former recipients found jobs, and the poverty rate fell dramatically.

The changes announced by the Trump administration are intended simply to plug a loophole in the longstanding requirement that able-bodied adults without dependents must work (or train) at least 20 hours a week in order to receive food stamps. Those who don't work can collect no more than three months of benefits in any 36-month period.

The problem is that states can request that the work requirement be waived for regions with high unemployment, and previous administrations went overboard in granting such waivers. Virtually the whole state of Illinois, for example, was granted a waiver. The Wall Street Journal noted the other day that "the average jobless rate in waived areas . . . was 4.5 percent." In a modern economy, that amounts to near-full employment. There is no reason why adults in those jurisdictions should be excused from the 20-hour work requirement.

The new regulations will disallow waivers in areas with jobless rates below 6 percent, and those that are granted will have a one-year limit. The administration will also ensure that each waiver applies to a legitimate local labor market, not to most of an entire state.

About 36.4 million Americans receive food stamps, and under the new rule about 688,000 of them, less than 2 percent, will be required to work in order to remain eligible. The changes apply only to able-bodied adults without children. They won't affect any recipient who is 50 or older, who has a disability, or who has dependents (like the teen-aged student AOC was in 2008).

Rarely has it been easier for a motivated worker to find a job. The unemployment rate is at an all-time low. According to the Labor Department, there are just 5.8 million unemployed adults in the country, while the number of available jobs is over 7 million. There couldn't be a better time to ensure that work requirements aren't flouted.

Federal law is clear: Healthy, unencumbered adults can collect food stamps only if they're working. Taxpayers shouldn't be expected to support fellow citizens who can work but won't. The administration's new rule will belatedly give some adults the push they need to find a job, restoring to their food stamps the purpose Congress intended: to help the needy up from dependency, not drag them further into it. On this issue, it isn't the White House that deserves scorn, but the Brezhnev-doctrine progressives howling in protest against a modest and overdue repair to the safety net.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

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