PJ Media

What Have the 2016 GOP Hopefuls Done in the Senate?

WASHINGTON – Sen. Marco Rubio has filed legislation to repeal gun control laws he considers too restrictive — not in his native Florida but specifically in Washington, D.C., despite overwhelming support for the statutes by residents of the nation’s capital.

“In order to achieve the American dream, people need to be able to live in safe communities and be able to protect themselves, their families and their properties from danger,” Rubio said. “The lawful exercise of the Second Amendment is part of what makes this possible. For years, the District of Columbia has infringed on its residents’ Second Amendment rights and rendered them vulnerable to criminals who could care less what the gun laws are.”

While gun laws are popular in some jurisdictions, they are anathema to most Republican voters. Rubio’s sudden interest in protecting the gun rights of the district’s residents might just have something to do with his expressed interest in running for president of the United States, an ambition that will require the backing of various GOP constituencies.

Rubio isn’t the only member of the upper chamber taking a serious look at seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2016 – far from it. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have already announced their intentions. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) likewise is seriously considering popping in, and there’s no telling who might wake up one morning soon and see the specter of the next White House resident staring back at him or her in the bathroom mirror.

The four – Rubio, Cruz, Paul and Graham – have all filed legislation during the 114th Congress. None of the bills are likely to cause massive angina among Republican voters. In fact, it’s safe to say, many of the bills likely will curry favor.

Rubio, for instance, is listed as the prime sponsor on 54 bills and amendments filed since the session began in January – 31 of which were simply proposed changes to the Senate budget bill that passed in late March.

Several of them had direct bearing on Florida – like deauthorizing the Ten Mile Creek Water Preserve Area Critical Restoration Project. Others carry national consequence. The Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, which carries 22 co-sponsors, all Republicans, prohibits transporting a minor child across a state line to obtain an abortion without the consent of a parent.

The Bringing Terrorists to Justice Act of 2015 updates the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program, offering rewards of up to $5 million for information on the kidnapping and murder of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and American aid workers Abdul-Rahman Kassig and Kayla Mueller. To prepare for unknown future circumstances, the bill would also authorize up to $5 million for information on the kidnapping and murder of any other U.S. citizen by a foreign terrorist organization.

As with many Republican lawmakers, Rubio has an anti-Obamacare bill up his sleeve. The Obamacare Taxpayer Bailout Prevention Act would eliminate a provision in the Affordable Care Act that permits bailouts of insurance companies at the sole discretion of the Obama administration.

“One of the biggest threats to the American Dream is the rising cost of living, which ObamaCare is making worse through rising health care costs and loss of coverage,” Rubio said. “Taxpayers should not have to fund massive bailouts to protect the profits of the insurance companies that helped write Obamacare, which is why I’ve been fighting for over a year to protect taxpayers from yet another bailout that puts them on the hook for Washington’s mistakes.”

In establishing that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker isn’t the only potential Republican presidential candidate willing to take on organized labor, Rubio introduced the Rewarding Achievement and Incentivizing Successful Employees (RAISE) Act, which allows employers to give merit-based compensation increases to individual employees, even if those increases are not part of a collective bargaining agreement.

By the way, the term “American Dream” — a catchphrase sure to be used in any presidential campaign — appears constantly in Rubio’s rhetoric when discussing his legislation.

“Helping people achieve the American Dream means providing them with the skills and opportunities that lead to better pay in better jobs,” Rubio said. “When America’s workers earn a raise because of their hard work, union bosses should not be able to block it as labor policy currently allows. The RAISE Act would bring greater fairness and opportunity to the modern workplace by giving American workers the freedom to earn more money for a job well done.”

And, in another pro-gun bill, Rubio offered the Firearms Manufacturers and Dealers Protection Act of 2015, an effort to terminate Operation Choke Point, a partnership between the Department of Justice and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation that involves investigating banks that do business with merchants involved in high-risk activities, like gun sellers.

And there is the Educational Opportunities Act, which expands school choice by allowing individuals and businesses to contribute to qualified organizations that award need-based scholarships to students to defray the cost of attending private schools. The bill creates an individual federal tax credit of up to $4,500 and a corporate credit of up to $100,000 for donations to qualifying, non-profit SGOs.

“It is shameful that the only parents in our country who don’t have choice regarding their children’s education are parents living in poverty,” Rubio said. “This bill will ensure every parent and child has access to a school that best suits their learning needs where they can thrive and go on to become America’s future leaders.”

Cruz, meanwhile, has been a bit less active, offering 26 pieces of legislation in 2015, 10 of which were amendments to the budget bill. One of his primary targets has been Obamacare.

One, termed simply the Obamacare Repeal Act, fully repeals Obamacare effective 180 days after the bill’s enactment, and provides Congress and the states the intervening six months to develop and vote on any healthcare reform alternative.

“This repeal bill is pro-growth, pro-jobs and pro-liberty,” Cruz said. “It provides time for Congress to start over, to pass true market-based reforms that will allow the purchase of insurance across state lines, expand health savings accounts and make health insurance, personal, portable, and affordable.”

The bill, Cruz said, offers President Obama a clear choice – “either listen to the American people, who have never supported this law, or ignore them, and ignore the disastrous harms to millions of families, young people, and the most vulnerable among us.”

Cruz also introduced the Health Care Choice Act aimed at allowing residents in one state to purchase health insurance plans available in any other states, an option not provided in the Affordable Care Act.

The Internal Revenue Service also comes in the Cruz crosshairs. The lawmaker has offered legislation that would make it a crime for an IRS employee to discriminate against groups based on the political beliefs or policy statements held by the organization. The bill comes in response to claims that the Obama administration either rejected or slow-walked applications from conservative groups seeking non-tax status.

A second measure would empower the Federal Election Commission — not the IRS — to determine if an organization is engaging in political activity, a factor that plays into tax-exempt status.

“The IRS has no business meddling with the First Amendment rights of Americans,” Cruz said. “Rather than further stifling free speech, the IRS and the Department of Justice should provide the American people with all the facts surrounding the IRS’s targeting of certain organizations based on their political activity.”

Cruz also is looking to establish bona fides in foreign affairs. The Safeguard America Act seeks to re-impose and expand sanctions against Iran and prohibit funding for negotiations and implementation of any nuclear agreement with Iran without congressional approval.

“It is time to tell the American people the truth. These talks are not going to prevent the Islamic Republic of Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, from getting a nuclear weapon. The Obama administration is circumventing the will of the American people, who do not support this deal.”

Cruz further offered the Expatriate Terrorist Act, which declares that Americans fighting on behalf of terrorist organizations overseas have effectively renounced their U.S. citizenship, thus preventing them from re-entering the country.

“From Syria to Iraq to Yemen, it is clear that when America withdraws from the world, the world becomes a more dangerous place,” Cruz said. “We must take bold action to protect our homeland by declaring that Americans who have traveled abroad to fight with radical Islamic terrorists have renounced their citizenship and we must preempt any of their efforts to re-enter the country and launch further attacks on Americans.”

Cruz is further looking to protect the nation’s energy resources from foreign entanglements with the American Energy Renaissance Act by removing federal impediments to energy exploration, development and trade. The legislation also looks to reduce American dependence on unfriendly nations for energy needs, and ensure the United States will be able to exert its influence and support its allies.

“Today America faces a pivotal question — will we lead the world into a new generation of American prosperity led by the great American energy renaissance we’re experiencing, or will we instead shut off our borders, erect walls, and allow our friends and allies to be dependent on tyrants like Vladimir Putin or Nicolás Maduro?” Cruz said. “We need to come together in a bipartisan manner to say we support jobs, we support economic growth, and we support standing united alongside our friends and allies in defense of freedom.”

Paul, who entered the Senate four years ago with a reputation that cast him as someone who was a near isolationist, has also introduced legislation addressing foreign affairs establishing that he favors more involvement than originally thought.

The Defend Israel by Defunding Palestinian Foreign Aid Act would, for instance, prohibit any amounts from being obligated or expended to provide assistance, loan guarantees or debt relief to the Palestinian Authority until it withdraws its request to join the International Criminal Court.

The move is intended to assist Israel. Earlier in his tenure, Paul sought to end all U.S. foreign aid – including the money headed toward Israel.

“It is up to the new Republican-led Congress to move on its own so that the president does not once again circumvent clear funding restrictions,” he said. “We are currently sending roughly $400 million of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Palestinian Authority. Certainly groups that threaten Israel cannot be allies of the U.S. I will continue to do everything in my power to make sure this President and this Congress stop treating Israel’s enemies as American allies.”

Paul also has produced legislation to repeal the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which requires foreign banks to monitor the accounts of American residing overseas and report their findings to the IRS or risk severe consequences.

Paul said the requirement raises privacy concerns and has proved to be a costly burden on the banks. As a result, foreign banks are closing the accounts of Americans working abroad. The bill’s original goal of catching tax cheats instead has resulted in punishing millions of innocent Americans who try to bank while making a living overseas.

Many of the 22 bills and amendments Paul has offered during the 114th Congress generally reflect his libertarian leanings. The Federal Reserve Transparency Act, which he characterized as the “Audit the Fed” bill, seeks to eliminate restrictions imposed on the Government Accountability Office from conducting audits of the Federal Reserve.

“A complete and thorough audit of the Fed will finally allow the American people to know exactly how their money is being spent by Washington,” Paul said. “The Fed currently operates under a cloak of secrecy and it has gone on for too long. The American people have a right to know what the Federal Reserve is doing with our nation’s money supply.”

The Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act, or FAIR, was offered by Paul to restore the role of the Fifth Amendment in property proceedings.

“The federal government has made it far too easy for government agencies to take and profit from the property of those who have not been convicted of a crime,” Paul said. “The FAIR Act will ensure that government agencies no longer profit from taking the property of U.S. citizens without due process, while maintaining the ability of courts to order the surrender of proceeds of crime. I will continue to do all I can to protect the rights of Americans and ensure that their Fifth Amendment rights are no longer infringed upon.”

Paul also has involved himself in civil rights – an issue that has drawn attention to his burgeoning presidential campaign. The Justice Safety Valve Act would permit federal judges to impose sentences below mandatory minimums in appropriate cases based upon mitigating factors.

“Since mandatory sentencing began, America’s prison population has quadrupled, to 2.4 million,” he said. “America now jails a higher percentage of its citizens than any other country due to mandatory minimum sentences. These sentences disproportionally affect minorities and low-income communities, while doing little to keep us safe. The federal government should get out of the way, and allow local and state judges to do their jobs.”

And he introduced the Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act, which would restore federal voting rights for non-violent ex-offenders.

“A criminal record is currently one of the biggest impediments to voting in federal elections,” Paul said. “The Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act will reform existing federal law and give low-level ex-offenders another opportunity to vote. This is an issue that I feel strongly about, and I will continue to fight for the restoration of voting rights in the hopes of giving non-violent ex-offenders a second chance.”

And he is offering up the Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act, which would provide the nation’s governors with the power to regulate intrastate endangered species and intrastate threatened species.

“This bill will better protect endangered species by allowing a more tailored response as implemented by the states,” he said. “The Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act ensures that local needs will be considered in the regulation process and places the decision-making into the hands of the states by allowing them to choose whether regulation occurs on the state or federal level.”

Graham, the senior member of the GOP group considering a possible move from Capitol Hill to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., has introduced only eight bills or amendments this session. One has direct bearing on South Carolina: the Textile Enforcement and Security Act is intended to strengthen trade enforcement on textile and apparel imports and provide Customs and Border Protection with tools to crack down on fraudulent textiles.

South Carolina is a domestic textiles center.

“This common sense bill will add significant protections for textile workers by strengthening existing customs enforcement mechanisms and creating new tools to combat fraud,” Graham said. “We owe it to the hard working men and women of the textile industry to protect their product against those who seek to take advantage of lax enforcement.”