Tough Sledding for GOP's Johnson Repeal
It was no ordinary Friday on Capitol Hill, where a flurry of last-minute tax talk made Congress’s fly-out day much busier than usual. And while Republicans are closer to closing the deal than ever, not all of the developments in conference have been positive ones.
After two years of hammering away at the issue, President Trump got the news late Thursday night that most conservatives feared: the Senate parliamentarian was striking the language that repealed the Johnson Amendment, insisting it was too “policy-oriented” to comply with the chamber’s strict budget rules. Although the blow to one of the White House’s top priorities was tough, it wasn’t completely unexpected. Under the reconciliation process, GOP senators have to prove that everything in their bill is fiscal in nature. And while stripping churches of their tax-exempt status clearly qualifies, Democrats argued long and hard to the contrary.
Of course, the Left has had plenty of practice misrepresenting the debate, since it’s been at it long before Donald Trump. It understands, as we do, that a politically engaged Christian is an influential one. And it’ll do everything it can to keep evangelicals from flexing their muscle like they did in 2016. That includes keeping tight control over what religious leaders can and can’t say. For years, they’ve used the IRS to scare off faith groups and pastors from talking openly about the political issues of the day (which is not only antithetical to America’s roots but outright unconstitutional).
The whole idea of the Johnson Amendment is insulting, argues Alliance Defending Freedom’s (ADF) Christiana Holcomb. “It allows federal bureaucrats to determine what pastors can and can’t say,” which is an obvious violation of the First Amendment. “The idea that the government needs to police the church also assumes the goodness of government. With the IRS as the government agency overseeing church and pastor speech, that assumption is — frankly — laughable. We need only look at the many scandals the IRS has been involved in the past few years to see that it can’t be trusted. At the top of the list is its targeting of conservative groups. To put it mildly, impartiality is not the IRS’s strong suit.”
She’s right, and the Left’s opposition proves it. The same people who’ve morally bankrupted our nation want to continue gagging religious leaders — or at least intimidate them into silence — under the threat of the Lois Lerner-types at the IRS. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), one of the repeal’s biggest champions, understands that better than anyone. “I’m disappointed in the decision of the parliamentarian to not allow the revised text of the Johnson Amendment into the tax reform bill,” he said Thursday. “The federal government and the IRS should never have the ability, through our tax code, to limit free speech. Nonprofits are allowed to lobby Congress or their local elected officials, but the ambiguity of the current tax code keeps nonprofits in constant fear that they might have crossed a line that no other organization has to consider.”
It’s an injustice that conservatives have been trying to correct for decades. We’re deeply grateful for Lankford’s efforts, as well as House Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), Ways and Means Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX), Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) and Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) for doing everything they could to give men and women of faith the freedom they deserve. And although they didn’t win this time around, the days of the Johnson Amendment are numbered. Thanks to President Trump, this will be an election issue from this day forward. As for FRC, we’ll continue the work we began with Pulpit Freedom initiatives until we’ve legislatively corrected this problem or found a remedy in court.
Originally published here.
The FCC’s New Net Minder
The government took over health care, and we all know how that turned out. Under Barack Obama, it tried to get its hands on the Internet too — a power grab that spooked people in every corner of cyberspace. Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) overturned Obama’s decision to swoop in and control one of the few markets still free of government intervention.
Although there are strong feelings on both sides of the debate, one thing Americans should all agree on is that the decision to involve the government in one of the most productive areas of our economy should come from Congress — not the five political appointees of the FCC. Fortunately, Commissioner Ajit Pai agrees, voting Thursday to “liberate Internet service providers,” as Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) called it, from the overbearing regulations of the Obama years.
“By effectively deeming the internet a utility, former [FCC] chairman Tom Wheeler turned the FCC into a political gatekeeper. The rules prohibited broadband providers from blocking, throttling, and favoring content… Bans on throttling content may poll well,” The Wall Street Journal warns, “but the regulations have created uncertainty about what the FCC would or wouldn’t allow. This has throttled investment. …
"Mr. Pai’s net-neutrality rollback will also support growth in content… Consumers will benefit from the slow breakdown of the cable monopoly as they customize ‘bundles’ like Hulu or a Disney stream that may cost less… [As for the crackdown in free speech,] Google has vigorously promoted net neutrality in theory but less in practice,” the Journal goes on. “While Google says it remains ‘committed to the net neutrality policies,’ the search engine uses opaque algorithms to prioritize and discriminate against content, sometimes in ways that undercut competitors.”
The real neutrality comes from cutting the government out of the process, which Pai has done. And conservatives couldn’t be happier. “Today’s vote by the FCC to reject the … government takeover of the internet is a big win for consumers and for internet freedom,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) cheered. “America is the global leader in the digital economy because we have allowed entrepreneurs to compete against each other — rather than against regulators. It’s ultimate the consumers who suffer when the federal government swoops in with heavy regulations… The best way to continue the success of the internet is by keeping the government from suffocating it through radical regulations.”
As several experts have pointed out, the reason the web grew so quickly is because the government wasn’t involved. Now, thanks to Pai, we can return to the days when the Web isn’t under the thumb of unelected bureaucrats.
Originally published here.
This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC.