Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Senate Live - May 16, 2006

The order for the day is to confirm Milan Smith, a Circuit Court nominee, and to take up the immigration bill, S.2611. The bill has one pending amendment, S.Amdt.3961. I believe there will be a vote on the Isakson amendment sometime after the vote on Smith.

Today's Debate on S.2611 - Part I
Today's Debate on S.2611 - Part II

S.Amdt.3961 / Isakson

To prohibit the granting of legal status, or adjustment of current status, to any individual who enters or entered the United States in violation of Federal law unless the border security measures authorized under Title I and section 233 are fully completed and fully operational.

This amendment will be rejected, and I think reasonably so. It is functionally a "fix the border first, before adjusting the legal status of a resident." What if the "change the legal status" law changed in a way that results in increased deportation? Should that be deferred until border security work is certified "complete?" Can we not do two things at once? I see this amendment as deferring the more emotional and difficult problem of forming a rational policies for dealing with residents in the country illegally.

The Cornyn/Kyl amendment relating to absconders, for example, is one such policy judgement. It would eliminate that part of the illegal population that was ordered to appear in court, and failed to appear, the ability to take advantage of any new legal residency policy. I support that. It deals with a subset of the residents who are here illegally, that no doubt through "bad luck," were drawn into the system that deals with enforcing immigration law, the subset being the residents who failed to appear in court as ordered. This subset is referred to as "absconders."

Yesterday's post has a paraphrase of Senator Cornyn's objection, that giving absconders the same route to permanent legal residency as other illegal residents sends a mixed signal. People who complied with the law by showing up to immigration court, and followed with the court's orders, are the losers. Cornyn notes that if the law forgives absconders, the signal is that it is better to NOT appear in court, because the Americans will, in the long run, overlook that.

A brief comment on Milan Smith, Senator Smith's brother, who will be confirmed for a seat on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Rather than compose my own, I'll hat tip to Andrew Hyman at confirmthem.com, and reproduce two of his comments. My enthusiasm on this confirmation is likewise muted.

Whether he's the best possible person that could be snuck by Boxer and Feinstein is kind of beside the point. The point is that the Senate seems much more able to confirm a California nominee who has been okayed by Feinstein and Boxer than (for example) a North Carolina nominee who has been okayed by Burr and Dole.

Boyle is tainted by Helms, Kavanaugh is tainted by Starr, Randy Smith is tainted by Idaho, and Myers is tainted by the Gang of 14 deal. But somehow Milan Smith isn't tainted by his age, by his specialty, by the appearance (and reality) of nepotism, by his disdain for the GOP, or by his chumminess with Boxer. I don't get it. Anyway, all will be forgiven if we can hurry up to those other nominations, preferably smashing judicial filibusters forever while we're at it.

A quick comment or two regarding President Bush's speech of last night. I was underwhelmed. My initial reaction is to be sympathetic toward him for being subjected to so much "negative pressure," but then I realize that he has known for many years that immigration, and in particular securing the border and enforcing employment law, is broken. And even knowing that, he has chosen, consciously and deliberately I think, lax enforcement. So the pressure is largely of his own doing, and my sympathy evaporates.

I see the speech as heavy on platitudes and generalities, and take that as cover for his advocacy of immigration policies that are significantly more liberal than I would support. Bully for him, but Congress makes the laws. I'll pile on him based on his actions regarding enforcement.

No doubt in my mind that the legal immigration bureaucracy is Byzantine, and broken at that. I wonder about the patchwork of asylum, relief from deportation, and other assorted details where the substance of policy is played out, and realize that our immigration laws are at least as broken as the tax code is. Special favors, contradictory regulations, ugh. Yeah, the legal system needs to be overhauled.

And I suppose that the level of legal immigration is set too low, but not too low by a factor of ten. And "level of immigration" is a fairly complex set of policies in its own right, looking at culture, international policy, commercial needs of the USA (we might favor immigration for experts in alternative energy, for example), and a panoply of value judgments.

There is a big gorilla in the room too, and it is largely overlooked. It isn't just immigration that is broken. Our liberal social policies, bordering on socialism, are a magnet. We unconditionally provide social services, food, shelter and financial assistance, to those in need. We are a compassionate people, but I think to a degree and with a bureaucratic style that diminishes our collective performance. Why work for peanuts, when peanuts are free for the asking?

Well, off my soapbox for awhile. I didn't mean for this to turn into "Immigration by Cboldt," and my thoughts aren't well supported by research into details. My thoughts are useful as a window into my preconceived biases, and for that they will help the reader filter any comments I might make about various amendments and proposals as the Senate tackles the immigration nightmare.

There is no doubt or equivocation in my mind that immigration is far and away more important than advancing constitutional amendments on flag burning or marriage. Fixing a broken society is beyond the power of the law; but fixing a broken immigration system is not.

The record yesterday has the following from Senator Frist.
Mr. FRIST. Mr. President, today, we did return to the immigration reform bill and have one amendment pending. We expected other additional amendments to be offered today, and had Senators prepared to offer and debate their amendments. I am disappointed the other side did not allow those amendments to come forward at this time. I hope we can get back on track tomorrow and start processing amendments.

The other side of the aisle will have an alternative to the Isakson amendment [ref: border certified secure before new immigration laws can be applied], and I hope it will be offered early. We have a number of Senators waiting to offer amendments, and I hope we can reach reasonable time agreements on each amendment.

List of Amendments Proposed to S.2611

Thirty-four (34) amendments have been offered as of close of business on May 15. The post linked above includes a link to Thomas for each individual amendment.

Text of Amendments Proposed to S.2611

Click above for quickest route to the substance of each amendment.

Update @ 10:00 - Senator Frist notes there may be a DEM alternative to the Isakson amendment, in which case there could be votes on both. He also notes this will be a full week, with many votes. Looking ahead, he sees this bill, a supplemental bill (I don't know exactly which one or two) and a vote on the Kavanaugh nomination being the events that must be completed before the end of next week.

Senator Reid comments on President Bush's speech, and indicates his agreement with it. "A commendable job. I support the direction." He went on to criticize the lack of enforcement up to this point. Senator Reid goes off to the subject of stem cells, and thinks this should come up sooner, rather than later. He urges Frist to bring up the House bill for a vote, since he (Frist) has already expressed that he supports it and agrees with it.

Senator Reid now asserting that Wallace, Boyle should be set aside until other nominees should be voted on. That the non-controversial nominations should be handled before the controversial ones. He closes by saying Milan Smith is not.

Senator Frist announces a vote at noon on the Isakson amendment, S.Amdt.3961, followed by a vote on the DEM alternative, Salazar/Trigger (?? I know that's wrong but am drawing a blank) amendment following immediately after. There is no objection.

Update @ 11:15 - The Senate confirmed the nomination of Milan Smith, I assume with no NAY votes. The Circuit Courts Nominations Summary has been updated accordingly. Before getting too giddy, I recommend reading Confirm Them ยป Problem with Milan Smith.

Senator Salazar introduces his alternative amendment to Isakson. S.Amdt.3994 by Salazar will be voted after the vote on Isakson's 3961. Salazar's amendment is radically different from Isakson's in that Isakson requires the border to be certified secure (by the President), while Salazar's required a certification that the proposed method will result in a secure border. Kooky, if you ask me, but it give a point for discussion and opposition to Isakson's amendment. One hour of debate for each amendment.

Cornyn notes that he disagrees with the bill on the table (S.2611), prefers the enforcement-only approach of H.R.4437, but that he intends to offer amendments to S.2611 that result in a comprehensive bill that he can support. Cornyn says that the Isakson amendment simply order the executive activity toward enforcement first. It doesn't mean enforcement ONLY, as Salazar intimated. Cornyn notes that secure ID cards and many other measures will take time to implement, and while that is underway, get cracking on securing the border.

Update @ 11:30 - Senator Stabenow tries to divert the Senate to an unrelated bill, relating to the Medicare Drug Program. She wants to extend the deadline for sign-up, give a right for a one-time change of plan, and a third point that slips my mind. Specter objects. What a goofy diversion, I assume pandering to the AARP or similar.

Update @ 12:15 - The Senate is voting on the Isakson amendment. If passed, this has the effect of delaying earned citizenship until after the Homeland Security Secretary confirms that the border is secure. The more I think about this, the more I like it. It would induce the illegal residents now here to support securing the border.

Specter voted against the Isakson amendment. Shortly after that, the clerk called that Stabenow voted for it. I'm sure that will be corrected in due course, I bet she thought she was voting on the Salazar alternative. Otherwise, the Isakson amendment seems to have broad GOP support, and strong DEM opposition. I have my ears out for crossovers, and have caught Dorgan and Nelson of Nebraska voting AYE, as well as Byrd and Wyden. In addition to Specter, GOP no votes include Chaffee, Stevens, Voinovich, Coleman and Murkowski. My guess is that the Isakson amendment will fail.

The Isakson amendment was rejected on a 40 - 55 vote. Add Graham, Snowe and Collins to the GOP crossover column, and Landrieu to the AYE column. Now on to voting for the Salazar option, Senator Levin's 10,000th vote in the Senate. Levin's first vote was in relation to changing the Senate's cloture rules.

Update @ 12:45 - The Senate is voting on the Salazar amendment. This is passing by a very wide margin, Kennedy is the Senator who called for the yeas and nays.

The Salazar amendment was passed on a 79 - 16 vote. After lunch, the Bingaman amendment (I'm not sure which one).

"no provision of title IV or title VI is carried out until after the date on which the President makes a determination that the implementation of title IV and title VI will strengthen the national security of the United States"

Theatre of the absurd. The President is to enforce the laws -- or does he get to pick and choose?. Does he get to pick and choose when it comes to FISA, Hmmmm? If he doesn't endorse the contents of a bill, he may veto it. If legislation needs to be "tweaked" it can be so "tweaked" by the relevant administrative agency. Salazar's amendment is pure political cover for Congress, and I find it offensive on its face.

Update @ 14:30 - DORGAN Amendment - S.Amdt. 4017 is offered for debate. This amendment strikes guest worker benefits to future flow, that is, to aliens who are not now in the country. The point of this is to make sure there is no incentive to run across in order to obtain a benefit that is intended to pertain to those who managed to get away with being in the country illegally.

Dorgan's amendment would not affect the guest worker provisions of Hagel/Martinez that pertain to the group of illegal aliens who have been in the country for 2-5 years.

Update @ 14:55 - After some dickering, Senator Specter outlines the progress of amendments for the next few hours. There will be 80 minutes of debate on the Dorgan amendment, time equally divided. After the debate is concluded, there will be a vote on the Dorgan amendment.

Then the Kyl-Cornyn amendment (not sure which one, there are several), then a Sessions amendment which I believe is S.Amdt.3979, which is a fence construction measure for SOME sectors, primarily near the cities of Tuscon and Yuma, as well as at least 370 miles of fencing in other high traffic areas, then two amendments by Vitter, S.Amdt.3963 and S.Amdt.3964.

Update @ 16:20 - The Senate is voting on a Motion to Table S.Amdt.4017, the Dorgan amendment.

Update @ 16:40 - The Motion to Table the Dorgan amendment passed on a 69 - 28 vote. The Dorgan amendment is not going to be adopted.

Senator Specter negotiates that Kyl-Cornyn be deferred to tomorrow, so that less contentious amendments can be dealt with tonight. Cornyn has no objection, so the next amendment up is S.Amdt.3981 by Bingaman. This amendment reduces the number of H-2C visas allocated in future years. It adds a sub-section "(C)" to 8 USC 1184(g)Temporary workers and trainees; limitation on numbers, by changing the new limitation at 8 USC 1184(g)(1)(C), that, if the Bingaman amendment was adopted, would recite:

The total number of aliens who may be issued visas or otherwise provided nonimmigrant status during any fiscal year (C) under section 101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(c) may not exceed 200,000.

If you click through to "101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(c)" you will see a definition for this category of immigrant. You will also begin to appreciate the complexity of the legislation being handled right now. You will also see that fashion models are specifically mentioned

(H)(ii)(c) is a new category, a category created by S.2611. So the Bingaman amendment changes the number of visas to be granted to this new category of temporary worker and trainee. In other words, this would amend the new temporary worker program, before voting the new temporary program itself up or down.

Update @ 17:20 - The Senate is voting on MOTION TO TABLE S.Amdt.3981, the Bingaman amendment. Senator Specter emphasized the "strict" 20 minute time allowed for this vote, and that some Senators have flights scheduled.

Update @ 17:40 - The Motion to Table the Bingaman amendment was rejected on a 18 - 79 vote. Immediately following, the Senate passed the Bingaman amendment on a voice vote.

Hat tip to John Derbyshire at NRO
There are 79 different types of temporary resident visas

From a "close the borders" point of view, the Bingaman amendment reduces the bitterness of (or sweetens) the bill. It is the opposite of a poison pill. Picking one Senator's vote from the mix to make a point, McConnell to table this amendment. Now, (purely hypothetically) if there is a later amendment to get rid of the H-2C visa altogether, and McConnell opposes, based in part on the number of them being too great, then the vote to table Bingaman looks cynical and calculated. The point of making that hypothetical observation is that it is darn tough to figure out where a Senator stands, based on votes on amendments.

Senator Kerry's amendment next S.Amdt. 3999 - to increase the number of border agents by an additional 1,000 per year, it would also give governors the ability to request additional agents in case of emergency. It also increases the number of power boats, helicopters, and patrol vehicles, and insures each vehicle has a portable computer, night vision, body armor, etc. The Senate passed the Kerry amendment on a voice vote.

Clerk called him Senator Kennedy, LOL. Kerry asked the clerk to correct that.

Senator Specter outlined tomorrow's business at follows:

Update @ 18:40 - Senator Reid made a brief appearance to agree with the schedule through "Sessions amendment," and said that the present agreement has a DEM amendment following that, but he would be agreeable with Inhofe amendment. I took that as Reid saying the Inhofe amendment would be next after Sessions, but kept the ordered list above as having a Democrat amendment in between Sessions and Inhofe. It'll work out one way or another.

Inhofe's amendment relates to assimilation, and is some form of "English Only" proposal. It is not one of the amendments listed on May 15, so the text isn't available right now.

Update @ 19:10 - Senator Frist does the usual flurry of one-man Senate actions to close out the day. And because the speeches today were for the most part forgettable, no need for "snips from the record" to be added to this post.

H.R.4954 - Maritime Security bill is placed on the calendar

S.2810 - Bill to amend title 18 of Social Security Act is placed on the calendar

S.Res.481 - In Memoriam of Jacob (Chic) Hecht, Senator from Nevada, is agreed to

S.879 - Amending the Arctic Research and Policy Act of 1984 - bill is discharged from Homeland Security Committee and passed as amended

Tomorrow's business, resume consideration of S.2611. Senator Frist indicates that the Senate may be working late into the evenings, depending on the time allowed on each amendment for debate Adjourned until 9:15 tomorrow morning - the chair says "that's too early." Heheheh, I bet that comment doesn't make it onto the record.


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