Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Senate Live - May 2, 2006

From yesterday's Congressional Record, the following orders for today. Yesterday's thread has a summary of the pending bill as well as pending amendments.


Mr. FRIST. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that when the Senate completes its business today, it stand in adjournment until 9:45 a.m. on Tuesday, May 2. I further ask that following the prayer and the pledge, the morning hour be deemed to have expired, the Journal of the Proceedings be approved to date, the time for the two leaders be reserved, and the Senate proceed to a period of morning business for up to 1 hour, with the first 30 minutes under the control of the Democratic leader or his designee and the final 30 minutes under the control of the majority leader or his designee; that upon the use or yielding back of the time, the Senate proceed to the consideration of H.R. 4939 and immediately proceed to a vote on the motion to invoke cloture. I further ask unanimous consent that second-degree amendments be filed by 10:30 a.m. tomorrow.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. REID. Mr. President, there will be time, of course, for debate prior to the vote; is that right?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. This unanimous consent agreement supersedes that agreement.

Mr. REID. Mr. President, I think prior to this vote, we should have time to talk about it. The hour is set aside for morning business? ...

Mr. FRIST. Mr. President, it will probably be more likely around 11 o'clock or 10:50, 10:55 tomorrow morning, maybe 11 o'clock, that we will have the cloture vote on the emergency supplemental appropriations bill. That will be the first vote of the day, and that is when the clock will start ticking.

Remember, Senators have a filing deadline for any second-degree amendments at 10:30 tomorrow morning. We have a lot of amendments to work through over the course of the postcloture time and will likely be having votes throughout the day. I know a number of people will be coming up to push votes until after committee meetings and hearings. We have to keep effectively and efficiently going through the votes in this postcloture period. I do expect cloture to be invoked, and we will need to vote on those pending amendments which are qualified under the cloture rule.

It is my expectation to continue to run postcloture on Tuesday and Wednesday until we complete the bill.

Let the fun begin! All expect cloture to pass, but those whacky DEMs, who knows what will happen.

Well here is Feingold, picking up where Reid, Kennedy, Boxer and Durbin left off - grousing about Iraq in the form of introducing an amendment (I didn't get the number assigned to it, but anticipate it will be ordered to lie on the table. Hardly helpful criticism, IMO. Not that criticism isn't warranted, but this criticism is not aimed to resolve the issue promptly.

Oh, and Reid also noted the peaceful immigration protests of yesterday. There were protests?

Durbin's turn, and he's hitting on the price of gasoline, and ESPECIALLY about the profits earned by oil companies. Way to go Dickie, get rid of profits and watch the stock markets tumble, unemployment skyrocket, etc. No profits, no commerce, simple as that pal.

I'll be dipped. Kyl actually mentioned that SHORTAGE OF ETHANOL is a significant factor in the price of gasoline, in light of CONGRESSIONAL MANDATE to use 10% ethanol, but that amount of ethanol isn't available, thereby driving the price of ethanol UP (ethanol costs more per gallon than gasoline does); and also creating spot shortages in the gasoline/ethanol blend. Well, some will call the observation brilliant - I noted it a couple weeks ago, and am glad to see that the Senate is as brilliant as I am ;-)

Also notes that refinery maintenance is tougher than usual, due to strong running post-Katrina, and the more extended maintenance results in slightly lower supply.

The cloture motion is going to pass easily. Then off to the races with speeches about the various amendments.

McCain is questioning whether or not payments to the Hawaiian Sugar something or another is something that belongs in an emergency supplemental. Heheheh. John is making sound-bites for his political future. Funny, Inouye and Thad Cochran are making mincemeat of McCain's assertion that this represents no emergency. Coburn comes up with a good policy argument, being that government bailout is an incentive to not engage in private crop insurance. McCain back to defend his comments - the President did not declare a disaster in Hawaii.

I wonder if the whole day will be filled with this sort of minutia. McCain's amendment is rejected 40 - 59. On to the next one.

The Senate is on lunch recess. I was poking around at the White House website for nominations and such, and ran into quite a bit of discussion about the President's Health Care Initiative. I expect this will be a news priority sometime this month - it would take some pressure off the immigration, gas price and Iraq discussions.

President Discusses Health Care Initiatives

The first goal of our health care strategy is to meet the obligation the federal government has made to take care of the elderly and the poor.

... the second part of our strategy is to make care and coverage more affordable and available for Americans. And here are five key policies to support this goal.

  1. Our first policy is to expand health savings accounts ... low-cost catastrophic insurance coverage, and tax-free savings accounts.
  2. The second policy for making health care more affordable and accessible is to increase transparency in our health care system. ... reliable information about prices and quality on the most common medical procedures.
  3. The third policy is to provide modern information technology to our medical system. So, in 2004, I set a goal that most Americans would have an electronic health record within 10 years. Imagine how valuable this access to information will become.
  4. The fourth policy is to make it easier for small businesses to obtain the same discounts that big companies get when obtaining health care insurance.
  5. Our fifth policy ... is to confront the glut of frivolous lawsuits that are driving good doctors out of practice and driving up the cost of health care. To avoid junk lawsuits, professionals in the health care field are forced to practice defensive medicine. They order tests and write prescriptions that are not necessary, so they can protect themselves from trial lawyer lawsuits.

A typical politician's mixed bag. Something for everyone. Mandatory, portable health records for all Americans - no health care unless your records are in the federally mandated form. And providing uniform discounts strikes me as price setting by the government, vs. letting the market work. As for doctors ordering tests that are unnecessary, this isn't driven just by fear of lawsuit. Many doctors are also partners or investors in the companies that perform the testing. It is to their financial advantage to operate those businesses at capacity.

"Div IV" of Coburn's S.Amdt. 3641 was also rejected, the vote was 47 - 52. Seems the day has been pretty mundane. The action must be elsewhere.

Coburn with drew all divisions of his amendment, except Div XIX, which relates to an 11 million dollar program dealing with levee erosion and fish and wildlife maintenance, near Sacramento, California. That got Feinstein and Boxer's attention. Boxer is lots of fun when she's on a tear (as is Landrieu), as she makes irrational arguments. Boxer says this is necessary and urgent. LOL, Coburn wants this project done, he just wants it paid for from somewhere else. Boxer "Couldn't disagree more." Does that mean she thinks this project should NOT be done? Ha! I know that's not what she meant - just having fun. In seriousness, the Army Corps says this levee system protects more net worth than the NOLA levee system does (did).

Selections from Congressional Record


Mr. REID. ... Last week, I also had the opportunity to meet with a number of other Senators at the White House with President Bush. As I said after that meeting, I am not in the habit of patting the President on the back, but he deserved credit--and I said so publicly--for calling us together and for hosting a good bipartisan meeting. My hope is that this will continue.

I made clear to the President that Senators on this side of the aisle are committed to comprehensive immigration reform. I pledged to work with the President and the majority leader, as I have in the past, in a bipartisan way on this very important issue.

Every day we fail to fix the immigration system, it gets worse. ...

Opponents of reform and fairness have filed hundreds of amendments--it is estimated about 500 amendments--to weaken or kill this comprehensive immigration legislation. We Democrats are prepared to debate and vote on some of these amendments, but there must be a finite number of amendments. Before we start the debate, we must know how many amendments there are.

I have made clear to the majority leader that I am flexible on that number. As I said previously, prior to Easter, I suggested three amendments per side. As I indicated earlier, I was told there were at least 2 dozen. We were unable to reach agreement before the recess. ...

Does everyone understand why I am a little concerned, a little suspicious? We have the House passing a bill declaring these immigrants as felons, and we are told by the chairman of the House committee that the idea came from the White House, and we have the majority leader in the House saying he doesn't like our bill.

[The White House says illegal presence ought to be a felony? Senator Reid, do you honestly expect people to believe that? At any rate, the above monologue indicates the present extent of the DEMs willingness to soften their demands on process.]


Mr. DURBIN. ... We have to find ways to conserve and be more efficient so we don't see the disappearance of the Arctic, or Greenland, or sections of Antarctica, or the elimination of species of animals such as polar bears because of the ice melting that is taking place around the world.


Mr. KYL. Mr. President, I wish to address the same subject and begin where the distinguished Senator from Illinois left off when he talked about new leadership.

I wonder if he would join Republicans to see if we can eliminate the tariff on Brazilian ethanol, something which the Senator from Illinois suggests we need more of, one of the three solutions he says we need--more leadership, more ethanol and fuel economy standards. I think we are going to provide some leadership and we are going to provide some more ethanol. One way to do that is to reduce the extraordinary expense of bringing it in from Brazil. We haven't gotten a lot of cooperation from the other side on that. That will be my first question to him: Will he step up and exercise leadership with us to eliminate that tariff on ethanol?

There is a 10-percent mandate in the Energy bill on ethanol. The Senator suggested we should have a higher mandate on ethanol, or a higher subsidy for that. The reality is one of the reasons gas prices have been where they are is we haven't been able to meet that 10-percent mandate. There isn't enough ethanol being produced and, therefore, because there is a lack of supply in comparison to the demand, the price has gone up, obviously. What we need to do here, instead of pointing fingers and demagoguing the issue, is to understand economics and appreciate where the real problem is. Then we can begin to solve it.


The amendment (No. 3769) was agreed to.
The amendment (No. 3789) was agreed to.

The cloture vote was agreed to on a 92 - 4 vote, with Senators Dodd, Feingold, Levin and Wyden voting in opposition.

Mr. LEVIN. Mr. President, I voted against the motion to invoke cloture on the supplemental appropriations bill because it will have the effect of preventing the consideration of a number of important and relevant amendments.

There are more than a hundred amendments which have been filed on this bill. Several are important amendments, such as Senator Wyden's amendment to prevent funds from being used to continue discounts given to the oil companies on royalties which otherwise would be paid to the Federal Government for production of oil and/or natural gas on Federal lands. Another example is the bipartisan amendment that I offered with Senators COLLINS and REED to require reports to Congress on progress toward a national unity government in Iraq.

[Wyden's amendment 3665 appears in the regular order. And unless I miss my guess, there is already a law that required reports to Congress on progress toward a national unity government in Iraq. Levin missed the boat on this speech.]


The amendment (No. 3626), as modified, was agreed to.

Mr. COBURN. We are considering a very large supplemental spending bill that now stands about $10 billion larger than what the President has said he will sign. I thought it would be interesting to spend a minute to think about what $1 billion is because we throw that number around so often. We need to consider that $1 billion is a difficult number to comprehend.

A billion seconds ago, it was 1959. A billion minutes, ago Jesus was alive. A billion hours ago, some would say our ancestors were living in the stone age. A billion days ago, no one walked on Earth on two feet. A billion dollars was only 8 hours 20 minutes ago at the rate we are spending money in the Federal Government. ...

Division IV of amendment No. 3641 (Coburn's intent to obtain shipbuilding recovery funds elsewhere) was rejected on a 48 - 51 roll call vote. [Not a partisan vote]

The amendment (No. 3627), as modified, was agreed to.
The amendment (No. 3736) was agreed to.
The amendment (No. 3810) was agreed to.

[This was on a 98 - 0 roll call vote. Now who calls for a roll when the vote is unanimous? What was the point of this stunt? Maybe just a signal to call the Senators back from wherever they were. Anyway, Obama asked for the YEAs and NAYs on his own amendment.]

[and Now on to a completely different subject, Darfur. The idea is pretty clear from this brief snippet from the record.]

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I thank my colleague, Senator Menendez, for his eloquent statement and for sponsoring this incredibly important amendment. I am proud to be a cosponsor with him and a number of my colleagues. It is incredibly important that we act and that we act now.

As Senator Menendez described his amendment, it would add $60 million to address the shortfall in the U.S. contribution to the United Nations for international peacekeeping and to fund a U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur. ...


The following communications were laid before the Senate, together with accompanying papers, reports, and documents, and were referred as indicated: ...

EC-6650. A communication from the Associate Attorney General, Department of Justice, transmitting, pursuant to law, the Department's 2005 annual report on certain activities pertaining to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); to the Committee on the Judiciary.

EC-6651. A communication from the Director, Administrative Office of the United States Courts, transmitting, pursuant to law, the Director's annual report on applications for court orders made to federal and state courts to permit the interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications during calendar year 2005; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

[The last item there communicates the number of FISA applications made, rejected and modified. I have a summary of this information going back to 1979, the beginning of the FISA Court, and may post that on "my other blog" at some point. A quick opinion, the numbers indicate a substantial increase (15%, to 2,074 requests), and radically increasing trend in surveillance since 1999. The number of requests rejected is insignificant, the number of requests modified (by the Court) took a jump UP to 79 in 2003, and numbered 94 and 61 in 2004 and 2005 respectively. The FISA count does not include activity in the Terrorist Surveillance Program.]


The following bills and joint resolutions were introduced, read the first and second times by unanimous consent, and referred as indicated: ...

By Mr. LEVIN (for himself and Mr. DEWINE):

S. 2692. A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on certain microphones used in automotive interiors; to the Committee on Finance.


By Mr. CORNYN (for himself, Mr. ALLEN, Mr. ENZI, Mr. LOTT, Mr. ALLARD, and Mr. BENNETT):

S. 2691. A bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to increase competitiveness in the United States, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, today I am introducing a bill that will reform our immigration policies to make the United States more competitive, called the Securing Knowledge, Innovation, and Leadership, or ``SKIL'' bill. Other original cosponsors of this legislation include Senators ALLARD, ALLEN, BENNETT, ENZI, and LOTT. ...

The SKIL bill requires the government to change its processes so that companies do not waste valuable resources. If a worker has been in the U.S. and has complied with all immigration laws, he should be allowed to renew his visa here in the U.S. Why make that worker go to a consulate when all of the processing can be done here in the U.S.?

The SKIL bill exempts from annual visa limit any foreign student graduating from a U.S. university with a Master's or PhD in essential fields. Foreign workers with extraordinary skills, such as a Nobel Prize winner or an international scholar--should not have to wait for a visa. The President has also called for an increase in H-1B visas.

I am introducing the SKIL bill because I don't believe enough attention has been focused on legal immigrants, especially the highly skilled workers who contribute to our economy and comply with our laws. It is my hope that this legislation will allow U.S. companies to retain a highly educated workforce until we can channel more American students into the math, science, and engineer pipeline. The SKIL bill is yet another important piece of the U.S. competitiveness agenda, and I urge my colleagues to cosponsor this important legislation.

[My take on immigration is that Congress is managing the country as though it was a company - and if importing outside labor improves the company, at the expense of natives, then importing will occur. The object is net gain for the company, and if individual employees suffer, tough.]


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