Thursday, May 04, 2006

Senate Live - May 4, 2006

Mr. COCHRAN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that when the Senate resumes the supplemental appropriations bill tomorrow morning, the Senate proceed to consider votes on or in relation to the following, with no intervening action or debate or second-degree amendments:

Thune amendment No. 3705, and Vitter amendment No. 3728, as modified.

Before getting to the emergency supplemental, morning speeches. Reid and Durbin are off on the subject of embryonic stem cell research.

After the emergency supplemental, Frist has indicated an intention to bring up two District Court nominations. I think today will be another quiet, uneventful day in the Senate.

Oh, checking the above, it seems Cochran misspoke. S.Amdt 3705 is not Thune's, it is Obama's. I assume the vote will be on Thune's 3704, but neither one of those is apt to provoke any conflict.

Likewise Vitter's 3728 is an easy "pass" as it requests less than 20 million dollars for flood control measures in and around NOLA.

Streaming C-SPAN3, the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Specter asserting that he does not want a repeat of filibuster as happened with Circuit Court nominees last year (e.g., Janice Rogers Brown, etc.) and intends to have Kavanaugh voted on. Specter puts in the record a letter from Judge Becker of the 3rd Circuit, who Kavanaugh clerked for. Also, Specter says that Kavanaugh will be there for a hearing next Tuesday.

Leahy wants to know why some members of the ABA downgraded some of the ratings. Leahy notes that when the ABA does so, the nominee almost invariably withdraws from consideration. See Payne, for example.

Leahy makes the ABA downgrading a big deal, it has not happened out of thousands and thousands of nominations.

Specter chimes in, noting that the ABA has said they won't comment on this, and Specter finds this unacceptable. He will bring the ABA in to testify.

Schumer expressing that he wants a full hearing. He also asserts that Kavanaugh is a partisan selection, not a judicious one. He says Kavanaugh is basically a partisan warrior.

Bit of an aside, Specter says that Harriet Miers should have had a hearing - she was run out on a rail by pundits and talk shows. He adds, that's just his opinion.

Graham pats Specter on the back and says that having a hearing is the right thing to do, just as a matter of process, even though the committee vote is a foregone conclusion.

Specter moves on to the nomination of Randy Smith. Feinstein thinks the seat belongs to a California Judge, and Smith is an Idaho judge. Specter says that since the seat was created, 14 of 34 years it has been occupied by a Judge from California. Also, California has 12 of the seats in the 9th Circuit - and will have 14 of the 28 seats when Ikuta nd "the other Smith" are confirmed.

Specter wants to vote on Randy Smith now. 10 members are in the room, and Leahy says he is not ready to vote yet. After talking a bit, he decides he will oppose Randy Smith.

Leahy - objects to the Smith and other nominations on the ground that President Bush promised to be a united, not a divider. Vote on Randy Smith underway, and it is breaking down on party line. Result to be announced shortly - Judge Smith will be reported to the floor. Executive agenda concluded.

Meanwhile, back in the Senate, Senator Brownback is talking about North Korea.

Action on the Emergency Supplemental. Passing amendments. S.Amdt.3753, S.Amdt.3677, S.Amdt.3819, S.Amdt.3850 (?), S.Amdt.3592, S.Amdt.3729, S.Amdt.3761, and S.Amdt.3805.

Vitter talking about his S.Amdt.3728, and asking for a voice vote. Passes on a voice vote. Now on to Thune's amendment, 20 million for veterans health care, offset by money slated for AmeriCorps. Senator Cochran says this amendment has opposition, and will be settled on a roll call vote.

S.Amdt.3613 and S.Amdt.3824 being called up. These are Obama's. Amendment is modified, and the modified amendment is agreed to.

Now Grassley's S.Amdt.3732 passes on a voice vote.

And now we get to the roll call on the Thune amendment. The vote after one pass through the roll has it going down, 21-11, with a fair number of GOP NAY votes among that 21.

Roll call vote on the Thune amendment. Mixed bag, lots of cross-over votes both ways. Stevens "AYE." A moment later, Stevens, "NO." Santorum NO as well. This amendment is going down. Then some speeches as to the amended bill, followed by passage. It'll go off to conference, and be back before the Senate before the end of the month.

Sheesh. Landrieu asks UC to amend per her S.Amdt.3851, and says the amendment is merely a definitional thing. McCain and Murray reserve the right to object. Seems to be a non-issue, as FEMA nd other agencies have different definitions of what constitutes a school. No objection to the amendment as modified, and it is agreed to on a voice vote. McCain wanted the UC agreement to include that THIS would be the last amendment.

Roll call vote on the emergency supplemental. No debate ahead of the vote - guess the objectors had their say earlier in the week. This will pass easily. And it did, 78-20. All of the NAY votes were Republicans, presumably those who hold that the size of the Supplemental is objectionable, and this is the only way they can express that sense.

Two judicial nominations to be handled this afternoon, Cogan for the E.D.NY, and and Golden for the E.D.PA. Votes will follow 5 minutes speeches by Specter, Leahy and Santorum. I wonder why no words from Schumer or Clinton? At any rate, after that, morning business, meaning no particular matter being the business of the Senate.

Senator Alexander asks to make a measure making English the official language for singing the National Anthem and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. On behalf of the Democrat Party, Senator Murray objected to bringing it up. Senator Conrad is taking the position that English should be the official language of the country, for the benefit of the country. I have to say that I think this sort of measure is worth more than a Constitutional amendment that forbids burning the flag as a symbol of protest against the country.

Cogan (Eastern District of NY) confirmed 95 - 0
Golden (Eastern District of PA) confirmed 96 - 0

I'm curious as to the next pending legislative business. Will it be S.22 (reducing the excessive burden the liability system places on the health care delivery system) and S.23 (reducing the excessive burden the liability system places on the delivery of obstetrical and gynecological services)? Or will it be on immigration? I hope I'm paying attention when Frist announces the schedule for future action. Oh, wait a sec. Here is what he said on Monday:

This week we may also consider the tax relief extension conference report, if that conference report becomes available. There is a 10-hour statutory limit on that measure, and we will begin debate under that time limit as soon as that conference report arrives from the House.

That would be H.R.4297, which seems to be cooking still, in the House (pick "3 . MOTION TO INSTRUCT CONFEREES ON H.R. 4297" from that link). That motion failed on a 197-224 vote, a good thing because this instruction was to impose something on the order of a windfall profits tax on oil companies.

After voting on the District Court nominations, the Senate moves into Morning Business until 5:30 PM, with time equally divided. Senator DeMint starts off with a discussion of cost of doing business in the United States, noted medical costs, but seems to be expressing the general sense that the DEM anti-business attitude costs jobs; that stifling the development of energy independence hurts business; he blames President Carter for the lack of nuclear power today. Plenty of blame to go around on that count, as far as I'm concerned. Not just the nuclear angle, but all aspects of energy development.

There may be some good speeches in this vein. I figure Durbin will be up for another round of spewing baloney.

DeMint says that the medical bills (I suppose S.22 and S.23) will be brought up for debate next week, and that the DEMs have signaled an intention to block reform of medical malpractice reform. You'll be hearing the term "defensive medicine" plenty of times. Do you get the test, or not? This is a tough issue to sell. People tend to LIKE medical tests, as much as the doctors do, because it gives less uncertainty in diagnosis and exploration for disease.

Kennedy brings up stem cell, and complains that Frist won't bring this up for consideration. Be patient Senator Kennedy, Frist will bring it up in due course. But it is incorrect that Senator Frist changed his personal position with regard to embryonic stem cell research.

The DEMs are setting up their idea of Senate priorities. Kennedy says Hate Crimes legislation should be propounded.

Senator Burr is talking about the cost of medical malpractice. Much of that is insurance (maybe we should look at the profits of the insurance companies), but expresses that the culprit is the size of the awards. I wonder if there will be any help for pharmaceutical producers, since they get hit with big awards too.

My general opinion is that this "problem," as with so many others, has unreasonable expectations at its bottom. We are being conditioned to expect something that resembles "perfection" in our dealings. OB-GYN is a valuable specialty, it has reduced the rate of stillbirth, and death of the mother during birth. But the world grew without the degree of skill that is present today, and some parts of the world have NO medical care relating to birth - it's a do it yourself proposition, with (unfortunately) a lapse of perfection measured in death.

Maybe "unreasonable expectations" is too harsh, but it is unreasonable to think that approaching perfection is cost free. Senator Cornyn coming up, also on the subject of health care. "Everyone in this country should have access to good quality health care." But also focusing on the litigation and malpractice awards angle. "Promise of universal access to good quality health care." Promise?

Senator Frist is up, closing the day's business. First, call up and pass S.1086 - Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. He is taking some time to discuss the bill. Notes that a House companion bill has also been passed. Comments on 3 provisions.

  • Creates an internet registry, accessible by zip code
  • Requires convicted sex offenders to register (I assume, with this federal system - weird if the offender has to affirmatively register - why not put the burden on local law enforcement?)
  • toughens penalties for crimes against children under 12 years of age

Senator Frist gives kudos to Senator Hatch and John Walsh, And the NBC program, "To Catch a Predator."

S.Res.465 up next. Sense of the Senate with respect to childhood strokes, and establishing an awareness day.

S.Res.466 up next. Designating May 20 as Negro Leaders Recognition Day.

H.J.Res.83 up next. To memorialize and honor CJ Rehnquist.

H.Con.Res.359 up next. Authorizing the use of Congressional Grounds for Special Olympics.

Senate will stand in adjournment until 9:30 AM tomorrow. Will discuss medical liability and will file cloture motions on motions to take up the medical malpractice reform bills (again, I assume S.22 & S.23). Monday, at 5:15PM, there will be two votes on those cloture motions to take up the underlying bills. If those votes fail, the Senate will move on to a Small Business Health Plans bill. See USA Toady (typo is intentional) article relating to SBHP. I believe the measure Senator Frist is holding as backup (in case cloture fails on taking up S.22 and S.23) is S. 1955 - The Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act of 2006. It seems this is perhaps a politically hot proposal. See also, the article Majority of state attorneys generals oppose S.1955

Selections from the Record


Mr. BYRD: ... But, regrettably, the President has threatened to veto the bill based on his assertion that it is too expensive. In a Statement of Administration Policy that has been made a part of the RECORD, the administration threatens that the President will veto the bill if it exceeds $94.5 billion. OK. Have at it. Have at it, Mr. President. Currently, the bill totals $108.9 billion. The President complains that the Senate has added funding for purposes other than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for assisting the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Nowhere--nowhere--is it written in stone, nowhere is it etched in brass, on golden pillars, that this supplemental--which is likely to be the only supplemental considered for this fiscal year--has to be limited to the costs of the war and Hurricane Katrina. Nor is it etched in stone that the Congress must approve a bill that is below $94.5 billion.

The Senate has added funding for a number of critical programs. Despite the administration's rhetoric about securing our borders and providing a layered defense of our ports, the President did not request a dime--not one thin dime--for border security or port security. He did not request a dime for making the coal mines safer for our coal miners. He did not request a dime for our farmers who have been hit with drought and hurricanes, despite the fact that 78 percent of all U.S. counties were designated as primary or contiguous disaster areas by the Secretary of Agriculture or the President in 2005. He did not request a dime for compensating potential victims of pandemic influenza vaccines. The President's request for Katrina victims is inadequate and leaves critical gaps in housing and education.

The Senate recognized the weaknesses of the President's request in these areas and judiciously added funds. When the bill is in conference, I will urge the conferees to approve these items. You bet.


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that at a time to be determined by the majority leader, following consultation with the Democratic leader, but no later than May 25, 2006, the Senate proceed to the consideration of Calender No. 251, S. 1086, and that it be considered under the following limitations:

That there be 1 hour of debate on the bill, with the time equally divided and controlled by the two leaders or their designees; the only amendment in order, other than the committee-reported substitute amendment, be a Kennedy-Smith hate crimes amendment on which there will be 2 hours of debate with the time equally divided and controlled in the usual form; that upon the use or yielding back of time on the amendment, without further intervening action or debate, the Senate proceed to vote in relation to the amendment; that upon disposition of the Kennedy-Smith amendment and the yielding back of time on the bill, the committee substitute, as amended, if amended, be agreed to; the bill, as amended, be read a third time, and without further intervening action or debate, the Senate proceed to vote on passage of the bill.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. In my capacity as a Senator from Minnesota, at the request of leadership, I object.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I regret that the Republican leadership has blocked our efforts to have a vote on this amendment. I expect that they will move forward on the immediate passage of the underlying bill. We should also get a vote on hate crimes. It is long overdue. It is clear that the Republican leadership will do anything to stop our hate crimes bill. I don't think it is right to delay consideration of the Senate bill on sex offenders, so the battle on hate crimes must continue. Given today's objections, let's move ahead on S. 1086.

[The subject of S.1086 is A bill to improve the national program to register and monitor individuals who commit crimes against children or sex offenses. Note well that this bill was PASSED on a voice vote (in an empty Senate) at the close of business. Kennedy's objection is that his amendment regarding hate crimes was not entertained.]


Mr. SMITH. Mr. President, I rise today to speak about the need for hate crimes legislation. Each Congress, Senator Kennedy and I introduce hate crimes legislation that would add new categories to current hate crimes law, sending a signal that violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society. Likewise, each Congress I have come to the floor to highlight a separate hate crime that has occurred in our country.

In December, 2004, a 30-year-old man was beaten outside a restaurant in downtown Seattle, WA. The man received a concussion, split lip, loose teeth, a black eye, and bruises from being kicked while on the ground. The victim believed his assailants beat him up because they thought that he was gay.

I believe that the Government's first duty is to defend its citizens, to defend them against the harms that come out of hate. The Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act is a symbol that can become substance. I believe that by passing this legislation and changing current law, we can change hearts and minds as well.

[It seems Kennedy has bipartisan support for federal hate-crimes legislation. A battle for another day, no doubt.]


Mr. HATCH. Mr. President, due to the untimely loss of my beloved sister, Marilyn ``Nubs'' Hatch Kuch, I have been necessarily absent for a portion of the debate and votes on Wednesday, May 3 and Thursday, May 4, 2006. [Prayers for Senator Hatch, and the family and friends of Marilyn Nubs.]


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

S. 2709. A bill to temporarily suspend the duty on muzzles for dogs
S. 2710. A bill to temporarily suspend the duty on dog leashes;
S. 2711. A bill to temporarily suspend the duty on harnesses for dogs;
S. 2712. A bill to temporarily suspend the duty on collars for dogs;
S. 2717. A bill to temporarily reduce the duty on manicure and pedicure sets; to the Committee on Finance.

By Mrs. CLINTON (for herself, Mr. KENNEDY, Mr. JEFFORDS, Mr. LEAHY, Mr. HARKIN, and Mr. OBAMA):
S. 2725. A bill to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide for an increase in the Federal Minimum wage and to ensure that increases in the Federal minimum wage keep pace with any pay adjustments for Members of Congress; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

By Mr. DeMINT:
S. 2750. A bill to improve access to emergency medical services through medical liability reform and additional Medicare payments; to the Committee on Finance.


The following concurrent resolutions and Senate resolutions were read, and referred (or acted upon), as indicated: ...

By Mr. THUNE (for himself and Mr. FRIST):
S. Res. 467. A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that the President should use all diplomatic means necessary and reasonable to influence oil-producing nations to immediately increase oil production and that the Secretary of Energy should submit to Congress a report detailing the estimated production levels and estimated production capacity of all major oil-producing countries; to the Committee on Foreign Relations.


S. 2725. A bill to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide for an increase in the Federal Minimum wage and to ensure that increases in the Federal minimum wage keep pace with any pay adjustments for Members of Congress; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mrs. CLINTON. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the ``Standing with Minimum Wage Earners Act''. This legislation will raise the minimum wage over the next two years and link future increases in the minimum wage to Congressional raises.

Today, working parents earning the minimum wage are struggling to make ends meet and to build better lives for their children. The Federal minimum wage is currently $5.15 an hour, an amount that has not been increased since 1997. Sadly, during that time, Congress has given itself eight annual pay raises. ...

[Sadly? I'm not sure if she aims to reign in the self-granting of raises to Congress, or to give minimum wage increases a rate boost. I don't recall Senator Clinton taking the floor yesterday either - lucky me!]


Mr. FRIST. Tomorrow, the Senate will continue to discuss medical liability and small business health plans. Tomorrow, it will be necessary to file cloture motions on the motions to proceed to these bills. Senators can expect two votes Monday afternoon at approximately 5:15. These votes will be cloture votes to proceed to the two medical liability bills. If cloture is not invoked on these bills, we will have a cloture vote on Tuesday morning on the motion to proceed to the small business health plans bill.


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