Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Senate Live - June 20, 2006

The Senate is scheduled to open at 9:45, and to take up the defense authorization act after half an hour of morning business. Senator Reed has 20 minutes allocated to debate the defense authorization act.

S.2766 - National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007

Text of Amendments 4196 to 4208 : June 12, 2006
Text of Amendments 4209 to 4220 : June 13, 2006
Text of Amendments 4221 to 4252 : June 14, 2006
Text of Amendments 4253 to 4291 : June 15, 2006
Text of Amendments 4292 to 4309 : June 16, 2006
Text of Amendments 4311 to 4331 : June 19, 2006

The pending business is:
- the McCAIN amendment (No. 4241) (Purpose: To name the Act after John Warner),
- the DORGAN amendment (No. 4292) (Purpose: To establish a special committee of the Senate to investigate the awarding and carrying out of contracts to conduct activities in Afghanistan and Iraq and to fight the war on terrorism.),
- the McCONNELL amendment (No. 4272) (Purpose: To commend the Iraqi Government for affirming its positions of no amnesty for terrorists who have attacked U.S. forces),
- the NELSON amendment (No. 4265) (Purpose: To express the sense of Congress that the Government of Iraq should not grant amnesty to persons known to have attacked, killed, or wounded members of the Armed Forces of the United States),
- the KENNEDY amendment (No. 4322) (Purpose: To increase the federal minimum wage), and
- the FRIST amendment (No. 4323) (Purpose: To prohibit taking minors across States lines in circumvention of laws requiring the involvement of parents in abortion decisions).

The Frist amendment is a second degree amendment that modifies the Kennedy amendment. The intention being that the GOP would approve the Frist amendment, thereby poisoning the Kennedy amendment, which would then fail.

The general order of debate isn't clear, as Senator LEVIN's amendment (No. 4320) (for himself, Mr. REED, Mrs. FEINSTEIN, Mr. SALAZAR, and Mrs. CLINTON - to express the United States policy with regard to Iraq) may be "half" of the venue for political venting over the administration conduct in Iraq, the other half being a parallel amendment with similar purposes, but different language. This could represent a shift from, or an addition to dickering over the parallel amendments of McConnell and Nelson. (N.B. The McConnell/Nelson language and links are in the June 16 post.).

BINGAMAN's amendment (No. 4317) is apt to come up at some point too, but I doubt it will come up today. The Bingaman amendment is to require the administration to charge, repatriate (to his native country) or release (to a country other than the prisoner's native land) prisoners at Gitmo, within 180 days of the bill being signed into law.

In summary, the major side issues now set-up within the debate on the Defense Authorization Bill are:

  1. Nelson/McConnell dueling amendments re: amnesty for Iraqis
  2. Levin amendment and a future dueling amendment re: US policy toward Iraq
  3. Bingaman amendment re: a timetable for charging or releasing all prisoners in Gitmo
  4. Kennedy's minimum wage amendment, poisoned by Frist's abortion amendment
Much as it is irksome to have the administration's handling of Iraq raised as an issue of contention, it's the nature of politics that opponents will raise issues designed to cause discomfort. The alternative is perpetual comfort with leadership, to not raise uncomfortable issues, to not argue. Politicians often have the wrong argument, but one shouldn't begrudge that they argue - even over "wrong" issues. And while attention is being drawn to Iraq, by virtue of "that's what the politicians are talking about," note that the Senate has yet to offer a vehicle to carry its immigration reform package into conference with the House.

Following is part of the text of Levin's amendment regarding US policy toward Iraq. The full text is in here, and as noted below, even the findings have statements that should be taken as contentious.

S.Amdt. 4320

SEC. 1209. UNITED STATES POLICY ON IRAQ.

(a) Short Title.--This section may be cited as the ``United States Policy on Iraq Act of 2006''.

(b) Findings.--Congress makes the following findings: [snipped - but potentially contentious]

(c) Sense of Congress.--It is the sense of Congress that in order to change course from an open-ended commitment and to promote the assumption of security responsibilities by the Iraqis, thus advancing the chances for success in Iraq--

(1) the following actions need to be taken to help achieve the broad-based and sustainable political settlement so essential for defeating the insurgency and preventing all-out civil war--

(A) there must be a fair sharing of political power and economic resources among all the Iraqi groups so as to invest them in the formation of an Iraqi nation by either amendments to the Iraq Constitution or by legislation or other means, within the timeframe provided for in the Iraq Constitution;

(B) the President should convene an international conference so as to more actively involve the international community and Iraq's neighbors, promote a durable political settlement among Iraqis, reduce regional interference in Iraq's internal affairs, encourage more countries to contribute to Iraq's extensive needs, and ensure that pledged funds are forthcoming;

(C) the Iraq Government should promptly and decisively disarm the militias and remove those members of the Iraqi security forces whose loyalty to the Iraq Government is in doubt; and

(D) the President should--

(i) expedite the transition of United States forces in Iraq to a limited presence and mission of training Iraqi security forces, providing logistic support of Iraqi security forces, protecting United States infrastructure and personnel, and participating in targeted counterterrorism activities;

(ii) after consultation with the Government of Iraq, begin the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq this year; and

(iii) submit to Congress a plan by the end of 2006 with estimated dates for the continued phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq, with the understanding that unexpected contingencies may arise;

(2) during and after the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq, the United States will need to sustain a nonmilitary effort to actively support reconstruction, governance, and a durable political solution in Iraq; and

(3) the President should carefully assess the impact that ongoing United States military operations in Iraq are having on the capability of the United States Government to conduct an effective counterterrorism campaign to defeat the broader global terrorist networks that threaten the United States.

The major point of difference when a similar duel was set up in November 2005 was whether or not the president should be pressed to express estimated dates. That debate will happen again, and at least the date-specific language (underlined above) will be stricken. As a practical matter, I expect entire clauses to be substituted or eliminated, not just striking those few date-specific words.

The other general themes that are apt to be contentious in the Iraq policy debate are whether or not US counterterrorism capability is weakened by presence in Iraq, and (related) whether or not our military forces are stretched dangerously thin. Senator Wyden indicates this aspect, quite directly, with this ...

Mr. WYDEN submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations:

S. Res. 515

Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that--

(1) the members of the Armed Forces deserve the enormous respect and support of the Senate and the American people for the sacrifices that they are making on behalf of our country; and

(2) the President's intention, as stated on March 21, 2006, that ``future Presidents'' will determine whether to keep members of the Armed Forces in Iraq undermines the preparedness of the United States military to respond to other crises and should not be supported.

It's a familiar refrain by now, and therefore reasonably tuned out and ignored. All sides are dug in, and the debate does not represent effective persuasion. Neither are voters apt to change sides, no matter which way the debate turns, and no matter what rhetoric is uttered on the floor of Congress. The only new twist this week is that North Korea and Iran will be inserted as side effects to "a failed policy in Iraq," which will result in deeper entrenchment on both sides of the political divide. Same stuff, new day.

UPDATE @ 10:10

Senator Frist indicates that the Levin amendment may be offered today. Reid gave a forgettable speech, and Durbin rises to complain that DEM amendments have been stifled by GOP control of the parliamentary process, yet happy that the Kennedy minimum wage amendment will be considered.

I've noted several occasions in the past few months where I thought the GOP would have been better off permitting a DEM amendment to come to the floor for debate; FEINGOLD's and WYDEN's come to mind. Both Senators took more time holding up parliamentary process than would have been consumed with debate and vote - with a side benefit being that their amendments would be defeated. Hmmm. Maybe all sides (DEMs included) prefer the issues to be alive, and failure to admit the amendments for debate is done by agreement between the parties, rather than a unilateral GOP action. Something to ponder - the process is far from transparent.

UPDATE @ 12:05

Senator Warner noted that the Nelson/McConnell duel is still "on," which means the Levin amendment and any parallel alternative is "more" rather than "in lieu of." Voting on the Dorgan amendment is concluded after short debate.

The DORGAN amendment (No. 4292) was REJECTED on a 44 - 52 vote (Purpose: To establish a special committee of the Senate to investigate the awarding and carrying out of contracts to conduct activities in Afghanistan and Iraq and to fight the war on terrorism.)

UPDATE @ 12:13

Senator Warner requests and obtains a unanimous consent agreement to have, after the DEM luncheon recess that extends until 2:15, 30 minutes of debate, equally divided, then votes on the McConnell and Nelson amendments.

Senator Harkin will speak until about 2:30 on an amendment, S.Amdt.4366 that he would like to offer, requiring a report by the Department of Justice relating to the status of lawsuits based on whistle-blowers who allege financial misconduct on government contracts, in particular, contracts relating to conduct of operations in Iraq.

UPDATE @ 12:28

Regarding the subject of US troop withdrawal from Iraq, the KERRY amendment (No. 4203) was brought up on Thursday, June 15, but never handled. A McCONNELL amendment (No. 4269) was substituted in its place, and was TABLED on a 93 - 06 vote. NAY votes were Boxer, Byrd, Feingold, Harkin, Kennedy and Kerry.

The language of that McConnell amendment presented here, for comparison with the language of Senator Levin's S.Amdt. 4320

S.Amdt. 4269

(a) Withdrawal of Troops From Iraq.--

(1) SCHEDULE FOR WITHDRAWAL.--The President shall reach an agreement as soon as possible with the Government of Iraq on a schedule for the withdrawal of United States combat troops from Iraq by December 31, 2006, leaving only forces that are critical to completing the mission of standing up Iraqi security forces.

(2) CONSULTATION WITH CONGRESS REQUIRED.--The President shall consult with Congress regarding such schedule and shall present such withdrawal agreement to Congress immediately upon the completion of the agreement.

(3) MAINTENANCE OF OVER-THE-HORIZON TROOP PRESENCE.--The President should maintain an over-the-horizon troop presence to prosecute the war on terror and protect regional security interests.

(b) Iraq Summit.--The President should convene a summit as soon as possible that includes the leaders of the Government of Iraq, leaders of the governments of each country bordering Iraq, representatives of the Arab League, the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, representatives of the European Union, and leaders of the governments of each permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, for the purpose of reaching a comprehensive political agreement for Iraq that addresses fundamental issues including federalism, oil revenues, the militias, security guarantees, reconstruction, economic assistance, and border security.

The Senate stands in recess until 2:15 PM.

UPDATE @ 15:46

Voting on the McConnell and Nelson amendments is concluded. A bit of minor fireworks as Senator Nelson asked for one minute to deliver a closing, and the request was met with objection. This after Senator Nelson had given some of his time to Senator Warner to discuss the "dueling" amendments.

The McCONNELL amendment (No. 4272) was PASSED on a 64 - 34 vote (Purpose: To commend the Iraqi Government for affirming its position of no amnesty for terrorists who have attacked U.S. forces.)
No GOP voted against this amendment.

The NELSON amendment (No. 4265) was PASSED on a 79 - 19 vote (Purpose: To express the sense of Congress that the Government of Iraq should not grant amnesty to persons known to have attacked, killed, or wounded members of the Armed Forces of the United States.)
The 19 Senators AGAINST: Allard, Bond, Bunning, Burns, Coburn, Cochran, Cornyn, DeMint, Enzi, Graham, Hagel, Inhofe, Kyl, Lott, McCain, Sessions, Stevens, Thomas and Warner.

UPDATE @ 17:03

Senator Kennedy made a UC request to pull his amendment out of this bill and have it stand as its own bill, to be taken up immediately after the vote on the the defense authorization bill, four hours of debate, whatever amendment the GOP intends to offer as an alternative (Enzi's option, for example), then vote. The Republicans objected to this.

This is another case of the issue being more valuable politically, kept alive as an issue than voted one way or the other. More valuable as talk than as action.

UPDATE @ 19:08

Senator Warner asked for UC that 4323 be withdrawn, that debate resume at 9:30 tomorrow on Kennedy's 4322 followed by a vote on Kennedy, then on Enzi - if neither amendment obtained 60 votes, it would be withdrawn (that's seems like an odd arrangement). Following the settling of the minimum wage issue, the Senate would move to Levin's amendment no. 4320 on Iraq policy with 5 hours of debate, then Levin's amendment would be set aside for the purpose of taking up Kerry's amendment, I assume on the same subject of Iraq policy. There was objection to the agreement.

Business call and dinner interruptions prevented me from catching floor negotiations past that, and when I tuned back in, it was to the voice of Senator Graham talking about Gitmo, and I take it he is talking against BINGAMAN's amendment (No. 4317).

UPDATE @ 20:26

Senator McConnell noted that Senate leadership was close to finalizing details on an agreement that would take up both the minimum wage debate (dueling amendments, Kennedy vs. Enzi?) and the Iraq policy debate, where the Iraq policy would be debated, initially, under the language of the Levin (4320) and Kerry (amendment No. unknown) amendments.

Senator McConnell sent a cloture motion to the desk, relating to S.2766, the overarching bill, but before he did so, he made a point that the function of cloture was emphatically NOT to close off debate on the Iraq policy amendments. He further noted that it was possible that a cloture vote would not be held. I assume the cloture motion provides leverage in negotiating unanimous consent agreements on amendments yet to be formally taken up.

Debate of the night seems to be on the disposition of prisoners in Gitmo, seeing as Senators Graham, Bingaman, Sessions and Dodd have spoken on the subject. Senator Bingaman indicates that Senator Dodd has an amendment as well.

---===---

Senator Kerry published this press release on June 19, announcing that he and Senator Feingold were going to introduce an amendment relating to Iraq policy/pullout. The press release says, in part:

Tomorrow John Kerry, Russ Feingold and Barbara Boxer will offer an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill that sets a deadline of July 1, 2007, for U.S. troops to be redeployed out of Iraq, for purposes of strengthening U.S. national security and increasing the Iraqis' ability to establish stability throughout their country.

Kerry had a press release on June 12 as well, that one announcing the plan to file his amendment No. 4203 -- discussed above, along with McConnell's substitute, which was tabled on June 15th.

My guess is that Kerry's "new" amendment, the one he proposes to file with Feingold and Boxer, is almost identical with his 4203, other than pushing the "out" date from December 2006 to July 2007. Perhaps the record for today, once published, will contain the relevant language of his new Iraq policy amendment.

---===---

Senator Dodd indicates that he will hold off on offering his Gitmo amendment, holding out for more time to debate. He also notes that the Bingaman amendment offers a good venue for the debate, and that an additional amendment might be counterproductive, in that it would just dilute the argument to be had under the Bingaman amendment.

Senator Sessions closes shop at about 20:08, with the following:

June 20 treaty, injunction of secrecy lifted on a treaty transmitted to the Senate: Protocol 3 of the Geneva Convention, and more - Treaty be referred to Committee on Foreign Relations

S.Res.517 passed - commending the Carolina Hurricanes on winning the Stanley Cup

S.Res.518 passed - honoring the life and accomplishments of James Cameron

Adjourned until 9:30 AM on Wednesday.

Wednesday's business will be to resume consideration of the defense authorization bill. As cloture has been filed on the underlying bill, the deadline for 1st degree amendments is 1PM tomorrow. A cloture vote is scheduled for Thursday morning (but may be vitiated by unanimous consent).

  • debate on Kennedy and Enzi minimum wage amendments for 90 minutes
  • votes on both minimum wage amendments, starting at about 11:00 AM
  • Levin to offer his Iraq policy amendment (4320) with five hours of debate
  • Kerry to offer his Iraq policy amendment

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