Monday, July 31, 2006

Senate Live - July 31, 2006

This is apt to be a busy week, being the last one before the August recess.

The Senate is scheduled to start at 2:00 PM today, with an hour of morning business, then from 3 to 5:30, debate on ...

S.3711
The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act

A vote on the cloture motion to end debate on the bill and move to voting on its passage is scheduled to begin at 5:30 PM.

Even though it cannot be brought up under S.3711, Senator Specter might spend some time talking about his S.Amdt.4741 - Oil and Gas Industry Antitrust Act of 2006, which changes the Clayton and Sherman antitrust statutes. Section 206 has the clever title "No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act of 2006" or "NOPEC" (text here).

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The House passed an estate-tax/minimum wage bill in the wee hours of Friday night, Saturday morning (1:43 AM or so), as was covered in media reports House vote raises minimum wage (Reuters - July 29) and Bill linking minimum wage, estate tax faces fight in Senate (LA Times - July 30).

The bill is considered read for the first time ...

MEASURES CONSIDERED READ THE FIRST TIME - (July 28)

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that notwithstanding the recess or adjournment of the Senate, when it receives from the House a bill relating to pension reform and a bill relating to estate tax [H.R.5970 - Minimum Wage and Estate Tax Act of 2006], the bills be considered as read the first time during today's session.

Senator Reid vows to fight this bill. I expect an objection to taking it up, just as happened ...

June 8, 2006
UPDATE @ 11:20 - The cloture vote on the motion to proceed to H.R.8, repeal or modify the estate tax, is concluded, and FAILED on a 57 - 41 vote, mostly breaking on party line.
GOP crossovers: Chafee, Voinovich
DEM crossovers: Baucus, Nelson (FL), Nelson (NE)

H.R.8 was an outright repeal of all estate tax, and despite offers by Senators Baucus and Kyl to amend the bill to a compromise position (15% tax rate on the amount over 10 million dollars per married couple), that amendment was not applied, and the Senate rejected the motion to proceed to H.R.8.

H.R.5970 - Minimum Wage and Estate Tax Act of 2006 is considerably different, with a higher tax rate and also including an increase in the minimum wage. I think there will be a cloture vote on the motion to proceed to H.R.5970, and I predict that it will pass. Just picking one example, Senator Landrieu is in favor of estate tax reform.

As for the differences between H.R.8 and H.R.5970, the new bill covers many aspects of tax code. Regarding the estate tax, it gradually increases the exclusion amount over a period of years, at the same time gradually reducing the tax rate on the estate that is not covered by the exclusion. The tax rate and exclusion amount (double for a married couple) is recited as moving from 40% on amount over 3.75 million in year 2010, to 30% on the amount over 5 million in 2015. Further increases in the exclusion amount are pegged to the federal governments calculation of cost of living.

A number of tax code provisions set to expire in 2005-6 are extended to 2007-8; research credit, above the line deductions for teachers, depreciation for business property on Indian reservations, corporate donations of computers and research equipment ... the list is pretty long.

Another provision allows treating 50% of mine safety capital improvement investments as an expense in the year expended, provided the improvement is made before December 31, 2008. This will appeal to Senator Byrd and others with a strong interest in improving mine safety.

Another provision excludes uniformed government employees in the intelligence services (CIA, DIA, intelligence wings of armed services) from capital gains on sale of primary residence.

If the bill comes up (and I predict that it will), amendments may be stated in terms of page and line number of the bill. The following link is H.R.5970 - as printed (390 kB PDF), and will facilitate a determination of the effect of that sort of amendment.

Oh, at the end of the bill, the following schedule describes the proposed change to federal minimum wage ...

$5.15 an hour beginning September 1, 1997
$5.85 an hour, beginning on January 1, 2007
$6.55 an hour, beginning June 1, 2008; and
$7.25 an hour, beginning June 1, 2009.

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The Senate Committee on the Judiciary has scheduled a hearing on "Judicial Nominations" for Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 2:00 p.m. Peter D. Keisler is on the list to be considered.

More regarding judicial confirmations and the pace of handling nominations at this piece at confirmthem.com. This from one of the linked articles ...

Andy Card: Bush Wanted Woman on High Court

... Card said the subsequent criticism of Miers for not having a conservative judicial philosophy "ticked him [President Bush] off."

My comment? "It showed."

UPDATE @ 13:33

Hat tip to howappealing.law.com, the article Fair Weather Friend of the Court by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross & Adam J. White probes Senator Specter's unstated rationale(s) for holding the way he does on a variety of issues that come before the courts: abortion, NSA wiretapping, etc. I happen to agree with the eventual conclusion in the article, that being that Senator Specter (and he is not alone) prefers the courts to handle politically hot issues, and Congress to handle the issues where the political ramifications are more clear.

The article/essay includes some excellent clarifying explanation regarding the relationship between Senator Specter's proposed NSA legislation and the US Supreme Court's decision in United States v. U.S. District Court, 407 U.S. 297 (1972) ("Keith"). Few people appreciate that the "Keith" decision provided inertia and substance to facilitate crafting the FISA statutes in the first place.

UPDATE @ 14:34

Senator Reid is living up to his stated intention to fight the minimum wage/estate tax bill. He's been on a rant since I tuned it at about 2:07 PM. Besides arguing against the bill, he repeated his charge that the GOP-leadership has presided over a "do nothing" Senate.

Senator Hagel picked up when Reid & Durbin finished. Hagel talked about the Middle East, and called on President Bush to "call for an immediate ceasefire."

UPDATE @ 18:40

The motion to invoke cloture for the purpose of voting on
S.3711 - The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act was
PASSED on a 72 - 23 vote. (link & vote corrected Aug 1)
Not voting: Bunning, Kerry, Lautenberg, Lieberman and McCain
GOP vote against cloture: Snowe

UPDATE @ 19:20

Lucky guess on my part, Senator Specter did bring up his amendment (S.Amdt.4741) relating to oil pricing and antitrust. He also takes up the task of closing the Senate for the night.

A unanimous consent agreement has been reached that at 5 PM tomorrow, the two pending amendments will be withdrawn and the Senate will proceed to a vote on S.3711 with no intervening amendments or action.

H.R.4 (a pensions-related bill. This bill also captures import tariff details) and H.R.5970 (the estate-tax/minimum wage bill) were read for the second time and placed on the calendar.

Several other bills were passed. Among them, one that addresses assistance for Lebanese people who are relocating out of Lebanon.

The Senate stands in adjournment until 9:45 AM tomorrow.

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