Saturday, November 11, 2006

Legislative Priorities for the 109th Congress

Update @ November 12

Senator Specter, on CNN Late Edition, indicates that he believes two parts of comprehensive immigration reform should be a priority for the 109th Congress. He has called on Chairman Sensenbrenner to seek agreement and a plan to press forward with legislating two parts of the comprehensive immigration package:

  • A Guest-worker, temporary visa system
  • Means to remove the stigma of "undocumented worker" from the millions of aliens presently residing in the country illegally. Typically, this angle includes a path to citizenship. This citizenship aspect pisses me off - I can see granting legal residency for some (maybe even most), but what is with the urge to grant full citizenship?

On Thursday, November 9, President Bush outlined his legislative priorities for the balance of the 109th Congress.

He also resubmitted the nomination of John Bolton to be US ambassador to the United Nations. President Bush did not renominate any of the judicial nominations that the Senate refused to act on, some for longer than a year - and Myers having been reported to the floor of the Senate for almost two years.

The bad news first

The Bolton nomination won't be handled by the Senate, the renomination is useful only to score points with political rhetoric. GOP leadership squandered a great opportunity in May/June 2005 when Bolton's nomination was filibustered by the Democrats. In hindsight, it was a perfect harbinger of the GOP lack of commitment to the confirmation process.

Given the other workload in the lame duck session, there isn't time to now reprise the "take up/object to vote/cloture motion on vote" song and dance on Bolton - what would it prove? That the Democrats are obstructionists and the GOP-lead Senate can't even get a nominee to the point of an up or down vote? We already knew that.

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The fact that President Bush has not renominated the judges is a signal, to me, of his reluctance to "go conservative" on judicial appointments, and capitulation to a paradigm of pre-approval by the opposition party. The 60 vote hurdle is now firmly in place.

"Thanks," feckless GOP. Clearly, mainstream GOP leadership does not hold that judicial appointments are a priority. They say they are, but they don't say it often. President Bush expressed no disappointment in the Senate's lackluster confirmation results. And Senator Frist (President's Bush's preference for Senate majority leader) said the GOP's confirmation performance was outstanding and commendable.

Of course it is - the Senate only takes up pre-approved nominees, hence no battles. Just like drawing the target after shooting the arrow. The tactic is obvious to anybody who bothers to look past the hollow rhetoric.

November 8th, 2006 - WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., (R-Tenn.) made the following statement regarding the 2006 elections:

"The Senate Republican majority has accomplished many things I'm proud of: cementing in place tax cut policies which have created over 6 million jobs in the past three years, supporting a bold war on terror which has resulted in no attacks on the homeland in the past five years, giving our seniors prescription drugs, confirming numerous outstanding judicial nominees including two outstanding Supreme Court Justices, passing a forward-looking energy bill and fighting HIV/AIDS around the world and here at home, to name a few.

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September 25th, 2006

"Today, with the confirmation of Francisco Besosa to the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, the Republican-led Senate continued its tremendous progress on confirming qualified judicial nominees who respect the rule of law and exercise judicial restraint."

The Senate has confirmed 88 percent of President Bush's judicial nominees, giving him the highest confirmation rate since President Reagan. Currently, 95 percent of all judgeships are filled, including more than 92 percent of all circuit court judgeships and more than 95 percent of all district court judgeships.

The Senate has made great strides in confirming the president's judicial nominees under Frist's leadership. Nearly 160 nominees have been confirmed, including two Supreme Court justices, 33 circuit court judges and 122 district court judges. The circuit court vacancy rate alone has decline by 44 percent since Frist became majority leader.

See also Senator Frist's comments of September 30th, 2006, September 5th, 2006, July 20th, 2006, and June 28th, 2006 (promise of up or down votes for all qualified nominees).

I expect no change in rhetoric from the President or from the GOP/RNC leadership - in their minds, their judicial confirmation performance has been an unqualified success, and any fresh detriment to confirmation "ability" is the fault of the voter.

Meanwhile, Frist can talk about percentages, confident that the President won't send more nominations (which would have the effect of depressing the "percent confirmed" ratio), thereby facilitating hiding of the substantive point - failure to get up or down votes - behind a sham accounting.

Talk about avoiding issues, a pox on their house.

Arlen Specter seems to think that Keisler (returned by the Senate, not yet renominated by President Bush) has a chance. This article says that Myers, Boyle, Haynes an Wallace are toast, but makes no mention of Smith.

Democratic Majority Throws Bushs Judicial Nominations Into Uncertainty
By NEIL A. LEWIS - Published: November 12, 2006

There is a strong consensus that the four most conservative of Mr. Bush's nominations to the federal appeals courts are doomed. Republicans and Democrats say the four have no chance of confirmation in the next several weeks of the lame-duck Congressional session or in the final two years of Mr. Bush's term.

The nominees are William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon's chief lawyer who was responsible for the much-criticized military interrogation policies; William G. Myers III, a longtime lobbyist for the mining and ranching industries and a critic of environmental regulations; Terrence W. Boyle, a district court judge in North Carolina; and Michael B. Wallace of Mississippi, a lawyer who was rated unqualified for the court by the American Bar Association. ...

"The last time I read the Constitution, the president has the power to nominate whomever he wants," Mr. Specter said. "The Democrats don't have to vote for those people, but I don't see it as a sign of truculence or defiance if he nominates people they won't vote for."

Mr. Specter said he hoped to move forward on other Bush nominees who were less controversial than those four. He said Peter M. Keisler, a senior Justice Department lawyer nominated to a seat on the appeals court in Washington, should be considered quickly.

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The NSA terrorist surveillance act /FISA overhaul is DOA in the Senate.

Warrantless Wiretaps Unlikely to Be OK'd
By LAURIE KELLMAN - Associated Press Writer

Republicans for months have known that no bill accomplishing Bush's goal could get filibuster-proof support from 60 senators. Sealing off any hope was what Democratic leader Harry Reid put on his lame-duck to-do list. The warrantless domestic surveillance bill was conspicuous in its absence. ...

The Bush administration has a backup plan. In speeches over the next few weeks, the Justice Department will launch a new campaign for the legislation by casting the choice as one between supporting the program or dropping it altogether.

Okay. I'm starting to lose my sense of humor. Who are the "all or nothing" people again? The issue is being discussed at Volokh, but as yet nobody has brought up the issue that I crossed my mind from the start, namely the risk of failing to obtain convictions against bad guys because the evidence was obtained in an extra-constitutional (bootstrapped/pre-crime) fashion. At some point the authorities have to get past listening and into action. Will the individual surveillance activity be justified, viewed in hindsight?

The uncertain news

I don't have a handle on how the House views the "bipartisan energy bill," officially known as The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act. I think they are not keen to get to it, seeing as how it's been "held at the desk" since the 2nd of August, and having had no action in the 2 months between then and the re-election recess.

Senator Reid can say he supports this, but as long as the measure is in the House, talk is free - he can't back up his rhetoric with support (agreement to take up, debate and vote), and he doesn't need to assert an objection to block it.

The good news

The India civilian nuclear power agreement has enough support to pass, as does any measure that grants normal trade relations to Viet Nam on the grounds that it has been accepted as a member of the World Trade Organization.

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The spending and appropriations bills will be handled, there is little doubt of that. A presentation of the them is a bit tedious, but here it is ...

House Appropriations Committee
Status of FY 2007 Appropriations Bills

H.R.5384 - for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and related agencies - passed House, in Senate Committee

H.R.5672 - for Science, the Departments of State, Justice, and Commerce, and related agencies - passed House, in Senate Committee

H.R.5631 - for the Department of Defense - signed into law

H.R.5427 - for energy and water development - passed House, in Senate Committee

H.R.5522 - for foreign operations, export financing, and related programs - passed House, in Senate Committee

H.R.5441 - for Homeland Security - signed into law

H.R.5386 - for the Department of the Interior, environment, and related agencies - passed House, in Senate Committee

H.R.5647 - for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and related agencies - in House and Senate Committees

H.R.5521 - for the Legislative Branch - passed House, in Senate Committee

H.R.5385 - for military quality of life functions of the Department of Defense, military construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and related agencies - passed House, in Senate Committee

H.R.5576 - for the Departments of Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, District of Columbia, and independent agencies - passed House, in Senate Committee

Harry Reid's Agenda

I'll add to and comment on Senator Reid's "lame-duck to-do list," if I can find the darn thing. The items listed in the first article below represent what he plans to do in the 110th (e.g., he can't instruct committee chairmen until the 110th), not the 109th.

Reid Plans Senate Push on Cargo Screening, Drug Costs

Reid plans to advance through the Senate an increase in the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour from $5.15 and a mandate that all cargo shipped into the U.S. be screened, Manley said.

Along with the legislative initiatives, Reid plans to direct Democratic committee chairmen to begin oversight hearings examining Bush's policies. Reid wants panels to focus on the Iraq war, investigating the use of faulty intelligence leading up to the conflict, contracting abuses, and what Democrats say is the lack of appropriate planning leading up to the conflict, Manley said. ...

Manley said that Democrats will likely work first to extend an expiring research and development tax credit that has bipartisan support.

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For their part, Democrats are not shrinking from an agenda that Bush clearly does not like, including funding for embryonic stem cell research, government negotiation of drug prices and reinstating budget rules that would make extending the president's tax cuts difficult.

Senator Frist didn't budge on the tied-together estate tax, minimum wage and tax extenders - I commented at the time that my opinion was that being stubborn on the tying would create an unnecessary point of friction and an excuse for a future "get even" by the Democrats.

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"Lame-duck" President, and Congressional Leaders Discuss Agenda

Senator Reid said the Democrats also believe the civil nuclear agreement with India is important to conclude during the lame-duck session.

"India is the largest democracy in the world," Reid told reporters November 8. "We want to work with them, and [it] is important we move along that line."

Reid also said the Democrats want to schedule legislation addressing bio-terrorism, pandemic flu preparedness, offshore oil drilling, tax incentives to encourage alternative energy production, assistance for university tuition, as well as pass the remaining federal spending bills.

The agendas of the Democrats and President Bush are in complete agreement as to offshore oil drilling, the India civilian nuclear power agreement, and getting the House-passed appropriations bills through the Senate. It is doubtful there is meaningful GOP or presidential opposition to:

  • legislation relating to bio-terrorism prevention and/or preparedness
  • pandemic flu preparedness
  • tax incentives to encourage alternative energy production

Depending on how it is phrased, "assistance for university tuition" may or may not be objectionable to the GOP. My sense is that the GOP will embrace this, particularly as college students are a voting block that now tends toward the DEMs, and the GOP has demonstrated a willingness to "buy votes."

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As long as I'm piling on, may I recommend reading the President's Radio Address for November 11, 2006. I see:

  1. Laying the groundwork to introduce the results of Baker, Hamilton and Gates - to "change course in Iraq" while "staying the course" in Iraq. Also, laying responsibility for results to date at Rumsfeld's feet.
  2. Demonstrating that he has a tin ear (maybe disdain) for some of the traditional conservative principles of government, by saying that the loss to the GOP reflects a desire for bipartisanship. Maybe that's what the public wants, and maybe that's where the GOP is headed. If so, it's time for me to find a new party, because the GOP is too "big government" and too manipulative to suit me.

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