Tag Archives: Senate

Profiles in Cowardice: GOP Soft on Terrorism

Gun Congress I should have known, given that Senator Dean Heller’s last campaign material came from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, that he’d cave to NRA radicals on the following bit of legislation: S.Amdt. 2910 to S.Amdt. 2874 to H.R. 3762

All those links refer eventually to a simple amendment —

“To increase public safety by permitting the Attorney General to deny the transfer of firearms or the issuance of firearms and explosives licenses to known or suspected dangerous terrorists.” {Sen}

And, how did the junior Senator from Nevada cast his vote?  Here’s the roster from vote # 319 —

Heller Terrorist Vote 319That’s right – all those “Nay” votes were to prevent the Department of Justice from refusing to approve gun sales to those on the Terrorist Watch List.  In other words, spoken so often in the last 48 hours, Senator Heller doesn’t want terrorists flying but he evidently has no problems allowing them to waltz into a gun store and loading up on – say,  “1600 rounds of ammunition, another 4,500 rounds ‘at home,’ two assault rifles and two semi-automatic handguns.” [ABC]   

“Senators will need to decide where they stand. Or do they stand with the NRA?” Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday, declaring that the Senate had been “complicit through our inaction” in the 355 mass shootings that have taken place in the United States since the start of the year. “Those who choose to do the NRA’s bidding will be held accountable by our constituents.” [WaPo]

That pretty well sums it up.

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What does obstruction look like? Filibusters in the 113th Congress

Filibusters 102-113And the 113th isn’t finished yet!

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VA Health Care: “Postponed Proceedings”

The bills to improve the performance of Veterans Administration operations have passed the House and the Senate, in fact they’ve been waiting for a conference committee to iron out the differences between the two bills since mid June. That’s why it’s disappointing to find the following update on the progress of the final bill posted as follows:

“7/17/2014 POSTPONED PROCEEDINGS – At the conclusion of debate on the Barber motion to instruct conferees on H.R. 3230, the Chair put the question on adoption of the motion to instruct conferees and by voice vote, announced the noes had prevailed. Mr. Barber demanded the yeas and nays and the Chair postponed further proceedings until a time to be announced.”

No instructions from the House, no conference, no conference no conclusion.  What are the differences between the House and Senate versions?

# The House bill specifically bans the use of bonuses for VA employees, while the Senate version does not. The VA has already suspended performance awards of this nature.

# The Senate bill would allow the VA to lease 26 new facilities for veterans’ health care and would allocate $500 million for hiring new staff.  The House version doesn’t contain these provisions.

# The Senate bill provides for guaranteed in-state tuition for veterans at public colleges and universities; the House version of the bill does not.

# The Senate version of the legislation provides for expanding access to care for military sexual assault victims. The House version does not include this provision.  [WaPo]

# The House version assumes a maximum wait time of 14 days, the Senate version could allow up to 30 days. [CBO]

# The CBO analyzed the costs of implementation for securing private health care services when VA service could not be provided

“The Senate bill would require that all privately provided care be implemented through contracts. CBO expects the costs of contracted care to be closer to commercial rates, which are generally higher than Medicare rates. Although such contracts would probably be used under the House bill to cover some care, CBO estimates that the average payment rate under the House bill, including both contractual and non-contractual payments, would be lower than that under the Senate bill.” [CBO]

# The House version would allow direct reimbursement to private facilities, while under the terms of the Senate version as analyzed by the CBO the VA would negotiate contracts with providing facilities.  Thus, the access might be faster under the House version, but with less expense predictability than if the terms of the Senate version were applied.

Unfortunately, the situation is reduced to a battle over money.  The CBO released its appraisal of the costs on June 17, 2014:

House Version: “Based on that preliminary assessment, CBO estimates that implementing sections 2 and 3 of the House bill for that two-year period would have a net cost of about $44 billion over the 2014-2019 period, assuming appropriation of the necessary amounts. That net amount comprises increased costs of about $51 billion for VA, less a reduction of $7 billion in federal spending for Medicare and Medicaid.” […] All told, CBO expects that if the bill was fully implemented, some veterans would ultimately seek additional care that would cost the federal government about $54 billion a year, after accounting for savings to other federal programs.”

New “scoring” from the CBO reduced the figure from the original $54 billion to approximately $30 billion, but the negotiations were still stalled. [Hill]

Conferees from the House have been looking to cover the costs by using discretionary funding, those from the Senate are supporting a mandatory funding formula.  The House sponsor, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), argued: “The Senate wants to throw money at a situation that is not defined, in an amount of money that is not defined. We’re re trying to define the issue and figure out how to pay for it,” Miller said.” [MilTimes]

Miller’s assessment may be overlooking the differences in the cost predictability between the provisions for paying private entities for health care services for veterans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) expressed his impatience with the protracted timeline of the conferencing, “We’re having a little trouble getting the House to help us complete the conference,” Reid said.. “You know … just because we want something done when we’re in conference doesn’t mean it gets done.” [The Hill]

In the mean time — proceedings are postponed.

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DREAM on: Myths and Legends of the Failed Vote

One of the oft’ repeated GOP comments on the DREAM Act is that it could have passed on December 18, 2010 because “the Democrats had a super-majority in the Senate and could have broken the Republican filibuster of the bill.”

What was the situation at 11:09 AM, December 18, 2010 in the 111th Congress as the Senate met for a cloture vote?

The bill, H.R. 5281, failed to get enough votes to close debate — 55-41, with 4 members of the Senate not voting.  The 111th Congress had 57 Democrats, 2 independents caucusing with Democrats, and 41 Republicans.

The four not voting were  Bunning (R-KY), Gregg (R-NH), Hatch (R-UT), and Manchin (D-WV).    There were some cross-over votes.  Republicans voting in favor of the bill were  Bennett (R-UT), Lugar (R-IN), and  Murkowski (R-AK).   Democrats who voted against the bill were  Baucus (D-MT), Hagan (D-NC), Nelson (D-NE), Pryor (D-AR), Tester (D-MT).

If ALL the Democrats had voted in favor of the bill, and both Independents who caucused with the Democrats had joined them, that would have given the Democrats 59 votes on a straight party line roll call.  In other words, Democratic solidarity alone would have been one vote short of the super-majority needed to pass H.R. 5281 (111th).

There were three Republican votes in favor of the bill.  Assuming Democratic solidarity and the three GOP votes, the bill would have achieved a total of 62 votes (two more than necessary to break the filibuster).

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is wrong to state that the Democrats controlled a super-majority of the 111th Congress, they actually controlled a maximum 59 votes.  [CongResService pdf]

Another argument has been offered that if President Obama wanted to get the 60 votes necessary he could have “strong armed” those Democrats who ended up voting against the bill.   “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride?”   The bill attracted 55 votes (including the votes of 3 Republicans), had the five Democrats joined their colleagues the measure could have presumptively broken the filibuster on a 60 vote count.

However, we’d have to ask at this point if President Obama — or any other moderate to progressive Democratic president — could have moved Senator Ben Nelson (NE) onto the “yes” side of the tally.  We’d need to remember that while Senator Nelson often voted with his Democratic colleagues, during this time period he’d also voted against allowing states to limit credit card interest rates, against the confirmation of Justice Elena Kagan, and voted in favor of a balanced budget amendment. [PVS]

Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) also has a more conservative voting record than many of his other Democratic cohorts, as does Senator Hagan (D-NC), who was elected in 2008 and was serving in her first term.  Both represent southern states with more conservative views on social issues like immigration policy.  Forcing a pro-vote from either of these may have been detrimental to their re-election prospects.

That leaves the Montana contingent, Senators Baucus and Tester.  As in the case of Pryor and Hagan, Baucus and Tester represent fundamentally more conservative regions than many of the proponents of the DREAM Act.

However, all this leaves the numbers unresolved. Even if all 59 Democratic and Democratic leaning Senators in the 111th Congress had voted in favor of the bill, without Republican support it would have failed to break the filibuster.   The next hypothetical question might be: What of the four non-voting senators?  We’ve already included Senator Machin (D-WV) in the total Democratic count.

It’s probably reasonable to assume that Senators Bunning and Gregg, both with very conservative reputations would not have voted in favor of breaking the filibuster of H.R. 5281.  Senator Hatch (R-UT) had been in favor of a DREAM Act in the past, but his one vote would only have yielded a total of 56 to achieve cloture.

Thus we’re back to the numbers from the CRS directory: The 111th Congress had 57 Democrats, 2 independents caucusing with Democrats, and 41 Republicans.   No matter how we play with the numbers, if the matter had been one of a straight party line vote the filibuster could not have been broken.  What would have been necessary is not Democratic solidarity, although that would have been nice — but more Republican support for the bill.

Perhaps more to the point: What if there had been no filibuster in the first place?

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