Monday, February 06, 2006

Senate Week in Review (Jan 30 – Feb 3, 2006)

In case you missed it, here’s a rundown on what happened in the U.S. Senate last week.

It was a busy week, with the focus on the Alito confirmation and moves by Senate Democrats to insert critical provisions into the Tax Relief Extension Reconciliation Act of 2005 prior to its inevitable and unfortunate passage.

Here’s a snapshot of the Senate roll call votes taken January 30 through February 3:

Votes of Note

In a busy first week of voting in the Senate, it all came down to the first one – the Alito cloture vote to end debate on Bush’s Supreme Court nomination. By a vote of 72-25, debate was ended, thus allowing Alito to be easily confirmed the following day. Go here for a list of the “turncoat 19” who refused to support the filibuster led by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA). Alito was confirmed the next day by a vote of 58-42.

Next up were a series of amendments by Senate Democrats to bring some equity to the Tax Relief Extension Reconciliation Act of 2005 sent over from the House of Representatives.

Kent Conrad (D-ND) sought to offset Bush’s massive tax cut for the wealthy by imposing some degree of fair tax burden on corporations like Halliburton and Exxon by, according to Conrad, ”…shutting down abusive tax shelters and other reforms, raising some $34 billion, including revoking tax benefits for leasing foreign subway and sewer systems; second, ending a loophole for big oil that lets them avoid taxes on foreign operations.” His bill was killed by the GOP 52-44.

Bill Nelson’s (D-FL) measure to allow an extra six-months for seniors to adjust their selections under the disastrous new Medicare Prescription Drug Program was defeated 52-45 (with 60 votes needed for passage).

By identical votes of 53-44, bills by Senators Clinton (D-NY), Dodd (D-CT) and Reed (D-RI) were killed. S.Amdt. 2716 by Hillary Clinton was another attempt to form a bipartisan Hurricane Katrina taskforce, modeled after the 9/11 Commission, to find out why the government’s disaster response was so bad.

“We are seeing the administration withholding documents, testimony, and information from the ongoing investigations by the House and Senate,” said Clinton on the Senate floor. “We must establish this commission to get at what the truth is about what actually happened in order to take steps that will fix the problems so they do not happen anywhere else in our country.”

The formation of such a commission was once again stopped by Republicans, as was a measure by Chris Dodd to “…provide at least around $18 billion, $19 billion in needed funds to serve returning veterans from theater of conflict.” A bill by Jack Reed to scale back some of Bush’s capital gains tax cuts to pay for much-needed military equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan was also defeated.

I’ll have more tomorrow on the Dodd and Reed amendments and the extent to which Republicans talk big about supporting the troops but fail them miserably when they think nobody is looking.

A bill sponsored by newbie Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to repeal the dreaded Alternative Minimum Tax on 17 million middle-class families made it through, despite a fight by the GOP side of the aisle. But a whole bunch of Republicans, mindful of what a bomb this would be in an election year, voted for it and it passed 73-24.

H.R. 4297, the Tax Relief Extension Reconciliation Act of 2005, was passed 66-31 because, after all, incredibly wealthy people need love too – and with the GOP running Congress, you just know they’re gonna get it.

The last vote of the week was the short-term extension of the USA Patriot Act, which extends the law only until March 10 of this year. Russ Feingold (D-WI) was the only Democrat voting against even extending it that long so that debate on the law could continue in Congress.

"I voted against another short-term extension of the Act because it does not include the modest but critical safeguards I and others have fought for over the past four years,” said Feingold in a statement Friday. “I will strongly oppose, and use every option at my disposal to stop, any deal to reauthorize the Patriot Act that does not protect the rights and freedoms of law-abiding Americans.”

Kudos to Senator Feingold for standing by this principle.

The Weasel Watch

Well, this is no surprise: We’re a little over a month into the second session of the 109th Congress and Ben Nelson (DINO-NE) has already voted with the GOP on seven of eleven votes, including ending debate on Alito and then voting for his confirmation. Byrd (D-WV), Conrad (D-ND) and Johnson (D-SD) were also guilty of the latter two offenses.

Toss in the other 15 Democrats who voted for cloture on the Alito debate and it wasn’t a great week for Democrats.

But hope springs eternal for this week…