Friday, November 04, 2005

Legislation Killed By GOP Senate Defines Republicans

In yesterday's article I did my best to point out the hypocrisy behind Senate Republican whining about the partisan behavior from their colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle. I looked at all 281 roll call votes taken in the Senate though the end of October and pointed out that, despite their sniveling calls for civility and cooperation, the GOP has killed at least 80 percent of legislation sponsored by Democrats in 2005.

Today, we look at some of the 94 (of 118) rejected Democratic bills. By looking at legislation that the Republicans found so unpalatable, we get an unvarnished view of their vision for America and a glimpse into just how mean-spirited these people really are.

The difficulty in writing anything that attempts to sum up GOP cruelty to average Americans, is knowing where to begin and what to include. Sadly, in just examining votes taken so far in 2005, there's a huge volume of nasty votes from which to choose.

The Bankruptcy Bill

Also known as the GOP gift to the financial industry, this bill, which took effect last month, made it almost impossible for Americans to file for bankruptcy any longer – no matter how dire the circumstances that drove them to that end. The best Senate Democrats could do was propose amendments to the bill in an attempt to water down how many middle-class and low-income people would be hurt.

Sponsored by Ted Kennedy (D-MA), S. amdt. 28 would have exempted debtors whose financial problems were caused by serious medical problems from any means testing in filing for bankruptcy.

S. amdt. 32, by Jon Corzine (D-NJ), sought to preserve existing bankruptcy protections for Americans in economic distress if they acted as caregivers to ill or disabled family members. Dick Durbin (D-IL) sponsored two bankruptcy-bill amendments, S. amdt. 49 and S. amdt. 110. One would have protected employees and retirees from losing their life savings in corporate bankruptcies, while the other attempted to exempt debtors below the nation's median income from filing restrictions.

All were defeated on primarily party-line votes – almost all Democrats voting for and almost all Republicans against.

Minimum Wage

Senator Kennedy tried once in March and then again in October to raise the federal minimum wage from the $5.15 per hour it has been for nine years.

"In today's economy, millions of Americans are suffering. 7.7 million are unemployed. 37 million are living in poverty, including 13 million children," said Kennedy in arguing for the October amendment. "Almost 46 million are without health insurance. As the pictures of Katrina and Rita so powerfully demonstrated, real faces are behind these numbers, and real lives are being jeopardized day after day, year after year by our delay in Congress. We have the chance today to make a change that will help these people. That's what we're supposed to do. It's the least we owe to hard-working American families".

Kennedy's pleas fell on deaf ears.

The two amendments, S. amdt. 44 and S. amdt. 2063, went down by votes of 49-46 and 51-47, respectively, with only a couple of Republicans crossing the aisle on behalf of working Americans – and one of those was Rick Santorum (R-PA) last month, in a desperate attempt to hold his senate seat next year by appearing human for one vote.

National Security

This is the subject on which the GOP is always prepared to step up to the microphone, but seldom up to the plate. In July, Senate Democrats unleashed a flurry of amendments to secure our country and all were unceremoniously dumped by the Republicans.

In a prescient move that saw the indictments to come in the White House, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pushed S. amdt. 1222, which specifically would have prohibited "...Federal employees who disclose classified information to persons not authorized to receive such information from holding a security clearance."

The bill was defeated 53-44 with every single Republican on the floor voting against it.

“Senate Democrats today stood on the side of the American people and our national security and tried to send a simple message: This nation’s secrets cannot be traded for political gain," said Reid after the vote "It’s regrettable that my Republican colleagues chose to play partisan politics instead of joining Democrats in keeping Americans safe.”

Charles Schumer (D-NY) had two amendment defeated (S. amdt. 1189 and S. amdt. 1190) that would have provided $70 million to identify and track hazardous materials shipments and provide new security programs for inspection of air cargo containers.

Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) sponsored S. amdt. 1351 in July that had a very clear premise for people who claim to be as terrorist-hungry as the GOP consistently does: Stop U.S. corporations from financing terrorism.

"This will cut off a major source of revenue for terrorists. What we need to do is to starve these terrorists at the source. By using this loophole, some of our companies are feeding terrorism by doing business with Iran, which funds Hamas, Hezbollah, as well as the Islamic Jihad," said Lautenberg on the Senate floor.

"I want to remind my colleagues that it was Iran that funded the 1983 terrorist act in Beirut that killed 241 United States Marines--241 Marines killed by Iranian terror--and yet we are currently allowing United States corporations to provide revenues to the Iranian Government. It has to stop," he continued. "It is inexcusable for American companies to engage in any business practice that provides revenues to terrorists, and we have to stop it. Here we have a clear view of what happens. We have a chance to stop it with this amendment."

Apparently forgetting that they're either "with us or with the terrorists," all but two Republicans voted against Lautenberg's bill and it went down in flames 51-47.

Veterans and First Responders

Another subject where the GOP speaks loudly but seldom does anything concrete is funding veterans programs and providing tools and salaries necessary for police and firefighters.

In March, Daniel Akaka (D-HI) introduced S. amdt. 149, which would have provided an increase in veterans medical care by $2.8 billion in 2006 – the Republican leadership shot it down 53-47. Thinking she might have better results if she lowered the tab a bit, Patty Murray (D-WA) came back at them the following month with S. amdt. 344, to provide $2 billion in medical care for veterans. No such luck. It too lost in a downright unpatriotic 54-46 vote.

Are we "supporting the troops" yet?

Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) had S. amdt. 147 -- to restore $1.6 billion in Bush administration cuts to first-responder programs – defeated by a vote of 54-46, with Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) as the sole Republican voting for the funding.

Christopher Dodd (D-CT) took another kick at that can a few months later and introduced S. amdt. 1202 to " priorities for America's firefighters, law enforcement personnel and emergency medical personnel by reducing the tax breaks for individuals with annual incomes over $1 million."

Dodd even pulled the favored Republican trick of invoking September 11 in his plea to get the needed funding.

"In the wake of September 11, ignorance of the nature of the threat or of what the United States must do to prepare for future attacks can no longer explain America's continuing failure to allocate sufficient resources in preparing local emergency responders. It would be a terrible tragedy indeed if it took another catastrophic attack to drive the point home," said Dodd.

Senate Republicans rejected the bill.

And There Were Many More

What you've read so far is by no means an exhaustive treatment of how callous the Republican-controlled Senate is when it comes to doing substantive things for real people and truly protecting Americans.

John Kerry (D-MA) and Jack Reed (D-RI) both tried three times to getting funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and failed on all of those attempts. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced legislation to protect Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling and another bill to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil imports – both died on the Senate floor.

Kennedy went for an increase in Pell grant funding and Dodd tried to get more money
for Head Start programs – neither made it past the GOP's "compassionate conservatism."

The message in yesterday's article was one of sternly calling Republicans on their hypocrisy when they cry foul in the wake of Democrats finally fighting back. I'm hopeful that today's piece, by showing exactly what the conservatives voted against, will provide ample arguments to use on those who insist there is no difference between our two major political parties.

Can it be made any more obvious?