Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Senate Votes Define GOP Response to 9/11 Commission

The 9/11 Commission got together on Monday to give the Bush administration a report card for how they have done in protecting Americans in, as the neo-conservatives like to call it, the "post-9/11 world." Nobody was really surprised to find that the president and the Republican party have done almost nothing to follow the panel's recommendations.

In some cases, they were called an outright failure – receiving an "F" on the report – and in many other instances, the best Team Bush, Bill Frist and Tom DeLay could manage was a "D" for "Didn't Do Squat."

You know who did try to do something all year? The Democrats.

Of course, when you're the minority party, the best intentions for the welfare and security of the American people won't take you very far when you can't muster the 50 (or 60) votes necessary to get legislation adopted.

But let's look at just a few of the areas of failure by the Bush administration and the Democrat-sponsored legislation, shot down by Senate Republicans, that would have improved this report card.

Radio spectrum for first responders. Bush grade received: F

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) was the champion of first responders, fighting like crazy all year for more money and equipment and even getting three bills to the Senate floor for a full vote. All three were killed by the Republicans.

S. amdt. 147, introduced in March, was written to "protect the American people from terrorist attacks by providing the necessary resources to our firefighters, police, EMS workers and other first-responders by restoring $1,626 billion in cuts to first-responder programs."

"This is not the time to be cutting first responder dollars to our communities," said Stabenow, in fighting for the funding on the Senate floor. "We ought to be, in fact, increasing those dollars because when the terrorist experts talk to us, they do not say if we are attacked in the future, they say when we will be attacked in the future. So it is absolutely irresponsible to be cutting the dollars for our local police, fire departments, and emergency responders. We need to make homeland security a priority."

The bill was defeated 54-46, with not a single GOP senator voting for the first-responder funding.

Stabenow also introduced two measures to provide funding for interoperable communications equipment grants for first responders to, as the 9/11 Commission recommended, allow all types of emergency workers to be able to communicate on the same channels.

"This is not a partisan issue. This is an American issue," said Stabenow in July, when the first of the two bills was introduced. "All of us, I know, care about this issue, and we need to make sure this budget reflects the goals of making sure that our first responders are prepared, that all Americans are prepared, and that we are protected from terrorism in America. This is a crisis now, not just a nagging inconvenience. Our lack of interoperable communications is a crisis in this country."

Both S. amdt. 1217 in July and S. amdt. 1687 in September, which would have addressed those critical issues for emergency workers, were defeated without even one Republican senator voting in favor.

Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) proposed S. amdt. 1202 in July, which would have funded "...urgent priorities for our Nation's firefighters, law enforcement personnel, emergency medical personnel, and all Americans by reducing the tax breaks for individuals with annual incomes in excess of $1 million."

In other words, Dodd wanted the wealthy to kick in a bit to protect the country. That one lost as well with – you guessed it – not a single Republican vote for passage.

Coalition detention standards. Bush grade received: F

The report issued Monday gave a failing grade to the administration's development of common policies for treatment of terrorist suspects held abroad, with many members of Congress accusing the administration of condoning practices that amount to torture.

"U.S. treatment of detainees had elicited broad criticism and makes it harder to build the necessary alliances to cooperate effectively with partners in a global war on terror," the Commission report said.

Two bills proposed by Senate Democrats last month sought to remedy that situation. S. amdt. 2430, by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) was intended to establish a "...national commission on policies and practices on the treatment of detainees since September 11, 2001."

"We cannot sweep this under the rug. The investigations so far have swept critical issues under the rug," said Levin on the Senate Floor. "They are going to surface sooner or later. Better to have an independent commission take a look at them, get it away from any partisanship, and have a commission the way the 9/11 Commission was appointed, with five Democratic appointees, five Republican appointees, and have the President appoint the chairman of the commission."

Sounds reasonable and prudent, right? Not so much to the Republicans, who voted it down 55-43.

S. amdt. 2523, put forth by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) in November, would have provided for "...judicial review of detention of enemy combatants."

"It is reasonable to insist that when the Government deprives a person of his or her liberty – and in this case for an indefinite period of time -- the individual have a meaningful opportunity to challenge the legality of their detention and challenge whether they are being wrongfully detained," said Bingaman. "This is not a radical proposition I have enunciated. It is enshrined in our Constitution."

Evidentially, it was a radical proposition for the GOP leadership in the Senate because it went down in flames on an almost entirely party-line vote – only four Republican senators sided with the Democrats, while 50 of them voted against.

Checked bag and cargo screening. Bush grade received: D

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) proposed a bill in July (S. amdt. 1189), designed to fund programs for new inspections of air cargo. Schumer did his best to plead the same case made by the 9/11 Commission: That frisking little old ladies and toddlers at the airport does no good if you give a free pass to all the cargo being loaded into the airplanes.

"What good does it do to make sure all of the passengers onboard the plane are screened so that there are no explosives or any other weapons, yet allow cargo that would ride in the belly of the plane to not be screened 19 out of 20 times?" asked Schumer before Senate voting. "For all the money we have put into passenger screening, we are leaving a gaping hole alongside, and that is cargo screening."

It was defeated 53-45, with 52 Republicans voting "nay."

There are many more votes like this in 2005 alone – and that doesn't even take into account the Democrat-sponsored measures that died in committee or before even making it that far.

It would almost be more comforting if we could chalk this all up to politicians too busy to pay attention to what really matters in our country. But the American people need to take a good look at why they have the Democrats in Washington trying to save their lives and the GOP doing their damnest to do absolutely nothing.