Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Senate on Easter Recess until March 31

The Senate adjourned Thursday, March 13 after a marathon session in which senators churned through a string of 44 roll-call votes before agreeing on an FY 2009 budget resolution.

The Senate begin its Easter recess on Friday March 14. It will not return to session until March 31 or perhaps April 1.

In the interim, it will continue its recent convention of pro forma sessions to stave off any presidential effort at so-called recess appointments.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Good old fashioned vote-a-rama as senators work on FY 2009 budget resolution

Vote-a-rama: A day of roll call votes on end

Senators are still churning through a seemingly endless supply of roll call votes on amendments impacting the Senate's FY 2009 budget. Many votes have addressed tax policy, such as the current vote on a Landrieu estate tax amendment.

Although the Senate's budget resolution is not binding on eventual appropriations bills, it sets out a blueprint that the senators try to follow as they decide how to spend in the upcoming fiscal year.

Moments ago, a DeMint amendment imposing a 1-year moratorium on earmarks fell 29-71, losing senators on both sides of the aisle. Interestingly, the presidential candidates all supported the measure. Clinton, McCain, and Obama have all been in the chamber for today's marathon vote-a-rama.

Senators vote on oil drilling amendment

Lamar Alexander (TN) has introduced an amendment that would alter the nation's energy policy in a couple of ways. One, it would lift a moratorium on oil drilling in the continental shelf off the coast of Virginia. Currently, the moratorium bans oil drilling on the continental shelves off of both the east and west coasts. Bill Nelson (FL) opposed the amendment on this basis alone, saying it was like the camel sticking his nose under the tent. Nelson does not want more drilling closer to the coast of Florida and says that Virginia would be just the first step.

Second, the amendment lifts a moratorium on proceeding with efforts to reap oil from the oil shales in Utah and Colorado. Apparently, there is a moratorium on such work as of this past winter, when the ban was slipped into a new appropriations bill. Pete Domenici (NM) said that the ban was slipped in under the cover of darkness (in the conference report?) and that it was unfair to ban efforts to get oil out of the oil shales in these states. He supports the amendment.

Votes seem to be along party lines, a simple majority needed for passage. The Dems should be able to block it. It falls 47 to 51.

Cheney, present earlier, is not around to break 50/50 tie on Kyl estate tax amendment

First a Salazar amendment that would have lowered the estate tax but paid for itself. Now a great deal of confusion as senators vote on a Kyl amendment that sets the max estate tax rate at 35%. The vote on the Salazar amendment got 38 votes in favor.

Several senators voted late, after time had expired, after the president pro temp asked for the votes to be tallied. But then a Dodd no, a Biden no. Kyl quite peeved because his amendment falls 50, 50. Where was Cheney to break this tie? Cheney was in the house earlier.

Reid rises to say that on close votes it is Senate practice to allow everyone to vote, even if the senator is running late. So Kyl comes back and says, Well Cornyn wasn't allowed to vote earlier and the vote turned out to be a tied vote so let's have a re-vote on that amendment.

Reid isn't biting, though. He says, No one said that Cornyn was running late. No one asked us to wait for him. He was late and that's too bad.

Oh, man. This is something else. Definitely some late votes came in on this Kyl estate tax amendment that fell 50 to 50 (and Cheney missed the tiebreaker). The late votes changed the outcome of the vote, e.g. 50 ayes to 49 nays is enough to pass an amendment. Striking the late Dodd and Biden votes would have resulted in passage of the amendment, 50 to 48.

Passage would have added to the Senate's non-binding FY 2009 budget blueprint provisions capping the estate tax at 35% and setting at $5m the exemption for estates left to spouses.

Senators fail to take step toward repealing the AMT permanently

Vice-president a.k.a. president of the Senate Dick Cheney just read the result of a 49 to 51 vote narrowly defeating a Specter amendment to the Senate's FY 2009 budget resolution that would have made permanent a repeal of the alternative minimum tax. That's right, 49 to 51, all senators voting including McCain (aye), Obama (nay), and Clinton (nay). A very close vote, all senators voting, Cheney there in the event of a tie. But the amendment falls, almost along party lines except that George Voinovich (OH) voting nay with the Dems and Indiana's Even Bayh voting aye with Republicans.

This is what Judd Gregg (NH) had to say about the amendment on March 12:

"Essentially, this amendment would repeal the AMT permanently, as it relates to middle-income Americans. It is currently wrong that we have this tax. It was never intended to be a tax that would cover 20 million Americans. It was supposed to hit high-income individuals who were avoiding taxes, using legal tax vehicles but basically avoiding paying any income tax. It has turned into a monster where literally 20 million Americans would be subject to the tax unless it is adjusted.

This budget presumes that it will be abated for this year. There is no reason to keep these revenues in the baseline because we know we will do this again next year and the year after that. It is time to correct this permanently and stop having these illusory revenues, which we turn around and spend, and it creates inappropriate expectations and leads to less fiscal discipline here.

This is an attempt to address the issue by essentially repealing the AMT and addressing the fact that if we don't do this, 20 million Americans will be hit with this tax, and that was never the intention of the Federal Government, to get revenues from them. It is wrong to have it on the books."

This budget resolution is non-binding but it nonetheless lays out an important budget framework for the senators to follow as they put together a federal budget.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Monday, March 3, 2008:  Senators voting on Consumer Products Safety Commission Bill

Senators voting on motion to proceed to a consumer products safety bill

Before the senators is a bill reforming the Consumer Products Safety Commission, including changes for toy standards. Senate leaders earlier predicted that senators would invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill. That cloture vote is now underway.

Among other things, the bill outlaws lead in toys (duh!) It also sets up a public database for complaints about toys and introduces ways to track toys to facilitate any recall.

Yeah, everyone is voting for cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill. It will now be open for amendment on the floor.

The cloture motion on the motion to proceed tot he bill passes officially at 17:56. The Senate goes into a period of morning business.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Feb. 28, 2008:  Al Qaeda debate gives way to impending vote on housing package

McConnell says that Republicans are interested in a housing bill

Minority leader McConnell says that he offered Reid an agreement to proceed to the housing bill with each side offering five amendments. But Reid turned down the offer. A cloture vote on a motion to proceed to the bill then failed.

Reid takes insult at a McConnell assertion that Reid didn't run the bill by banking committee chairman Chris Dodd (CT). It's hard for me to conceive how my friend could say that, he says.

Vote on Democratic housing bill


Here are the votes:

Aye: Dems and
Nay: Reps and

It falls, with 48 ayes and 46 nays. 60 ayes needed. This was a housing bill that among other things, offered $4b in funds to subsidize the purchase of foreclosed properties.

After the bill, Reid says that the big banks just won again.

I am hearing something about Republicans opposing progress on the bill because Harry Reid (NV) filled the amendment tree. I was not aware of this. Filling the tree means controlling what amendments can be offered. But Reid has said something similar to what he said when he filled the tree on the Farm Bill. Come to me with your amendments, Republicans, let's talk. If we can agree to the language on them we can vote on them. But we can't vote on them if you oppose cloture on the motion to proceed. It's another game of chicken.

Reid pleas for Republicans to consider housing package

Senators will soon be voting on a motion to proceed to legislation addressing the rise of foreclosures. Sixty votes are necessary to begin debate on the bill. It is not likely to pass, according to Mel Martinez (FL). The way Reid is now talking it sounds as though the Republicans will indeed oppose cloture on the motion to proceed.

Yesterday, senators invoked cloture on a motion to proceed to legislation requiring the U.S. gov't to articulate a strategy for defeating al Qaeda. It first appeared that the Senate would be locked in debate on that legislation for 30 hours, post-cloture.

That is not the case. I looked in the Senate off and on all day and I didn't hear much about al Qaeda. It's possible I missed a senator talk about the U.S. strategy to defeat al Qaeda but I didn't see it. I heard about Iraq, and al Qaeda in Iraq. But nothing about Osama bin Laden or Waziristan.

The two sides of the aisle must've agreed that they didn't want to spend thirty hours talking about al Qaeda, as they spent 30 hours discussing Iraq on Tuesday and Wednesday after senators invoked cloture on the motion to proceed to a similar piece of legislation (also the work of Russ Feingold (WI)) requiring that the U.S. begin to redeploy troops from Iraq within 120 days.

Senate will spend 30 hours on al Qaeda strategy

Just as the Republicans did with a Feingold measure calling for redeployment of troops from Iraq, they will force the Senate to burn through the maximum of 30 hours post-cloture debate. Majority leader Harry Reid (NV) complains now about this on the floor but I'm wondering why he brought the al Qaeda strategy legislation to a vote if 30 hours of debate was too much for him.

He wants to talk about Iraq it seems. He is holding up newspapers. He says that 30 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq this month, more than one a day for the month, he says.

So, the pending business is al Qaeda but Reid talks only about Iraq. Jon Kyl (AZ) follows for the minority. He is talking mostly about Iraq, but also about al Qaeda in Iraq. Two birds with one stone.


Senators agreed overwhelmingly yesterday to begin debating the U.S. strategy for defeating al Qaeda. The pending legislation is a Feingold measure requiring the Executive to formulate a strategy for eradicating al Qaeda.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Feb. 27, 2008:  Switching tack, senators vote to begin debate on bill calling for Executive to submit al Qaeda strategy

Senate will adjourn until 9:30 tomorrow

Morning business of one hour. The resume consideration of motion to proceed to S. 2634, with any time counting post-cloture. That passes. Senate adjourns until 9:30 tomorrow. The pending business will be the al Qaeda strategy bill. Debate on this bill will now consume the Senate through Friday.

Republicans welcome al Qaeda debate

Senators jump from Iraq debate to al Qaeda. Senators voted to proceed on a motion to consider a second Feingold foreign policy bill, this one calling for the Executive to establish a policy to defeat al Qaeda. Republicans welcomed the debate.

Richard Burr (NC) just spoke about health care. Ken Salazar now takes the Senate into a period of morning business. This is Senate business. Salazar could one day handle a more important role in the Senate for the Democrats.

Procedural vote is on bill calling for U.S. to declare an al Qaeda strategy


This is not the Iraq redeployment legislation, this is S. 2634. Sixty voted needed to proceed to debate on the bill. The bill: "Directs the Secretaries of Defense, State, and Homeland Security to jointly submit to Congress a report setting forth U.S. global strategy to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates."

the Votes:

Aye: Alexander Allard Bunning Conrad Craig Crapo Durbin Feingold Grassley McConnell Reed Sununu Thune.

Nay: Hagel (NE), Enzi (WY).

89-3, the motion is agreed to.

They are moving forward with this thing.

I find it surprising that Republicans would support the bill as it now stands. It is possible that the Republicans are making a play to take over this legislation. Recall that the FISA bill was commandeered by the Republicans at one point, filibustered by Dodd et al. The Republicans are saying, OK, we'll take the opportunity to amend that bill. We'll hold some tough national security votes and see who will come along.

This will pass and be the pending business of the Senate. It will be open to amendment unless the amendment process gets screwy again.

John Warner was present for this vote, voted aye. No one has voted against it yet. It would be interesting to hear some al Qaeda debate as opposed to Iraq debate. But how much of its strategy should the U.S. be ready to share with the public?

No sign of the presidents-to-be.

Reid queries the benefit of blind soldiers

Four thousand troops dead, says Reid. "How many blind soldiers do we need? ... When is enough enough? We're gonna start in a few days the sixth year of this war." He says that Iraq is a wealthy nation, that is has a bunch of oil. He suggests Iraq can take care of itself.

Republicans aren't serious enough about Iraq. How can they object to this? he wonders. Now Reid is making a reference to Keith Olberman. How Olberman signs off his broadcasts by saying the number of days since President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished."

Now Durbin, Dick Durbin, from Illinois, the majority whip. He says, Yeah, Reid you're right. The war in Iraq is the biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of the country. But Maria Cantwell (WA) says from the chair that the majority's time has expired. Durbin looks dumbfounded. McConnell yields back time. We're gonna have this vote now.

They're still talking about Iraq, but a vote is on the way

There is going to be a second procedural vote on this Feingold bill redeploying troops out of Iraq. A second bill calls for defining a policy in the war on al Qaeda. McConnell is coming at these bills hard, saying if Feingold is so worried about fighting al Qaeda he should urge the House to pass the Senate's version of new FISA legislation.

Anyway, at 18:30 a cloture vote on the bill itself, a vote on whether or not debate should come to an end. I don't believe the Republicans will vote for cloture. But maybe they'll call the Democrats' bluff. Offer up a bunch of national security amendments, maybe get them passed. But I believe the Republicans will vote against cloture, effectively killing the bill. Voting will begin shortly.

Iraq redeployment debate continues

It's been rather uneventful today in the Senate. Republicans are forcing senators to burn through the maximum 30 hours of debate following a successful cloture vote on the motion to proceed to a Feingold bill facilitating redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq. It all feels perfunctory to me, nothing we haven't heard before.

Several senators are using their time to talk about other topics. There haven't been any votes today.

Corker doesn't want housing bill to "see the light of day"

This is the housing bill that Democrats wish they were working on instead of debating Iraq. Bob Corker (TN) says that the bill would be an "unmitigated disaster" and he calls for help in making sure "that it doesn't see the light of day." This is telling me that Republicans will be voting against cloture on any motion to proceed to consideration of the bill, preventing Democrats from getting the 60 votes they need to begin debate on the bill.

This is a housing bill that would allow bankruptcy judges to reduce the amount of principal that insolvent homeowners owe to mortgage lenders on home loans. It is an attempt to stave off the Dem-espied foreclosure crisis.

Reid moves to have post-cloture time yielded back, McConnell objects

Democrats yesterday initiated an Iraq War debate by holding a cloture vote on a motion to proceed to a Russ Feingold bill purporting to redeploy troops from Iraq. Republicans agreed to cloture, clearing the way for a maximum of 30 hours post-cloture debate. If any senator insists, the Senate must spend 30 hours on the underlying legislation. Republicans have so insisted.

Harry Reid (NV) began the morning by asking for unanimous consent that "all post-cloture time be yielded back." Reid wants to move on to a housing-related bill that would allow bankruptcy judges to shave off the amount of principal that insolvent homeowners owe to mortgage lenders.

Mitch McConnell (KY) objected to Reid's request. McConnell said that several members on his side have recently been to Iraq and want to talk about the success that the U.S. is having in Iraq.

So, the Democrats have brought on this Iraq debate but now they seem to want to get out of it and move on. The Republicans are enjoying a means to frustrate the agenda of the majority.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Byrd and Warner in hospital

I had mentioned earlier today that John Warner (VA) was admitted to a D.C.-area hospital for observation after experiencing an irregular heartbeat, the same condition that hospitalized Warner in October.

I am now reading that Robert Byrd (WV) has also been sent to the hospital with complaints of pain following a fall on Monday evening. Byrd, who has cast more votes in the Senate than any other senator, showed up for work Tuesday morning nonetheless and voted in the first of two roll call votes on Tuesday before heeding to advice that he admit himself to the hospital for observation. He missed an afternoon roll call vote.

Byrd has still been present on the Senate floor in 2008 but he has not recently given the rousing sort of speech that he gave in 2007 concerning attempts to pass something akin to a line-item veto act.

Feb. 26, 2008:  Republicans support cloture on Feingold legislation, sparking Iraq War debate

Senate returns tomorrow at 9:30

It will conduct a period of morning business before resuming debate on the motion to proceed on S. 2633, a Feingold act that purports to provide for the safe redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq. Republicans agreed to hold debate on the measure and appear willing to subject the Senate to the maximum of 30 hours of debate. This would effectively keep the Senate occupied for all of tomorrow.

Iraq War debate delays work on housing legislation

Senators voted in favor of a motion to proceed to a bill offered by Russ Feingold (WI) that prohibits the Congress from authorizing funds for the purpose of deploying troops to Iraq. Instead, the legislation would initiate the redeployment of troops out of Iraq.

Initially one wonders why Republicans would support a cloture motion on such legislation. Indeed, most votes against the motion were from Democrats.

However, successful cloture on a motion to proceed to a piece of legislation is an agreement to spend a maximum of 30 hours of debate on a bill. In this case, the Republicans welcomed debate on the War in Iraq. They are apparently willing to force the Senate to spend the maximum 30 hours of post-cloture debate on the legislation, effectively preventing the Senate from proceeding to any other legislation. Democrats had planned to hold a cloture vote on a motion to proceed to legislation allowing courts to reconfigure home mortgage terms to stave off foreclosures.

So, this afternoon has seen a back-and-forth between senators of the two parties debating Iraq policy among other things. Johnny Isakson refuted a Democratic claim that the Bush administration had no policy in the war on terror. We do have a policy, said Isakson, It's called pre-emption. And as far as Isakson can tell, it's working pretty well. He pointing to the absence of attacks post-9/11.

Lindsey Graham (SC) spoke directly to the troops, urging them to know that they had support back home. He argued that the surge was working and that the U.S. was indeed winning in Iraq.

Amy Klobuchar (MN) followed with an address focused much moreso on the economy than on Iraq policy.

I'm not going to say that the Republicans "tricked" the Democrats into an extended vote on Iraq but I am scratching my head as to why the Democrats wanted to bring on 30 hours of Iraq-related debate only to talk about economic issues. I'm really thinking that the Democrats aren't quite sure where they want to take the Senate ship.

Afternoon cloture vote on foreclosure rescue plan

The Senate is currently on lunch recess. This afternoon, though, senators will be voting for cloture on a motion to proceed to legislation that would allow bankruptcy judges to lower the amount of principal homeowners owe on their mortgages. That is, the judges could reduce the principal that borrowers owe to their banks. Lenders are not in support of the legislation. NPR reported that Republicans also generally oppose the legislation. Democrats will need to round up 60 total votes for a successful cloture motion. Consider that Barack Obama (IL), Hillary Clinton (NY), Christopher Dodd (CT), and Joe Lieberman (CT) were no votes on Indian health care this morning. Unless some of those Dems return to the capitol this afternoon, forget about 60 votes for anything.

Warner back in the hospital

John Warner (VA) was admitted to the hospital today for observation following an irregular heartbeat. He spent time in the hospital in October 2007 with the same condition. He was a no-vote this morning. It is unclear when he will return to the Senate.

Indian Health Care Act passes the Senate, 83-10.

There were seven no votes. The legislation extends the laws governing health care for Native Americans, and includes some improvements. The ten no votes were: Allard (CO),
Coburn (OK), Corker (TN), DeMint (SC), Graham (SC), Gregg (NH), Inhofe (OK), Sessions (AL), Sununu (NH), and Vitter (LA). These are fiscal conservatives, some with Indian country in their states. Of course, as I heard in debate about the bill, many Native Americans are today living in urban areas.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Monday, Feb. 25, 2008:  Cloture vote success paves way for passage of Indian health care bill

Senate aims to finish Indian health care bill tomorrow

The Senate has adjourned for the day. It will convene at 10:00 tomorrow to resume consideration of S. 1200, the Indian health care bill.

CSPAN2 unveils new camera angle for Senate coverage

As senators Jack Reed (RI) and Ron Wyden (OR) engaged in a health care colloquy, C-SPAN2 broke out a new camera angle to cover the exchange. Viewers looked down on the senators from the Senate gallery, almost from behind. It was sort of a bird's eye view. This is the only camera angle I can recall that did not portray the coverage of senators as thought the viewer sat at the front of the chamber. The quorum call vantage point, of course, is set at the rear of the room.

Cloture vote on Indian health care improvements act

Senators are wrapping up a vote for cloture on the Indian health care legislation they have been working on since the beginning of the year. This cloture vote will succeed, cutting off further debate and clearing the way for passage of the bill.

There might be a vote or two on amendments post-cloture. Otherwise, senators should be able to pass this bill tonight or tomorrow.

Vote result and notes:

• Cloture motion agreed to, 84-2.

• DeMint voted against cloture. He was hoping to get a vote on his Semper Fi Act (see below). This amendment was just knocked down post-cloture because Dorgan made a point of order that it was not germane. That point of order was sustained, the amendment dies.

DeMint attempts to get Berkeley, CA funds rescinded

There is an ongoing flap surrounding actions taking by the city council of the city of Berkeley, CA and a marine recruiting station in that city.

Code Pink, an activist organization, had been protesting the Iraq War among other things outside this Marine Corps recruiting station in Berkeley. In apparent support of this protest, the city council voted to give Code Pink a free parking spot in front of the recruiting station and it voted to issue Code Pink protesters a permit to use a megaphone as part of their protest at the station.

Senator Jim DeMint (SC) said that the purpose of the megaphone is so that Code Pink members can "shout down" any potential recruit at the Marine Corps recruiting station. In response the actions of the Berkeley city council DeMint has been attempting to get a vote on language that would rescind FY 2008 federal funds targeted for the city of Berkeley. He calls his bill the Semper Fi act.

He spoke on the floor this afternoon to say that he has not gotten the chance to introduce the legislation as an amendment on several bills that have come through the Senate recently, including the current Indian Health Care Act.

I did hear Barbara Boxer (CA) speak in opposition to DeMint's legislation earlier this month.

DeMint says right up front that he respects the Code Pink protest, referring to the First Amendment right to protest things like the Iraq war. But it goes beyond the First Amendment when the city council grants strategically free parking spaces and grants permits for megaphone usage. He says that at that point the First Amendment right of the Marines to recruit in Berkeley is being infringed.


The Senate will convene at 15:00 and immediately proceed to the reading of Washington's farewell address. Mark Pryor (AR) has the honor.

Following the reading, the Senate will resume consideration of S. 1200, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

At 17:30, the Senate will vote on the motion to invoke cloture on the substitute amendment to the bill.