Cornyn Disputes Dysfunction

The Chief Majority Whip, John Cornyn, R-TX, challenged the idea that the Senate fails to get things done today.

He held up the 240 bills acted on by the Senate, 140 of which were signed into law. He compared this to the 15 passed while Harry Reid, D-NV, the current Minority Party leader, was the Majority party leader and the Democrats had control of Congress.

Mr. Cornyn went on to blame Democratic Party obstruction for any gridlock in the chamber.

“It’s because of their inaction,” he said, “they’re the ones who have blocked the appropriations process.”

Lamar Alexander, R-TN, backed up Mr. Cornyn while praising some of his Democratic colleagues for their willingness to work with Senate Republicans. He said it was important to recognize contributions from across the aisle, and give credit where credit is due.

Mr. Alexander also called the most recent Congress a productive one, and mentioned newspaper reports calling it one of the most productive since the 1990s.

by Marlon J. Ettinger

Advertisements

Party Leaders Give Accusatory Introductory Remarks After 7 Week Recess

The Republican and Democratic party leaders gave critical speeches of their rivals across the aisle this afternoon, in their first day back since the summer recess began in July. The two politicians painted pictures of discord caused by the other side around the flashpoints of Zika funding, which will come to a vote today, defense funding, and partisan intransigence.

McConnell

The Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opened by emphasizing how much needs to get done, and underlined the twin issues of Zika and National Security funding at the top of his list of priorities.

He criticized Democrats in the chamber for filibustering those appropriations. Mr. McConnell said that there is “no good explanation for blocking these important funding bills.”

He praised the work of the Centers for Disease Control and reported that they had informed him of reduced Zika transmission in areas sprayed to exterminate mosquitoes.

Mr. McConnell also noted what he called increased threats from North Korea, and continued attacks by the Islamic State worldwide.

“I hope our colleagues will join us now to end senseless filibusters,” he finished.

Reid

Harry Reid, the Democratic Minority leader, criticized the long summer break. He called the 7 week pause the longest he had seen in sixty years.

“The Senate has a mountain of work to do and no time to do it,” Mr. Reid charged.

He countered Mr. McConnell’s argument that the Democrats bear responsibility for blocking Zika funding.

“We offered compromise to Republicans but they said no to compromise,” he claimed.

He called Zika a growing threat and accused Senate Republicans of stalling while the virus spread, and recited the list of cases in US states and territories. 17,000 cases have been reported, 1,600 of which are pregnant women.

He charged that the Zika bill House Republicans sent back is impossible to pass because of sections in it Democrats find unacceptable. One such section are the cuts to the Veterans Administration, part of funding offsets demanded by the House.  A provision allowing the continued flying of the Confederate flag over military installations was called “unacceptable” by the minority leader.

Along with objections to the makeup of the funding bill, Mr. Reid also complained about reports that Republicans may seek to pass continuing resolutions to fund the government through the next year.

He called the use of a continuing resolution “a permission slip to Congress not to do its jobs next year.”

Mr. Reid cited the need for immediate action on campaign finance reform, college tuition reform, gun control actions, and the continued refusal of the Senate to hold meetings with President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

“We have a logjam of important legislation that [the majority leader] created,” said Mr. Reid.

by Marlon J. Ettinger

PROMESA Advances to the Executive

The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act(PROMESA) made it out of the Senate again today, jumping two hurdles with ease and landing on the President’s desk. The bill passes only two days before Puerto Rico is due to make a debt payment of $2 billion, an obligation it does not have the money to fulfill.

Supporters of the bill began the process by invoking cloture on it in the early afternoon. The cloture motion passed comfortably by 68-32.

After an hour long recess the final debates on the bill began with five hours provided divided between both sides. Harry Reid, D-NV, designated 40 minutes each to Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and Robert Menendez, D-NJ, of his party’s time. Reminding the speakers that they were not obligated to use all of their time, he said “the sooner we get to the votes, the better off we will be.”

“This is a terrible piece of legislation,” Mr. Sanders began, “setting horrific precedence, and it must not pass.”

“This legislation strips away the most important powers of the democratically elected officials of Puerto Rico,” Mr. Sanders continued.

“The US must not become a colonial master,” he asserted vehemently, “which is precisely what this legislation allows.”

Mr. Sanders warned of a mass migration of professionals away from the island, and called a 58% childhood poverty rate disgraceful.

“You cannot get blood from a stone,” he exhorted hedge funds who are seeking to profit from Puerto Rico’s debt.

Addressing the presiding officer Ted Cruz, who also ran for president this year, Mr. Sanders said that “Puerto Rico must be given the time it needs to grow its economy” and added that there should be austerity for hedge funds, not the people of Puerto Rico.

“I am very disappointed that this…piece of legislation is being pushed through the Senate” said Sanders.

He finished his speech by setting up a procedural challenge to the bill, claiming it violated the Budget Act.

Orrin Hatch, R-UH, jumped to challenge the charge, and set up a vote to waive the provisions of the Budget Act with regard to PROMESA.

Mr. Hatch then attacked what he called “unsatisfactory” financial disclosures by Puerto Rico. He asserted that Puerto Rico has $40 billion in unfunded pension promises, and accused the administration of collaborating with the government of Puerto Rico “in an obvious attempt to favor public pensions.”

Bob Menendez, D-NJ, called the rush to act on legislation unwise, saying that worries about litigation in the event of a Puerto Rican default are addressed in the bill by a retroactive stay on any action taken in court.

“We still have one last opportunity to do right by the people of Puerto Rico.”

Mr. Menendez launched another attempt, as he did on the floor of the Senate for four hours yesterday, to show how completely the financial oversight board that will govern much of the island’s spending decisions, in his words a “control board,” strips the island territory of its sovereignty.

“I believe we’re opening the flood gates,” he maintained, “to turning Puerto Rico into a laboratory for right wing ideology.”

He also called the legislation an assertion of neocolonial control.

A motion put forward by Mr. Menendez to table the PROMESA notion failed by a vote of 44-54.

The procedural challenge issued by Mr. Sanders was also defeated, and the Budget Act provisions were waived in regard to the legislation by an 85-13 vote.

Then finally, the Senate made its final push and passed the bill with 68 yeas and 30 Nays, completing its circuitous passage in and out of the Senate for what is probably the last time, provided the President does not veto it.

by Marlon J. Ettinger

Senate Poised for Fight over Zika Funding

The Senate will vote tomorrow on legislation that could provide $1.1 billion in emergency funding to combat the Zika virus. The coming months are peak mosquito season, and there are fears among health officials that if action is not taken there might be an explosion in incidence of the mosquito-borne disease.

A Centers for Disease Control Interim Response Plan released earlier this month warned that “local transmission of Zika virus in US territories and affiliated Pacific Island countries is ongoing.” It also noted that “neither vaccines nor proven clinical treatments are expected to be available to treat or prevent Zika virus infections before local transmission begins within [the Continental United States] or Hawaii.”

The Majority and Minority leaders both addressed the bill in their opening statements. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said that combating the spread of the Zika virus should be a priority of both parties. He then accused Senate Democrats of playing partisan politics over funding.

Harry Reid, D-NV, accused the Republican package of being “full of poison pills.” He says that with cuts to Obamacare, Ebola funding, and provisions prohibiting funding in the bill from being directed to Planned Parenthood “it’s like we’re being dared to oppose this legislation.” Democrats are also upset that the bill falls short of the $1.9 billion the Obama administration requested.

The bill has already made it through the House, but even if it does pass the upper chamber the administration has warned it may veto it. This week is the last week for the Senate to address the issue before a long July 4th recess.

The Majority Whip, John Cornyn, R-TX, called the shifting of funds from other programs better than deficit spending.

“I hope we will act with dispatch,” he said, commending the Obama administration for reprogramming $589 million from the Ebola fund to face the Zika threat. He called for support of the bill, and echoed the Majority Leader’s accusation against Senate Democrats.

“They can either play politics at the expense of women and children across the nation, or they can support the bill.”

by Marlon J. Ettinger

Senate Passes National Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2017

Around noon today, the Senate passed the National Defense Appropriations Act(S. 2943) by a vote of 85-13. Democratic Majority leader Harry Reid was among the Nays.

Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-AZ, expressed pleasure at the passage of the bill and commended the bipartisanship displayed throughout the legislative process. He did not, however, hide his disappointment with the exclusion from the bill of an amendment that would grant greater protection to foreign translators working for the military.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, also made clear his dismay at the defeated amendment.

Senator McCain blamed intransigent Senators advocating for their own amendments for the translator amendment’s failure. Rapping the lectern in front of him, he declared that because of its absence from the bill, there are translators “being slaughtered right now.” Native translators who work with Americans in the Middle East can be seen as collaborators, and are often prime targets for the Taliban and other militant groups.

The legislation passed today is a broad and deep appropriations package. It meets the President’s budget request, and grants $602 billion dollars worth of funding for 2017.

Acquisitions reform is among its many goals, along with a 1.6% pay rise for all service members, and increased funding for counter terrorism goals such as the the defeat of the Islamic State.

Cyber warfare is elevated to a higher domain in the bill, part of a broader technology push spearheaded by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter as a part of his Force of the Future vision for the military.

This was the 54th consecutive year that the Senate has passed the NDAA.

by Marlon J Ettinger

Party Leaders Mourn Orlando Shooting Victims, Remember Voinovich

The Senate convened today at 4:00PM. Senate Chaplain Barry Black’s commemoration of the victims of the Orlando terror attack on Sunday in the opening prayer set the tone for the opening statements from the party leaders.

Majority Leader

Mitch McConnell, R-KY, asked for the Senate to observe a moment of silence and addressed the people of Orlando, saying “You are not alone, your nation is here with you.”

Mr. McConnell also spoke a few words on his former colleague, ex-Senator George V. Voinovich, who died in his sleep yesterday evening at the age of 79.

The majority leader cited Voinovich’s enthusiastic promotion of NATO expansion in Eastern Europe among the former Senator’s missions, and called him “honest, plainspoken, loyal, [and] frugal.”

“The people of Cleveland, the state of Ohio, and the United States have lost an outstanding public servant,” Mr. McConnell finished before yielding the floor to the minority leader.

Minority Leader

Harry Reid, D-NV, began by paying tribute to the late Mr. Voinovich too, commending him on his years as the Republican Senator from Ohio(1999-2011), and on his dynamic and varied career in politics, from his years as Ohio Assistant Attorney General, Mayor of Cleveland, and his time spent in the Ohio House of Representatives.

Mr. Reid characterized Mr. Voinovich’s Senate career as a bipartisan one, highlighting his heterodox votes against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and an amenability to support background checks across the aisle.

The Democratic leader used this as a launching off point for another push to enact gun reform in the Senate. Mr. Reid reported that he had had a long conversation with the FBI this morning, and described himself as “heartsick, I’m basically sick by our inaction,” in response to what he called the worst mass shooting in American history.

“Congress is failing to do anything to address mass shootings,” said Mr. Reid, as he called for action to be taken on limiting the size of magazines.

“We can no longer ignore the will of the American people.”

Mr. Reid cited polls showing 90% of Americans favoring expanded backgrounds checks, and 80% of Americans wanting to close the so-called terror loopholes as evidence of the Senate’s unresponsiveness on the issue.

Closing these loopholes has been championed by Democratic lawmakers since the San Bernardino attack last December. Opponents of the loopholes say that law enforcement is prevented from prohibiting the sale of guns to those designated as potential terrorists.

“The NRA is bad, really bad,” said Mr. Reid.

“There’s no excuse for allowing suspected terrorists to buy guns.”

by Marlon J. Ettinger