United States News Digest
Senate GOP Fears Losing Campaign To End Filibuster
Many Senate Republicans fear that they are losing the political battle over ending the filibuster for judicial nominations, The Hill reported April 14, and there is rising concern among them that they are losing to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid's warroom operation. "I think there's a realization that this particular effort," referring to Reid, "has to be countered," said one GOP aide. "I think that people know we've got a serious problem here."
Some GOP Senators say that when they were home during the recent recess, they heard more about the so-called "nuclear option"the attempt to deny the filibuster to the minority party, in this case the Democratsthan about Social Security.
Another Hill article provides some more background on the Senate parliamentarian, who, according to Reid, says that he would rule against a Republican effort to use a majority-vote rule-change to end the filibuster for judicial nominees. The parliamentarian, Alan Frumin, was appointed by former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, after Lott fired his predecessor.
The Hill also revealed that a Congressional Research Service report, just recently updated, also opposed the Republican plan, stating that any such move would be a departure from Senate precedents.
Delay Issues Fake Apology
While House Majority Tom DeLay (R-Texas) did utter the words, "I apologize," several times for his statements that judges should be impeached, or punished for their rulings, such as in the Terri Schiavo case, he was not truly convincing.
The press conference where he apologized came after a visit he made to the U.S. Senate, where he met with members of the Judiciary Committee, and demanded that they read all the court rulings pertaining to the Schiavo feeding-tube case, and then come up with legislation to prevent the judges from ever getting away with such rulings again. In plain talk, DeLay was calling for a legislative override of the judiciary, in violation of the Constitutional separation of powers.
Meanwhile, DeLay's fundamentalist buddies at the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration were holding their own press conference defending DeLay and escalating their assault on the judiciary. Rick Scarborough, a Texas buddy of Tom DeLay and acting chairman for the Council, said that, "not since the Nuremberg War Crime trials have so many government officials cloaked themselves in the argument that they were only doing their duty." Then he took a swipe at clergy who didn't come out in the Schiavo case, saying, "in Germany of the Nazis the pulpits were silenced then with horrific results. Have we so quickly forgotten the lessons of history?" He used this as the start of his defense of DeLay, adding that DeLay was right for calling for an investigation of the Judiciary.
Rep. Miller Requests Another Probe of Abramoff
Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, already under investigation for bilking Indian tribes out of millions of dollars, is the target of a request by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif) for the House Resources Committee to look into Abramoff's lobbying activities on behalf of the Northern Mariana Islands in the 1990s. Miller's request comes after reports last month that Northern Mariana Islands government auditors had questioned whether the territory got its money's worth when it paid Abramoff's firm.
Miller writes: "I believe there is more than enough initial evidence to warrant a thorough and bipartisan investigation of Mr. Abramoff and potential Congressional wrong-doing in the territories."
Kerry Blasts Voter Suppression, Dirty Tricks in 2004 Vote
Speaking April 10, at a meeting of the Boston League of Women Voters, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass), the 2004 Democratic Presidential candidate, went into a hard attack on the Republican vote suppression in the November 2004 elections. Kerry told the group, "Last year, too many people were denied their right to vote, too many who tried to vote were intimidated. There is no magic wand. No one person is going to stand up and suddenly say it's going to change tomorrow. You have to do that." The CNN/AP story on the Kerry speech specifically cited a suit filed in Ohio, charging a widespread pattern of vote suppression. The suit was dismissed by the Ohio Supreme Court.
Kerry also told the League of Women Voters about how voters were duped into not voting: "Leaflets were handed out saying Democrats vote on Wednesday, Republicans vote on Tuesday. People are told in telephone calls that if you've ever had a parking ticket, you're not allowed to vote." The AP story also noted, "Earlier this year, Kerry joined Sen. Hillary Clinton, a New York Democrat, in filing voting reform legislation. The Count Every Vote Act would create a Federal holiday for voting, require paper receipts for votes, and authorize $500 million to help states upgrade voting systems and equipment." Kerry said, "We need to go about the business of making our own democracy in America work better."
Senate GOP Rejects $2 Billion for Veterans Hospitals
On April 13, Senate Republicans defeated by a vote of 54-46 a Democratic effort to provide almost $2 billion in additional health-care funding for veterans.
Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) proposed providing $1.98 billion in additional funding for veterans' care to an emergency spending bill to fund the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. She said VA hospitals were underfunded and overcrowded. Republicans denied the VA facilities had such serious problems.
Reid Blasts Bush Threat To Default
On the 60th anniversary of the death of President Franklin Roosevelt April 12, Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) held what he called a "Digital Fireside Chat" to commemorate FDR's work, especially in the establishment of the Social Security system. "People depend on Social Security, that's the way it has been, and the way it should be, and we're not going to allow that to change," Reid said. As to President Bush's plan, Reid called it "a scheme to get rid of Social Security."
Reid also talked about Bush's recent stunt at the Bureau of Public Debt in Parkersburg, W. Va., where "he had some file cabinets there, and he pulled out all these IOUs, and he said this is what backs up Social Security. Now think about what he said," Reid stated. "For him to go out there in West Virginia, and stand up and say, 'Are these notes any good?'he's talking about the credit of the United States of America. Savings bonds. Forty percent of those are now purchased by other countries, and he's saying we're going to default on all these loans. If that happens, I can't imagine what would happen to the world and to our country."
Democrats Announce GI Bill for the 21st Century
Congressional Democrats are challenging the implicit assumption in the Republican budget that military personnel and military veterans are too expensive, by offering up a package of provisions to improve access to health-care services and education benefits for veterans of both active-duty services and the reserves. It also would make available to 400,000 eligible veterans concurrent receipt of both retiree pay and disability pay, which is currently not allowed for all but a handful of such veterans and protect the income of reservists who currently lose income when they are activated. It includes provisions on active duty end strength, and on insuring that troops have adequate equipment and supplies when they go into combat.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) evoked the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who said the original 1944 GI Bill "gave emphatic notice that the American people won't let our veterans down when they come home." Pelosi also said that many of the provisions in the package are supported by Republicans, including one, a bill on concurrent receipt, which is sponsored by Rep. Mike Biliarakis (R-Fla). Pelosi indicated afterwards that while no Republicans have endorsed the package as a whole, she thinks the Democrats can get pieces of it through on the basis of priorities, such as the partial fix on concurrent receipt two years ago, and the increase in the death benefit more recently.
Flanking Pelosi were Reps. Ike Skelton (Mo), and Lane Evans (Ill), the ranking Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee and Veterans Affairs Committee, respectively, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, freshman Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo) and Steve Robertson of the American Legion. Clark, after having given the package a ringing endorsement, said, "It's got to go through. Now, it's a matter of priorities on the part of the Congress and the administration, together.... Now, the American people, especially those who served and their families, are watching to see if we have the courage to follow through on the promises made to do what's right for those who served and their families."