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Tempers grew short in the House of Representatives last week as Congress pushed hard on several fronts prior to August recess. The House is at home for the next month, and the Senate is wrapping up its business this week so senators can also return to their home states. It’s a race to recess, because there still is plenty of legislative business to be done. The pressing work on the Senate floor this week includes a massive energy security bill that has over 400 amendments under consideration, as well as votes on a number of President Bush's judicial nominees.
Congress also needs to pass 13 different appropriations bills before October 1st. While many of these bills are currently on track, appropriations fights tend to come down to the wire, especially when there is a serious effort to begin to slow the growth in federal spending. Additionally, negotiations on Medicare reform and the creation of a vast new pharmaceutical drug benefit are still under way.
Senate Votes on Judicial Nominees
Legislative sparring over President Bush's judicial nominees continues this week, as Senate Republicans are pressing forward with votes on several specific nominees. On Tuesday, the Senate failed for a third time to break a Democratic filibuster against nominee Priscilla Owen. The vote to limit debate and end the Owen filibuster was 53-43, seven short of the 60 votes needed.
Judge Owen should have been confirmed long ago. She is highly qualified and was one of President Bush's first 11 nominees to federal appeals court. Every nominee deserves fair treatment and a timely up-or-down vote. Yet today 3 of these highly qualified nominees are still waiting; they have been awaiting a simple up or down vote by the Senate for more than 800 days. President Bush got it right when on May 9, 2003, he said, “[T]heir treatment by a group of senators is a disgrace.”
In addition to Owen, the Senate has thus far refused to give votes to two other nominees from the original 11: Miguel Estrada and Terry Boyle. Republicans have scheduled another cloture vote Wednesday on Estrada, who is nominated for the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. Similar cloture votes on 9th Circuit nominee Carolyn Kuhl and 11th Circuit candidate William H. Pryor Jr. also are expected this week. These are all votes to break the filibusters, not actual votes on the nominees. We are still waiting.
High Energy in the Senate
Energy Security is an enormously important issue for America, as energy fuels economic growth, and there continues to be instability in many oil-rich parts of the world. That’s why the House of Representatives moved to pass an energy bill earlier this year, and now the Senate is taking up a similar measure, S. 14, National Energy Policy Act of 2003. The bill is enormous and addresses range of different energy issues. The Senate is considering around four hundred amendments; the important thing from CSE perspective is to not cap CO2 emissions or restrict individual energy use. We would also like to see the Senate permit drilling in Alaska to bring new sources of American energy online.
Prudent energy policy would rely on market forces to determine the mix of energy sources used in the economy, not mandates that distort energy markets while replacing cheaper energy sources with more costly sources such as wind and solar power. For more coverage on the energy debate, check out Dr. Brough's piece High Energy Solutions.
President Bush Speaks to Urban League
President Bush gave a widely covered address on Monday in Pittsburgh to the National Urban League, a 93 year-old "civil rights" organization considered to be less partisan than similar organizations like the NAACP . The Urban League event was also attended by seven of the nine Democrat candidates for president. This strong turnout comes just two weeks after Bush and several prominent Democrats skipped the NAACP convention.
Bush's speech was mixed on policy, but he did plug the need for school choice, tort reform, and tax relief. He made the strongest case on tax relief:
"You hear a lot of talk about tax relief. Let me tell you my belief. When a person has got more money in his or her pocket, he or she is likely to demand an additional good or a service. And when somebody demands a good or a service, in our society, somebody is going to produce the good or a service. And when somebody produces that good or a service, it means somebody is more likely find a job. The tax relief we packaged is good for helping people find work in America. (Applause.)"
Unfortunately, President Bush didn't devote more of his speech to discussing the importance of school choice to inner-city kids, and he failed to even mention the fact that Social Security is an especially bad deal for African-Americans, who as a group have a lower life expectancy than other Americans. If Social Security had personal retirement accounts that workers could own and manage, and could pass on to their families at death, Social Security would be better deal for African-Americans and indeed for all American workers.
Full text of speech: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/07/20030728-3.html