March 23, 2007
Congress, March 12-17
By James Wilson
Here are the bills Congress passed last week. SENATE After two weeks of debate and amendments, the Senate passed S.4 - Improving America's Security Act of 2007 - 258 pages. This is the Senate bill to implement recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, which the House passed as the 279-page H.R. 1. Next step is for selected members of the House and Senate to come to work out differences between the bills. We can only guess that the resulting bill will be even longer. And we have no idea what will “sneak in at the last minute” before the bill is sent back to both houses for a final vote. Something like Real ID, an oft-rejected bill snuck into a war appropriations bill two years ago? Or like the provision that allowed the President to fire U.S. attorneys and appoint new ones without Senate approval, snuck into the Patriot Act renewal bill? That is what is so scary about bills intended to enhance America’s security. Congress is less critical and more willing to pass such mega-bills even when they include provisions that would never pass on their own. That is why the Read the Bills Act is so important. We must at least give credit to the Senate for spending weeks on this important bill. It is conceivable that most Senators studied it extensively, unlike the Representatives who rushed H.R. 1 in their 100-hour legislative orgy to begin the year. But we reject the bill’s very premise. When government fails, as it did on 9/11, Congress believes the solution is more government, more bureaucracy. We, however, do not believe increased government spending and power helps at all; government should rather do things differently, or give the private sector a chance. After all, private security firms and insurance companies would have a lot more to lose by allowing a terrorist attack than would federal bureaucrats and investigators. Other bills the Senate passed, by voice vote were: S. 494 - NATO Freedom Consolidation Act of 2007 - 18 pages The House passed something similar last week. Becoming allies with small nation’s on Russia’s frontier is exactly the kind of “foreign entanglements” George Washington and Thomas Jefferson warned against. S. 655 - The American National Red Cross Governance Modernization Act of 2007 - 21 pages This shows how ignorant I am. I thought the Red Cross was a private charity, not a quasi-governmental institution. S. 377 - United States-Poland Parliamentary Youth Exchange Program Act of 2007 - 8 pages We are not questioning the benefits of foreign-exchange programs, but why do we need the government to fund and oversee them? H.R. 1129 - To provide for the construction, operation, and maintenance of an arterial road in St. Louis County, Missouri. (Received in Senate from House) - 3 pages Also of note in the Senate was passage of S. Con.Res. 20, a resolution expressing that “it is the sense of Congress that Congress should not take any action that will endanger United States military forces in the field, including the elimination or reduction of funds for troops in the field, as such action with respect to funding would undermine their safety or harm their effectiveness in pursuing their assigned missions.” Instead of such weasel-words, why can’t Congress have authorized the use of funds for the withdrawal of American troops in a safe manner? No one questions that the troops should be safe, but Congress is defying the will of the American people by affirming their “assigned missions” rather than changing their mission. HOUSE The House passed the following: H.R. 1068 - To amend the High-Performance Computing Act of 1991 - 9 pages H.R. 1126 - To reauthorize the Steel and Aluminum Energy Conservation and Technology Competitiveness Act of 1988 - 3 pages This looks like $60 million in corporate welfare over the next five years. H.R. 85 - Energy Technology Transfer Act - 10 pages Issuing grants to schools, non-profits, and local governments to create “Advanced Energy Technology Transfer Centers.” H.R. 1003-To amend the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998 to reauthorize the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy - 4 pages H.R. 478 -To designate the Federal building and United States courthouse located at 101 Barr Street in Lexington, Kentucky, as the "Scott Reed Federal Building and United States Courthouse" H.R. 429 - To designate the United States courthouse located at 225 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, New York, as the "Hugh L. Carey United States Courthouse" H.R. 430 - To designate the United States bankruptcy courthouse located at 271 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, New York, as the "Conrad Duberstein United States Bankruptcy Courthouse" H.R. 1045 - To designate the Federal building located at 210 Walnut Street in Des Moines, Iowa, as the "Neal Smith Federal Building" These building designation bills are usually 3 pages in the Government Printing Office’s PDF display, though in essence they are just one page each. The following bills seem, on the whole, to be victories for open, accountable government: H.R. 1309 - The Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 2007 – 20 pages H.R. 1255 - Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007 - 8 pages H.R. 1254 - Presidential Library Donation Reform Act - 8 pages H.R. 985 - Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act - 36 pages H.R. 1362 - Accountability in Contracting Act - 20 pages As you know, we successfully campaigned for the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act in the House, but the battle is not over. Now is the time to tell the Senate to pass it as well. CONCLUSION The House passed 13 bills totaling about 132 pages, including five totaling 72 pages that may go a long way toward more open and accountable government. Four of those bills, however, were rushed through in one day, which is a sign that the Reps. didn’t read them before voting for them. If the bill has a nice-sounding title, I think members of Congress are inclined to vote for it regardless of its contents. That is not a good sign. The Senate passed 5 bills totaling 308 pages, with S.4 alone accounting for 258 pages. The Read the Bills Act would force members of Congress to read what they vote for, and will give the public 7 days to read the bills and contact Congress with their opinions. This will provide incentives to write fewer and smaller bills, and will prevent Congress from rushing things through. You can tell Congress to pass the Read the Bills Act by clicking here. publishes this feature on weeks when Congress is in session. To see how your represenatives voted on particular bills, or to read the bills themselves, go here for the House and here for the Senate. You may also keep abreast of day-to-day activities in Congress by going to the Congressional Record Main Page and click for recent issues of the Daily Digest.
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