Senate GOP Killed Most Democratic Bills in First Half of 2006
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By Bob Geiger
There have been many joyous moments in the 109th Congress when Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has made Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) cry out like a colicky infant. When Reid and Senate Democrats offered many amendments to last summer's Homeland Security funding bill -- to give a little less money to Halliburton and more to actually securing the country's infrastructure -- Frist was aghast.
“I’m offended by my colleagues’ willingness to stage this partisan stunt in an effort to draw attention away from the issues that matter most to Americans," whined the Tennessee Republican about one bill in particular that he didn't care for. "This amendment is frivolous, groundless and reflects the Democrats’ willingness to value partisan politics over sound public policy."
But that was nothing compared to the GOP wailing in November of 2005 when Reid used a procedural move to shut down the Senate entirely to draw attention to GOP stalling on a true investigation into rigged Iraq-war intelligence.
"The United States Senate has been hijacked by the Democratic leadership," Frist cried. "Never have I been slapped in the face with such an affront to the leadership of this grand institution. From now on, for the next year and a half, I can't trust Senator Reid."
"It's clear from this political stunt that Senate Democrats will go to extraordinary and unprecedented measures to obstruct the business of the American people," blubbered Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), commiserating with Frist at the time.
Republicans also did a lot of such whining about "partisanship" on the part of Reid and leading Democrats every time Democratic Senators stood up for their beliefs in 2005. Of course, by the time the year ended, we discovered that, despite lamenting the divisive atmosphere in the Senate and loud public claims of trying to "reach across the aisle," Senate Republicans had killed at least three-quarters of all legislation sponsored by Democrats -- with an untold number of initiatives simply dying a quiet, painful death in GOP-controlled committees.
And, with just weeks to go before the August 7 summer adjournment, an analysis of the 203 roll call votes taken in the Senate through July 13, reveals a Republican-dominated body that, far from practicing what they preach and extending a hand of cooperation, went out of their way to scuttle almost every amendment and bill sponsored by Democratic senators.
Starting with the 203 Senate roll call votes made through mid-July and removing House bills and presidential nominations -- having not been directly authored by either party -- we are left with 165 votes attributable to either party. Of those, 73 were what I called "actionable" for or against Democrats, in the form of bills either sponsored by a Democrat or measures in which an attempt is made to table (kill) one of their bills or in which a cloture motion is invoked.
An analysis of those 73 votes shows that, similar to what we have seen during Frist's entire tenure as majority leader, 54, or almost 75 percent, of those were rejected by the Republican-dominated body. Democrats have been able to scrape together a handful of Republican votes to pass just 18 pieces of legislation so far this year.
If we pull out the Democratic amendments allowed to pass that were decided by unanimous votes, like 99-0 or 98-0 -- crowd-pleasers that nobody would vote against, such as Joe Biden's June 15 measure saying we aren't comfortable with Iran developing nuclear weapons -- Republicans stopped almost 80 percent of all measures from the other side of the aisle.
So what types of legislation were so onerous that Republicans killed them on the Senate floor? (Other than the fact that the bills were sponsored by Democrats.)
Well, of course, there was S.Amdt. 4322, Ted Kennedy's (D-MA) umpteenth attempt at raising the minimum wage, that went down to defeat once again, along with the Massachusetts Senator's S.Amdt. 3028 to restore Bush-administration cuts for vocational education and increase the maximum Pell Grant.
Hillary Clinton (D-NY) had two major pieces of legislation related to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) scuttled. S.Amdt. 4563 would have established FEMA as an independent agency and eliminated the bonehead move by Team Bush in which they made it subordinate to the Department of Homeland Security. Clinton's S.Amdt. 2716 pushed for a Congressional commission to scrutinize the federal screw-up in Hurricane Katrina response -- and every single Republican on the floor voted against it.
As if initiatives like that weren’t awful enough for Senate Republicans, Bill Nelson (D-FL) had the temerity to try to provide some breathing room for seniors bewildered by the Byzantine Medicare part D prescription drug program and the GOP shot that down. Jack Reed (D-RI) tried a real longshot and proposed a bill to strengthen the infrastructure of our military -- but tried to pay for it with a repeal of capital gains tax cuts. Only Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) voted with the Democrats on that one.
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) took yet another shot at getting help for emergency first responders with S.Amdt. 3056, which would have provided enhanced interoperable communications equipment so all agencies could communicate with one another in a disaster. Republicans didn’t like that one either. Nor did they care for that radical John Kerry (D-MA) trying to actually support the troops by preventing an increase in TRICARE insurance fees on military retirees.
All of the above were substantive measures by Democrats to make our country better and more secure -- hey, they do have ideas! -- and all were rejected outright by the Republicans, most on party-line votes. Kennedy's attempt to help college students must have given the GOP leadership a real thrill after it went to 50-50, which allowed Senate President Dick Cheney to come in and break the tie.
To Cheney, knocking kids out of college must be almost as thrilling as hearing about someone being tortured.
And even when one examines the Democrat bills that actually managed to make it through committee, get to the floor and pass, some of those got by on a very slim margin and only because of the occasional crossover votes of moderates like Chafee, and the Maine Republicans, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe
One example of that is Jack Reed's S.Amdt. 3074, meant to finally get some degree of funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program -- to help the elderly and disabled heat their homes -- which squeaked by on a 51-49 vote.
And, in examining the votes for all legislation defeated, it’s startling to see exactly how partisan the Republican boycott of Democratic initiatives really is. When all Democratic-sponsored bills killed on the Senate floor are analyzed, we found that the 48 roll call votes lost by an average margin of -- I swear, you're going to think I made this up -- 44 to 55.
With the U.S. Senate currently sitting at 44 Democrats, 55 Republicans and one Independent (Jeffords, of Vermont, who almost always votes with the Democrats), you can see that the votes are consistently straight down party lines.
Nothing found in this analysis is significantly different than we've seen since the Republicans took over the Senate and it shows how high the stakes truly are leading up to November 7. And don’t let anyone tell you that "the Democrats don’t have any ideas." When the Senate is examined on a vote-by-vote basis, you see that being the minority party against the Republicans is a Sisyphean task, but Harry Reid and Company keep plugging away.
And next time a Ralph Nader supporter starts in with the routine about how there's no difference between the major political parties, take a look at Democrats fighting for higher wages, veterans benefits, the environment, heating and education assistance and a more secure national infrastructure -- and then compare that to the Republican agenda of banning gay marriage, legislating nonexistent flag burning, promoting more tax cuts for the wealthy and, yes, keeping medical science from moving forward with stem cell research.
You'll see the difference.
You can reach Bob Geiger at firstname.lastname@example.org