Senate clarifies detainee language

There is some rare good news out of Washington, even rarer when it deals with civil liberties. In a vote of 99 to 1, the United States Senate adopted new detainee language in the defense authorization bill:

The U.S. Senate on Thursday night struck a bipartisan deal that modified controversial language in a major defense policy bill which had drawn strong opposition from critics in both parties, who charged it would allow the indefinite detention of American citizens by the military.

The 99-1 vote came after several days of heated debate on the Senate floor over whether this defense bill really changed how U.S. citizens accused of supporting terrorists would be treated, or if critics were right that U.S. citizens could be held by the military indefinitely without the filing of formal charges.

Compromise language developed in part by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was ultimately approved, which read as follows:

“Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens or lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.”

The compromise won almost unanimous support, as Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-MI) said he would fight to protect that language in upcoming House-Senate negotiations; it was unclear whether the language would be accepted by the White House, which has threatened to veto the entire defense bill.

So much for the Great Writ of Habeas Corpus

The United States Senate voted yesterday to keep language in a defense authorization bill that would allow the federal government to indefinately detain American citizens without formal charges based on merely on the suspicion that they may be terrorists. Apparently, the writ of Habeau Corpus doesn’t mean what it used to:

The Senate soundly defeated a move to strip out controversial language requiring mandatory detention of some terror suspects, voting it down 61 to 37 and escalating a fight with the Obama administration over the future course of the war on terror.

The proposed amendment to the massive National Defense Authorization Act would require the FBI and other civilian law enforcement agencies to transfer al-Qaida suspects arrested overseas on charges of planning or carrying out a terror attack into military custody. It wouldn’t apply to American citizens, but the change has drawn strong opposition from civil rights groups and the White House, which has promised to veto the defense bill if that language was included.

The provision has also split the Democratic Party, triggering an unusual fight between the White House and Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, who co-wrote the measure and took to the floor earlier on Tuesday to defend the amendment. Levin has also found himself in the cross hairs of powerful Democrats like Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California. Both lawmakers urged their colleagues to strip the detainee language out of the bill and accused Levin of overstepping his jurisdiction.

But Levin’s biggest Democratic opponent was Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who sponsored an amendment designed to remove the detainee language.

Dan Liljenquist likely to make a primary bid against Orrin Hatch

Even though Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) decided against a primary challenge, it doesn’t mean that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is out of the woods. It looks as though State Sen. Dan Liljenquist will make a run against Hatch, according to a recent interview:

“God bless Orrin Hatch for his service to the state,” he said in the interview. “But we have a different philosophy on what the federal government should and should not do.”

Previewing what would likely be a line of attack against Hatch in a campaign, Liljenquist said Hatch was “advocating in the early nineties for the individual mandate, that the federal government role was to drive people into insurance products.”

“To me, I’m looking for leadership. And I haven’t seen it,” he said.
Liljenquist, who studied at Brigham Young University and later went to law school at the University of Chicago, said entitlement reform would “absolutely” play a major role in his campaign if he runs.

Liljenquist has endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for president.

“In the state of Utah, Romney is very well respected for what he did on the Olympics,” he said.

Liljenquist said he and his wife will make a decision about getting in the race by the end of the month and an announcement will be made by early next year.

The biggest consideration is how a campaign will affect his six kids, he said.

Senate authorizes a trade war

Despite warnings from China that passage of protectionist legislation could result in a trade war, the United States Senate voted yesterday to approve what is essentially our generation’s Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act:

The Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would put greater U.S. pressure on China and other countries to allow their currency to appreciate, giving the green light to a measure that supporters say would create jobs but that both the White House and House Republican leaders have warned could lead to a trade war.

The chamber approved the measure on a bipartisan 63-to-35 vote. Voting “yes” were 46 members of the Senate Democratic caucus, as well as 17 Republicans. Voting “no” were 30 Republicans and five members who caucus with Democrats.
The measure would require the U.S. Treasury Department to impose retaliatory tariffs on countries found to have “misaligned” currency. Treasury routinely assesses the practices of China and other countries but has declined to conclude that China’s valuation of the yuan is the result of manipulation. Economists estimate that the yuan is undervalued by as much as 15 to 38.5 percent.

Senate kills Obama’s jobs gimmick

An altered version of President Barack Obama’s latest stimulus gimmick, what he calls a “jobs plan,” failed to gain the 60 votes required in the Senate to bring it to final passage yesterday evening and is essentially dead — at least as one package:

President Obama received a slap from members of his own party Tuesday as the Senate voted 51-48 to block his $447 billion jobs package.

The jobs plan, which the president has spent much of the last month touting on a cross-country tour, fell well short of the 60 votes it needed to proceed.

The only Democrats to vote against the measure were Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Jon Tester (Mont.), but a number of other centrists in the party indicated they would vote against the package even though they supported launching a debate on the measure.

All of the Republicans present on Tuesday voted against the motion.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid switched his vote so he can, under Senate rules, bring the bill up for a vote some time in the future. But again, the bill as a single package is dead. Both House and Senate Republicans have been open to certain portions of the proposal and the White House has signaled that they’re open to passing it in pieces.

We’ll no doubt hear President Obama and his party claim that Republicans are blocking these historically bipartisan proposals, but that’s disingenuous, notes the AP:

He is waging a campaign, one in which nuance and context and competing responses don’t always fit in if they don’t help make the case.

Harry Reid goes “nuclear”

Harry Reid’s use of the “nuclear option” in the Senate is bound to rankle many Republican voters and commentators for the next few days, and not without cause either.  Of course, this is a great opportunity to point out how the being the party in power changes perspectives completely.  For example, The Hill points this out.

Republicans had considered using Reid’s maneuver, dubbed the “nuclear option,” in 2005 to change Senate rules to prohibit the filibuster of judicial nominees. Democrats decried the plan under consideration by then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) as a bomb that would decimate Senate traditions.

Oh how the hypocrisy abounds.

You see, when one side considers it, it’s an assault on Senate tradition…until they’re the majority party anyways.  It’s not just Senate rules that are affected either.

For example, recall President Clinton’s decision to get involved in military action in Kosovo and contrast it with President Bush’s decision to get involved in military action in Iraq.  During Clinton’s time, there were then members of Congress banging their fists on the table (metaphorically) and saying we shouldn’t take action without the consent and support of the United Nations, just as when President Bush pushed for military action in Iraq.  The difference?  In Clinton’s time, it was the Republicans making those claims!

In all fairness to the GOP, they weren’t alone in the hypocrisy.  Democrats were absolute hawks on Kosovo, yet were trotting out the Republican’s talking points on Kosovo and using them for Iraq.  Of course, we find a lot of that flip flopped again with Libya.  Ah, aren’t cycles if hypocrisy fun?

A promising CNN poll

Congress is pretty screwed up.  One of the problems through the years has been that, historically, despite deep dissatisfaction with Congress as a whole, most folks think their congressman or woman is doing a great job.  Since this trend spans the nation, we end up with more or less the same jokers in Washington each time.  However, a poll by CNN is showing how that particular trend may be coming to a screeching halt.

Only 41 percent of people questioned say the lawmaker in their district in the U.S. House of Representatives deserves to be re-elected – the first time ever in CNN polling that that figure has dropped below 50 percent. Forty-nine percent say their representative doesn’t deserve to be re-elected in 2012. And with ten percent unsure, it’s the first time that a majority has indicated that they would boot their representative out of office if they had the chance today.

“That 41 percent, in the polling world, is an amazing figure. Throughout the past two decades, in good times and bad, Americans have always liked their own member of Congress despite abysmal ratings for Congress in general,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Now anti-incumbent sentiment is so strong that most Americans are no longer willing to give their own representative the benefit of the doubt.  If that holds up, it could be an early warning of an electorate that is angrier than any time in living memory.”

As for all members of Congress, the poll indicates only a quarter of the public says most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected.

Debt deal passes the House

In case your head has been buried in the sand this evening, you know that the debt deal struck between the White House and leaders from both parties in Congress cleared the House of Representatives by a vote of 269 to 161. The vote was made even more surreal when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who was the target of an assassination attempt during a constituent even earlier this year, showed up to cast a vote in favor of the deal.

The debt plan now moves over to the Senate where it is expected to clear tomorrow, though several conservatives, including Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Mike Lee (R-UT), are expected to vote against it.

We’ll have more on the deal in tomorrow.

[UPDATE] In case you’re wondering, Republicans voted 174 to 66 on the bill and Democrats were split down the middle, 95 to 95.

Cut, Cap and Balance passes the House

While House Republicans fell short of the votes needed to pass the Balanced Budget Amendment (the Constitution requires 2/3 to pass an amendment), they did manage to pass the core of the plan by a vote of 234 to 190:

House Republicans on Tuesday approved an ambitious but legislatively ill-fated plan to enact deep spending restraints that could clear the decks for a compromise over the debt limit.

The so-called “cut, cap and balance” measure passed on a party-line vote, 234-190, as nine Republicans and five Democrats defected. Democrats excoriated the GOP for advancing the bill, which the White House has threatened to veto.
House Republicans reacted hesitantly to the “Gang of Six” plan, saying they had yet to see the details and were focused on their own proposal, which conditions a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt ceiling on $111 billion in immediate cuts, an annual cap on spending, and congressional passage of a balanced-budget amendment.

Even as the GOP brought the “cut, cap and balance” legislation to the floor, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said party leaders in the lower chamber had begun discussions over a “Plan B” to increase the debt ceiling by the Treasury Department’s Aug. 2 deadline if a broad agreement wasn’t possible.

You can view the roll call vote here.

“Cut, Cap and Balance” had become a rallying point for conservatives during the stalemate over the debt ceiling. And while it may have been better than other alternatives, it still didn’t deal with the very real issues that are causing the problem, as noted by Peter Suderman over at Reason:

Senate reverses course, repeals ethanol subsidies

Just two days removed from a failed vote to repeal ethanol subsidies and protectionist tariffs for the rent-seeking ethanol industry, the Senate wound up passing the measure in a 73 to 27 vote:

The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to eliminate billions of dollars in support for the U.S. ethanol industry, sending a strong message that the era of big taxpayer support for biofuels is ending.

The 73-27 vote may ultimately be symbolic since the White House has vowed not to repeal ethanol subsidies fully and the bill the repeal language is attached to is not expected to make it into law. But it underscores the growing desperation to find savings in a budget crisis that is forcing both sides of the aisle to consider sacrificing once-sacred government programs.
The increasingly hostile attitude toward federal ethanol support has added fuel to a steep fall this week in the price of corn, from which most U.S. ethanol is made.

The Senate vote shows the odds are diminishing that the 45-cent-a-gallon subsidy the government gives refiners and the 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol — both targeted in Thursday’s vote — will be extended at current rates beyond their scheduled expiration at the end of this year.

Repeal was backed by fiscal conservatives like Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Jim DeMint (R-SC) and hardcore liberals like Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the chamber’s only professed socialist.

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