As U.S. troops marched on Baghdad, moderate and liberal senators were giving conservatives a headache in budget negotiations. The Senate overrode the conservative leadership of the budget committee by passing an amendment that would almost certainly prevent an up-or-down vote on ANWR drilling for the next two years-virtually ensuring America’s continued dependency on Middle Eastern oil whose sales will fund the spread of Islamic fanaticism. And although Senators rejected the two attempts to shrink or eliminate President Bush’s tax cuts listed below, it ultimately halved the amount set aside for tax relief in the 2004 budget (see page 5 and next week’s rollcalls), and it did so by just one vote.
Senate Blocks Filibuster-Proof Vote on ANWR
On March 19, by a vote of 52 to 48, the Senate approved an amendment by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) to prevent consideration of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in a fast-track budget reconciliation bill.
The amendment will prevent the Senate from considering ANWR drilling as part of the budget process. Under Senate rules, if it were considered as part of the budget process, a filibuster could not be used to block it.
Republicans had hoped to do this by adding extra funds to the budget from the government’s sale or lease of ANWR drilling rights (for an explanation of the budget reconciliation process, see HUMAN EVENTS, January 27, page 5).
The amendment says, “[N]o, we will not have drilling in this pristine area,” Boxer said. Ironically, she was referring to the barren tundra that makes up most of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“There is not enough oil in it to make a whit of difference,” she claimed, relying on the speculation of environmental activists.
Boxer also claimed to have photographs demonstrating robust wildlife activity in the drilling area. But Sen. Ted Stevens (R.-Alaska) insisted the pictures were taken at a time of year when oil exploration cannot be done anyway, and that exploration does not harm local species anyway.
“Those photographs we have seen of caribou, the caribou are the porcupine herd-they come up from Canada” said Stevens. “They come up and they calve in this area in the summertime. Oil and gas exploration does not take place in the summertime. The tundra is soft. We wait until it is frozen and we build ice roads across. The caribou are not there when the oil and gas exploration takes place.”
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D.-Conn.) was happy to support the Boxer amendment, since he is one of its main beneficiaries. Because Boxer’s amendment forces any debate on ANWR into the normal Senate rules, where 41 senators can stage a filibuster and block a vote, 2004 presidential candidate Lieberman will have a chance to use ANWR drilling to showboat for the environmental movement if Republicans try to move on the issue.
“Is it worth desecrating…this magnificent part of America for oil, 6 months’ worth of oil?” asked Lieberman. “To ruin the natural beauty of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge forever for six months’ worth of oil which will reduce our dependency on foreign oil by the year 2020-if, God forbid, drilling is allowed-from 62% to 60%?”
Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.), also a presidential candidate, has joined Lieberman in promising to filibuster any bill that includes ANWR drilling.
Stevens, who sees ANWR drilling as an economic necessity for his state, reminded senators of similar arguments made years ago before the Alaska pipeline was built. “I heard all of these arguments about caribou and I saw the beautiful pictures at the time the oil pipeline amendment was on the floor to authorize the construction” he said. “We heard claims that the action in building that pipeline would destroy the caribou, that they would suffer all sorts of harm. As a matter of fact, that is a myth. The caribou herd in the vicinity of the oil pipeline is almost six times larger than it was at the time the pipeline was built. Oil and gas activity does not harm the caribou at all. There is no proof whatsoever it ever harmed the caribou.”
The vote was very close, with five Democrats crossing over to support drilling. These included both Louisiana senators-since drilling will help the oil industry in their state-and both Hawaiian senators-since they have a deal with the Alaska senators to vote together on all federal projects in Alaska and Hawaii.
In the meantime, eight Republicans broke ranks, including freshman Sen. Norm Coleman (R.-Minn.), maverick Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), liberal senators from New England, Gordon Smith (R.-Ore.) and a pair of Midwestern social conservatives.
A “yes” vote was a vote for the Boxer amendment, to prevent the opening of ANWR through a filibuster-proof vote in the budget resolution. A “no” vote was a vote against the amendment.
REPUBLICANS FOR (8): Chafee, Coleman, Collins, DeWine, Fitzgerald, McCain, Smith, and Snowe.
DEMOCRATS FOR (43): Baucus, Bayh, Biden, Bingaman, Boxer, Byrd, Cantwell, Carper, Clinton, Conrad, Corzine, Daschle, Dayton, Dodd, Dorgan, Durbin, Edwards, Feingold, Feinstein, Graham (Fla.), Harkin, Hollings, Johnson, Kennedy, Kerry, Kohl, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Lincoln, Mikulski, Murray, Nelson (Fla.), Nelson (Neb.), Pryor, Reed (R.I.), Reid (Nev.), Rockefeller, Sarbanes, Schumer, Stabenow, and Wyden.
INDEPENDENT FOR (1): Jeffords.
REPUBLICANS AGAINST (43): Alexander, Allard, Allen, Bennett, Bond, Brownback, Bunning, Burns, Campbell, Chambliss, Cochran, Cornyn, Craig, Crapo, Dole, Domenici, Ensign, Enzi, Frist, Graham (S.C.), Grassley, Gregg, Hagel, Hatch, Hutchison, Inhofe, Kyl, Lott, Lugar, McConnell, Murkowski, Nickles, Roberts, Santorum, Sessions, Shelby, Specter, Stevens, Sununu, Talent, Thomas, Voinovich, and Warner.
DEMOCRATS AGAINST (5): Akaka, Breaux, Inouye, Landrieu, and Miller.
Senate Kills Amendment to Cancel Tax Cuts
On March 19, by a vote of 57-42, the Senate voted to table (kill) an amendment to “redirect $1.214 trillion in revenues that would have been lost by implementing the President’s entire tax cut agenda” into a reserve fund to “strengthen the Social Security trust funds over the long-term.”
The amendment, proposed by Sen. Kent Conrad (D.-N.D.), was an anti-tax-cut maneuver typical of moderate Democrats. As of late, so-called “fiscally conservative” Democrats have proposed fighting deficits not by cutting spending but by continuing to soak Americans with high taxes.
Conrad’s purported use for the money-to strengthen the so-called “Social Security trust fund”-is actually a ruse. The Social Security “trust fund” is in reality a repository for trillions of dollars in debt that the government owes itself, and therefore exists only on paper.
Conrad’s amendment, had it succeeded, would have become part of the budget resolution for fiscal 2004 (S. Con. Res. 23). The budget plan is not actually a law, but it sets guidelines for the spending bills that are considered later in the year.
Sen. John Sununu (R.-N.H.) ribbed Conrad, reminding him of his failure as Senate Democratic budget chairman to produce a 2003 budget. Conrad’s inability to unite his fractious Democratic caucus behind a budget plan led to long delays in passing the 2003 spending bills. “Last year, we failed to pass a budget in the Senate and we paid for it,” said Sununu. “We paid for it because as a result we could not get the work of the country done. We ended up completing that work, not in September, October, November, or December of last year, but in January of this year. That is simply wrong. That is why we need a budget.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) argued that Americans should not be punished with higher taxes because lawmakers cannot contain their spending habits.
“Many amendments will be offered and have already been offered that reduce the amount of the President’s growth package,” said Cornyn. “Many of those who want to cut tax relief want to turn around and spend what would have been tax relief on bigger government. Rather than allow American taxpayers to choose how they want to spend their hard-earned money, those who would seek to cut tax relief and increase spending want to choose for the American people how that money should be spent and grow government ever larger.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.), meanwhile, decried the GOP budget plan and the President’s tax plan, using the same tired class-war rhetoric that has failed the Democrats in the last two election cycles.
“We may be minutes away from a war where thousands of American lives are at risk,” he said. “We may be faced with terrible news for families across America and death in Iraq to innocent Iraqis, but we can still call for a tax cut for the wealthiest people in America.”
A “yes” vote was a vote to table or kill the Conrad amendment, or, in essence, to preserve the opportunity for the President’s full tax cut to be enacted. A “no” vote was a vote in support of the amendment, which would have canceled much of President Bush’s 2001 tax cut and channeled the money into the fictitious “Social Security trust fund.”
REPUBLICANS FOR (51): Alexander, Allard, Allen, Bennett, Bond, Brownback, Bunning, Burns, Campbell, Chafee, Chambliss, Cochran, Coleman, Collins, Cornyn, Craig, Crapo, DeWine, Dole, Domenici, Ensign, Enzi, Fitzgerald, Frist, Graham (S.C.), Grassley, Gregg, Hagel, Hatch, Hutchison, Inhofe, Kyl, Lott, Lugar, McCain, McConnell, Murkowski, Nickles, Roberts, Santorum, Sessions, Shelby, Smith, Snowe, Specter, Stevens, Sununu, Talent, Thomas, Voinovich, and Warner.
DEMOCRATS FOR (6): Baucus, Bayh, Breaux, Dayton, Miller, Nelson (Neb.).
REPUBLICANS AGAINST (0)
DEMOCRATS AGAINST (41): Akaka, Biden, Bingaman, Boxer, Byrd, Cantwell, Carper, Clinton, Conrad, Corzine, Daschle, Dodd, Dorgan, Durbin, Feingold, Feinstein, Graham (Fla.), Harkin, Hollings, Inouye, Johnson, Kennedy, Kerry, Kohl, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Lincoln, Mikulski, Murray, Nelson (Fla.), Pryor, Reed (R.I.), Reid (Nev.), Rockefeller, Sarbanes, Schumer, Stabenow, and Wyden.
INDEPENDENT AGAINST (1): Jeffords.
NOT VOTING (1): Edwards.
Senate Rejects Hollings Effort to Roll Back Tax Cut
On March 21, by a vote of 77 to 22, the Senate defeated an amendment whose stated purpose in the Congressional Record was “to eliminate tax cuts.”
The amendment, proposed by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D.-S.C.), would have simply excised President Bush’s proposed tax cuts from the budget blueprint for 2004 (S. Con. Res. 23), This would have meant Congress would pass no stimulus package whatsoever this year. The amendment drew little support, except from hard-core left-wingers.
Hollings made a raucous and lengthy floor speech for his amendment, during which he invoked Mickey Mouse, Bill Gates, and several other topics of dubious relevance.
“We want everybody to disregard the fact that this day, this week, this year, this budget, we will be spending Social Security trust funds in order to afford a tax cut,” he said-even though the 2004 budget will also set new records in wasteful government spending.
“That is all it is. It is an absolute sham. They know it, and I know it. . . . They should be ashamed to come here asking for tax reform under the cover of stimulus. No one believes the relief of taxes on dividends will stimulate the economy, or the estate tax will stimulate the economy,” he said, disagreeing with several top economists who actually believe just that.
“Those with estates and those with dividends, Bill Gates and several other witnesses, have said that is the wrong course to take,” he rambled on. “They know it. I know it. You know it.. . . .What do we need in this Congress right now-a tax cut so we can go to Disney World? That is the charade going on here, a few hours before we commit our troops to freedom in Iraq. We ought to sober up. . . .We are not going to be able to join in these charades. We have to start paying the bills, including paying for the war, and not engage in tax cuts.”
Sen. Don Nickles (R.-Okla.) gave simple reasons for opposing the amendment. “This amendment says there will be no growth package,” he said. “It implies a tax increase in 2011, 2012, and 2013. That means a 10% rate would go to 15%; the child credit that would be $1,000 will fall back to $500; the marriage penalty would be increased.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) explained the simple principles behind effective tax cuts. “The fundamental question in this debate is simple,” he said. “Should we support higher taxes, more Federal spending, and bigger government or should we facilitate economic opportunity and jobs? For me, that is what this debate is all about. Who should spend that money: politicians and bureaucrats or taxpayers? Families or the government? Small business owners on investment and job creation or the federal government? Senior citizens on enhancing their retirement security or the federal government?”
A “yes” vote was a vote for the Hollings amendment, to eliminate tax cuts. A “no” vote was a vote against the amendment.
REPUBLICANS FOR (1): Chafee
DEMOCRATS FOR (20): Akaka, Biden, Boxer, Byrd, Carper, Corzine, Dodd, Durbin, Feingold, Feinstein, Graham (Fla.), Harkin, Hollings, Inouye, Kennedy, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Rockefeller, and Sarbanes.
INDEPENDENT FOR (1): Jeffords.
REPUBLICANS AGAINST (50): Alexander, Allard, Allen, Bennett, Bond, Brownback, Bunning, Burns, Campbell, Chambliss, Cochran, Coleman, Collins, Cornyn, Craig, Crapo, DeWine, Dole, Domenici, Ensign, Enzi, Fitzgerald, Frist, Graham (S.C.), Grassley, Gregg, Hagel, Hatch, Hutchison, Inhofe, Kyl, Lott, Lugar, McCain, McConnell, Murkowski, Nickles, Roberts, Santorum, Sessions, Shelby, Smith, Snowe, Specter, Stevens, Sununu, Talent, Thomas, Voinovich, and Warner.
DEMOCRATS AGAINST (27): Baucus, Bayh, Bingaman, Breaux, Cantwell, Clinton, Conrad, Daschle, Dayton, Dorgan, Edwards, Johnson, Kerry, Kohl, Landrieu, Lieberman, Lincoln, Mikulski, Murray, Nelson (Fla.), Nelson (Neb.), Pryor, Reed (R.I.), Reid (Nev.), Schumer, Stabenow, and Wyden.
NOT VOTING (1): Miller.