Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Congressional Summary

This is a summary of recent legislation in Congress, from People for the American Way. I find myself wondering, about the 700-mile fence, is it to keep the Mexicans out, or the Americans in? So many of us are already in prison, mostly for non-violent drug offenses, that we may as well just put a fence around the whole country and recognize the ways in which we're all prisoners.

It also took me far too many hours to figure out that the Foley sex scandal was probably leaked by Republican operatives, as a way to divert public attention from these legislative outrages, more bloody news from Iraq and Afghanistan, the National Intelligence Estimate, the July 2001 Tenet briefing of Rice regarding Osama bin Laden, and other major stories that broke last week.


The Military Commissions Act of 2006 – License to Torture?
S. 3930 PASSED
After a much-publicized disagreement between some prominent Senate Republicans and the White House over the president’s proposed bill on military detainees, the so-called “mavericks” on the Senate Armed Services Committee capitulated and allowed passage of a bill – The Military Commissions Act of 2006 (S. 3930) – that undermines Sixth Amendment rights granting the accused access to the prosecutorial evidence, leaves the Bush administration wide latitude in interpreting Geneva Convention mandates, and abandons Habeas Corpus rights that date back to the Magna Carta. This unconstitutional legislation comes as a response to Supreme Court decisions rebuking the Bush administration’s detainee and military tribunal policies, and legitimizes the un-American practices of indefinite detentions and the harsh mistreatment of detainees, more characteristic of oppressive dictatorships than a free society. The House had already passed similar legislation granting President Bush his requested expansion of executive power.

The Cheney-Frist Warrantless Wiretap Whitewash
Last month, Vice President Cheney negotiated a bill with Senator Arlen Specter that would legitimize the NSA’s illegal domestic spying program by gutting FISA and authorizing electronic surveillance in violation of Fourth Amendment probable cause requirements. The bill faced opposition from a small number of Republicans who, after the bill was adopted by Majority Leader Frist and subjected to changes that actually made it worse, decided to support the bill. Sen. Frist had threatened to attach S. 3931 to the detainee bill in order to increase its chance of passage, but that disaster was averted and the Senate failed to take any action on the bill. Thank you for your activism – your phone calls and letters over the last few months denied this bill the support it needed to pass and Frist chose not to bring it to a vote.

Unprecedented Restrictions on Efforts to Uphold Civil Rights and Liberties
H.R. 2679 Passes House, Not Brought Up by Senate
The House of Representatives last week passed H.R. 2679, the so-called “Public Expression of Religion Act.” The legislation would make it harder for Americans to challenge religious coercion and stand up for their First Amendment rights in court by limiting damages that could be awarded to plaintiffs who prove their rights have been violated. This “punish the victim” bill has not been taken up by the Senate, but it’s indicative of the flood of right-wing legislation that has been pouring out of the House for the last several years.


Reprehensible Voter Disenfranchisement Bill
H.R. 4844 Passes House, Not Brought Up by Senate
Right-wing members of the House continued their assault on voting rights by passing H.R. 4844, “The Federal Election Integrity Act.” This bill, aimed at partisan advantage in future elections, would place extremely onerous voter identification requirements on voters, forcing them to obtain ID’s that prove their citizenship. Disguised as a measure to combat voter massive fraud that simply does not exist, it would disenfranchise possibly hundreds of thousands of primarily elderly, poor, minority, disabled and student voters. We feared congressional leaders would try to sneak this through the Senate by attaching it to a must-pass appropriations bill for either Homeland Security or Defense, but that did not happen – in part because of the action taken by activists like you.


Comprehensive Immigration Reform Still Not a Priority
Senate Commits to Building Massive Fence, Does Not Take Up Anti-immigrant House Bills
The House passed several harsh enforcement-only immigration measures this session – measures that would do nothing to achieve comprehensive reform. The Senate did not take these anti-immigrant bills up, but House leaders were threatening to insert provisions of these bills into the must-pass Homeland Security and Defense appropriations bills. Luckily, these harmful provisions that would allow for the indefinite detention of undocumented immigrants and encourage local law enforcement to enforce immigration policies (wasting vital resources and hindering law enforcement efforts in immigrant communities) were not included in the final appropriations conference reports, but the Senate did approve funding for a massive border fence. The fence’s construction will cost taxpayers a fortune and will not solve the problems that have led to a broken immigration system. Effective reform must take economic and human realities into account and address the situation of hardworking immigrants living here now.


Women’s Health Expendable for Political Gain
S. 403, the “Child Custody Protection Act” Passes House, Fails to Gain Cloture in Senate
Last week, the House recycled its intrusive Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (CIANA), and passed it again, this time with minor modifications and under the guise of the Child Custody Protection Act (CCPA). Both CIANA and CCPA make criminals out of adults, such as grandparents or religious counselors, who accompany minors across state lines for the purpose of obtaining a legal abortion outside of the parental consent or notification laws of their home states. This type of legislation abandons young women who choose not to involve a parent or guardian, often because they feel they cannot do so for reasons of family violence or a fear of being forced to leave home. Congressional leaders no doubt chose to bring it up to stoke the passions of their extreme right-wing base a month out from the elections.


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