“The strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail…and so far it’s working for us.”
— Republican Whip, Senator Trent Lott (Roll Call, 4/18/07)
The 110th Congress has been hard at work. Unfortunately, while Senate Democrats have been working to lead the way, Senate Republicans have been working to stand in the way. Since the beginning of the year, Congressional Republicans have gone to unprecedented lengths to block or delay legislation important to the American people, including: a change of course in Iraq; improvements to the prescription drug program for seniors; implementation of the 9/11 Commission recommendations; funding for intelligence activities; investments in clean renewable energy; ethics reform; labor law reform; assistance for disabled and injured Americans; extension of voting rights, and a minimum wage increase. Meanwhile, President Bush, who refused to veto a single piece of legislation during the first five years of his presidency and promised to foster the spirit of bipartisanship in the 110th Congress, has opposed, threatened to veto, or vetoed dozens and dozens of bills. Obstructionism may be “working” for Senate Republicans, but it is definitely not working for America.
Democrats call upon Senate Republicans to respect the will of the American people and stop wasting the country’s time with procedural games and political posturing. Americans deserve better; Americans demand better, and it’s time – past time – for Republicans to put aside the partisan politics, defy their reputation as the “Grand Obstructionist Party,” and join Democrats in working for change.
Republicans have engaged in unprecedented obstructionism. Senate Republicans have delayed almost every piece of major legislation in the 110th Congress. By repeatedly threatening to filibuster, the GOP has forced 60 cloture votes in the Senate, thereby requiring Democrats to pass legislation, not by a simple majority, but by a super-majority of 60 votes. And we are only in the first session of this Congress! In the two-year term of the 109th Congress — when Democrats were in the minority — the Senate had only 52 cloture votes. To date, the all-time high for cloture votes in a two-year term is 61; at the current rate, Republicans in the 110th Congress are projected to force nearly 120 cloture votes by the end of 2008, which would be record-breaking obstructionism. (McClatchy Newspaper, “Senate tied in knots by filibusters,” 07/20/07; American Enterprise Institute, Ornstein Column, 7/18/07)
Senate Republicans have even delayed the consideration of popular legislation by forcing unnecessary procedural votes. In less than a year, Republicans have forced 21cloture votes on motions to proceed – wasting days of the Senate’s time. As a comparison, in the first sessions, or 12 months, of the 108th and 109th Congresses combined, there were only four cloture votes on motions to proceed. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Numbers: 44, 51, 53, 74, 129, 132, 133, 162, 173, 207, 208, 227, 228, 285, 339, 394, 401, 410, 411, and 414.
In just the last few legislative days, in a classic display of unyielding partisanship, Senate Republicans have summarily blocked or delayed the passage of numerous bipartisan, non-controversial measures.
· Republicans blocked consideration of legislation to expand veterans’ health care and improve treatment of traumatic brain injury. Since the Bush Administration enacted a ban on new Category 8 veterans from enrolling in VA care in 2003, more than one million of these “middle income” veterans (who make as little as $27,790 per year) have been turned away from VA hospitals and clinics. S.1233, as amended, the Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury and Health Programs Improvement Act of 2007 would restore eligibility for VA care to these middle-income veterans and also increase VA’s beneficiary travel reimbursement rate from 11 cents per mile to 28.5 cents per mile. This would provide for the first rate increase in nearly three decades, one that would be particularly helpful to veterans living in rural areas. Additionally, the bill would authorize funds for new veterans’ health facilities as well as for programs and additional centers for readjustment counseling and treatment of veterans with traumatic brain injuries (TBI), which is often called the signature wound of the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of the bill’S.11 Senate co-sponsors, seven are Republicans. (Congressional Record, 12/13/07)
· Republicans blocked a change of course in Iraq. The Iraq War has cost more than 3,800 American lives; seven times that number have been wounded. Over a half a trillion dollars of taxpayer money has been spent. Last November, the American people issued a mandate to Congress and the President to begin seeking a responsible end to the war. Nevertheless, Republicans have repeatedly blocked every attempt to do so, each time threatening to filibuster votes and block debate on the war. Most recently, Senate Republicans refused to allow an up or down vote on a supplemental appropriations bill that would provide $50 billion in emergency funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill would have required the President to begin reducing the number of American forces in Iraq within 30 days, with the goal of withdrawing all troops by December 15, 2008; transitioning the mission of remaining troops to train Iraqi forces and fight al-Qaeda; and engaging in a diplomatic, political, and economic effort to create and sustain stability in the region. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Number: 411, H.R.4156, the Orderly and Responsible Iraq Redeployment Appropriations Act, 2008, cloture motion rejected 53-45, 11/16/07)
· Republicans delayed passage of the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill was the pending business before the Senate for approximately three weeks, and Republican Senators objected on multiple occasions to bringing up bipartisan amendments to the bill that would have expedited passage of the bill. Instead, the insistence of Senate Republicans to debate unrelated issues came at the expense of the Farm Bill and the millions of Americans which count on its passage. The passage of the bill will provide financial certainty for rural America as its enter the upcoming planting season, improved nutrition assistance for low-income families and children, investments that will help spur the use and development of biofuels, and environmental protections across the country. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Number: 412, S.Amdt. 3500 to H.R.2419, the Food and Energy Security Act of 2007, 11/16/07)
· Republicans blocked efforts to invest in our deteriorating transportation infrastructure. As the country approaches some of the busiest travel days of the year, Senate Republicans blocked the consideration of the Conference Report to the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill. The legislation includes critical funding for the reconstruction of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, $41.2 billion to improve and maintain our nation’s aging highway infrastructure, and more than $14.94 billion to help modernize and improve the Federal Aviation Administration. Despite the objections of Senate Republicans, Democrats remain committed to making the necessary investments in our nation’s highway and mass transit systems that will provide and improve those safe and reliable modes of travel. (Congressional Record, 11/15/07)
· Republicans blocked assistance and services to veterans starting small businesses and reservists trying to keep businesses afloat during deployment. Many of our nation’s veterans return home with the dream of owning their own business. And many reservists have struggled to keep their businesses successful due to extended active duty service and decreased earnings. Over five million returning military personnel account for 14 percent of the self-employed in the United States and 14 percent of all small businesses are owned by veterans, making critical contributions to the U.S. economy, supporting job growth and expanding local economies. H.R.2366,the SBA Veterans’ Programs Act of 2007, as amended by the Senate, would enhance assistance to veteran entrepreneurs in three main areas to ensure veterans and reservists have affordable, timely, and comprehensive access to start or grow small businesses. The House approved a bill in June, but Senate Republicans objected when Senate Democrats sought to approve the bill. In spite of Republican obstructionism, Democrats are committed to ensuring that our returning heroes have every tool to succeed and achieve economic security when they return. (Congressional Record, 11/16/07)
· Republicans blocked legislation to help find a cure for ALS. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease,is a fatal, progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects motor nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. More than 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year, and as many as 30,000 Americans currently live with the disease. Most people with ALS die from respiratory failure within two to five years from the time of diagnosis. There is no known cure for the disease. S.1382, the ALS Registry Act, would authorize $75 million for Fiscal Year 2008 to create a registry with the Centers for Disease Control to collect and analyze data on ALS, which is urgently needed for research, disease management, and the development of standards of care. A national ALS registry would also promote a better understanding of the disease, help to determine its causes, and significantly enhance the nation’s efforts to find a treatment and cure. S.1382 was passed out of committee and has 67 bipartisan co-sponsors, but Senate Republicans have blocked its final passage. (Congressional Record, 12/12/07)
· Republicans blocked bipartisan legislation that would ensure better media access for the hearing-impaired. Although television broadcasters have been required to provide captioning since 1996, many stations around the country have failed to extend this service, claiming the requirements represent an undue burden because there is a shortage of close captioners. Whatever the merits of these claims, the result has been that 20 million deaf and hard of hearing Americans have been left without access to news, weather, emergency information, and entertainment programming. To address this problem, S.675, the Realtime Writers Act, would create a competitive grant program to train close captioners and help ensure that deaf and hard of hearing Americans are provided equal access to television programming. Despite the fact that this bill has no real opposition on the merits, and the fact that it is co-sponsored by four Republicans, Senate Republicans refused to compromise their “block everything” strategy and prevented expedited passage of this important measure. (Congressional Record, 12/13/07)
· Republicans blocked legislation to hasten discovery of better treatments and cures for paralysis. Currently, paralysis research is performed across multiple disciplines with no effective means of coordination and collaboration. Time, effort and valuable research dollars are used inefficiently because of this problem, and families affected by paralysis are often unaware of critical research results, information about clinical trials, and best practices. S.1183, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, would facilitate programs to improve the long-term health status of persons with paralysis and other disabilities by improving access to services, providing information and support to caregivers and their families, the development of assistive technology, employment assistance, and health promotion. The bill passed out of committee by voice vote, but Republican Senators have blocked its final passage. (Congressional Record, 12/13/07)
· Republicans blocked legislation that would help bring the murderers of the civil rights era to justice. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there are nearly 100 unsolved homicide cases from the civil rights period. H.R.923, the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007, would authorize funds for the Department of Justice to hire special investigators to solve the civil-rights murder cases that occurred before 1970. Although the bill overwhelmingly passed the House on a 422-2 vote, and has 16 co-sponsors in the Senate, five of whom are Republicans, Senate Republicans objected to an expedited passage of this otherwise non-controversial legislation, legislation that would go a long way in healing the wounds of that violent, but pivotal period in American history. (Congressional Record, 12/13/07)
Senate Republicans have even created hurdles for pieces of legislation that have bipartisan, super-majority support and that ultimately passed by wide margins. These delaying tactics have resulted in more than 360 hours, or 30 additional days, of debate. Examples include:
- The Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007/ Improving America’s Security Act of 2007, for which the cloture motion on the motion to proceed was agreed to on a 97 to 0 vote and the cloture motion on the substitute amendment was agreed to on a 69 to 26 vote. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Numbers: 53 and 69) The Senate later passed the bill 60 to 38, and when it came back from conference with the House, the Senate enacted final passage on a 85-8 vote. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Numbers: 73 and 204).
- The CLEAN Energy Act of 2007, for which the cloture motion on the motion to proceed was agreed to on a 91 to 0 vote. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Number: 208, 6/11/07) The Senate later passed the measure on a 65 to 27 vote. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Number: 226)
- The Water Resources Development Act of 2007, for which the cloture motion on the motion to proceed was agreed to on a 89 to 7 vote. The Senate followed up and passed the measure on a 91 to 4 vote and the subsequent conference report on a 81 to 12 vote. When the President vetoed the legislation on November 2, the bill had such strong support that the House and Senate swiftly and overwhelmingly overrode the veto and enacted the bill into law, on a 79 to 14 vote. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Numbers: 162, 170, 347, and 406)
- The Court Security Improvement Act of 2007, for which the cloture motion on the motion to proceed was agreed to on a 93 to 3 vote. The Senate later passed the measure on a 97 to 0 vote. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Numbers: 133 and 135)
- The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization (CHIP), for which the cloture motion on the motion to proceed was agreed to 80 to 0. The bill later passed 68 to 31 in the Senate. When the House version of the bill was returned to the Senate, the cloture motion on the motion to concur with the House version was agreed to 69 to 30 and the motion to concur was agreed to 67 to 29. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Numbers: 285, 307, 352, 353)
- The Department of Defense Authorization Bill, for which the cloture motion on the substitute amendment was agreed to 89 to 6. The bill later passed the Senate on an overwhelming 92 to 3 vote. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Numbers: 357 and 359]
- The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, for which the cloture motion on the motion to concur with the House amendment was agreed to 80 to 17 and the motion to concur was agreed to 83 to 14. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Numbers: 293 and 294.)
- The Food and Drug Administration Revitalization Act, for which the cloture motion on the substitute amendment that became the basis for the bill was agreed to 82 to 8. The bill later passed the Senate 93 to 1. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Numbers: 152 and 157)
- The 2007 Continuing Resolution, for which the cloture motion was agreed to 71 to 26. The Senate then adopted to the resolution 81 to 5. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Numbers: 46 and 48)
- The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, for which the cloture motion was agreed to 88 to 8. The Senate later passed the bill as a stand-alone measure 94 to 3. The bill was later passed as part of other measures and was eventually signed by the President into law. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Numbers: 39 and 42)
By refusing to cross party lines, Senate Republicans have repeatedly blocked votes on measures that are supported overwhelmingly by the American people. Despite earlier promises of bipartisanship, Senate Republicans have used cloture votes with their 60 vote thresholds to vote strictly along party-lines and reject the will of the American people time and time again.
· Republicans said “no” to alleviating the strain on our military forces. Bush Administration policies have placed a dangerous strain on our Armed Forces. Today, many Army units are on their third or even fourth tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, while non-deployed units face significant shortfalls in readiness and National Guard and Reserve equipment stock has fallen to historic lows. Military leaders warn that the current pace of operations and reduced readiness of U.S. military forces is limiting our ability to respond to threats to our security and crises that may emerge both at home and around the world. At the same time, we are witnessing falling retention rates among our servicemembers in both the active duty and Reserves as well as an increase in mental health issues arising from multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite this unsustainable and increasingly grave situation, Senate Republicans blocked a bipartisan amendment co-sponsored by Senators Webb and Hagel that would have established minimum periods between deployments of units and members of the Armed Forces deployed for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Number: 341, S.Amdt.2909 to S.Amdt. 2011 to H.R.1585, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 rejected 56 – 44 (60 votes required), 9/19/07)
· Republicans said “no” to lower drug prices for American seniors. Senate Republicans blocked legislation that would have allowed Medicare to use the bargaining power of its 43 million beneficiaries to negotiate lower prescription drug prices. Had it not been blocked by obstructionism that benefited the drug industry, S.3, the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2007, would have repealed the current law prohibiting these negotiations and would have made Medicare drug plans more accountable and improved the level of information available to seniors about prescription drugs. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Number: 132, Motion to Invoke Cloture on the Motion to Proceed to S.3 rejected 55 – 42 (60 votes required), 4/18/07)
· Republicans, at first, said “no” to a raise for American workers. After ten years of a stagnant federal minimum wage, the American people demanded that Congress raise the wage floor to $7.25/hour. In May, under Democratic leadership, Congress achieved that victory for American families, and the first installment of the raise went into effect on July 24, 2007. (110 Congress, Roll Call Vote Number: 181, 5/24/07) Nevertheless, before joining with Democrats to pass this important piece of legislation, Senate Republicans first rejected the motion to invoke cloture on the bill and further delayed the raise for American workers. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Number: 23, Motion to Invoke Cloture on H.R.2, the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 rejected 54 – 43 (60 votes required), 1/24/07)
· Republicans said “no” to American workers seeking to unionize. Choosing to side with corporations against average workers, Senate Republicans refused to even consider the Employee Free Choice Act of 2007 (EFCA). The legislation would have restored workers’ freedom to form unions and collectively bargain by: 1) strengthening penalties for companies that coerce, intimidate, or retaliate against employees during an organizing campaign or during negotiations for a first contract; 2) establishing a timeline for negotiating a first contract that gets employers to the table, and gives the parties the option of mediation and binding arbitration when employers and workers cannot agree on a first contract; and 3) giving employees the choice of selecting a union via majority sign-up over an election. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Number: 227, Motion to Invoke Cloture on the Motion to Proceed to H.R.800, EFCA, rejected 51 – 48 (60 votes required), 6/26/07)
· Republicans said “no” to House representation for the District of Columbia. Turning their back on the citizens of the nation’s capital and the people of Utah, Senate Republicans blocked legislation that would have extended the full rights of citizenship to DC residents by providing DC one voting seat, and Utah a fourth seat, in the House of Representatives. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Number: 393, Motion to Invoke Cloture on S.1257, the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2007 rejected 57 – 42 (60 votes required), 9/18/07)
· Republicans said “no” to restoring habeas corpus. Senate Republicans summarily rejected the efforts of Democrats and three of their own Caucus members to restore the writ of habeas corpus to all Americans. In doing so, they missed a valuable opportunity to begin restoring America’s reputation as a champion of the rule of law and human rights around the world. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Number: 340, Motion to Invoke Cloture on S.Amdt .2022 to S.Amdt. 2011 to H.R.1585, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 rejected 56 – 43 (60 votes required), 9/19/07)
· Republicans said “no” to funding for renewable energy. Senate Republicans rejected a bipartisan-sponsored amendment that would have provided tax incentives for developing clean energy, including clean and green power, alternative vehicles and biofuels, and clean coal technologies. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Number: 223, Motion to Invoke Cloture on S.Amdt.1704 rejected 57 -36 (60 votes required), 6/21/07)
Far from being a “uniter,” President Bush has become the Obstructionist-in-Chief. After having refused to veto a single piece of legislation during the first five years of his Presidency — when the Republican’s controlled Congress — and promising to foster the spirit of bipartisanship in the 110th Congress, President Bush has opposed, threatened to veto, or vetoed, dozens and dozens of bills in the first 11 months of the 110th Congress.
- In March, the President vetoed a bill to provide emergency funding to our troops and would have changed course in Iraq.
- In June, the President vetoed bipartisan-supported legislation that would have given hope to more than 100 million Americans who suffer from diseases or conditions that could one day be treated with therapies derived from stem cell research by lifting restrictions on federally-funded stem cell research
- In October, the President vetoed CHIP, the children’s health care legislation, which was supported by a bipartisan majority of Congress overwhelmingly approved. The President has even threatened to veto an improved version of the children’s health bill, which recently passed the House and Senate.
- In November, the President vetoed the bipartisan-supported Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which is legislation that authorizes investments in environmental restoration and storm protection along the Gulf Coast, supports the restoration of wetlands and their accompanying ecosystems, increases environmental protection along America’s waterways, and improves the safety of levees across the country. On November 8, in what was a strong rebuke by the House and Senate, Congress overwhelmingly overrode the President’s veto of WRDA. (110th Congress, Roll Call Vote Number: 406, Veto Override on H.R.1495, Agreed to 79 -14, 11/8/07)
Continuing this shameful legacy, the President has now threatened to veto the Farm Bill, which would make significant investments in America’s rural communities.
President Bush has blocked funding for the priorities of middle-class American families here at home. Senate Democrats have developed fiscally-responsible appropriations bills that invest in America’s needs here at home, many of which have suffered from years of neglect under the Bush Administration. Unfortunately, even before seeing a single appropriations bill, the President threatened to veto legislation that exceeds his 2008 budget request, and in November, he vetoed the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Bill, 2008, which would have funded education, labor, and health care programs, including critical medical research.
Most recently, the Bush Administration recklessly threatened to veto a bipartisan-negotiated appropriations bill that would have funded 14 out of 15 federal agencies before he had even seen it. This “take it or leave it” approach stands in stark contrast to the Administration’s position on spending when Republicans controlled Congress. Despite spending increases passed by Republicans, President Bush never once vetoed an appropriations bill sent to him by the Republican-led Congresses. The President’s new inflexibility raises serious questions about whether the Administration is more interested in provoking a partisan fight than in working with Congress to find reasonable compromises and in advancing the interests of the American people.
Americans elected Democrats to move the country in a new direction, and we are delivering on that promise, in spite of unprecedented opposition by Bush Republicans. The “block and blame” strategy of Congressional Republicans simply will not work. After more than a decade of Republican control, Congressional Democrats are pursuing the priorities and passing the legislation that is important to the American people. In addition to other measures, Democrats have:
- Passed a bill to increase the federal minimum wage;
- Passed an emergency spending bill that included $6 billion for hurricane relief;
- Passed a bill to upgrade military health care and provide a 3.5 percent pay raise for our troops;
- Passed an Iraq supplemental appropriations bill that included an additional $1.8 billion for veterans’ health care;
- Passed a bill to implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations;
- Passed an ethics and lobbying reform bill;
- Passed a bill to cut subsidies to student lenders and provide $17 billion in grants and other student aid;
- Passed a bill to better prepare young children for success in school;
- Passed a bill to better regulate the student loan industry;
- Passed a fiscally-responsible budget;
- Passed an energy bill that increased fuel-efficiency standards for the first time since 1975;
- Passed a bill to promote American competitiveness; and
- Passed a bill to improve water quality across the country and protect the Gulf Coast from dangerous storms like Hurricane Katrina.