Thursday, January 18, 2007

"Are the memories around here so short?"

The Senate has been working on Senate Bill 1 this week. S.1 is the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007, designed to break, or at least pour a little light on, the ties between lobbyists, big money interest groups, and Congress. (We covered the false allegations being made against the bill earlier this week.)

The Republicans, however, have stalled the effort -- despite a significant number of Republicans claiming to support the bill -- by interposing an unrelated amendment to grant the President a form of line-item veto. This, despite a recent Supreme Court opinion declaring the line-item veto unconstitutional. Senator Byrd called the Republicans on the tactic, speaking from the floor of the Senate, clutching a copy of the Constitution:
Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, I rise tonight at this late hour. The hour is late and the night is black. I rise tonight to shine a bright light on political chicanery that is playing out on the Senate floor.

In November, America voted for a change. The people sent a strong signal that they wanted less partisanship and more accountability in Washington. In response to the voters, Senator Reid, Senator Feinstein, and Senator McConnell put before the Senate an ethics reform bill that would add transparency and accountability to the legislative process. They should be proud of their product, and the Senate has had a good debate thus far on the bill.

But wait, wait, wait 1 second. Before we can clear the way for greater accountability and sunshine into the way work gets done in these halls, the Senate is being blackmailed into an assault on the Congress's single most precious and most powerful authority--the power of the purse. That is the most powerful authority we have: the power of the purse.

Tonight, this reform bill is threatened by an effort by our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to give the President line-item veto authority. No vote on the line-item veto, they say, and no ethics reform. That is nothing more than legislative blackmail, and I, for one, will not pay the price. No one should stand still when this Constitution, which I hold in my hand, is the hostage. No one should stand still, I repeat, when this Constitution, which I hold in my hand, is the hostage.

This line-item veto authority would grant tremendous and dangerous new power to the President. He would have unchecked authority to take from the Congress the power of the purse, a power that the constitutional Framers thought was absolutely vital to protecting the people's liberties.

It was just 8 years ago that the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the line-item veto was unconstitutional. Now our colleagues--some of them--on the other side of the aisle are threatening to hold up the ethics reform bill in an effort to hand the President another line-item veto authority. Are the memories around here so short?

Are the memories around here so short?

We have a President who already has asserted too much power. This is a blatantly gross attempt to take even more power for the President and strip away power from the people.

This President claimed the unconstitutional authority to tap into the telephone conversations of American citizens without a warrant or court approval.

This President claimed the unconstitutional authority to sneak and peek, to snoop and scoop, into the private lives of the American people.

This President has taken the Nation to a failed war based on faulty evidence and the misrepresentation of facts. And many Senators voted not realizing that was what was being done when we voted on the war resolution.

So I say, this President has taken the Nation to a failed war based on faulty evidence and an unconstitutional doctrine of preemptive strikes. More than 3,000 American sons and daughters have died in Iraq in this crazed Presidential misadventure.

And what is the response of the Senate? To give the President even more unfettered authority? To give him greater unchecked powers? We have seen the danger of the blank check. We have lived through the aftermath of a rubberstamp Congress. We should not continue to lie down for this President or any other President.

Of course, this President wants to take away Congress's power of the purse. When Congress has the sole ability to shut down these unconstitutional practices, when Congress is asking tough questions and demanding truthful answers about this war, when Congress is taking a hard look at finding ways to begin to bring our troops home, over the objections of this administration, the President's response is to demand that the Congress give away its most crucial power. Silence the Congress. Ignore the people. Strip away our constitutional protections and one may just as well strip away the people's liberties lock, stock, and barrel. Strip away the power of the Congress, the power of the people, and amass all power behind the fences and secret doors of the White House.

No Senator should vote to hand such power to the President. No American should stand for it--not now, not ever.

If our colleagues on the other side of the aisle want to stop the Senate's effort to add transparency and accountability to the legislative process, that is their right and their choice. But I will not blink. I cannot look the other way. We should get on with the business at hand and pass meaningful ethics reform legislation. But we should never, never, hand away those precious constitutional powers--the last protections of the people's liberties, vested in the people's representatives in this Congress--to any President.

We have each taken an oath to protect and defend this Constitution of the United States. Here it is. I hold it in my hand. I say again, we have each taken an oath to protect and defend this Constitution of the United States. And it is about time we did protect and defend that Constitution of the United States.

Mr. President, I thank the Chair. I thank all Senators.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

1 comment:

Robin said...

Um, I should have read this post first. This answered my question above. Thanks.