Written by Cliff Kincaid
July 23, 2008
By Cliff Kincaid
Having failed to stop the irresponsible $50 billion global AIDS bill, Senate conservatives are now being given a second chance. Can they stand up to Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and block the so-called Coburn Omnibus of more irresponsible spending?
The 398-page bill, which Reid hopes to bring up this week, is an amalgam of 36 different pieces of legislation, including $12 million for a federal greenhouse facility in Maryland and $24 million for the United Nations. Coburn put “holds” on the bills to prevent them from being passed quickly without adequate debate.
Early estimates put the cost of the entire package at over $11 billion.
Through Senate passage of the “Torture Victims Relief Reauthorization” (H.R. 1678), which is one of the bills, Reid hopes to funnel $24 million to the so-called United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture for the operation of foreign treatment centers in such places as the “occupied Palestinian Territories,” Lebanon and Russia.
Some of the U.N. money underwrites the Mandela Institute, which features a “Free Palestine” map on the home page of its website and provides assistance to alleged victims of Israeli aggression and torture.
The greenhouse facility (H.R. 5492) is for the care and feeding of orchids.
Under the unusual Senate procedure that Reid intends to exploit, senators would have to vote on the entire legislation and would not be able to strip away any bills or provisions through amendments.
Over the next several days Coburn will be trying to get his colleagues to join him in demanding that this catch-all “omnibus” legislation be subjected to thorough scrutiny, debate and amendment before being voted on. Among other things, Coburn would like to see the new spending offset by cuts in other programs. That seems like a reasonable request in view of mounting economic and financial difficulties for the government and many families.
But it might be difficult for many senators to insist on a rational debate of their costs because many of the bills in the Coburn Omnibus involve nice-sounding causes, such as protecting women, children and the disabled, and fighting disease.
You can count on the liberal media to portray this legislation as a humanitarian measure and any Republicans standing in the way of its passage as obstructionists.
Nevertheless, on his Senate website, Coburn explains the significance of what is happening here. Entitled, “Holds and Hotlines: How a Single Senator Can Block Consideration of a Bill and the Senate Passes Bills Without Votes,” Coburn’s website explains how he has been trying in many cases to make sure that senators understand the full cost of federal legislation before they vote on it. By placing a “hold” on a piece of legislation, a senator or a group of senators can make sure that a bill is not rushed to the senate floor and “hotlined” for quick passage without adequate debate.
The solution is to have a full and fair debate on all pieces of legislation before the Senate.
The Coburn website explains, “During the 109th Congress (2005-2006), 341 bills and joint resolutions were passed by the Senate. According to the Congressional Research Service, only 21 of those bills received a roll call vote on the Senate floor. That means 94 percent of law making measures that were passed through the Senate were passed by UC or by voice vote. A large majority of these were hotlined and therefore excluded from full and open debate and the amendment process. In the 109th Congress, 1,408 bills, resolutions, or nominations were attempted to be hotlined, with as many as 40 measures being hotlined in a single day.”
Senator Barack Obama’s Global Poverty Act was in the process of being hotlined before Senators Coburn, David Vitter and Jim DeMint put a hold on it. This costly $845 billion bill commits the U.S. to spending 0.7 percent of gross national product on foreign aid to meet United Nations objectives.
It had passed the House by voice vote last year and was on the verge of quickly passing the Senate. It was brought up in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this year and passed by voice vote. No hearings were ever held on the legislation.
A hold doesn’t kill the legislation but it does make it harder to pass. A hold means that Reid has to get 60 votes to bring up and pass the bill. With a 51-49 Democratic edge, Reid can attempt to ram the Coburn Omnibus legislation or any bill through the Senate if he can convince nine Republican senators to break ranks and vote with the Democrats. That is how he got the global AIDS bill to the Senate floor. He overcame holds placed on the bill by conservative Republican Senators David Vitter, Jim DeMint and Jeff Sessions.
The nine or more Democratic collaborators could come from the liberal wing of the Republican Party and are likely to include such figures as Republican Senator Gordon Smith, who is running for re-election in Oregon by airing ads touting Obama as a statesman.
There was some fear that Obama’s Global Poverty Act would be included in the Coburn Omnibus. But Reid didn’t put it in. This time, Reid appears to be trying to ram through some other nice-sounding bills to see if he can successfully roll the Senate Republicans. If he wins here he could try the same ploy again with even more costly bills, such as the Obama Global Poverty Act. So the fate of the Coburn Omnibus will help demonstrate if there is any fighting spirit left in the Senate to stop the slide into socialism.
While money to meet U.N. goals through the Global Poverty Act is not in the Coburn Omnibus, the bill does include funds to implement the “Torture Victims Relief Reauthorization,” which passed the House last year by an amazing 418-7 vote.
Did members understand they were voting on a bill to funnel millions of dollars to the corrupt U.N. and other foreign entities?
Only seven House members voted against it. They were Republicans Burton, Duncan, Flake, Goode, Paul, Rohrabacher and Sali. The bill was then rushed to the Senate, where the Foreign Relations Committee passed it by voice vote without any hearings at all. That is when Coburn put a hold on it.
The failure of the Congress to do its job in analyzing these bills is complemented by the indifference of the major media to out-of-control federal spending. The fate of the Coburn Omnibus will help determine whether politicians and reporters ever start doing their jobs.
You can contact your senators by calling 202-224-3121 or through the Senate website. As of this writing, the bill doesn’t yet have a number. But it can be referred to as the Coburn Omnibus.