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July 28, 2006

Last Week in Congress

286 pages. Yuck. That’s the size of S. 728, the “Water Resources Development Act of 2005.” The Senate hasn’t yet passed the bill; last week it voted on five amendments to it and passed three. I may be blind, but I can’t find in the Constitution anything that says “Congress shall develop water resources.” But, to be fair, those 286 pages “don’t count” this week.

What does count is thankfully short. It is possible that many Senators did in fact read all these bills, totaling 26 pages. But brevity, while a virtue, isn’t the only one. The Senate passed three bills regarding stem cell research that should either be decided at the state level or not at all.

First, the Senate unanimously passed the two-page S. 3504, the “Fetus Farming Prohibition Act of 2006,” a “bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to prohibit the solicitation or acceptance of tissue from fetuses gestated for research purposes, and for other purposes.” This had previously passed the House and was signed into law by President Bush.

The other two bills were doomed.The Senate passed, also unanimously, the six-page S. 2754, the “Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act” that would research non-embryonic stem cells to see if they’re as good as embryonic stem cells for learning about and treating disease. But this bill later failed in the House on a procedural vote.

And, as you may be aware, the Senate passed 63-47 the 4-page H.R. 810, the “Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005.” This is the bill expanding federal funding for embryonic stem cell research which Bush famously vetoed last Wednesday (his first veto). The veto was sustained as the House failed to reach a two-thirds majority to overrule it.

Three bills – three sides to literally “triangulate” the issue, or send a mixed message. The Senate is saying stem cell research ought to be pursued, although we’d rather find some other way, and no one should be allowed to “harvest” stem cells or fetal tissue., however, believes in the “separation of science and state,” that research should be done freely without government funding, and that the ethics of certain kinds of research should be decided at the state level, not federal. We therefore disagreed with all three bills and, though not for the same reasons, and agree with Bush’s veto on the embryonic stem cell research funding.

And finally, the Senate passed the 14-page H.R. 9, the “Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Correta Scott King Voting Rights Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006,” which the House passed last week. The vote was 98-0 with two not voting. There may be some problems with this bill, but on the whole it at least looks like a good-faith effort to enforce the 15th Amendment of the Constitution.

The House had a busier week.

First, there was the 4 page H.R. 3085 calling for a six-month study by the Interior Dept on the feasibility of extending the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. This passed 356-5, with 71 not voting. At least two or three of the dissenters may be familiar names to small-government activists.

Then there’s the 18 page H.R. 3496 that authorizes more federal money for public transit in the Washington, DC metro area. This passed 242-120, with 70 not voting. We would, of course, rather have the people of that area pay for their own transportation wants and needs.

H.R. 3729, the “Federal Judiciary Emergency Tolling Act of 2006,” (tolling in this sense meaning “to temporarily stop”) would give the chief judge of a district power to suspend normal judicial operations if there’s a disaster or emergency in the district. At a glance, this seven-page bill looks reasonable, and the vote was 363-0 with 69 not voting.

Like the Senate, the House unanimously (with six not voting) passed the two-page Fetus Farming Prohibition Act. As stated above the House failed to pass S.2754. On a motion to “suspend the rules and pass,” which requires a two-thirds majority, the vote was 273-154, with 6 not voting.

The House passed the five page H.R. 2389, the “Pledge Protection Act of 2006.” This would “downsize” the role of the federal courts, denying them jurisdiction in the controversy over whether “under God” should be in the Pledge of Allegiance. The vote was 260-167, with 5 not voting.

The eight page H.R. 5683, “to preserve the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego, CA” makes that memorial federal property. This is apparently a bill to resolve a local dispute I have neither the time nor the interest in investigating. This bill passed 349-74, with 3 “Presents” and 6 not voting.

Finally, there is H.R. 5684, the 51-page “free trade” deal with Oman. Oman is a dictatorship east of Saudi Arabia. We prefer real free trade, or at most uniform restrictions and (low) tariffs for all products from all countries. We don’t need pages of regulations, nor should we burden our country with obligations to another. Still, if this Agreement means fewer regulations and lower tariffs than we had previously with Oman, it might be an improvement. This narrowly passed 221-205 with seven not voting.

That’s 95 pages of legislation from the House, and 26 from the Senate. That’s the “lazy days of summer” in Congress for you. We should encourage them to take the whole summer off.

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