Friday, May 19, 2006

In Case You Missed It

Excerpt  from The Progress Report
a publication of  The American Progress Action Fund
by Judd Legum, Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney
Amanda Terkel and Payson Schwin
Politics in the Closet
Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage, and likely prohibit civil unions and other forms of domestic partnerships. S.J. Res 1 -- the so-called "Marriage Protection Amendment" -- passed the committee on a 10-8 party-line vote after Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), who said he was "totally opposed" to the bill, voted for it. The vote took place in a room just off the Senate floor that was closed to the general public. Instead of acting on the issues that most Americans indicate they are concerned about -- Iraq, gas prices, and stem cells among them -- the Senate is moving ahead with a divisive bill that growing numbers of Americans oppose. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the committee's ranking member, said the measure is "part of an election-year political agenda" to satisfy the right wing. "The Constitution's too important to be used for such base partisan politics." The Constitution has been amended to eliminate slavery, to give women the right to vote, and to secure for every person the equal protection of the laws. It has never been amended to mandate discrimination.

Yesterday's proceedings were removed from the public committee hearing room, where most Judiciary Committee actions take place, to a room that is "not open to the public and does not even have enough chairs for every senator on the committee to sit." Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) expressed his dismay at Specter's decision to pass such a consequential piece of legislation behind closed doors and indicated his desire not to assist the committee in reaching a quorum. "I don't need to be lectured by you. You are no more a protector of the Constitution than am I," shouted Specter in response. "If you want to leave, good riddance." Feingold rose from his seat to leave and said to Specter, "I've enjoyed your lecture, too, Mr. Chairman. See ya." Feingold said in a statement afterwards, "Today's markup of the constitutional amendment concerning marriage, in a small room off the Senate floor with only a handful of people other than Senators and their staffs present, was an affront to the Constitution. ... I am deeply disappointed that the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee went forward with the markup over my objection."Now that the Judiciary Committee has passed the amendment, it will go before the full Senate "on June 5 for what is expected to be a heated debate." The bill is unlikely to succeed because it must first be passed by two-thirds of the Senate, then two-thirds of the House, and finally, three-fourths of the 50 states. Last time the Senate considered the amendment, it failed to win even a simple majority.
CONGRESS -- HASTERT THINKS AMERICA'S MIDDLE CLASS DOESN'T PAY TAXES: In a late House session on Wednesday night, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) claimed that "if you earn $40,000 a year and have a family of two children, you don't pay any taxes. So you probably, if you don't pay any taxes, you are not going to get a very big tax cut." Hastert's attempt to justify conservatives' huge tax cuts for the rich doesn't hold water. While someone with a $40,000 salary and a family of four paid little or no federal income taxes last year, Hastert ignored the other taxes paid by all Americans -- payroll taxes, gas taxes, sales taxes, etc. For example, a family whose entire $40,000 in salary came from wages directly paid $3,060 (7.65 percent of $40,000) in federal payroll taxes last year. (Note: The employer also pays an equal amount on behalf of the family, but most economists "believe that the portion of the payroll tax paid by the employer is borne by the worker.") Hastert, who earns a hefty $212,010 a year salary, doesn't seem to understand that families across America are facing higher health care costs, mortgage payments, and gas prices. And yes, they also have to pay their taxes.

Think Fast

The House yesterday voted to repeal $7 billion in subsidies for oil companies drilling in publicly owned waters. The vote was "approved 252 to 165 over the objections of many Republican leaders," and now goes to the Senate. "In a separate defeat for energy companies, the House voted 279 to 141 to reject a provision that would lift a 25-year ban on oil drilling in coastal areas outside the western Gulf of Mexico."

“In the latest indication of the crushing hardships weighing on the lives of Iraqis, increasing portions of the middle class seem to be
doing everything they can to leave the country. In the last 10 months, the state has issued new passports to 1.85 million Iraqis, 7 percent of the population and a quarter of the country's estimated middle class.”

"The head of a group of Federal Air Marshals says the service is badly broken" and that it currently "
cannot protect the public." Air marshal management has reacted to the criticism by "retaliat[ing] against him, with four separate investigations, including one for misuse of his business card."

The United Nations Committee Against Torture issued a
report yesterday which called on the U.S. to “close any secret ‘war on terror’ detention facilities abroad and the Guantanamo Bay camp in Cuba.” The report also said “detainees should not be returned to any country where they could face a ‘real risk’ of being tortured.”

In a
63-to-34 vote, the Senate yesterday designated English as America's national language. The Senate also approved a measure by Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) declaring English the "common unifying language of the United States," but mandated that nothing in that declaration "shall diminish or expand any existing rights" regarding multilingual services.

Big Pharma up to no good:
“The Justice Department is accusing Abbott Laboratories of vastly inflating prices of its drugs as part of a fraudulent billing scheme alleged to have cost government health programs more than $175 million over 10 years.”

During hearings yesterday, CIA Director nominee Gen. Michael Hayden "shed some new light" on the inception of the NSA's warrantless surveillance program, "noting that he was asked by then-CIA Director George J. Tenet to provide a list of NSA's capabilities after the al-Qaeda attacks, even those that Hayden believed
would not be permissible under the law. Hayden suggested the scope of the program may go beyond what is publicly known."

"You get a lot more authority when the workforce doesn't think it's amateur hour on the top floor," Hayden also
said yesterday in a "not-so-veiled reference to since-disappeared CIA chief Porter Goss."

The past two days in Afghanistan have had some of the "deadliest violence since the Taliban was driven from power in late 2001." As many as
105 people were reportedly killed.

The Travel Industry Association of America yesterday said that high gas prices will add "
$30 and $50 to the gasoline cost of a typical trip this summer." The group also predicted that prices "will limit travel growth this summer to less than 1%."

And finally: "In another in a series of notable pronouncements, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson says God told him storms and possibly a tsunami will hit America's coastline this year." "There well may be something as bad as a
tsunami in the Pacific Northwest," Robertson predicted. We sure hope the recent Pacific Tsunami Warning System test went off without a hitch.

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