Kline's Corner: Partisan Congress leads to bad law
The new leadership of the House of Representatives has made a big display in their pledge for bipartisanship. Upon receiving the gavel representing the House Speakership, Nancy Pelosi declared: "I accept this gavel in the spirit of partnership, not partisanship."
That is why it is especially troubling that during the much publicized first 100 hours Speaker Pelosi has decided to prohibit consideration of any Republican amendments and has completely bypassed reviewing legislation through the normal order of committee hearings.
Not surprisingly, the initial legislation that has been brought directly to a vote has had major mistakes in it. For example, in the ethics legislation, the ban on private travel was mistakenly worded in such a way that the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) determined that, as written, it bans commercial travel for Members of Congress. Obviously, the intent of the legislation was not to limit Members of Congress to travel by automobile, plane or boat, but the legislation was so hastily written that that is the way it is interpreted.
This was caused by the rush to take advantage of their newfound majority to the exclusion of careful deliberation that you achieve in a committee setting where both sides can analyze legislation and craft it in a correct and thoughtful way. The refusal to allow Republican amendments on any of the legislation to date violates the spirit and intent of the promises made by the new leadership.
After promising an open process, the ethics bill was crafted in private with only the Democrat leaders' input, as is the case with all the legislation we have voted on this month. It has all been drafted in secret, none of it has gone through the committee system, and in all cases Republican input has been prohibited.
Amniotic stem cell research offers a new option
Stem cell research is an important and controversial issue. I am especially encouraged to hear that researchers at Wake Forest and Harvard Medical Schools have announced that a new source of stem cells have been found in the amniotic fluid. Those stem cells may offer the same if not greater research potential as stem cells obtained through the destruction of human embryos.
According to a Washington Post report on this research, "a type of cell that floats freely in the amniotic fluid of pregnant women has been found to have many of the same traits as embryonic stem cells, including an ability to grow into a brain, muscle and other tissues that could be used to treat a variety of diseases."
It is important to remember that embryonic stem cell research is legal and occurring throughout the United States with both public and private funding at universities and private research firms. It is also important to keep in mind that adult stem cell research has led to 72 different treatments in clinical applications whereas embryonic research is problematic and has yet to achieve real successes.
The recent discovery about the amniotic fluid suggests Congress must continue to learn about, debate and fund stem cell research that does not involve the destruction of embryos.
Increasing size of Army, Marine Corps
As you know, I have been a strong supporter of an aggressive prosecution of terrorists in the war on terror. Since my first day in Congress, however I have taken issue with the overuse of the National Guard and Reserves. As the Cold War neared its end 20 years ago, there were more than 2 million members of the active-duty military. In the following years, political leaders embraced a policy of reducing the size of the military which now stands at barely 1.4 million members - a 30 percent reduction.
With increasing demands on our military, the National Guard and Reserves have been forced to fill the gap. We saw that effect here in Minnesota a few days ago when it was announced that the 1st Brigade, 34th Infantry Division - including more than 2,600 soldiers from Minnesota - would have its tour extended in Iraq.
As somebody who helped plan the budgets for the Marine Corps during my 25-year career and a current member of the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee, I have been a vocal proponent for an increase in the size of our military. For the past four years, I have repeatedly and vocally opposed the Administration's stubbornness on military end strength.
I have made it a top priority to bring this issue to the forefront and I have repeatedly queried Pentagon officials in hearings about it. I was pleased Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently announced his proposal to add 67,000 soldiers to the Army and 25,000 Marines. From my position on the Armed Services Committee, I will work to finalize this vital increase in troop strength in next year's military appropriations bill.