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Public Statements

Internet Tax Non-Discrimination Act

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

INTERNET TAX NON-DISCRIMINATION ACT

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, this is a very important issue we have in front of us. I wish to pause for a moment and address an issue I saw in the Washington Post this morning that affects what we are doing here this morning and what we do every single day; that is, our ability to work together to ask questions on behalf of American taxpayers, on behalf of all of the people we represent, to be able to get answers from each other and from the administration, and to have the best information we can so we can make the right decisions.

I was quite shocked this morning to see in the Washington Post a headline that says: "White House Puts Limits On Queries from Democrats." Reading this more closely, it says:

The Bush White House, irritated by pesky questions from congressional Democrats about how the administration is using taxpayers' money, has developed an efficient solution.

It will not entertain any more questions from opposition lawmakers.

I thought for sure I was not awake. So I rubbed my eyes again and looked at it again and read the same thing. It went on to say:

The decision, one that Democrats and scholars say is highly unusual, was announced in an e-mail on Wednesday to House and Senate appropriations committees.

Further down there is a comment from Norm Ornstein, a congressional specialist at the American Enterprise Institute. He said:

I've not heard of anything like this happening before. This is obviously an excuse to avoid providing information about some of the things the Democrats are asking for.

I appreciate that in these days of debate and the important issues we have in front of us, we have been asking some pesky questions of this administration. Pesky questions such as: How specifically will we spend $87 billion going to Iraq, and what specifically will be done to rebuild? What is the plan for our soldiers? What is the plan in terms of making sure we complete the mission and bring them home safely?

We have asked pesky questions such as: Why is it that subsidiaries of Halliburton get billions of dollars in no-bid contracts when our own businesses and our own States are unable to find out about bidding processes and unable to participate in what should be an open, transparent process, given the fact these are American tax dollars, public tax dollars? And we have asked pesky questions about Bechtel.

Mr. REID. Will the Senator yield for a question?

Ms. STABENOW. I am honored to yield to my friend and leader from Nevada.

Mr. REID. Is it true that you served in the House of Representatives before serving in the Senate?

Ms. STABENOW. Yes.

Mr. REID. During your tenure there, I am sure you had many occasions to send inquiries to the administration. Whether it was Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration, White House council, you have done that over the years; is that not true?

Ms. STABENOW. Absolutely.

Mr. REID. Over the years, it is true that you have received responses?

Ms. STABENOW. Yes.

Mr. REID. And there was never a question raised as to whether it was a Democratic Congressman or Senator or Republican House Member or Senator asking the question; isn't that right?

Ms. STABENOW. Absolutely.

Mr. REID. Didn't you always feel that no matter what political party the Member of Congress was who asked the question, it had no bearing on the answer? Isn't that true?

Ms. STABENOW. Yes.

Mr. REID. I read that article to which you refer. It seems there is now new criteria established at the White House, that only if you are a Republican will they answer questions of a Member of Congress. Is that what that article said?

Ms. STABENOW. That is exactly what it says.

Mr. REID. How many people live in the State of Michigan?

Ms. STABENOW. We have over 9 million people in the State of Michigan.

Mr. REID. And Michigan is represented by two Democratic Senators.

Ms. STABENOW. That is correct.

Mr. REID. The distinguished senior Senator, CARL LEVIN, who everyone acknowledges is one of the finest Senators ever to serve in this body.

Ms. STABENOW. Absolutely.

Mr. REID. He is an expert on issues relating to defense. I am sure on a weekly basis, if not more often, he makes inquiries at the Pentagon and other offices of the executive branch of Government as to questions he has in his role as the lead Democrat on the defense committee; is that right?

Ms. STABENOW. In fact, I add that over the years, under Democratic and Republican Presidents, the senior Senator from Michigan asked very important questions about contracting. He was the first, I believe, to come forward with the acknowledgement and questions about the $600 wrenches and other questions of excesses at the time in the past from the Pentagon. To Democratic or Republican Presidents, he has asked some pretty "pesky" questions.

Mr. REID. What that article says is a State of 9 million people, which has democratically elected Democratic Senators, these two Senators would not be able to ask questions of that administration; is that what it does?

Ms. STABENOW. That is how it appears. We have a lot of very serious questions our constituents want us to ask of the administration.

Mr. REID. I direct this to the Senator in a way that I can only say is as sincere as I can be. I very much appreciate the Senator bringing this to the attention of the American people through the Senate. It is our ability to bring matters to the floor that make this country better-there are other ways of showing how great this country is, but certainly one is being able to bring matters to the Senate floor without getting permission of the administration.

I applaud the Senator from Michigan for jumping on this issue very quickly, as the Senator has done on many other issues.

Ms. STABENOW. In the State of Michigan, we have many questions being asked-a lot that we asked of the administration on homeland security, how we are funding our borders and keeping them secure. Why is it we are not providing more for our first responders? We have given some dollars but certainly a very small amount of what they need. Why are we not funding more for communications equipment that allows one city's police department to talk to another city's police department, or the police department to talk to the fire department, or the EMS workers to be able to do their job in a community? Why is it we are not providing more dollars directly for those kinds of responsibilities? They are right on the front lines. When you have a problem, when there is a serious crisis, whether it is homeland security or some other crisis in the community, you pick up and call 911, and we want to know people are prepared.

Those are questions about appropriations. Those are questions we asked of the administration. How are you moving forward and designing and implementing a Department of Homeland Security? What are we doing at the borders?

In my State, we have other questions we are asking that we are assuming the administration will endeavor to answer. It relates to the issues of Canadian trash trucks now coming across our borders into Michigan-about 200 a day-that are not being thoroughly inspected at the border because there is not a way to do it without putting an inspector in the back of every truck.

We have serious concerns about what is happening in terms of homeland security. Those are questions. How can we work together? How can we make sure we are addressing those issues that will allow our citizens to be safe, as it relates to these trash trucks coming across the border. They need to be stopped.

Over 165,000 people in my State signed an online petition to support my request to the EPA that they get involved in stopping these trucks and using the authority they have. Now, we go through the appropriations process on this matter. I have been very appreciative of the fact that we have worked together on a bipartisan basis in the Senate to address these issues and put more equipment at the border. I have been pleased to have the support of leaders on the other side of the aisle to support efforts to do that, to work together on behalf of the people we represent and make sure they are safe.

But when I see things such as this kind of a story, that e-mails are going out saying the White House doesn't like our "pesky" questions about how dollars are spent and suggestions that maybe they could be spent differently and better and more wisely in our States-they don't like those questions, so they sent out an e-mail saying they are not going to answer them anymore. They are only going to answer the questions coming from the Republican committee chairs. They are not going to answer questions coming from us. This is deeply disturbing and it should be disturbing to every single one of the people we represent. It should be, frankly, disturbing to people on both sides of the aisle.

I was in the House of Representatives for 4 years under a different administration. I asked a lot of tough questions of a lot of Departments and I expected answers. I expected that when my Republican colleagues asked questions of that Democratic administration, they would be given answers as well.

We are a separate branch of Government. We are the appropriators, all of us. The Constitution didn't say, by the way, only the majority party can have access to information and only the majority party is responsible for appropriations and guaranteeing the wise use of American tax dollars. They said the Congress of the United States is responsible, and that is all of us.

I think it is very important that we send a message very quickly from the Senate that we object to this, object to it together. We work hard on appropriations. We ask a lot of questions. We have a lot of give and take. Amendments are proposed; they rise, they fall. That is the process. We all respect each other and we all respect that process. At the end of the day, we assume that if we are asking, as they say, "pesky" questions, we will get answers regardless of who we are. We may not agree with the answers.

That is why we live in a democracy. That is the democratic process. We respect the fact there are differences in views, priorities, and values, but we do not accept-I do not accept-that we will be blocked from receiving information. It would be astounding if every time, as a Member of this body, I had to ask for a freedom of information request from the administration in order to get questions answered on items of importance to the people I represent-whether it be agriculture, manufacturing, homeland security, health care, education, the environment, or transportation. I could go on and on. We have critical issues we are responsible for addressing and responsible for doing it in the most efficient and effective way we can.

There is only a limited amount of resources and we have to make sure we make wise decisions with those resources. That is our job.

AMENDMENT NO. 2141 TO AMENDMENT NO. 2136

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I send an amendment to the desk.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will report.

The assistant legislative clerk read as follows:

The Senator from Michigan [Ms. STABENOW] proposes an amendment numbered 2141.

Ms. STABENOW. I ask unanimous consent that further reading of the amendment be dispensed with.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I simply say this is a very short amendment. In part, it indicates:

Since, Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch expenditures of public funds is essential in order to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars; and

Since, Congress can only exercise its oversight responsibilities if the White House and Executive Branch agencies are responsive to requests for information about public expenditures;

Therefore, it is the Sense of the Senate that,

The White House and all Executive Branch agencies should respond promptly and completely to all requests by Members of Congress of both parties for information about public expenditures.

I hope we will have unanimous support for this amendment and that we can quickly send a message to the White House and ask that they reverse the policy laid out this morning in this article.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, the only question I have is the word "appropriate." We certainly want this to be within constitutional parameters. I would say, at this point, the question I would have would be about "appropriate." Who decides what is "appropriate," given the judgments the administration is making? Possibly we can work together to find something else other than that word. But at this point that would be my concern.

Mr. McCAIN. I thank the Senator and yield the floor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Nevada.

Mr. REID. Madam President, will the Senator from Michigan allow me to ask a question?

Ms. STABENOW. Certainly.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. REID. This amendment is offered by the Senator from Michigan, and it never took into consideration doing anything that was unconstitutional?

Ms. STABENOW. That is correct.

Mr. REID. Everything the Senator does is within the framework of the Constitution. So I would hope that the matter could be disposed of as written because it goes without saying that we want this to be constitutional. We would never try to do anything that would be outside the parameters of the Constitution.

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