UNFINISHED BUSINESS -- (Senate - December 03, 2007)
Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, we are now in the final days of this session, and congressional Democrats have left an enormous amount of work undone. As we move into the final stretch, let's take stock of the unfinished business. On spending, we are 2 full months into fiscal 2008, and our friends across the aisle are still staring at 11 unfinished spending bills out of the 12 they were supposed to do. We need to work together to get those overdue spending bills signed into law.
On troop funding, thousands of American families will have sons and daughters fighting overseas this Christmas, and under the Constitution that falls on us to provide for them. We may disagree about the mission, but no one should disagree about getting those courageous men and women everything they need while they are fighting in the field. Congressional Democrats need to get serious about the troops and get them the funds they need without any more games and without any further delay.
We have heard some remarkable reports from Iraq in recent weeks. Sunni tribes and other militants who turned against al-Qaida are now working with coalition forces to secure Iraqi neighborhoods and towns. Refugees are returning to Iraq in droves. Shops are reopening, curfews are being relaxed. Al-Qaida in Iraq, we are told, has been pushed to the brink.
Americans like what they have heard, and even some congressional Democrats have acknowledged the positive reports. Congressman Murtha, a hero of the antiwar left, says the new strategy is a success. Congressman Dicks talked about a new feeling of normalcy in Iraq. Thanks to the increase in U.S. forces and a smart new strategy, we have seen a stunning reversal.
Unfortunately, talk of congratulations is scarce among the antiwar left. Rather than stop for a minute to acknowledge what we are hearing from the field, our friends on the other side now seem to be looking around for something that is not going well so they can blame that on Republicans.
According to press reports, they have settled on gas prices. And we do need to do something to lower energy costs. But the bill our Democratic friends are reportedly about to bring to the floor will not do that. In fact, the bill they are discussing would actually increase gas prices at the pump and electricity bills in States that do not have an abundance of windmills. An energy bill that raises the cost of energy is not what we need today.
Frankly, I am baffled by the congressional Democrats' position on the whole troop funding debate. Earlier in the year, they said sending more troops to Iraq would lead to failure. Then they approved the funds anyway. Now they say things are going well, and they want to cut off the funds that are needed to finish the job. So they funded the war when they thought it would fail, and now they want to defund it when they think it is succeeding.
Does this make any sense at all? Reasonable people could be able to agree that now is not the time to talk about walking away from our troops in Iraq. Yet this is exactly what Democrats are planning to do.
The senior Senator from Massachusetts has said he thinks the Democrats have an obligation, an obligation to cut off funds for the war. And now they are apparently following through with it. Just in time for the holidays, they are forcing the Pentagon to prepare pink slips for more than 250,000 employees as a way of getting around the threat.
I would urge the majority to rethink its position, to keep its word, and to send our troops the funds they need to finish their mission and return home in success. We have a solemn obligation to assure America's military families that their sons and daughters will get whatever they need. Let's not break that trust at this moment of optimism and hope and good news from the field at a time when even Congressman Murtha says the surge is working.
Congressional Democrats need to get serious about security at home too. It is no accident that we have not been hit here since 9/11. We passed the PATRIOT Act, set up the Department of Homeland Security, and made sure intelligence agents would have the tools they need to do their jobs.
One of those tools is the Protect America Act that we passed in August and expires on February 1. This essential terror-fighting tool recognizes that we need to be able to monitor terrorists overseas. And however the Senate deals with its expiration, we must protect its core strengths. But Democrats on the Judiciary Committee seem to disagree. They just voted for a revised version of this law that weakens it in dangerous ways. The experts tell us that under this new version, the Judiciary Committee version, U.S. commanders could be blocked from gathering critical intelligence on foreign targets.
Imagine: An American commander prepares to attack a city such as Fallujah. He gives orders for a blanket surveillance of the city to pinpoint terrorist activity. Then the lawyers step in and say: Sir, you cannot do that. You need to go to the FISA Court first.
Well, this is one vision of how to fight the war on terror. Republicans have a different view. We think we need to stop foreign terrorists who want to kill innocent Americans, not be paralyzed into inaction over their search and seizure rights.
Republicans are ready to support the bipartisan, commonsense Senate Intelligence Committee bill. In addition to allowing our commanders greater freedoms in the field, this version recognizes that telecom companies should not be sued for doing their patriotic duty in helping intelligence officials to protect American lives.
It also recognizes if these companies are exposed to lawsuits, taxpayers should not have to foot the bill, which is exactly what Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are proposing. They want to make sure the trial lawyers are happy one way or another.
We need to protect the telecom companies that did their duty and the taxpayers, not the trial lawyers, who want to bring these lawsuits.
Congressional Democrats have neglected their duty on the 12 spending bills. They are threatening to neglect their duty to the troops in the field and to our security at home. Now they are about to slap millions of Americans with a middle-class tax hike better known as the AMT.
Well, the American people have a right to know how Democrats found the time for 63 Iraq votes over the course of the past year, some of them at midnight, but somehow couldn't find an afternoon to fix a mistake in the Tax Code that is about to hit 50 million households. It is not as if they didn't see it coming. They have known about the problem all year. Treasury Secretary Paulson reminded us of its urgency in October. He sent us a letter, dated October 23, reminding us that the problem was before us. He warned that if Congress didn't act by early last month, about 25 million households would get mistakenly whacked with a major tax hike. He said if we didn't act by the middle of this month, 50 million would face delays in getting their refunds. Even if we acted today, millions of tax returns will still be delayed. We have already inconvenienced millions of American taxpayers by inaction.
The IRS oversight chairman reminded us about the problem again last month, saying the longer we wait, the longer the refund delays would be. Here is a letter from the IRS, dated November 26. This is a tax none of these people were ever intended to pay. Originally targeted at fewer than 200 families, it was never indexed for inflation. It is a mistake that has never been permanently fixed, and Republicans are not about to let Democrats impose a new tax on a lot of other taxpayers to pay for its correction. Americans don't need to be giving Government an interest-free loan in April by letting the IRS hold on to their refunds. They need to get their refunds when they expect them. We need to fix the AMT without new taxes, and we need to do it now. The number of families affected is staggering: Democratic foot dragging on the AMT threatens 1.6 million taxpayers in New Jersey, more than 3 million in New York, and nearly 4.5 million in California. That is more people in California alone than we have in my State. We need to block this giant middle-class tax hike now before voters get stuck with it in April.
Senate Democrats need to act on executive nominations, including nominees to head the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Agriculture. The Judiciary Committee needs to do a much better job processing circuit court nominations. Christmas will be here before we know it, and we have only had one hearing--one--on one circuit court nomination since the summer recess. We have only had five hearings for five circuit court nominees the entire year of 2007. During a comparable period in President Clinton's last Congress, the Republican-controlled Senate held hearings on 10 of President Clinton's circuit court nominees, including five after the August recess.
We have had qualified circuit court nominees up here for months who satisfy the supposed criteria of the Democratic majority. There is no good reason for the Judiciary Committee to bring progress on circuit court nominations to a standstill. It is time our colleagues on the other side acted on nominations and on the other legislative duties I have listed.
They have spent nearly a year now focusing on politics rather than essentials. Now they are trying to distract the public by shifting the focus at the finish line. We need to pass the bills that keep the Government functioning. We need to stop taxes from being raised on the middle class. We need to strengthen the laws that help us catch terrorists before they strike, and we need to fund the troops in the field.
It is now December, the last month of the year. Senate Democrats have more to do in these last few weeks than they have already done all year. It is time to stop the political show. It is time to focus for once on the fundamentals.
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