HIGHWAY TECHNICAL CORRECTIONS ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - April 17, 2008)
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Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I wish to spend a few minutes just to make some observations during this short debate we are going to have before the amendments are voted on.
We are going to have a vote on the Boxer amendment and then on the Coburn amendment, both trying to get to the bottom of a problem. We have agreed to a 60-vote margin on both of those, but I wonder what happens to this issue if neither of those amendments gets 60 votes, and why are we having a 60-vote margin? Everybody agrees that this amendment about a postenrollment change to a bill needs to be solved. The mystery surrounding how it happened, where it happened, and why it happened needs to be solved. But now we have before us a hurdle which, in all likelihood, will eliminate our ability to find out.
It is claimed, and understandably, that my amendment would look into a problem in the House. That assumption, however, is incorrect because nobody knows exactly where this enrollment change happened. Some may think they do, but we don't know that.
Second of all, and probably more importantly, is the fact that a bill agreed to by both Houses of Congress was changed before it got to the President without our knowledge.
There also is the claim that if, in fact, we would have a bipartisan committee, with Members of both Houses looking into this, it is somehow precedent setting. It is not. In 1992, the House and Senate did combine--not on this specific issue--so there is a precedent there that no one can deny, that we looked at rules and processes and procedures, and we did that without any difficulty.
On the other side of the aisle is the Boxer amendment, which says we are going to ask the Justice Department. We are not going to ask them, actually, we are going to tell them that they shall do this.
The argument has been made that the speech and debate clause is violated by my amendment. I don't think that is accurate, but I will take that as an argument. But for the Boxer amendment to pass, the separation of powers will be violated. These are not laws. These are rules of Congress. Yet we are going to now invite in the executive branch to handle what we refuse to handle? The cynicism in me says that maybe we don't want to know the answer to this question.
We very simply could have had a majority vote on both of these, and the one that got the most votes would have won. We don't have the parliamentary power to force that to happen, and we do have the concurrent agreement of the chairwoman of the EPW Committee to have a vote, which I appreciate. I would not tell her that I do not appreciate that. I do appreciate the opportunity to have a vote. But the question still remains: What happens if we don't get 60 votes? Will something happen on this?
What I want us to do is restore the integrity of the enrollment process. If we fail to do that, if we fail to do that and if we invite the executive branch into our Houses, we have failed--we have failed to live up to our own responsibility in the Senate and in the House, and we have failed to protect what is truly a separation between us and the executive branch in how we have gone about it.
So I thank the good nature and good humor of the chairman of the committee for the lively debate we had yesterday. But, someday, somebody will write about this issue, and I am not sure history is going to be very kind to us as we worry about partisan issues, who gets credit, who didn't, pointing fingers.
The fact is, we have a problem that should be solved by a joint group of Members of this body. To say we can't do that denies the fact that we have integrity. We do have integrity. We do have honor. We do have commitment. And most of all, we want to build the confidence of the American people in Congress. I believe that will happen under my amendment. I am not sure it will happen if we don't pass it. As a matter of fact, I am certain that if we don't have one of these that gets accepted in conference, we will not be able to claim that.
I have heard the statements of the chairwoman of the EPW Committee, and I believe her statements. So whatever happens here, it is my hope that she will encourage that to happen in conference. It won't be telling the House what to do; rather, it will be asking them to concur that we ought to look into this.
Washington has a problem, and the problem is this: We are not believable to the American public. More than 70 percent of the people in this country have no confidence in us, and we ought to be about repairing the institution and repairing that confidence.
With that, Madam President, I yield back.
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Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I will repeat the three points I think are important. No. 1 is we do not know enough. The next amendment relates to the Justice Department if we do know enough.
No. 2 is I am very hesitant to set a precedent that invites the Justice Department to come into the Senate and House to investigate us.
No. 3, and finally, the Justice Department does not have to do it even if we say they shall. They do not have to do it. There is no force of law that we can make the Justice Department come and investigate us. If we did, our forefathers would roll over in their graves. That is what the separation of powers is all about. When we go directly to the Justice Department, we shirk our responsibility to control our own house and bring our own Members under it.
I urge my colleagues to not support this new precedent setting seeking of the Justice Department, in violation of the separation of powers, to come into the Senate and the House to do an investigation before we have done our own investigation to find out the jot and tittles.
I yield the floor.
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Mr. COBURN. Madam President, we have voted an invitation to the Justice Department to investigate a rules violation in either the House or the Senate. We have set an amazing precedent.
What we recommend is a bicameral committee made up of four members of each body, two from each party, that would report back to the appropriate ethics committee or to the Justice Department, if there is, in fact, an infraction of law.
My hope would be that we would take care of the problems in our own body. The House would take care of the problems in their body and that we would, in fact, give greater than 36 votes to this amendment.
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