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Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, shortly I am going to be asking unanimous consent to pass the annual Burma sanctions bill that we have renewed about this time every year for the last decade. The bill was reported out of the Finance Committee on a voice vote last week along with a package of other unrelated measures as part of S. 3326.
Some of my colleagues have some concerns about those other sections. This is unrelated to the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act. As I indicated, on behalf of my colleagues I have offered--in fact, what I have done in discussions off the floor is offer to find a time to set up a vote on S. 3326 on behalf of my colleagues.
I believe a vote is the best way to resolve the impasse surrounding this bill. However, our friends on the other side have as yet not agreed to that. So in the absence of a vote on the larger bill, I think the best way to proceed is for the Senate to go ahead and pass this important and noncontroversial foreign policy measure today.
This is a very timely issue. These sanctions actually expire today. If we do not act now to extend them, I do not know when the Senate will have a chance to address this important issue. Consideration of this year's Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act comes amidst historic changes that are occurring on the ground in Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi, long a political prisoner of the country, is now actually a member of the Parliament.
The National League for Democracy, once a completely banned organization, now actively participates in political life in Burma. For these reasons and others, the administration, which I support, has taken a number of actions to acknowledge the impressive reforms that President Thein Sein and his government have instituted thus far. The United States has responded by sending an ambassador to Burma. That is the first time we have had an ambassador there in two decades.
The administration also largely waived the investment ban and financial restrictions permitting U.S. businesses to begin investing in that country. However, significant challenges in Burma still lie ahead. Ongoing violence in the Kachin State and the sectarian tensions in the Arakan State reflect a long-term challenge confronting the country related to national reconciliation.
Hundreds of political prisoners remain behind bars. The constitution still has a number of totally undemocratic elements. And the regime's relationship with North Korea, especially when it comes to arms sales with Pyongyang, remains an issue of grave concern to us.
Sanctions with respect to Burma should be renewed in order to provide the administration with the flexibility it needs to encourage continued reforms in that country, to encourage the government to tackle these remaining tough issues. Failure to renew the sanctions could undermine the administration's diplomatic efforts in Burma, which I support, and could send the wrong signal to the Burmese Government that they have done all they need to do. But where are we?
Therefore, the only way I see getting this resolved in time to keep the sanctions from expiring today is for the Senate to go ahead and pass this, and ask the House to pick it up and pass it as soon as they return next week. Hopefully, we can resolve this extremely important issue that other Members have with other sections of S. 3326, completely unrelated to the effort to renew Burma sanctions, and pass those other important trade priorities next week.
In the meantime, this is a terrible message for us to be sending. This is an extremely big issue. It may sound like a small issue; it is a big issue in Burma. Secretary Clinton has been there, I have been there, Senator McCain has been there, and Senator Collins. Senator Feinstein has been active on this issue. This is no small matter in a country that we have been hoping would move in the direction of reform, and finally is.
I know there is always a debate about whether sanctions have made a difference. When I was in Burma in January, in addition to meeting with Suu Kyi I was also meeting with government officials. Every single one of the government officials brought up the sanctions. It convinced me that they must have made a difference. Now, because of the changes that have occurred, the administration and I, who have been involved in this issue for two decades, are in total agreement about the way to handle it, which is to renew the sanctions after which the administration will waive a substantial number of them as a further indication that the sanctions remain there, although not currently operative, because of the changes that have occurred in the country. So I think it is a big mistake to have this important foreign policy matter attached to and stymied by, apparently, differences over other unrelated parts of the measure.
Therefore, I ask unanimous consent that the Finance Committee be discharged from further consideration of H.R. 9; provided further that the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration; all after the enacting clause be stricken and the text of section 3 of H.R. 3326 be inserted in lieu thereof.
For the information of Senators, as I indicated, the Burma sanctions language expires today.
This would avoid that.
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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, if I may, I believe the Burma sanctions bill has been renewed without additional matters attached to it for some 10 years now on an annual basis. I am perplexed as to why this year it was turned into a package.
I agree with the distinguished chairman of the Finance Committee that it was agreed to. But there is a dispute between the chairman of the Finance Committee and another member of the Finance Committee who is on the floor, and Senator Coburn can speak for himself. I might say, I don't have a dog in that fight. As far as I am concerned, that is another matter. No matter how important that may be, I doubt a failure to pass the other measure, which doesn't expire until September, creates a major potential foreign policy problem which could well be created by the Burma sanctions bill expiring later today.
I will not argue the rest of the bill is important or unimportant. I frankly don't know much about the rest of the bill. I do know something about the Burma sanctions bill, having offered the original bill 10 years ago and having been on the floor as we renewed it annually during that period, and I am pretty confident this will be perceived in Burma as a problem. It seems to me it is a completely avoidable problem.
As to the rest of it, the Senator from Oklahoma is here and he can speak for himself, so I defer to him and to the chairman of the Finance Committee to discuss the balance of the bill. But it would have been my hope, had the chairman of the Finance Committee not objected, since it was cleared on my side--and it was cleared on my side, regardless of previous understandings about putting the package together, by the ranking member of the Finance Committee, Senator Hatch, and by Senator Coburn--to split the Burma sanctions bill off and pass it freestanding today on a voice vote.
So with respect to the consent agreement I offered, which was objected to, I want to make sure everybody understands there were no objections to it on the Republican side of the aisle.
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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I would just ask a
question of the Senator. What I hear is that the Democratic administration and Democratic Senators are opposed to passing the Burma sanctions bill today freestanding? Is that what I hear the chairman of the Finance Committee saying?
Mr. BAUCUS. That is not what the Senator heard me say.
Mr. McCONNELL. Then why did the Senator object to the request?
Mr. BAUCUS. Because the administration and I want them both.
Mr. McCONNELL. But the Senator can't get them both unless he can work this out with my good friend, the Senator from Oklahoma, who is on the floor and who may want to address this matter.
Mr. BAUCUS. I am more than willing to sit down and try to work this out, but at this point I think any attempt to split them out is to jeopardize the AGOA bill, and as I mentioned earlier, there are already thousands of women who have lost their jobs in Africa because of our delay in passing AGOA.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Republican leader.
Mr. McCONNELL. Let me make sure I understand where we are. The consent agreement to pass the Burma sanctions bill today, before it expires, is clear on this side of the aisle--clear. The chairman of the Finance Committee has announced, to my surprise, that the administration does not favor allowing Burma sanctions to pass today because it is attached to something related to other matters.
So make no mistake about it, we have, for the first time in the history of this issue, turned it into a partisan matter. We have spoken with one voice in America relating to Burma, under administrations of both parties and Senates of both parties. Yet today, for the first time, we have a partisan split over an issue about which America ought to be speaking with one voice.
I basically have said all I have to say. I do want to hear from Senator Coburn. I know he has strong feelings about the other part of the measure about which I am basically not familiar.
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