The new session of Congress officially began on Jan. 3, 2013, and the Senate went back to work after the 57th Presidential Inauguration on Monday, Jan. 21, 2013.
The first order of business was an agreement that changes the Senate's governing rules, specifically dealing with the practice known as the filibuster. The agreement that passed preserves the Senate filibuster tool and preserves the 60-vote threshold needed to end debate. The agreement also guarantees that the minority party will have the opportunity to offer and have a vote on at least two of its amendments. This will prevent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., from pursuing a practice called "filling the tree," which blocks the minority party from offering any amendments. I am committed to seeing that the rights of the minority party are preserved; therefore, I voted in favor of the agreement. The rule change required a two-thirds majority vote, or 67 votes, to pass, and it passed overwhelmingly.
This Congress, I have the honor of serving on four committees: the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (known as HELP), the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, and the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.
My number one priority in the Senate is to rein in federal spending and restore fiscal soundness to our country so that our children's and grandchildren's futures are bright and prosperous. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I am committed to finding meaningful solutions and working with anyone who will sit down at the table to turn our country's course to reduce our debt and deficits.
Legislation to Repeal Individual Mandate in Obamacare
This week, I signed on to two bills to repeal all or parts of what is known as Obamacare, which is President Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. I am a co-sponsor of Senator Cruz' Obamacare Repeal Act, which would repeal the entire law, and I am again co-sponsoring legislation that would repeal the individual mandate that requires Americans to purchase health insurance -- even if they don't want it -- or else face a tax. The American Liberty Restoration Act, which was introduced by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., would strike provisions in the health care law requiring individuals to purchase health insurance.
Since the day that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law, I have worked to repeal it because of its terrible consequences on America's families and small businesses. I believe that we are going down a dangerous path by requiring individuals to purchase a product, including health care, and I am proud to stand by my colleagues today to ensure that Americans are not forced to comply with the individual mandate that is set to be implemented next year. Instead, we need commonsense solutions that improve the cost and quality of health care through competition and choice, rather than imposing job-killing mandates and penalties on the American people.
Many task forces and plans from President Obama and from various members of Congress are being discussed following the recent shooting tragedies in Colorado and Connecticut. I do not believe that bans on assault weapons or cartridges are the answer to ending mass acts of violence, nor will such measures pass Congress. As history shows us, the 10-year ban on assault weapons that was in effect from 1994 to 2004 failed to prevent the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The common threads running through these shootings are mental health issues. I believe that more effective and sensible solutions are those that focus on background checks and mental health care, rather than restrictions on our Second Amendment right to bear arms. I look forward to working for commonsense solutions that keep our children safe without infringing upon our Constitutional rights.
Keystone XL Pipeline
This week, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and I joined our Senate colleagues in urging President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project, which would connect Canadian oil sands to refineries in Texas. The letter was signed by 53 senators, and was sent a day after Nebraska's governor approved a revised route for the pipeline to travel through the state while avoiding ecologically sensitive areas.
The letter reads in part, "Nebraska has recently approved the new Keystone XL Pipeline route, and the project still awaits your approval four-and-a-half years after TransCanada first applied for a Presidential Permit and a year since you denied their original request, without prejudice. Nebraska has now addressed the additional concerns you raised when you denied the permit, and we therefore urge you to finish expeditiously the review process and approve the pipeline. The State Department has said that it would issue the final EIS before the end of the first quarter of 2013. After four-and-a-half years of study, we urge you to stick to your administration's own deadlines. The American people need a timely decision on your approval or denial of the Presidential Permit." For the full text of the letter, click here.
D.C. Circuit Court Rules Obama Recess Appointments Unconstitutional
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today ruled that President Obama's recess appointments last year to the National Labor Relations Board, a federal labor board known as the NLRB, were in violation of the Constitution. In February 2012, I joined 38 of my Senate colleagues in filing an amicus brief and joining a court challenge to President Obama's Jan. 4, 2012, recess appointments of three nominees who had yet to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. If the court ruling stands, the more than 200 decisions that have been issued by the NLRB since these Obama appointments were made could be declared invalid.
This court ruling is a great victory for the U.S. Constitution. This decision confirms my belief that the president disregarded the Constitution when making his so-called recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. I hope this sends a clear message to the president that he cannot simply bypass Congress in the nomination process.
Senator Chambliss' Retirement Announcement
Sen. Chambliss announced this morning that he would not seek re-election in 2014. Saxby and I have been friends for 51 years and it has been my honor to serve alongside him in the U.S. House and in the U.S. Senate. We first met when we attended the University of Georgia together in the 1960s, and our wives -- Julianne Chambliss and Dianne Isakson -- happened to be sorority sisters at UGA. I have supported Saxby in every political race he's run and I'm grateful that he has done the same for me. Saxby is a true statesman who has worked tirelessly throughout his time in public life to represent the values and interests of Georgians. Our state and our country are better because of Saxby Chambliss. I will miss him dearly after 2014, but I look forward to working with him for two more years in the Senate to tackle the tough issues facing our county.
In Other News
During the work period earlier this month, I joined CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" to discuss a proposed rule that would keep as many as 40 percent of home buyers out of the housing market. Host Carl Quintanilla also asked me about the debt ceiling debate and gun control. You can watch the interview here. I was also pleased to speak at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's annual "Eggs & Issues" Breakfast that kicks off the state legislative session.
Additionally, any time you're interested in reading the latest news from my office or seeing a recent interview, please visit the News Center of my website for a one-stop shop that also includes speeches.
What's on Tap?
Next week, the Senate will begin consideration of the Superstorm Sandy disaster relief package. Later in the week, the Senate is expected to consider the nomination of John Kerry, D-Mass., to be Secretary of State. His confirmation hearing was held on Thursday.