Posts tagged with: senate

patriot-actWhy is the Patriot Act back in the news?

Last night three key provisions of the law were allowed to expire (at least temporarily) after Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) blocked an extension of the program during a Sunday session of the Senate.

What is the Patriot Act?

The official title of the law is the USA Patriot Act of 2001, an acronym for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.” The 320-page law, signed a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and a series of bioterrorism incidents (i.e., anthrax attacks), was intended to “deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes.”

Beginning on December 31, 2005, many provisions of the act were set to expire unless Congress reauthorized them. Out of the sixteen sections, 13 were allowed to expire while three were reauthorized. After approval by Congress, President Bush signed an extension in 2006 and President Obama signed an extension in 2011. On June 1, 2015 the last three sections expired.

What were those last three sections that just expired?

The three sections that recently expired were:

tppThe controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), backed by many Republicans and President Obama, hit a snag Tuesday when key Democrats spoke out against the agreement.

What exactly is the TPP? It is a free trade agreement with 12 nations (including China and Japan) that purports to increase economic growth, jobs and free trade. However, there is much opposition in Congress.

Leading opponents of the measure in the Senate have pushed for additional protections for U.S. workers and address concerns about alleged foreign-currency manipulation by China that makes American products too expensive.

“It’s a betrayal of workers and small business in our communities to pass fast track, to put it on the president’s desk without enforcement  … and without helping workers,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, told The Washington Post.


child trafficking tearsA bill designed to aid victims of human trafficking in the U.S. should not be divisive. It should not be stalled in the House of Representatives. It should be enacted swiftly, so as to get help to as many victims as possible, as quickly as possible.

This bill would improve programs already in place that are specifically designed to aid underage victims of trafficking, increase the ease of which local law enforcement and prosecutors can investigate possible trafficking and child pornography, and establish more services for child victims of trafficking.

So, why is this bill stalled? (more…)

Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Case Challenging Affordable Care ActArchbishop William Lori of Baltimore and Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, are asking the Catholic faithful and others to reach out to their senators in response to a piece of legislation known as “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act of 2014” (S. 2578.) Lori is the chairman for the United State’s Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee for Religious Liberty, and O’Malley serves as chair for the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

According to the letter on the USCCB website, the legislation is an attempt to reduce religious freedom, and puts health coverage above one of America’s most cherished freedoms. The bishops list several concerns:

  • This new legislation “appears to override  ‘any other provision of Federal law’ that protects religious freedom or rights of conscience regarding health coverage mandates.”
  • This bill would “rollback” not only federally-protected conscience clauses regarding artificial birth control “but to any ‘specific health care item or service’ that is mandated by any federal law or regulation.” In the future, if the executive branch decides to add late-term abortions (for example) to mandated health care coverage, employers would have no recourse.
  • This bill applies to all employers, not simply for-profit employers.
  • The bill would extend its reach past employees, to their dependents. For instance, a teen girl may wish to have an abortion over her parent’s objection, and the parent’s health care package would have to pay for it. The daughter would be federally-entitled to the abortion coverage.
  • The bishops believe this type of legislation will lead to employers dropping health care coverage for employees all together.


GOP-Civil-WarThere’s a fascinating profile of Jim DeMint, the new president of the Heritage Foundation, in BusinessWeek, which makes a good pairing for this NYT piece that focuses on the GOP’s “civil war” between establishment Republicans and Tea Partiers.

But one of the comments that really stuck out to me concerning DeMint’s move from the Senate to a think tank was his realization about what it would take to change the political culture in Washington. As Joshua Green writes, DeMint had previously worked to get a new brand of GOP legislator elected to Congress, including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. But later “DeMint gave up trying to purify the party from within.”

In this week’s Acton Commentary I conclude, “The American people do not need politicians to tell them what happiness is and how it should be pursued.”

I admit that I didn’t have this quote in mind (or I would have used it!), but Art Carden (follow him here and read him here) notes the following from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations:

What is the species of domestic industry which his capital can employ, and of which the produce is likely to be of the greatest value, every individual, it is evident, can, in his local situation, judge much better than any statesman or lawgiver can do for him. The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.

And following up on the folly of political-driven homeownership for all, Reuters (HT: Drudge) reports that the “New American Dream is renting to get rich.”

The payoff? “So while home ownership may sound glamorous, you need a lot of money to make it work, without much guarantee of positive returns in a post-bubble era.”

I was listening to news radio and heard an update in which the senate majority leader Harry Reid gave his interpretation of events on the debt ceiling negotiation. The part that really got my attention was where he insisted that further committee work would go after those “millionaires and billionaires.”

I wondered, “What is he really saying?” Let’s begin with millionaires and billionaires. Is Reid charging them with having committed some evil? If a person had made a lot of money by force or fraud, then I would agree that disapproval and punishment might be merited. Can we confidently say that rich people, as a class, have committed evils which make them suitable subjects of a public official’s desire to punish?

Why is he so angry? Why does he make these people sound like bad people? Is it the fact that they have quite a bit of money? I suspect he does, too. Indeed, it has been noted that Reid has become a somewhat wealthy man while holding office. Does he impute ill motives or actions to himself by virtue of his possession of resources well above the average?

What if we do think that having a lot of wealth is a sign of moral weakness? Perhaps we believe that having much more money than is needed to live (even live comfortably) represents a bad choice. Even if we think that, does that mean we invest the government with the moral right to appropriate that wealth as needed so as to operate without hard debates about limits on spending? Maybe our only right is the right to have our own opinion of how wealthy people should spend their money.

I think Harry Reid needs to think more about why he’s so morally exercised. Follow the conclusions of that anger and maybe we’ll get down to basic principles. Once we get there we can have a legitimate discussion.