House Votes to Renew PATRIOT Act
On December 14, the House of Representatives voted 251 to174 to approve legislation to renew and make permanent most of the PATRIOT Act's expiring provisions. The House and Senate approved very different versions of this legislation last summer, and negotiators have been meeting for weeks to iron out the differences and write a final version of this bill. Speaking in opposition to the bill, Rep. Levin said: “Four years ago, the Bush administration and the Leadership of the House rushed the original PATRIOT Act through the House without full debate or the chance to make improvements to the bill. There is no need to rush an imperfect bill through the House today simply to accommodate a 6-week holiday recess.... I will vote against passage of this legislation today because I am convinced that we can write a better bill that safeguards both our vital security interests and basic American liberties.”
Lawmakers Support Accountability in Iraq Contracting
Representative Lynch of Massachusetts recently introduced legislation to uncover financial waste and fraud related to contracts the Department of Defense has signed with private companies related to Iraq reconstruction and troop support. The legislation – H.R. 4351, the Iraq Contracting Fraud Review Act – requires the Defense Department to review all Pentagon contracts in Iraq involving any contractor, subcontractor, or federal official or employee that has been indicted or convicted of fraud or any other violation of federal contracting law. For example, earlier this year, the Justice Department announced that a Halliburton subcontractor had been indicted for a kickback scheme through which the company billed U.S. taxpayers more than $5.5 million for work that should have cost only $680,000. H.R. 4351 would require a review of all contracts involving this firm. Rep. Levin is a cosponsor of this legislation.
House Votes to Endorse Ban on Torture
On December 14, the House of Representatives voted 308 to 122 to accept the McCain language on the Defense spending bill. Senator McCain’s anti-torture provision would prohibit "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" of anyone in the custody of the U.S. government. Rep. Levin strongly supports the McCain prohibition on the use of torture. Later in the week, the Bush Administration reversed course and indicated that it would allow the McCain anti-torture provision to become law.
Bill to Cut Education Aid Squeaks Through House
On December 14, by a vote of 215 to 213, the House approved a Labor, Health and Human Services funding bill that cuts the No Child Left Behind education program by $779 million. A nearly identical measure had been voted down on November 17, but the House Leadership was able to round up enough votes to pass it on Wednesday. Rep. Levin voted against passage of this bill. The Senate is expected to approve this legislation. The bill will then be sent to President Bush, who is expected to sign it into law.
Levin Remains Concerned about House-passed Pension Bill
In advance of the pension debate, Rep. Levin stated: “Moving a bill in the hope that it will be improved in conference is a perilous path, especially because the position of the Bush Administration is to seek changes which move in the opposite direction - further imperiling the need for a strong manufacturing base in America. I continue to oppose the bill which I believe threatens serious negative consequences on the manufacturing sector - both in terms of the short-term competitiveness of companies and the long-term terminations of worker pensions.”
Levin and Camp Lead Delegation-wide Effort on Trade Negotiations Impacting Auto Industry
This week the entire Michigan Congressional Delegation sent a letter drafted by Reps. Levin and Camp (both Members of the Ways and Means Committee which has jurisdiction over trade issues) to the Bush Administration's top trade negotiator on issues of critical importance to the automotive sector and at stake in the World Trade Organization negotiations currently underway in Hong Kong.
U.S. Posts Record Trade Deficit in October
On December 14, the Commerce Department reported that the U.S. trade deficit had soared to an all-time high of $68.9 billion in October. The worse-than-expected trade gap was due to surging oil imports as well as a record trade deficit with China.
To Our Readers
As the Connector goes to press, the House of Representatives is still in session as lawmakers work to wrap up the first session of the 109th Congress. The House spent much of Thursday debating a controversial bill to overhaul U.S. immigration rules, and the debate on this measure will continue into Friday night. The House is expected to work through the weekend on the 2006 Defense funding bill, which is also expected to include funds for Hurricane Katrina relief as well as a number of other unrelated provisions. The House may also take a final vote on a controversial package of spending cuts that will be used to partially offset additional tax cuts.
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