February 2, 2013
Barely two weeks into his young administration, President Huntsman already has a number of huge legislative accomplishments. Last night, he signed five bills which passed the U.S. Congress in record time. "The people have spoken and we have acted," President Hunstman said. Two of the five were only able to pass the U.S. Senate after Vice President Bachmann ruled the filibuster by Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders unconstitutional. The first bill, the Health Care Freedom Act of 2013, easily passed the Senate 69-31 after clearing the House 300-135. The Health Care Freedom Act repeals outgoing President Obama's signature piece of legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. The second bill, the Economic Recovery Act of 2012 also passed by overwhelming majorities, with 75 senators voting in favor and 305 representatives also voting in favor. The Economic Recovery Act 2012 makes permanent tax cuts originally put into place by President George W. Bush in 2001 and extended by President Obama in 2010, but which recently expired when Obama vetoed their extension in 2012. The Act also eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax, the highest tax bracket, and most capital gains taxes. The third bill, a supplemental defense spending bill, fully funded President Huntsman and Defense Secretary Giuliani's request to expand the troop presences in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Pakistan, as well as their request to return the country's nuclear arsenal to 1984 levels by the end of 2015. This bill passed by a voice vote in both Houses.
But it was the last two bills that were the most controversial. The Retirement Choice Act of 2013, H.R. 1, cleared the House on January 6 by a margin of 225-210, but appeared stalled in the Senate when a filibuster led by Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, with the backing of the remaining 38 Democratic senators and one Republican, Olympia Snowe of Maine. The Retirement Choice Act repeals Social Security Disability Insurance and replaces old age benefits with 401k-like private accounts to be managed by private contractors for the government. Treasury Secretary Chris Christie has hinted that he has shortened the list of potential contractors to Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and an unnamed sovereign wealth fund. After a mere 4 hours, the Senate leadership moved to change the Senate rules to permit filibusters only in cases where a Senator actually held the floor, breaking with decades of Senate tradition. Sanders persisted, speaking for 18 straight hours before being relieved by Barbara Boxer of California. The Democrats passed the baton for six days before Majority Leader Thune raised a point of order on the Constitutionality of the filibuster. Vice President Bachman, in her capacity as President of the Senate, ruled the filibuster out of order. After a vote on her ruling sustained it 58-42, the Senate proceeded to vote on the bill. It passed 50-50 with Vice President Bachmann breaking the tie, with many insiders saying this made her a lock for the 2020 nomination.
The Senior Citizen Health Care Freedom Act also faced a series of challenges, but ultimately passed the Senate 55-45 after it became clear there was no going back on the filibuster. "It is an honor, as the first woman President of this chamber, to be the first one to bring the people's voice to it," Bachmann said. She added, "The Majority's bills will get up or down votes." Bachmann did not answer whether this meant that a bill supported by the minority would also get up or down votes. This bill repeals Medicare, but does not replace it with the voucher program that Huntsman promised in his campaign. A source on Capitol Hill stated that, "The leadership hasn't yet come to an agreement on what to replace it with." Sanders replied that, "There is no replacement. There will never be a replacement. The American people were tricked." Indeed, the only modicum of success the Democrats have had at all this year was in blocking the nomination of Sarah Palin as Secretary of State. "I'm not sure that worked out for the best, though," a Democratic hill staffer said, after the Senate confirmed former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton in her place.
Despite the speed and breadth of the five bills, the President said, "We're just getting started on returning this government to its intended functions, as the voters overwhelmingly demanded of us last fall." Final language is being worked out on a bill that will end federal funding of education. Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry claimed that, "They are simply arguing over what Orwellian name to give it. Last I heard it was the 'Act to Restore State Funding to Schools,' but I can't keep up." Several more major pieces of legislation are expected by the end of the month, including the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency, reduction or elimination of the federal minimum wage, and the Labor Modernization Act, which would end federal involvement in and protection for union organizing. Democrats claim that despite Republicans' assertions of "fiscal responsibility," their reforms are actually putting the government into trillions of dollars of new debt every year. "Hogwash. Lower taxes mean higher revenues; anyway, Bush proved deficits don't matter," Secretary Christie retorted.
Republicans credit their small government message and claim that President Obama's failure to prevent 20% unemployment and prevent outbreaks of war in the Middle East led to their sweeping gains in last Fall's elections. Democrats blame the high unemployment on the refusal of Republicans to negotiate on Obama's Rewarding Work Act, which would, Obama claimed, have prevented the spike in unemployment. Democrats also blamed the billions spent on Republican campaigns by anonymous donors with distorting their message. "There's no doubt the voters were mad, " Obama said last November, "but history will remember that I tried to do everything in my power to prevent the New Depression, but I was blocked at every turn by Congress."