Marriage Amendment Debate is Proof of GOP's Misplaced Priorities

>Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy

Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee

On S.J. Res. 1, The Marriage Protection Amendment

June 5, 2006


It should come as no surprise to any observer of partisan politics that the Republican Leader has decided that today our Nation's most pressing priority is concern over committed relationships between same sex couples. That we are devoting the precious few Floor days we have left in this session to this issue, when so many of us are trying to focus on solutions to high gas prices, the rising costs of healthcare, the ongoing situation in Iraq, and strengthening our national security, is a testament to the misplaced priorities of the Senate Republican leadership. News reports have clearly revealed how this proposed constitutional amendment is being used to satisfy the most extreme right-wing supporters of Republican politicians. I do not believe that Americans are well served by this strategy.


Hayden's Flawed Vision Guides New McCarthyism

Most Members of Congress have been left in the dark about the particulars of the Administration's highly secretive domestic surveillance program. What we have been hearing about that program over the last few weeks, however, is extremely disturbing. Perhaps the most chilling development has been the revelation that the nation's phone companies may have turned over millions of customer calling records to the NSA National Security Agency (NSA) at the NSA's request.

In short, an Administration that professes the importance of limited government may be adopting Big Brother tactics to spy on the day-to-day activities of ordinary Americans. While the facts are still developing, we've also heard from General Michael Hayden, the new Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and architect of the NSA program. General Hayden unfortunately has a less than inspiring grasp of the Constitution. Asserting this past January that the Fourth Amendment does not include a "probable cause" requirement - which it does - he essentially stated that so long as a search and seizure is "reasonable" it is "lawful." That's not the standard, and while his approach is likely full of good intentions, the path to hell is paved with them.

General Hayden's interpretation of the law would essentially allow any domestic surveillance program to proceed, no matter how invasive, so long as he or someone else in the Administration believes that it will protect us. Just as 9/11 reminds us that we are not immune to terrorist attack despite our wealth and power, however, the McCarthy Era and the Church Committee remind us how our government is not immune to abuses of power and corruption. Today is no different.

If we are truly to be protected during the war on terror, we must concern ourselves not only with our physical security but also with securing our most cherished liberties and rights. Indeed, neither is worth much without the other. Leaders of all party affiliations accordingly need to work to execute an anti-terrorist strategy that promotes caution and precaution - one that includes robust efforts to protect us from attack while demanding that the Administration comply with the law when working those efforts. If "warrantless surveillance" and other homeland security strategies promulgated by General Hayden and others run roughshod over the Constitution, Congressional oversight, and the law, the Administration's approach to protecting the public may well become as potent a threat as terrorism itself.

FAA is Showcasing Unfair Bargaining Power

I am disappointed that the FAA has decided to implement its contract on our nation's air traffic controllers when it seems an agreement is in reach that would satisfy both parties. Going about it this way underscores what is wrong with the current system. When one side can dictate the terms, there is less of a need to find common ground. I am going to continue to work to improve this process.

New Refineries Will Increase Consumer Power

One of the few ways Congress can do something, really anything, to affect high gasoline prices is to increase the supply of products. To increase supply we must increase our domestic refinery capacity. The Refinery Permit Process Schedule Act that the U.S. House will vote on this Wednesday would simply establish a federal coordinator to work with the federal government agencies responsible for issuing permits in the development of a new refinery.

This would help eliminate some of the needless delays that beset any large project, such as a refinery. The bill also looks at closed military bases for possible sites for a refinery, including at least one biofuels refinery. In addition, this legislation would benefit coal to liquid refineries, which I strongly support.

The bill does not exempt a refinery developer from any regulations or environmental standards. It simply gives them a single point person to assist in running the maze of the permitting process and tries to keep government agencies on a time schedule for making their decisions.


Allowing Both Sides To Negotiate, Without Taking Sides

My bill simply stops the clock and allows both sides, the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, to resume fair negotiations. It does not take a position on which side should prevail or what the terms should be. I am confident that additional negotiations will result in an agreement, but if the two sides cannot reach agreement, the matter can go before the Federal Service Impasses Panel, which has the ability to impose contract terms.


More Refineries is The Solution For Energy Needs

Bringing new biofuel and traditional refineries online outside of the Gulf of Mexico region is the fastest and best way to increase our energy security and restore lower cost supplies for consumers.


NSA Surveillance Will Stop Terrorists Before They Succeed

The arrests made in Toronto and the recent news out of London should serve as a stark reminder that al Qaeda and related groups are not sleeping-they are actively pursuing the tools of terror and plotting against our people and our cities. Law enforcement must have every legal tool at their disposal for the surveillance, tracking and capture of al Qaeda and other terrorists.

And though some oppose the NSA's terrorist surveillance programs, it is clear that our law enforcement and intelligence forces need the right tools, the right focus and the right people to 'connect the dots' and prevent further attacks from al Qaeda. And they need to be able to do this while the terrorists are planning attacks and purchasing bombs-not after they've set them off.  


House Must Join Senate To Secure Safety for Miners

Mining, and coal mining in particular, is vital to our national and local economies, and to our national energy security. No aspect of mining is more important than protecting the health and safety of those whose hard work fuels the industry.The MINER Act, S. 2803, passed unanimously by the Senate, is the first meaningful mine safety reform in 28 years. It would improve mine safety oversight, impose stricter penalties on employers who violate MSHA policies, increase mandatory oxygen supplies, develop and employ new technologies, foster education and training programs, and open lines of communication between regulators, employers, miners, and their families.The House must join the Senate by approving this bill this week so that these crucial reforms can be put into law as soon as possible, and so that the health and safety of our nation’s miners will no longer be jeopardized.  


We Must Strengthen Senate Bill To Protect Miners

The tragic 33 coal mine deaths that have occurred so far this year have taught us lessons that Congress must not ignore, especially as the House now has the opportunity to strengthen and pass mine safety legislation already passed by the Senate. Unfortunately the Senate bill fails to address the major weaknesses in mine safety that have been highlighted by the tragedies at the Sago, Aracoma Alma, Darby and other mining disasters.

I have urged Majority Leader Boehner to allow the House to vote on 3 key amendments that would provide miners with safeguards they urgently need—and that we know could have saved lives at Sago and other mining tragedies. These key provisions would: (1) ensure miners trapped underground have at least 48 hours of air to survive, (2) ensure that the special air packs miners use for escape are routinely sampled to make sure they work properly, and (3) require communications and tracking devices for miners within 15 months. With these additions, the Senate legislation will be an important first step towards real protection for mine workers, safeguards that the family members of fallen miners have repeatedly called for. Without these additions, I cannot support the legislation.

A West Virginia joint industry-labor task force just issued recommendations that are consistent with these provisions, and demonstrates that the industry regards these requirements as feasible. Similarly, the Illinois state legislature passed a mine safety bill (with almost unanimous bipartisan support) that is more protective than the Senate legislation. We know that at the Sago mine, the 12 miners who did not die from the initial explosion were trapped underground for 40 hours. We also know that there have been questions about whether the special air packs these miners were using functioned properly. And we know that even with just one way wireless communications devices, these 12 miners could have escaped-and survived.

By adding these 3 amendments to the Senate bill, the House has the opportunity to pass legislation that members of both parties could feel proud of as a first step towards improving safety in our nation’s mines. Coal miners in every state face the same dangers, and they should have the same safety protections, whether they live in Illinois, Kentucky, Alabama, West Virginia, or any other state. These miners risk their lives every day in order to provide our country with a vital energy resource. We owe them a real solution to the problems that have claimed the lives of far too many of their fellow miners. All members of Congress should be able to look the families of victims of these tragedies in the eye and assure them that we took all responsible measures to ensure that our nation's miners will not find themselves trapped with inadequate supplies of oxygen and life support, or no wireless communications. 


Republican Congress Has Made America Less Safe

Americans must ask themselves today if they believe we are safer now than we were five years ago. The Republican Rubber Stamp Congress has cut homeland security grant funding, and the Bush Administration has compounded that mistake by failing to spend the money available on the areas most likely to be targeted by terrorists.

The bipartisan, independent 9/11 Commission concluded that homeland security assistance should be allocated based on risks and vulnerabilities. Instead, the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress have reduced vital anti-terror funding for cities such as New York and Washington, D.C. It is unacceptable that homeland security policies are so at odds with the threats facing the American people.