Orrin Hatch Declares United States Senate to be “Dysfunctional”.

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By Orrin Hatch.

Americans hold the Senate in low esteem, but the situation is even worse than most understand. The Senate is dysfunctional today because its current leadership has acted to destroy the institution itself.

Job-approval ratings for Congress have been in the teens or single digits for more than three years. A poll last year found that Congress is less popular than head lice, root canals and traffic jams. The “good” news is that Congress is slightly more popular than playground bullies, telemarketers and North Korea.

Polls like these reflect concern over factors included in The Washington Times’ Futility Index, such as the time Congress spends in session or the number of votes taken and bills passed. By this measure, the Senate’s two least productive sessions since the 1940s occurred in just the past few years. We are simply not getting much done these days.

The House has passed 338 bills in the past year-and-a-half, some on subjects of great importance, that have become dead on arrival in the Senate. Far more serious, though, are changes the current leadership is making to the Senate’s design and structure that would prevent it from ever functioning as it should.

During the 1787 Constitutional Convention, James Madison identified the basic axiom that form follows function and wisely concluded that the Senate’s structure should be determined by “the ends to be served by it.”

The Senate was designed to play a particular role in a carefully designed system of government that is based on two related ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence: First, government exists to secure the unalienable rights of individuals; and second, government must be limited or it will, in fact, destroy these individual rights. Those limits include dividing power between the federal and state governments, separating federal power into three branches, and splitting the legislative branch into two very different houses.

The Constitution lets the House and Senate set their own rules, and throughout the nation’s history these forms have developed consistent with each body’s function. The House’s function is action, and its form has been majority rule. The Senate’s function is deliberation and its form has given all senators, even those in the minority, a significant role.

Throughout its history, all senators have had two essential opportunities to participate: the right to offer amendments to legislation and the right to unlimited debate. The current Senate majority has attacked both of these rights relentlessly.

The Senate majority leader must be recognized first by the presiding officer and can use that priority recognition to fill up available opportunities to amend a bill. When he was in the minority, Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, condemned this procedural maneuver as “a very bad practice” that “runs against the basic nature of the Senate.” Now in the majority, however, he has used this very bad practice to block amendments more than twice as often as the previous six majority leaders combined.

Last fall, Mr. Reid used another procedural maneuver to abolish the minority’s right to debate nominations. The Senate had confirmed 98 percent of President Obama’s nominees, and filibusters were not only rare, but on the decline. Now, for the first time in more than 200 years, minority senators have no meaningful role in the confirmation process.

By concentrating power in the majority at the expense of the minority, these distortions of Senate practice change, in Mr. Reid’s words, “the basic nature of the Senate.” Because the different designs of the Senate and House together help limit government power, eliminating those differences undermines the critical limits essential to preserving individual liberty.

We may soon experience the early results of abandoning such limits. Democrats abolished nomination filibusters last fall specifically to put three individuals on one particular court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit had been evenly balanced between Republican and Democratic appointees and its low caseload required no more judges. The majority abolished nomination filibusters so that three additional Obama appointees could be added to the court.

Late last month, a three-judge D.C. Circuit panel struck down an Internal Revenue Service rule subsidizing Obamacare premiums on the federal health care exchange. The court correctly reasoned that the plain text of the so-called Affordable Care Act grants subsidies only on “exchange[s] established by the State[s],” and that by ignoring this requirement, the Obama administration overstepped its lawful authority. The Obama administration is appealing that decision to the full D.C. Circuit, which is now stacked 7-4 with compliant judges more likely to approve regulations that are contrary to the text of a law.

Such an unlawful result will be possible only because the current Senate majority sacrificed the basic nature of the Senate by eliminating the minority’s right to debate judicial nominations.

Western States Fight Federal Coercion.

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Washington, D.C. – While the Senate debates an energy efficiency bill this week, U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., wants to have a conversation about federal overreach and what can be done to return functions back to the states. He offered two amendments today that would let states have the final say on regional haze and collecting their own mineral royalties.

Enzi’s regional haze amendment would prohibit the EPA from rejecting or disapproving, in whole or in part, a state’s regional haze plan if the enforcement of the federal plan does not result in a statistically significant improvement in visibility to the state. His mineral royalty amendment would ensure that mineral revenue for natural resource development on public lands would be paid directly to those states it is owed and allow for states to collect their own royalties, which would eliminate the two percent fee the federal government charges for collection.

“All across the country, our governors and state legislatures are coming up with innovative ways to solve problems locally without federal coercion or mandates,” said Enzi. “What my amendments would do is return more control back to the states and once again allow the people closest to the resource to have a larger say in what goes on within their borders. The EPA doesn’t need to dictate how a state manages air quality and the BLM doesn’t need to be charging states a fee to collect revenue that the states can manage on their own.”

These are just a few of the latest examples of efforts by Enzi to return more power back to the states and restore state control of functions the federal government has assumed.

The current Senate majority, which controls the agenda, is likely to block all amendments to the energy efficiency bill, despite bipartisan solutions that could improve the legislation. The majority has only allowed votes on nine amendments from the minority since last July.

Democrats Told to Stop Early Campaigning and Get Back to Work on Creating Jobs for Americans.

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Senate Democrats More Focused on November, Than Jobs for Americans Now

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate floor calling on Washington Democrats to focus on job-creation legislation:

“For days now, Republicans have been coming to the floor to ask the Democrat Majority to work with us on jobs.

“This is the issue Americans say they care about most.

“So it’s hard to see why Senate Democrats seem so allergic to the various jobs ideas we’ve been proposing, not to mention the dozens of job-creating bills already passed by the House.

“Look: our constituents want us to work together to rebuild the Middle Class — to help create opportunities for the families struggling out there just to pay the bills. In recent days, we’ve given our Democrat colleagues ample opportunity to do that.

“We’ve offered one innovative proposal after another – proposals that haven’t had much of a problem attracting bipartisan support in the past.

“Ideas like reducing the tax burden on small businesses, freeing them to hire, and grow, and innovate.

“Ideas like approving the Keystone pipeline, which would create thousands of jobs right away.

“Ideas like repealing the medical device tax, which even Democrats acknowledge is killing jobs – although they haven’t acted to fix it yet.

“And ideas like eliminating Obamacare’s 30-hour workweek mandate — a rule that cuts people’s hours against their will, that disproportionally affects women, and that will force too many Americans to look for extra work just to get by.

“But we go even further than just tackling the causes of joblessness.

“Our ideas go beyond just helping Americans secure jobs with a steady paycheck and the hope of a better future.

“Because we’ve also put forward legislation that offers Americans more choices and greater flexibility in the workplace.

“This is something a lot of our constituents are asking for, and we’re responding to those concerns.

“One bill we’ve proposed would let working Moms and Dads take more time off to strike a better work/life balance.

“Another bill would prohibit union bosses from denying pay increases to an employee who works harder than her co-workers.

“These are the kinds of practical, common-sense proposals our constituents sent us here to pass.

“These are things that would make jobs more plentiful and life a lot easier for men and women across the country.

“For some reason, Senate Democrats are blocking all of them.

“Maybe it’s because they’re so single-mindedly focused on an election that’s still seven months away.

“I mean, they’ve already conceded that their ‘agenda’ for the rest of the year was drafted by campaign staffers.

“It’s a stunning admission.

“But it does explain their near-total lack of interest in practical solutions to the everyday concerns of our constituents.

“And it explains why the only jobs Senate Democrats seem interested in these days are their own.

Well, this is a big problem. Not only does it reinforce the widespread belief that Democrats aren’t serious about jobs. It also reinforces a growing impression that Democrats are simply out of their depth when it comes to the economy.

“Think about it. Washington Democrats are well into their sixth year of trying to get the economy back on track.

“Yet for many in the Middle Class, things seem only to have gotten worse. Average household income has fallen by nearly $3,600. The number of Americans actually working in the labor force has dropped to its lowest level since the Carter era. Millions are looking for work and can’t find it. And the new rules and regulations just keep on coming.

“They’ve tried all the usual liberal solutions—higher taxes, ‘stimulus,’ more regulations. All the standard stuff.

“It hasn’t worked. And doing more of it won’t work either.

“So this may be difficult for Washington Democrats to hear, but it’s time they switched from their failed ideological approach. It’s time they shelved the political games and worked with us to pass practical, bipartisan legislation for a change – legislation that can finally rescue the Middle Class from so many years of economic failure.

“I’ve laid out a number of common-sense proposals already.

“There’s even more we can do if Senate Democrats are willing to reach across the aisle and help us deliver for the American people. My constituents expect us to do that. I’m sure theirs do too. And there’s no reason we shouldn’t.”

Democrats will be getting nothing but heat from now on . . .
Democrats will be getting nothing but heat from now on . . .

Heroin Epidemic Lays Waste New England States.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)  continued to raise concerns this week at the federal level about New Hampshire’s heroin epidemic, urging Attorney General Eric Holder to use an “all hands on deck” approach to combat the crisis and calling on Senate appropriators to prioritize funding that supports drug-trafficking enforcement efforts.

Ayotte joined several Senators from both parties in a letter to Attorney General Holder that called for the Department of Justice to leverage the best criminal justice and public health practices currently available to address heroin and prescription opioid abuse.

“Addiction to prescription opioids and heroin has become one of our nation’s most challenging public health issues, affecting our neighborhoods and communities in ways far worse than anyone might have imagined,” the Senators wrote. “To effectively address the problem of heroin and opioid dependence in our country, an ‘all hands on deck’ approach that recognizes the value of prevention and education, law enforcement, overdose prevention and the utilization of all opioid addiction treatments is required.”

In a separate letter today to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services, Ayotte highlighted the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program — a critical tool to help disrupt drug-trafficking operations in New England and across the country.

“Today, my home state of New Hampshire is facing a heroin addiction crisis that is taking lives and ruining families. The HIDTA Program continues to be a critical tool in helping to disrupt national and regional drug trafficking operations, and we continue to rely on their expertise and experience to fight alarming regional heroin use trends in New England,” Ayotte wrote. 

She continued, “The regional collaborative approach allowed by [New England HIDTA] is critical to combating this program in New Hampshire, as law enforcement reports that much of the supply of heroin in New Hampshire passes through Connecticut and Massachusetts before reaching end-users in New Hampshire communities.”

As New Hampshire attorney general from 2004 to 2009, Ayotte led the New Hampshire Drug Task Force and worked closely with state and local law enforcement to boost efforts to combat drug abuse, drug-trafficking and other drug-related crimes. She has been a strong advocate for Byrne JAG which helps augment crime-fighting and drug treatment efforts at the state and local levels .

At two recent hearings on Capitol Hill, Ayotte questioned Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Defense Department officials about efforts among federal agencies and state and local law enforcement agencies to curb drug-trafficking.

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Heitkamp Calls on America to Give Native American Families a Helping Hand.

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Senator’s Legislation would Create a Commission on Native Children; Senator Dorgan to Speak about Importance of Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, will participate in a Senate hearing on her bill to address the challenges facing Native children and offer real solutions to address them.

Former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan, Founder and Chairman of the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, will testify at the hearing at the request of Heitkamp, on the importance of her bill to improve the lives of Native American children by addressing the economic, education, crime, and health care disparities that Native children too often face. The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at 2:30 pm ET.

“Focusing on improving the lives of Native children will allow us to better understand and solve problems Native American families face every single day throughout North Dakota,” said Heitkamp. “Far too often, we worry about specific programs and not enough about the outcomes. This Commission needs to be looked at from a holistic standpoint because children are a critical component of every part of Indian Country. I’m working to make sure Native children aren’t left behind because when they’re given an opportunity to really thrive, they are able to make tremendous achievements for themselves, their families, and communities. That’s why I’m pushing for this bill and that’s why I pushed for this hearing on it.”

“Senator Heitkamp is a longtime champion for Indian Country and I am proud of her for taking a leadership role in making American Indian children a top priority,” said Dorgan. “When I chaired the Indian Affairs Committee in the Senate, I knew that Indian children were the most at-risk population in America. I created the Center for Native American Youth to shine a light on the difficulties they face to find solutions to the challenges of teen suicide, inadequate health care, and education opportunities, and more. Senator Heitkamp’s legislation is a very positive and welcome step towards ensuring that Indian children will not be overlooked by policy-makers anymore.”

Her bill would create the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children, which would conduct an intensive study into issues facing Native children – such as high rates of poverty, staggering unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, and few economic opportunities – and make recommendations on how to make sure Native children are better taken care of and given the opportunities to thrive.

In November 2013, Dorgan penned an op-ed in the Fargo Forum strongly supporting Heitkamp’s bill. On the day she introduced her bill, Heitkamp spoke on the Senate Floor about the importance of this legislation to address some of the most pressing challenges for Native children.

The Commission on Native Children would conduct a comprehensive study on the programs, grants, and supports available for Native children, both at government agencies and on the ground in Native communities, with the goal of developing a sustainable system that delivers wrap-around services to Native children.  Then, the 11 member Commission would issue a report to address a series of challenges currently facing Native children.  A Native Children Subcommittee would also provide advice to the Commission.  The Commission’s report would address how to achieve better use of existing resources, increased coordination, measurable outcomes, stronger data, stronger private sector partnerships, and implementation of best practices.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) helped introduce the bipartisan legislation which currently has 15 additional bipartisan cosponsors, including Senators John Hoeven (R-ND) and Jon Tester (D-MT), Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

 

Senate Acts Quickly on Nicotine Poisoning Threat Posed by E-Cigarettes.

The technology may be safe; but the poison it delivers is still deadly.
The technology may be safe; but the poison it delivers is still deadly.
Call Follows New York Times Report on Dramatic Rise in Accidental Nicotine Poisonings

Washington, D.C. – In light of mounting evidence that the emerging market of new nicotine delivery products poses serious public health and consumer protection issues, six U.S. Senators have called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to move quickly to regulate the rapidly evolving market of e-cigarettes and other nicotine products saying: “It’s time for the FDA to stop the sale of these candy-flavored poisons to our children.”

U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) signed on to today’s letter.

New York Times report found a dramatic increase in accidental nicotine poisonings, notably among children. The article cited the National Poison Data Systems which recorded 1,351 accidental nicotine poisonings from electronic devices in 2013 – a 300% increase from 2012. Of the cases in 2013, 365 were referred to hospitals, triple the previous year’s number. In addition to health risk posed by the nicotine in these products, the New York Times article cites quality control and manufacturing dangers.

“Yesterday’s New York Times describes the dangerous emergence of liquid nicotine products, raising serious public health and consumer protection concerns about the rapidly evolving market for new and unregulated nicotine delivery products,” the Senators wrote. “These nicotine products are readily available in stores and online, where they can be sold to youth and adults who do not understand the associated health risks…As the [FDA] asserts regulatory authority over tobacco products, it is critical that the agency’s regulatory oversight keeps pace with these new nicotine delivery products.”

Electronic cigarettes, also called e-cigarettes and e-cigs, are battery-operated products that simulate traditional cigarettes by converting cartridges of liquid typically filled with addictive nicotine, other additives, and flavorings into vapor inhaled by the user. Currently, e-cigarettes, nicotine liquids, and nicotine dissolvable products are not subject to federal laws and regulations that apply to traditional cigarettes, including a ban on marketing to youth. Unlike traditional tobacco products, these nicotine products can be legally sold to children and are not subject to age verification laws.

The Senators wrote, “In spite of the growing popularity of nicotine delivery products, decades of research shows that exposure to nicotine increases risk of addiction and has adverse health consequences. Unlike traditional cigarettes and tobacco products, these novel nicotine products are not subject to federal regulations that prohibit sale to minors, restrict marketing to youth, ban products in candy and fruit flavors, and regulate manufacturing practices and ingredients. In the absence of federal oversight, these products are taking advantage of the regulatory vacuum to market nicotine products to youth and risk addicting a new generation to nicotine.”

Last month, Durbin, Harkin, Boxer, Blumenthal and Markey introduced the Protecting Children from Electronic Cigarette Advertising Act which would prohibit the marketing of e-cigarettes to children and teens. Despite claims from some e-cigarette makers that they do not market their products to children, e-cigarette manufacturers have adopted marketing practices similar to those long used by the tobacco industry to market regular cigarettes to youth – including flavoring their products in candy or fruit flavors that appeal to children, and sponsoring youth-oriented concerts and sporting events in order to market their products to teens.

The Protecting Children from Electronic Cigarette Advertising Act would permit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to determine what constitutes marketing e-cigarettes to children, and would allow the FTC to work with states attorneys general to enforce the ban.

According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, 1.8 million middle and high school students said they tried e-cigarettes in 2012, and a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the percentage of high school students who had tried them had more than doubled in just one year – indicating that e-cigarette companies could be targeting youth through advertisements. More than 76 percent of those users said they also smoked conventional cigarettes, suggesting that for many young people, e-cigarettes could be a gateway to nicotine addiction and smoking of conventional cigarettes.

In December, Senators Boxer, Durbin, Blumenthal, Harkin, Markey, and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH)sent a letter urging the FTC to investigate the marketing practices of e-cigarette manufacturers.

Text of today’s letter is below:

March 29, 2014

The Honorable Margaret Hamburg
Commissioner
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20993

Dear Commissioner Hamburg:

Yesterday’s New York Times describes the dangerous emergence of liquid nicotine products, raising serious public health and consumer protection concerns about the rapidly evolving market for new and unregulated nicotine delivery products. As the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asserts regulatory authority over tobacco products, it is critical that the agency’s regulatory oversight keeps pace with these new nicotine delivery products.

As a result of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, the FDA has made commendable efforts to enhance the regulation of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products. However, over the years we have seen the emergence of new nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes, hookah pens, dissolvable nicotine orbs and strips, and liquid nicotine products, also called e-liquids, which are marketed to appeal to children with bright colors and flavors like cherry and bubble gum. Unlike traditional cigarettes and tobacco products, these novel nicotine products are not subject to federal regulations that prohibit sale to minors, restrict marketing to youth, ban products in candy and fruit flavors, and regulate manufacturing practices and ingredients. In the absence of federal oversight, these products are taking advantage of the regulatory vacuum to market nicotine products to youth and risk addicting a new generation to nicotine.

In spite of the growing popularity of nicotine delivery products, decades of research shows that exposure to nicotine increases risk of addiction and has adverse health consequences. The 1988 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report, The Health Consequences of Smoking: Nicotine Addiction, states that “nicotine is a psychoactive drug with actions that reinforce the use of tobacco…and that causes addiction.” The report goes on to say that, “the pharmacologic and behavioral processes that determine tobacco addiction are similar to those that determine addiction to drugs such as heroin and cocaine.” Furthermore, nicotine exposure during adolescence can have important health consequences. The 2014 Surgeon General Report found that nicotine exposure during adolescence, a critical window for brain development, may have lasting adverse consequences.

These nicotine products are readily available in stores and online, where they can be sold to youth and adults who do not understand the associated health risks. The New York Times article reports that, “accidental poisonings, notably among children, are soaring.” According to National Poison Data Systems, accidental e-liquid poisonings in the U.S. have skyrocketed “to 1,351 in 2013, a 300 percent increase from 2012…. Of the cases in 2013, 365 were referred to hospitals, triple the previous year’s number.” According to Dr. Lee Cantrell, Director of the San Diego Division of the California Poison Control, the dose of nicotine in some e-liquids is lethal enough to kill, “Not just a kid. One tablespoon could kill an adult.”

In addition to health risk posed by the nicotine in these products, the New York Times article cites quality control and manufacturing dangers. The article reports that, “[e-liquids] are mixed on factory floors and in back room shops.” These concerns are supported by a 2009 analysis FDA conducted on a sample of e-cigarettes. The analysis found significant quality control issues, such as the presence of carcinogens and toxic chemicals, including diethylene glycol, an ingredient commonly found in antifreeze. FDA also found that different samples of the same product emitted markedly different nicotine levels, indicating that some manufacturers are using substandard or non-existent quality control measures. This analysis substantiates concerns regarding the safety of e-cigarettes, both for current users and for bystanders exposed to their vapor.

The emerging market of new nicotine delivery products raises serious public health and consumer protection concerns. It’s time for the FDA to stop the sale of these candy-flavored poisons to our children. We urge FDA to move quickly in developing a regulatory structure to minimize the harm to public health not only of traditional tobacco products, but also the rapidly evolving market of nicotine products.

Sincerely,

Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

Tom Harkin
United States Senator

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

Richard Blumenthal
United States Senator

Edward J Markey
United States Senator

Jeff Merkley
United States Senator

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