The Week Ahead in Congress

In the Senate
The Senate has plans to work on at least one bill:

S 3637: Extending a federal guarantee program for banks and credit unions for two years.  According to Hill Sources, the Transaction Account Guarantee (TAG) program was created during the financial crisis of a few years ago, and financial institutions broadly support the extension. 

In the House
On Tuesday, the House will vote on a Motion to go to Conference on the National Defense Authorization Act (HR 4310), along with a Democratic Motion to Instruct Conferees.

The House could work on up to eight suspension bills:

— The Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act (HR 1974), which would set up a public website that would allow access to various reports mandated by Congress.

— The Eliminate Privacy Notice Confusion Act (HR 5817), which would allow banks to notify customers of data privacy policies only when those policies change.

— The Asthma Inhalers Relief Act (HR 6190), allowing the sale of all remaining Primatene Mist asthma inhalers, which were banned for sale due to environmental concerns.

— The Frank Buckles World War I Memorial Act (HR 6364), establishes a commission to ensure a suitable observance of the centennial of World War I, to designate memorials to the service of members of the United States Armed Forces in World War I, including a National World War I Memorial on the National Mall in the District of Columbia.

— The D.C. Courts and Public Defender Service Act (S 1379), amending the administrative authorities of the DC courts.

— The DART Act (S 1998)
, to improve management of the Department of Homeland Security.

— The GAO Mandates Revision Act (S 3315), easing reporting requirements of the Government Accountability Office.

— The No-Hassle Flying Act (S 3542), making it easier for airports to clear baggage from overseas.

Anti-Occupy Bill Signed by President Obama

Amidst all the hooplaw over Rush Limbaugh’s comments last week the President quietly signed HR 347 into law:

Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 – Amends the federal criminal code to revise the prohibition against entering restricted federal buildings or grounds to impose criminal penalties on anyone who knowingly enters any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority. Defines “restricted buildings or grounds” as a posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area of: (1) the White House or its grounds or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds, (2) a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting, or (3) a building or grounds so restricted due to a special event of national significance.

House Vote 2011-149 taken on 2/28/2011:  399-3
Passed in the Senate on 2/6/2012 by “Unanimous Consent 
House Vote 2012-73 taken on 2/27/2012 to accept Senate Amendment: 388-3
Signed by Presented to the President on 3/8/2012 

HR347 would make it a felony, punishable by lengthy terms of incarceration, to participate in many forms of protest associated with the Occupy Wall Street protests of last year. Several commentators have dubbed it the “anti-Occupy” law, but its implications are far broader.

As you can see from the vote tallies list above, H.R. 347, or the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011” was pretty much espoused across the board by members of both parties.  Despite all their posturing, they stood shoulder-to-shoulder in support of their corporate benefactors who sought to restrict our ability to seek redress

Among the central provisions of H.R. 347 is a section that would make it a criminal offense to “enter or remain in” an area designated as “restricted” — defining that term rather vaguely and broadly.  You might want to re-read the description above and think about that in terms of who is provided secret service protection.

The Secret Service provides bodyguards not just to the US president, but to a broad layer of top figures in the political establishment, including presidential candidates and foreign dignitaries.

Even more sinister is the provision regarding events of “national significance.” What circumstances constitute events of “national significance” is left to the unbridled discretion of the Department of Homeland Security. The occasion for virtually any large protest could be designated by the Department of Homeland Security as an event of “national significance,” making any demonstrations in the vicinity illegal.

For certain, included among such events would be the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, which have been classified as National Special Security Events (NSSE), a category created under the Clinton administration. These conventions have been the occasion for protests that have been subjected to ever increasing police restrictions and repression. Under H.R. 347, future protests at such events could be outright criminalized.

The standard punishment under the new law is a fine and up to one year in prison. If a weapon or serious physical injury is involved, the penalty may be increased to up to ten years.

Also criminalized by the bill is conduct “that impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions” and “obstructs or impedes ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds.” These provisions, even more so than the provisions creating “restricted areas,” threaten to criminalize a broad range of protest activities that were previously perfectly legal.

In order to appreciate the unprecedented sweep of H.R. 347, it is necessary to consider a few examples:

  • A wide area around the next G-20 meeting or other global summit could be designated “restricted” by the Secret Service, such that any person who “enters” that area can be subject to a fine and a year in jail under Section 1752(a)(1) (making it a felony to enter any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so).
  • Senator Rick Santorum, the ultra-right Republican presidential candidate, enjoys the protection of the Secret Service. Accordingly, a person who shouts “boo!” during a speech by Santorum could be subject to arrest and a year of imprisonment under Section 1752(a)(2) (making it a felony to “engag[e] in disorderly or disruptive conduct in” a restricted area).
  • Striking government workers who form a picket line near any event of “national significance” can be locked up under Section 1752(a)(3) (making it a crime to imped[e] ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds).

Under the ancien regime in France, steps were taken to ensure that the “unwashed masses” were kept out of sight whenever a carriage containing an important aristocrat or church official was passing through. Similarly, H.R. 347 creates for the US president and other top officials a protest-free bubble or “no-free-speech zone” that follows them wherever they go, making sure the discontented multitude is kept out of the picture.

The Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act is plainly in violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which was passed in 1791 in the aftermath of the American Revolution. The First Amendment provides: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech . . . or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” (The arrogance of the Democratic and Republican politicians is staggering—what part of “Congress shall make no law” do they not understand?)

H.R. 347 comes on the heels of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was signed by President Obama into law on December 31, 2011. The NDAA gives the president the power to order the assassination and incarceration of any person—including a US citizen—anywhere in the world without charge or trial.

The passage of H.R. 347 has been the subject of a virtual blackout in the media. In light of the unprecedented nature of the bill, which would effectively overturn the First Amendment, this blackout cannot be innocent. The media silence therefore represents a conscious effort to keep the American population in the dark as to the government’s efforts to eviscerate the Bill of Rights.

The bill would vastly expand a previous law making it misdemeanor to trespass on the grounds of the White House. An earlier version of the bill would have made it a felony just to “conspire” to engage in any of the conduct described above. HR347 was quietly signed on 3/1/2011 by President Obama and as such is now the law of the land.

What lies behind the unprecedented attack underway on the US Constitution and Bill of Rights is a growing understanding in the ruling class that the protests that took place around the world against social inequality in 2011 will inevitably re-emerge in more and more powerful forms in 2012 and beyond, as austerity measures and the crashing economy make the conditions of life more and more impossible for the working class. The virtually unanimous support in Congress H.R. 347, among Democrats as well as Republicans, reflects overriding sentiment within the ruling establishment for scrapping all existing democratic rights in favor of dictatorial methods of rule.

This sentiment was most directly expressed this week by Wyoming Republican legislator David Miller, who recently introduced a bill into the state legislature that would give the state the power, in an “emergency,” to create its own standing army through conscription, print its own currency, acquire military aircraft, suspend the legislature, and establish martial law. “Things happen quickly sometimes—look at Libya, look at Egypt, look at those situations,” Miller told the Star-Tribune in Casper, Wyoming. Repeating arguments employed by every military dictatorship over the past century, Miller declared, “We wouldn’t have time to meet as a Legislature or even in special session to do anything to respond.” Miller’s so-called “doomsday law” was defeated in the Wyoming legislature Tuesday by the narrow margin of 30-27.


Related Posts:

Next Week —The Defense Authorization Bill

The House is scheduled to take up HR 1540, the 2012 defense authorization bill, next week with plans to pass a $689B policy bill by Memorial Day.  That may prove challenging as this bill has some serious problems that any blue-blooded Democrat should have serious problems accepting.

The Potential and Precedence of Giving Too Much Authority to a President:

HR1540, the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in Section 1034, declares that the United States is in an armed conflict with not only al Qaeda and the Taliban, but “associated forces” and individuals, organizations and nations that support such forces. The President could then have the full legal authority to send American troops to engage in acts of war anywhere–Yemen, Somalia, Iran, even the United States–without  constitutionally required Congressional authorization and, consequently, without any restrictions or oversight from the American people or Congress.

SEC. 1034. AFFIRMATION OF ARMED CONFLICT WITH AL-QAEDA, THE TALIBAN, AND ASSOCIATED FORCES.

Congress affirms that—

  1. the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces and that those entities continue to pose a threat to the United States and its citizens, both domestically and abroad;
  1. the President has the authority to use all necessary and appropriate force during the current armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107–40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note);
  1. the current armed conflict includes nations, organization, and persons who—
  1. are part of, or are substantially supporting, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners; or
  1. have engaged in hostilities or have directly supported hostilities in aid of a nation, organization, or person described in subparagraph (A); and
  1. the President’s authority pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107–40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) includes the authority to detain belligerents, including persons described in paragraph (3), until the termination of hostilities.

Congress must protect the American people from the over-reach of any Chief Executive who is enamored with unilateralism, pre-emption, first strike and the power to prosecute war without Constitutional or statutory proscriptions.  Permanent, global war is not the answer. It will not increase our national security.  Far from ridding the world of terrorism, it will become a terrorist recruitment program.

It Continues to Fund Guantanamo and Disparage Human Rights of “Accused” Individuals

They’re not only NOT closing Guantanamo, they’re prohibiting the construction of facilities on U.S. soil. And, given the discussion of opening up travel to Cuba, they’ve added a provision that prohibits family visitations (to go along with all the other restrictions on access).

  • Section 1036 provides for the continued detention of individuals at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
  • Section 1037 prohibits the use of government funding to build and house detainees transferred from Guantanamo.
  • Section 1038 prohibits family visitations for anyone detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
  • Section 1039 prohibits any transfers/releases of detainees within the United States
  • Section 1040 establishes prohibitions relating to the transfer/release of detainees
  • Section 1042 defines the term ‘‘terrorist offense’’ means any offense for which the defendant could be tried by a military commission under chapter 47A of title 10, United States Code (essentially denying any constitutional rights to anyone accused of a “terrorist offense … please notice that I said “accused” … and according to Section 1039, that person, a citizen, might be prohibited from being released back to the United States, even if found to be NOT guilty).

These sections have some pretty onerous requirements that will potentially impose bans on the transfer of any detainee held at Guantanamo, including those who have been cleared of any charges. This means that the United States would be forced to keep imprisoning men who are known to be innocent or are not a threat. This bill not only allows the imprisonment of innocent people, but could mandate it.

And then there’s all the anti-gay amendments that have been included in the bill:

The anti-gay coalition in the House has been actively amending the bill in committee.  Section 533 throws one last obstacle in the way of implementing Public law 111-321, the repeal of Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell Policy.  Section 534 defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.  And, Secti0n 535 prohibits the use of military installation property for marriage ceremonies that do not comply with DOMA.

SEC. 533. ADDITIONAL CONDITION ON REPEAL OF DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL POLICY.

Effective as of December 22, 2010, and as if included therein as enacted, section 2(b) of Public Law 111–321 (124 Stat. 3516) is amended by adding at the end the following new paragraph:

‘‘(3) The Chief of Staff of the Army, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force each submit to the congressional defense committees the officer’s written certification that repeal of section 654 of title 10, United States Code, will not degrade the readiness, effectiveness, cohesion, and morale of combat arms units and personnel of the Armed Force under the officer’s jurisdiction engaged in combat, deployed to a combat theater, or preparing for deployment to a combat theater.’’. 

SEC. 534. MILITARY REGULATIONS REGARDING MARRIAGE.

Congress reaffirms the policy of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, codified as section 7 of title 1, United States Code. In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the Department of Defense applicable to members of the Armed Forces or civilian employees of the Department of Defense, the word ‘‘marriage’’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘‘spouse’’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

SEC. 535. USE OF MILITARY INSTALLATIONS AS SITE FOR MARRIAGE CEREMONIES AND PARTICIPATION OF CHAPLAINS AND OTHER MILITARY AND CIVILIAN PERSONNEL IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITY.

(a) LIMITATION ON USE.—A military installation or other property under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense may be used as the site for a marriage ceremony only if the marriage complies with the definition of marriage in section 7 of title 1, United States Code.

(b) LIMITATION ON PARTICIPATION.—A member of the Armed Forces, including a chaplain, or civilian employee of the Department of Defense acting in an official capacity may assist in or perform a marriage ceremony only if the marriage complies with the definition of marriage in section 7 of title 1, United States Code.

And, there’s more yet to come once the bill hits the House Floor:

Something not yet in the bill is an amendment from Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA).  She intends to present an amendment that would repeal the military’s policy that prevents women from serving in front-line combat units in both the Army and the Marine Corps.  According to an article in the Marine Times, “As of April 1, a total of 137 women have died in the combat zones, with more than 60 killed in combat, showing women are involved in direct ground combat despite the exclusion policy, according to findings included in the bill.”

Related Posts: