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Democrats stall, but border fence approval looms

Democratic leaders said they will use all 30 hours allowed for debate on legislation providing for a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border, but it is expected to win final approval and President Bush has promised to sign it into law.

Senators who had supported border security legislation entangled with amnesty provisions hope to avoid a vote on the fence-only measure. It would be hard, politically, to vote against it. But they still want the approval of Hispanic voters, both legal and illegal.

Although debate-limiting cloture passed, 30 hours of debate is allowed. “We’re going to go ahead and do the 30 hours,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), an amnesty supporter. He was ridiculed for saying this is a “donothing Congress” by Republicans who pointed out that Democrats routinely block legislation with filibusters, which requires 61 votes to end by invoking cloture.

“It may be a ‘donothing’ Congress for . . . the Democrats because by and large they stand on the sidelines and do nothing,” said House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Today’s filibusters are unlike the classic struggles of the past, when senators slept on cots outside the chamber during round-the-clock “debate,” which included reading phone books into the record. Hospitalized senators were brought into the chamber on stretchers to vote. Today, once a filibuster begins, debate on the pending legislation immediately ends and the Senate takes up other measures.

Meanwhile, the House passed “values” bills, which protect parent-notification when a juvenile wants an abortion and limit legal damages against cities and towns that lose lawsuits for allegedly violating the Constitution’s ban on the establishment of religion.

The parental-notification bill, passed 264-153, would establish fines of up to a year in prison for anyone who knowingly dodges a state’s parental-notification or parentconsent laws by taking a pregnant minor to another state to have an abortion.

The House also approved, 244-173, the Public Expression and Religion Act, which would deny legal fees to groups who win lawsuits against cities or towns held by the courts to have violated separation of church and state.

Supporters said localities feel pressured to remove monuments to the Ten Commandments, for example, because they would have to spend “millions” in taxpayer dollars to defend themselves. Groups such as the ACLU would be barred from receiving legal fees if they prevailed in court.

(Issue #41, October 9, 2006)

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Updated September 30, 2006