Randy Turner finds a nice little video of Rep. Roy Blunt, former House Republican Whip and currently running for US Senate, decrying the insertion of a hate crimes measure into the defense appropriations bill currently in the House. (The Senate already passed a similar measure in their version of the appropriations bill 87-7.)
Watch it here:
Blunt makes a rambling speech and stutters through his main claim, which is that never before has the defense authorization bill been used to make the opposition uncomfortable in voting against the attached legislation. It’s true that it’s legislative hardball, but it’s not true that it’s never been done. Within a couple of seconds of Googling, I found an example that Roy Blunt should be aware of, because he was a part of it. Perhaps Blunt received a knock on the head at some point at the start of the year and forgot his entire time in the congressional leadership. That’s one explanation for why he can’t seem to remember anything that he did at the time.
Right before Christmas in 2005, the Republican leadership, which controlled both chambers of Congress and included Roy Blunt, decided that the defense authorization bill was missing something. Sure, it had already passed the House and the Senate AND negotiated through the conference committee that ironed any differences between the two versions, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, and then House Majority Whip Roy Blunt came to the conclusion that the vaccine liability bill which had not previously been able to make it through Congress should somehow be quietly put into the defense authorization bill.
A quick general Congressional process primer to make things clearer: If a bill manages to pass both chambers, it often has different provisions in the House and the Senate versions. But a bill has to pass each chamber with identical language in order to become law. So a conference committee composed of members of each chamber sits down to iron out any differences. Once the bill is suitably altered, it passes the conference committee,and goes back to each chamber in identical form to be voted on by each chamber. After it passes in identical language through the House and the Senate, it goes to the president’s desk for signature or veto.
The vaccine liability bill was a huge boon to Frist’s political donors, which included major pharmaceutical companies. The bill allows the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who at that time was a major recipient of pharmaceutical donations, to declare an emergency and grant immunity to pharmaceutical companies for any damages faulty vaccines may cause. It’s no wonder it did not pass the Congress under the common practice of voting it through committees and then each chamber.
During conference committee negotiations, Democrats asked if vaccine liability would be in the bill, because that would have been a problem for them. They were told no. But on December 18, 2005, the vaccine liability bill was added to the defense authorization bill at 11:54pm, and the final defense authorization bill was voted through the House at 5:02 the next morning. It went through the Senate in a similar fashion, and was signed by President Bush on December 30, 2005.
In short, Blunt sat on a team separate from the conference committee that decided to stick a major piece of legislation (with a possible reach far greater than the hate crimes bill) into the defense authorization bill after it had cleared both houses of Congress and the conference committee, with no time for legislators to read the bill or debate the changes. That’s far, far worse than what he’s claiming the Democrats are doing right now.
Note: the citations I found were all behind a paywall. If you’d like to do a Lexis-Nexis search, use “Roy Blunt” “vaccine liability” as search terms and you’ll find what you need.