Coalition for H.R. 5680 Briefing Papers – Series #1

October 3rd, 2006 Print Print Email Email

#1– H.R. 5680 in the 109th Congress: What are the Prospects of House Passage in 2006?

There is a narrow window in the 2006 lame duck session of Congress through which H.R. 5680 could get to the House floor. But there are some possible complications.

First, a little background on the legislative process: The second session of the 109th United States Congress formally ends on January 3, 2007. Congress recessed for the 2006 midterm elections on October 1, and will likely return the week of November 13. Thanksgiving recess will follow a week or so later, and members will likely return in early December, and remain in session until a few days before Christmas before formally adjourning for the year.

Whether H.R. 5680 will make to the floor of the House depends on a number of factors in the political process, including the outcome of the midterm congressional elections, political pressures arising from the leftover congressional agenda and distractions to that agenda involving recent accusations against the Administration on Iraq and explosive allegations of sexual misconduct by a high ranking republican in Congress, Mark Foley (FL), and fallout from that incident. To a large extent, it also depends on what “Stonewall”? Hastert, the Speaker of the House, does or does not do on the bill.
The last week of September was a busy period for both houses of Congress. There was a flurry of activity on the budget (Senate gave final approval to $448 billion for the Pentagon) and construction of a 700-mile fence along the US-Mexican border. Congress also passed various anti-terrorism measures to protect the ports, and established procedures for military trials to prosecute suspected terrorists.
But lobbying reform, control of illegal immigration, authority for warrantless wiretapping programs and opening the outer continental shelf to oil and gas rigs, await Congressional action. There are 11 bills funding the federal government for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, and none of them have been passed. Unfortunately, H.R. 5680 (Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Advancement Act of 2006) is among hundreds of other critical pieces of legislation that did not make it to the floor of the House.
Despite the political and legislative complexities of the 2006 lame duck session (the informal name given to the session of Congress after November 7th election which includes members who lost their re-election bids or who did not seek re-election, but continue to hold office in between the time of the election and the time of the inauguration of the following session, the 110th Session), there is still a reasonable probability that H.R. 5680 could make it to the House floor, provided Speaker Hastert will not continue to stonewall the bill.

Factoring out “Stonewall”? Hastert from the equation (not an easy thing to do), H.R. 5680 could be placed on the suspension calendar at any point in the lame duck session. The bill is considered “non-controversial”? and could be sent to the floor under “suspension of the rules”?, which allows for passage on a vote of a two-thirds majority, with debate limited to a maximum time of 40 minutes and no floor amendments. There is no doubt that H.R. 5680 will pass if sent to the floor!! But with “Stonewall”? Hastert blocking the door to the House floor, much work needs to be done.

But Hastert himself may face voter retribution and be overtaken by events. He may even have to resign if there is proof that he knew of Mark Foley’s folly with House pages (high school juniors who serve as messengers), and did nothing about it. By all indications, Republican members of Congress are facing some major difficulties in keeping control of the House; and in light of recent revelations about the war in Iraq, lurid details of sexual escapades and charges of “culture of corruption”?, and now moral depravity, Republicans seem very vulnerable. If this they should lose the House, “Stonewall”? Hastert may get a taste of his own medicine — defeat at the polls, and even on the floor on H.R. 5680. Surely, many will shed crocodile tears for him.

Regardless of the unpredictability of the 2006 midterm elections and Hastert’s fate, the Coalition will continue to do its grassroots work in support of H.R. 5680 in Hastert’s district and elsewhere. The Coalition has built a remarkable organizational structure in Hastert’s district involving community organizations, leaders and media elements. Even if no action is taken on H.R. 5680 in the lame duck session, we will need to be ready to go to work on January 4th 2007, when the 110th Congress, First Session, begins. As everyone who is familiar with H.R. 5680 knows, the bill has massive bipartisan support, and whichever party wins, the bill should be in reasonably good shape for floor action sometime in the spring of 2007.

There is much work to be done at the state level in terms of mobilizing bipartisan support for H.R. 5680. There is also much organizational work that needs to be done to better inform, mobilize and actively engage Ethiopian Americans in the grassroots efforts. The coalition will continue to inform H.R. 5680 supporters on progress being made on these and other fronts in due course.

Post Script

Many Ethiopian Americans may not fully appreciate the monumental achievement we have had in readying H.R. 5680 for floor action. Here are some comparative facts to consider: The Armenian Genocide Act took over 7 years to get it ready for floor action. The bill requiring Japan to recognize its human rights violations in enslaving Korean women during WW II took years before it was ready for floor action. It is fair to say that Ethiopian Americans have less experience and resources than their Armenian and Korean counterparts in the Congressional legislative advocacy arena. Yet, it took us less than a year and half to get H.R. 5680 ready for floor action. What a stunning achievement!! Imagine what we can do if we stay the course. We must stay the course, and we should have no doubts that we will get H.R. 5680 enacted into law, with God’s help, and united collective action.

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