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I had an opportunity to speak with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist this morning and talk to him about immigration, spending, and the upcoming elections. Senator Frist and his staff graciously squeezed me into a tight window between television appearances.
Q1: The immigration bills are now heading into conference. When will we know the composition of the committee?
The composition of the committee will not be announced until the committee starts its work, Senator Frist told me. He plans on making sure the committee is large and diverse on this topic. The Senate side will split equally on supporters and opponents of the Senate version of immigration reform. The House has not yet made its selections, according to Frist, so he has no idea about its composition.
Q2: For you, what are the essentials that the final bill must have for you to support?
The bill has to have strong border security to gain Frist's support when it returns from committee. He is especially interested in empoyment enforcement to cut off the demand for illegal workers. Frist told me, "We have to stop the bleeding," an interesting metaphor from a physician.
Q3. A lot of speculation arose last week about phased implementation, where normalization programs will only kick in after border security gets put in place. Has this actually been proposed, and if it has, do you think it will allow the comprehensive reform aspects to pass on the house?
Ultimately, Frist believes that the final bill will make use of this strategy. He supports it in concept, but needs to see how the bill would structure it. It has to put all of the elements of security in place before kicking off the normalization and guest-worker programs if it is to succeed in the house.
Q4. Let’s talk about earmarks. The Senate took a lot of heat over the earmarks in the emergency appropriation bill. What steps will you take to keep the lid on earmarks?
Frist was not surprised it became an issue. The US Senate now recognizes the problem. The bill as it exists now shows the fiscal responsibility that we must have. Frist voted against the initial bloated package, recognizing the lack of discipline it revealed. The Senate will be pushing budgetary reforms such as a line-item veto, biennial budgeting, and other strategies for keeping wasteful spending out of the budget. He points out that the Republicans really wanted to tackle entitlements in this session, starting with Social Security, but the Democrats refused to come to the table. It's one of the ways in which he will show the difference between the two parties.
Q5. Tom Coburn has introduced S 2590, which would establish a public database for all earmarks. What is the status of that bill, and when can we expect that bill to reach the floor?
At first, Senator Frist didn't recall 2590 by number, but after I gave a brief description, he noted that it's currently sitting in committee. He says he's looking forward to bringing it to the floor if the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee returns it soon. [Right now it appears that its status has not changed since being referred to HSGA in April.]
Q6. Conservatives have debated whether to support the GOP in the midterms or to stay home as a protest over a number of issues, including immigration and spending. How do you intend to engage the conservatives and get their support?
Senator Frist gave his longest answer to this question, and it's clearly on his mind heading into the midterms. He repeated his belief that the GOP has to "govern with meaningful solutions". That means the Republicans will focus on the war on terror, keeping taxes low, and eliminating the death tax altogether. Frist also wants the last months of this session to work on securing America’s values, including flag-burning and gay marriage, and continue to press on judicial nominees. He believes that the GOP can show the contrast between Republicans and Democrats, even on spending. The GOP will remain stalwart on the war. Frist says that John Kerry’s new bill demanding a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq will show Democrats as the cut-and-run party. Frist knows that they need to show that the voters have a real choice to make in the midterms, and they plan on highlighting those policy issues in the last few months before the midterms.
Note: Due to a malfunctioning device on my end, the conversation did not get recorded, and the results are taken from my notes.Sphere It View blog reactions
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Tracked on June 13, 2006 1:28 PM
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