Archive (2007)

Floor Action

After finishing up the 100 hours last week, the House settled down to a more leisurely pace this week. Randy Kuhl voted with the majority on almost every non-procedural bill. This included his votes for the "Bob Ney - Duke Cunningham Act", which revokes the retirement of legislators convicted of felonies, and the "Mark Foley Act", also known as the House Page Board Revision Act.

Kuhl's only significant difference with the Democratic majority was his vote against HR 78, which gives some very limited voting rights to non-voting Representatives such as those from DC and Puerto Rico.

Kuhl also announced his subcomittee assignments. He will serve on six subcommittees of the three main committees on which he serves.

Gates Stops Stop-Loss

Two days after a letter from Randy Kuhl and four other Congressmen, Defense Secretary Gates called for an end to the stop-loss program. According to a memo obtained by The Hill newspaper, Gates included an end to stop-loss as part of wider changes to deployment policies for reserve, guard and active-duty units.

Under the new policy, the Pentagon's goal is to mobilize reserve and guard units for 12 months, and to follow that with five years of demobilization. However, the previous 24 month limit on total active service has been lifted, and the Pentagon acknowledges that some guard and reserve deployments might stretch up to 24 months. This means, for example, that units that spent 18 months in Iraq or Afghanistan might be redeployed under the new policy.

Overall, Gates' memo is a mixed bag for guard and reserve units. Stop-loss was a program aimed at individual soldiers whose tours of duty were expiring. Under the new policy, those soldiers will end their tours at the initially agreed-upon date. The new 12 month/five year deployment cycle for guard and reserve will shorten the length of each deployment for those units, but it might also lead to unexpected second deployments.

Kuhl's response to the stop-loss announcement was positive:

“This is excellent news for guardsmen and reservists and Randy is thrilled about the new defense secretary’s quick response to the issue,” said Bob VanWicklin, Rep. Kuhl’s press secretary.

Kuhl has not gone on record responding to the entire new Pentagon policy. Another member of his party, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, called it "wrongheaded" and "devastating".

Kuhl on the State of the Union

After shaking President Bush's hand during Bush's walk to the podium last night, Randy Kuhl commented:

Tonight, the President discussed many important topics, a lot of the same issues that I’ve heard expressed during town meetings over the past two years [...] Whether it’s health care, energy, education, or immigration, the President has made some bold proposals and has asked for both parties to set aside differences and get this work done quickly for the benefit of all Americans. I couldn’t agree more. I ran for Congress so I could help solve problems like these, so let’s get to work.

I'll leave it to readers to identify the one bold proposal Kuhl failed to mention. Hint: it involves 21,500 young men and women.

Update: Reader porker points out that Kuhl put the war on the list when talking to the media later yesterday. The quote above is from his official site.

In Other News

On Tuesday, a train derailed in East Rochester, just a few hundred feet from the Northern border of the 29th. As a member of the House Transportation Committee, Randy Kuhl is all over it, calling for hearings and issuing statements.

The fallout from the loss of earmarks has begun. Today's Rochester Democrat and Chronicle has a long report on the impact of lost pork. While he laments the possible loss of funding, Kuhl says that "the system has been totally abused and needs to be corrected".

Kuhl, Revisionist

Kuhl continues to refine his position on Iraq. This puts him in a delicate position. As Rochesterturning reports, Kuhl's latest press conference was full of qualifications and revisionist history. When asked whether he's changing his position on Iraq, Kuhl said the following:

“I’ve always felt I was standing on my own and that I was mischaracterized,” Rep. Kuhl said. “The general public in my district saw through that,” he added.

That's nonsense. Here's his campaign position on Iraq:

The new government of Iraq is continuing to make progress, with the Iraqi Security Force due to take over security in all 18 Iraqi provinces by the end of the year, alleviating the burden of the United States and Multinational Forces. The Iraqi Army and police forces’ increased participation has contributed to security and stability, which has, in turn, sustained Iraq's political progress.

During the campaign, Kuhl tried to hide behind the fact that he wasn't in Congress for the vote on the war to straddle the fence when pushed. However, his public pronouncements, such as the one quoted above, were consistently (and unrealistically) rosy. In the debates, he tried to leverage his trip to Iraq to hint that the situation on the ground was better than the reports in the media. It's not a mischaracterization to say that he followed the Republican playbook on Iraq -- it's a fact that almost lost him the election.

In the same press conference, Kuhl also tried to spin the Democrats' Hundred Hours as a failure:

Congress is not moving very fast... Not one bill has gone to the President for his signature. This Congress has done nothing in the first three weeks.

Well, the House (not Congress) passed 6 no-brainers that had been languishing for years, and Kuhl voted for 4 of them. That seems like progress to me.

Hundred Hours Scorecard

On Wednesday and Thursday, Randy Kuhl voted for the last two bills in the Democrats' Hundred Hours agenda. Those bills ended subsidies for big oil and cut interest rates for student loans.

Overall, Kuhl supported 4 of the 6 Hundred Hours bills. He voted for:

  • Enacting the 9/11 Commission Recommendations
  • Increasing the Minimum Wage
  • Cutting Interest Rates on Student Loans
  • Ending Subsidies for Big Oil and Investing in Renewable Energy

He voted against:

  • Expanding Stem Cell Research
  • Negotiating for Lower Prescription Drug Prices

Kuhl Opposes Stop-Loss

Randy Kuhl and four of his Republican colleagues sent a letter yesterday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates opposing the Pentagon's stop-loss policy. Stop-loss extends soldiers' tours beyond the originally-announced length.

The letter addresses stop-loss for all branches of the service (guard, reserve and active-duty). In a press release, Kuhl calls the program a "hidden draft" and says

Our guardsmen and reservists sign a contract to serve the nation for a specific period of time. The nation should honor that contract by not calling up our troops for longer than the time they initially agree to serve ...

Others who signed the letter were Republican Congressmen Ramstad (MN-3), LaTourette (OH-14) and Shays (CT-4). Ramstad and LaTourette are on record opposing the surge. Shays is wishy-washy: his support depends on the fine print.

Kuhl appears to be dipping his toe into the waters of opposition. Since we don't have enough troops to escalate in Iraq without stop-loss, opposing that policy is tantamount to opposing the surge. Another Republican in the New York delegation, John McHugh (NY-23), is on record against an increase in funding for the war. McHugh's position is especially significant since his district includes Fort Drum, home of the 10th Mountain Division. Kuhl has not gone as far as McHugh. Like Shays, he may end up opposing fine points of Bush's policy without voting against it. Votes are what count, and it will be interesting to see how far Kuhl is willing to go

Text of the letter after the break:

We are writing with respect to the President's plan to surge 21,000 troops to Iraq over the coming months, and specifically how the Department of Defense (DOD) intends to provide the manpower necessary to reach this troop level.

While we may have differing views on the President's plan, we share his desire both for a successful outcome to the war in Iraq and his commitment to the brave men and women that so honorably served our nation. It is in this regard we express our deep concern DOD finds it necessary to utilize stop-loss to meet our manpower needs. As you work with the President and the branches of the military, we urge you in strongest terms to limit the use of this policy.

When soldiers deploy for a tour abroad, they and their families literally count the days until their return home. Due to a variety of reasons, we are extending tours and recapturing those who have sought to retire and leave the military. This policy harms morale, places an undue burden on the families of soldiers, and damages the military leadership's credibility. We believe this policy will harm recruitment efforts.

In addition, while DOD has utilized stop-loss frequently throughout Operation Iraqi Freedom, we noted last week's announcement by Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace that the Pentagon has abandoned its limit on the time reserve components can be required to serve on active duty. This announcement concerns us.

While our citizen-soldiers have responded admirably to their increased role in meeting our military's manpower needs, the policy change extending the cumulative time on active duty for the Iraq or Afghan war beyond 24 months betrays their trust, separates families and threatens to devastate the likelihood that active duty soldiers will follow-up their service with time serving in the Reserves.

The bottom line is our troops and their families deserve realistic estimates about the length of their deployment. If a deployment is for twelve months, then have them serve for twelve months and no longer. If it is for fifteen months, then have them serve fifteen months and no longer. We urge the Department to take all reasonable steps to reduce the number of stop-loss extensions.

(Source: American Chronicle story)

Kuhl's Press Conference

Randy Kuhl has a weekly telephone press conference. Most reporters in the 29th seem to use it for background, but the Hornell Evening Tribune covers it faithfully. This week's story shows Kuhl is concerned about two things: undue haste in the passage of the 100 hours legislation, and his vote against stem cell research.

Kuhl points out that the ethics reform package includes a mistake in the wording of the section intended to prohibit travel in corporate jets. In the current legislation, the wording could be interpreted as a complete ban on travel on non-governmental airplanes. Kuhl uses this as evidence that the Democrats' should not have circumvented the normal committee process when passing the first legislation of the 110th Congress.

Kuhl's position is consistent with his party. Every major vote in the 110th has been preceded by a party-line vote seeking to refer the legislation to committee. Once that vote fails, a few Republicans join with the Democrats to pass the bill in question. Though I agree with Kuhl on the general principle that legislation should be reviewed by committee, the first 100 hours bills are a bunch of no-brainers that have generally been well-reviewed and heavily debated in previous Congresses. If the Democrats continue with the policy of prohibiting referral to committee, then Republicans have a legitimate gripe, just as the Democrats did when the Republicans employed similar measures to advance their agenda when they were in the majority.

On the stem cell issue, Kuhl's latest position is that he is for embryonic stem cell research that doesn't involve the destruction of embryos. When science is able to extract stem cells from embryos without destroying them, he'll support the legislation.

Nobody seems to have asked Kuhl the obvious question: If destruction of embryos is so bad, why is in-vitro fertilization (IVF) allowed? Hundreds of thousands of embryos die each year as a result of IVF, yet most right-to-life advocates accept this collateral damage as the price of helping infertile couples to have a baby.

Kuhl and others believe that the right to conceive is important enough to kill embryos. The right to research a promising cure for a number of deadly and debilitating diseases is not. This position makes no sense.

Two More Down, Two to Go

Thursday and Friday saw the passage of bills in support of embryonic stem cell research and negotiation of Medicare prescription drugs. Both bills passed without the support of Randy Kuhl.

Kuhl's vote against embryonic stem cell research was predictable. He's been a strong right-to-life candidate and had previously voted against a similar measure in the 109th Congress, which provoked President Bush's first and only veto. This year's attempt passed without a veto-proof majority, but stem cell research advocates vow to continue to bring similar legislation to the floor. If the 29th has a tight race in '08, expect to see this issue front-and-center.

The Medicare bill directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices for Medicare Part D. Currently, those negotiations occur between insurance companies providing Part D coverage and drug companies. Backers of the bill point to the experience of the Veterans Administration, which has negotiated prices for a group of popular drugs that's significantly less that the Medicare average. Opponents say that these negotiations will only work if drug choice is limited.

As with any Medicare or Social Security issue, the political impact of this vote will depend on who can put more fear into seniors. Backers of the bill will charge that the opposition will bankrupt Medicare by enriching the drug companies. Opponents will argue that negotiation will lead to limited formularies, which means that some seniors won't be able to afford off-formulary drugs. Expect ads showing lawmakers stuffing money into the pockets of drug company fat cats, or men in suits ripping pill bottles out of the hands of defenseless old ladies.

The final votes in the Democrat's 100 hours will occur sometime next week, when Dems introduce bills to limit interest on student loans and to finance renewable energy research from oil royalties.

Kuhl on Bush's New Plan

Randy Kuhl's first reaction to Bush's new Iraq plan is that it is better than doing nothing. Kuhl also thinks that Bush should engage Iran and Syria diplomatically, and pledges continued support: "Kuhl said he will continue to support the president's plan with the expectation that troops will gradually be moved out of the region within the next year and a half." I don't see how Kuhl's expectation is consistent with the plan announced Wednesday, though he's certainly not the only Congressman who wants us to start leaving Iraq before the next election.

In other Iraq-related news, Kuhl was present yesterday with the family of Corporal Jason Dunham, a Marine killed in Iraq, for the posthumous presentation of the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Bush. Corporal Dunham lost his life after he used his body to shield two of his men from the explosion of grenade. He grew up in Scio, a small town in Allegany County. Kuhl also sponsored legislation to rename the Scio Post Office to honor Cpl Dunham.

A Leadership Job Is Not A Suicide Pact

Rochesterturning notes that the announcement of Randy Kuhl's appointment as minority whip seems at odds with a couple of recent votes. On Tuesday, Kuhl voted with the Democrats to implement the findings of the 9/11 commission. Yesterday, unlike the majority of his Republican peers, he voted to increase the minimum wage.

Both of those votes were smart ones for a Representative who was one of fifteen Republicans who won by tight margins in 2006. Kuhl's long-stated position has been to support the minimum wage, though his 2006 opponent argued that his position didn't always match his voting record. Yesterday's vote takes minimum wage off the table for 2008. The 9/11 vote was another no-brainer. Republicans opposed it because they believed that inspection of cargo ships would be too expensive. They also tried to send the bill back to committee for further amendment. Kuhl voted with his party on that procedural vote, but he wisely supported the 9/11 bill when the motion to re-commit failed along party lines. Being seen as soft on terrorism is the last thing Kuhl needs as he heads into the '08 race.

If Kuhl is going to vote against his party to support popular initiatives, why did he join the leadership? There are a couple of reasons. First, Kuhl is at heart more of a party loyalist than his predecessor, Amo Houghton, who was not part of the leadership when he retired. Second, joining the leadership gives Kuhl a little more clout to bring home appropriations to the 29th. Since his view of the role of Congressman is one who serves his district, and service for Kuhl means getting money for projects like roads, he's more likely to achieve that goal as a whip than as a backbencher. Finally, it sounds good: Kuhl's a leader, not a follower.

Kuhl's role as whip will be more apparent on key party-line votes. These are the votes where the minority decides to take a stand and wants all hands on deck. I'd be very surprised if Kuhl doesn't vote in the majority when one of these measures comes to the floor.

Kuhl Keeps Committee Assignments

Randy Kuhl has retained the same committee assignments that he held during his first term: Transportation and Infrastructure, Agriculture, and Education and Labor. In addition, Kuhl was named a Deputy Minority Whip.

Deputy Whip is the lowest rung of the leadership ladder. The role of the whip is to "whip up" votes and to disseminate information among other members. According to the Congressional Research Service [pdf], when the Democrats were in the minority, they had a dozen Deputy Whips, led by six Senior Deputy Whips. When the Republicans were in the majority, they had 17 deputy whips and 49 assistant whips.