Wednesday, December 30, 2009

From Dallas Morning News: "Sessions is silent on e-mail sent to accused banker R. Allen Stanford"

This article from Dallas Morning News is really just a recap of the Miami Herald article, but Sessions Watch readers were especially interested in this online editorial because of the comments, like:
Pete Sessions needs to share the love with the Stanford VICTIMS and not just Allen Stanford.
"I love you.....?" Wish Congressman Pete would feel the same way about his constituents. Voters, please remember this love note next election!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pete Sessions to Allen Stanford: I love you and believe in you."

Our thanks to all the Sessions Watch readers who sent the link to this story, from Miami Herald:
Just hours after federal agents charged banker Allen Stanford with fleecing investors of $7 billion, the disgraced financier received a message from one of Congress' most powerful members, Pete Sessions.

``I love you and believe in you,'' said the e-mail sent on Feb. 17. ``If you want my ear/voice -- e-mail,'' it said, signed ``Pete.''

The message from the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee represents one of the many ties between members of Congress and the indicted banker that have caught the attention of federal agents...

...Sessions, 54, a longtime House member from Dallas who met with Stanford during two trips to the Caribbean, did not respond to interview requests.

Supporters say the lawmaker, who received $44,375 from Stanford and his staff, was not assigned to any of the committees with oversight over Stanford's bank and brokerages.

His press secretary, Emily Davis, said she was unable to comment on the e-mail sent at 11:31 a.m. on the day Stanford was charged by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. ``I haven't seen it, so I can't verify its authenticity at this time,'' she said.

But the message found on Stanford's computer servers and the contributions he made to Sessions and other lawmakers -- totaling $2.3 million -- are now part of the government's inquiry...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pete Sessions was against Parker Griffith before he was for him

Thanks to our Sessions Watch readers in Alabama who sent this latest bit of flip-floppery; when Parker Griffith (AL-5) was running as a Democrat for Congress, the NRCC ran this ad against him:
The NRCC effort failed, and Parker Griffith won; but today, the conservative Democrat switched parties, and is now a Republican. So now, Pete Sessions is lavishing praise on Parker Griffith:
Sessions: Congressman Griffith’s party affiliation may have changed, but his conservative principles, values and commitment to Alabama families has never wavered
So...if he had conservative principles all along, what's with the ad claiming he has "shameful conduct and can't be trusted"?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Pete Sessions highlights his own idiotic remark on YouTube

(h/t David Smith for finding this clip of Pete Sessions' one-liner during the debate on finance reform).

The one-liner Sessions tosses off is in response to Rep. Ed Perlmutter's personal story about his Ukrainian grandfather's continued struggles with nuances of the English language, even after becoming a successful businessman and spending 40 years mastering the language. Perlmutter's point pertaining to today's financial crisis is that a lot of the fraud we've seen in the financial services industry comes from con-artists who take advantage of people for whom English is their second language.

At first glance, this clip appears to be a "gotcha" from Daily Kos, Huffington Post, or some other left-leaning blog because it makes Pete Sessions look so terribly unprofessional. But no, Pete Sessions is so proud of following Perlmutter's statement with the line "pin the tail on the donkey" that he posted this video on his own YouTube site:

The Sessions Watch team often hears criticism that we're "trying to make Pete Sessions look like an idiot." We offer this video as a rebuttal to that accusation; and in defense of Pete, we acknowlege that he's perfectly capable of looking like an idiot all on his own, without assistance from us.

UPDATE: Below is a transcript of the video:
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO-7): Thank you, Madame Speaker, and I would just say to my friend from the Financial Services Committee two things as to his amendments. It was in January of '09, the last month that George Bush was in office, that we had the highest job loss throughout this whole period. Since that time, it has been shrinking. So, under the Bush Administration, tremendous job loss in '08, up to four million jobs. And it has been those jobs, job losses have been shrinking ever since. I'd also say to my friend from the Financial Services Committee, we had this debate in the committee on the language issue and as he knows, I'm [from?] the Ukraine, my grandfather came over here, was a successful business man, but even over a forty, fifty year period he had difficulty with the written language. And where we've seen so much fraud and so much con-artistry is with people who have a difficulty with the language being taken advantage of. And part of this bill, the Consumer Protection Bill, is so that we avoid that kind of fraud and schemery because of people who can't speak...[fade out]

[fade in: Pete Sessions]:

Pete Sessions (R-TX-32): Thank you, Madame Speaker, you know, Madame Speaker, the gentleman from Colorado keeps trying to search and search and search and find who to pin this on. This bad economy, job loss. Well I would direct the gentleman that's something we've known for a long, long time in this country. The answer is pin the tail on the donkey. Madame Speaker, at this time, I would like to yield two minutes to the gentleman from Clinton Township, New Jersey, the gentleman Mr. Lance.

Federal Judge throws out "Defund ACORN" bill

Those hoping the "de-fund ACORN" bill would bring down the entire military-industrial complex are out of luck; a federal judge has ruled that it's a bill of attainder, which is unconstitutional.

Legal junkies can study Article I Clause 3 to their hearts' content at FindLaw; for everybody else, here's a brief explanation. A bill of attainder is a writ singling out a person or a group of persons for punishment, essentially declaring them guilty without giving them a trial.

In the old days, kings used bills of attainder to execute people they didn't like, which is why our founding fathers put trial by jury and a clause about bills of attainder into the Constitution.

You'd think members of Congress would know better than to write a bill singling out one organization so blatantly.

But Pete Sessions was one of the first to co-sponsor John Boehner's bill and used the vote to score political points in his weekly newsletter of Sept. 19, 2009.

All the Republicans voted for it, as well as most of the Democrats--egged on by Alan Grayson, who pointed out that the wording of the bill ("To prohibit the Federal Government from awarding contracts, grants, or other agreements to, providing any other Federal funds to, or engaging in activities that promote certain indicted organizations") could be used to bring down the entire military-industrial complex. He and all but 75 Democrats voted for it, and Alan Grayson went to work compiling a list of organizations that have committed fraud against the government--including such military contractors as Halliburton, Lockheed-Martin and Blackwater.

But those of us waiting for this bill to go all the way to the President's desk are out of luck; as the 75 nay-voting Democrats tried to tell us, it's a bill of attainder after all. The subtitle of the bill, "Defund ACORN Act," is a dead giveaway, as well as Section 2 Part C that singles out ACORN specifically.

If Pete Sessions and the U.S. Congress are serious about fighting fraud, they'll re-write this bill, omitting the section about ACORN, and send it back through for a vote. The Sessions Watch team is very interested to know if Pete Sessions would support such a revised bill.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pete Sessions tops "Greed and Abuse" list

From Reader's Digest comes this list of the Top 7 Tales of Greed and Abuse In 2009. In the Number 1 slot is our congressman, Pete Sessions:
Air Pork One
On his congressional website, Texas Republican Pete Sessions called earmarks “a symbol to the American people of a broken Washington.” So how does Sessions explain the $1.6 million budget earmark for dirigible research that he steered to an Illinois company represented by one of his former aides? As reported in July, Sessions directed the money to Jim G. Ferguson & Associates, which is not located in the congressman's district—and whose founders have no experience in aviation or engineering, let alone blimp building. Sessions's office denied that the role of former aide Adrian Plesha, who made nearly $450,000 lobbying for the company, had anything to do with Sessions's support for the earmark. If you believe that, I've got a blimp to sell you.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pete Sessions dodges primary challenger at town hall

At a town hall meeting Saturday morning, Pete Sessions used a staff member to help him scoot out without having to face talking to primary challenger David Smith--no big surprise to Sessions Watchers who've seen him cut and run after debates to avoid constituents. What a coward.

None of the Sessions Watch writers were available to cover Saturday's town hall meeting, but David Smith has a good account of the event posted at The Examiner: "Same old same old" at Sessions Town Hall. The title is a direct quote from an attendee, who stopped to talk to Mr. Smith after listening to Pete Sessions for long enough.

According to David Smith, about 1/3 of attendees were friends of Pete Sessions--again, no big surprise since Sessions was quoted over the summer as saying, "The days of you having a town hall meeting where maybe 15 or 20 of your friends show up -- they're over. You've now got real people who are showing up -- and that's going to be a factor."

Uh, Pete--town hall meetings were never intended as a party for your friends. Those "real people showing up" are called "constituents." You know, the people you're supposed to be serving in Washington? They'd like to hear from you every now and then!

If any Sessions Watch readers went to the town hall, feel free to post your impressions of the event in the comment box below.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pete Sessions votes "no" to increased physician payments

The House passed H.R. 3961, to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to reform the Medicare SGR payment system for physicians, by a recorded vote of 243 ayes to 183 noes, Roll No. 909.
This bill repeals a 21.2% fee reduction scheduled for Jan. 1, 2010 and "sets a new spending growth rate target for physician services that would be equal to the gross domestic product plus 1%."

Pete Sessions voted against the bill, as did all but one Republican. Which Republican voted for it? Michael Burgess--who's a doctor.

Read all about the bill at GovTrack: H.R. 3961: Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act of 2009. Roll Call information at Thomas: Roll No. 909

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Another NY-23 brewing in Connecticut?

CONNECTICUT: "In a move that would shake up two political races, the state Republican chairman is publicly asking state Sen. Sam Caligiuri to run against Democratic incumbent Rep. Christopher Murphy in the 5th Congressional district." Caligiuri is currently running for Sen. Chris Dodd's seat, but "has been lagging far behind in the money-raising race against the top-tier, big-money Republican candidates" including Linda McMahon, former ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley, and Fairfield County investor Peter Schiff.

Former aide to Rep. Rob Simmons and Afghanistan vet Justin Bernier, currently campaigning for Murphy's House seat, issued a statement contesting Healy's involvement in the race: "The situation in New York's 23rd congressional district showed us what happens when party insiders play favorites,'' Bernier said in a statement. "I am confident that the Republicans in the Fifth District of Connecticut will make the right decision in this nomination process." Bernier has already received the support of the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Pete Sessions.
No one on the Sessions Watch team has an opinion on this race, but we found it interesting that, once again, Pete Sessions seems at odds with a state's Republican party chairman.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pete Sessions hold $1,000/plate fundraiser for Ed Martin

From St. Louis Today: GOP House campaign honcho hosts $1,000 dinner for Ed Martin
CLAYTON — Texas Congressman Pete Sessions, head of the committee charged with electing Republicans to the U.S. House, is in town tonight, hosting a high-dollar fundraising dinner for Capitol Hill hopeful Ed Martin.

Sessions, head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, will headline the event tonight at Luciano’s Trattoria in downtown Clayton.

The price is $1,000 a plate, or $5,000 to also attend a VIP reception, which will be hosted in a private residence in the nearby Plaza in Clayton, a luxury condo tower.

Current congressman Roy Blunt, Todd Akin and Blaine Luetkemeyer are expected to attend.

Martin, former chairman of the St. Louis Elections Board, is attempting to unseat Democrat Russ Carnahan in a district that is considered reliably Democratic. (Just ask the previous inhabitant, Dick Gephardt.)

Whether Sessions’ personal visit is a sign that Martin’s stock as a challenger is rising or just a courtesy he extends to many candidates is tough to say.
No further comment from the Sessions Watch team, just cataloging this endorsement for future reference.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

NRCC fundraising down under Sessions' leadership

From Politico:
If Republicans hope to make a play for dozens of Democratic-held House seats, they’ll need a well-stocked campaign account to fund all their candidates. But right now, after spending money in two contentious off-year special elections, the National Republican Congressional Committee has a long way to go to raise enough money to compete across the national map.

The National Republican Congressional Committee ended September with just $4.3 million in the bank, less than one-third of the $14.7 million banked by its Democratic counterpart. So far this cycle, NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions hasn’t improved the fundraising fortunes of the committee — he’s raised $10 million less than his predecessor, Rep. Tom Cole, did at this same point in the past election cycle.

And the committee took an additional financial hit in the New York 23rd District special election, spending nearly $1 million on a race in which the GOP nominee, Dede Scozzafava, ended up quitting and then endorsing the Democratic candidate. Worse, the NRCC’s decision to support Scozzafava’s campaign has played a role in alienating conservative donors.
In related news, Florida Republican State Senator Eric Eisnaugle has decided not to run against Alan Grayson for his seat in Congress (FL-8). The other Republican contender in that race is Armando Gutierrez, who is causing the GOP to be "concerned":
But GOP operatives in Washington and the district say he is running a destructive primary campaign, and national and local leaders are doing just about anything they can to avoid having him as their nominee.

“He’s offending a lot of people,” said attorney Will McBride, who opted out of the race last week. “He’s rubbing people the wrong way. He needs to be a little more professional in his approach to reaching out to local leaders in our party.”

Numerous others confirmed the widespread bristling at Gutierrez’s early maneuvers.

“He’s pissing people off a lot,” said a leading local GOP operative...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pete Sessions votes against chemical facility security, credit card accountability

Aside from the health care debate, Democrats and Republicans were fairly agreeable on a number of things last week, like credit card reform and the need for chemical facility security.

On Wednesday, November 4, the House once again showed overwhelming bipartisanship in passing H.R. 3639, the Expedited CARD Reform for Consumers Act of 2009, "To amend the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 to establish an earlier effective date for various consumer protections, and for other purposes." The vote tally was 331 yeas and 92 noes, with 11 not voting. Pete Sessions voted no. See Roll no. 851.

On Friday, November 6, the House passed H.R. 2868, again with a show of bipartisan support for the Chemical and Water Security Act of 2009. The bill is designed "To amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to enhance security and protect against acts of terrorism against chemical facilities, to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to enhance the security of public water systems, and to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to enhance the security of wastewater treatment works, and for other purposes." The bill passed 230-193, with 11 not voting. Pete Sessions voted no (See roll no. 875).

Pete Sessions cast no vote in Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act

On Thursday, November 5, the House, in an overwhelming show of bipartisan unity, passed H.R. 3548, the Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act. This bill provides "provides for the temporary availability of certain additional emergency unemployment compensation." The bill passed with a 2/3 majority (403 yeas and 12 nays, with 18--including Pete Sessions--casting no vote). See Roll no. 859.

The bill passed in the Senate 98-0, with 2 not voting; both Senators Cornyn and Hutchison voted yea.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sessions Watch Endorses Somebody Else in 2010!

Sessions Watch is a non-partisan blog dedicated to highlighting the gaffes, corruption, and evasiveness of our congressman, Pete Sessions.

While we don't make partisan endorsements, we can say this much--we endorse Somebody Else in 2010! (In the interest of fairness, the order of the following essays was determined by coin toss, and does not indicate partisan preference on the part of the writer):

Republicans: Finally, you have a candidate running against Pete Sessions in the March 2 GOP Primary. His name is David Smith, who writes for the Dallas County Republican Examiner. Although portrayed by the media as a "farther to the right than Sessions" right-wing extremist Tea Party Supporter, Sessions Watchers on both sides of the aisle have dismissed that as media hype. In reading his articles, we've formed the opinion that David Smith is an an honest fiscal conservative who thinks Congress should work for the people instead of lobbyists. His article have consistently criticized Pete Sessions questionable ethics, with particular emphases on the blimp earmark. Sessions Watch encourages Republican Precinct Chairs to meet David Smith tonight at his announcement party and to consider helping out with his campaign. Information at this link: Announcement of candidacy for US House District 32 and campaign kick-off event

Democrats: Liberal Democrats who've given half-hearted support to past candidates they felt were too "middle of the road" are fired up in support of Grier Raggio. If his name sounds familiar, it's because he's the husband of Judge Lorraine Raggio, and the son of women's rights pioneer Louise Raggio (also known as The Texas Tornado). Grier is a lawyer, and although this will be his first foray into politics, he's given generously to the Democratic Party over the years and is already going where Pete Sessions fears to tread--into the District to meet potential constituents, conducting his own "listening tour." Sessions Watchers on both sides of the aisle are confident that Grier Raggio would put the needs of the District ahead of party politics and that he would shun influence-peddling from lobbyists. Democrats are invited to read more about Grier Raggio at his campaign website Raggio for Congress and to make a donation at Grier Raggio's Act Blue Page.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Health Care Bill Passes, thanks to NY-23, CA-10 pick-ups

Tuesday's Democratic Party pick up of NY-23 and CA-10, along with a lone Republican Party vote from Joseph Cao (LA-2) helped pass H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act; the bill passed 220-215, with 218 needed to pass (See Roll No. 887).

The two newly elected Congressmen, Bill Owens (NY-23) and John Garamendi (CA-10) voted with the slim majority in support of health care reform. Democrats opposed to the plan ranged from single payer advocates like Dennis Kucinich and Eric Massa to camp, who voted against the bill because what they really wanted was single payer, to the "blue dog" Democrats who were expected to vote with Republicans. Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats campaigned for an anti-abortion amendment to the bill, saying that federal funds cannot be used to fund abortions; the amendment passed 240-194, but even with their amendment passed, those members of Congress still voted "no" to the final bill. (The amendment duplicates one already in place, The Hyde Amendment, which also prohibits federal funding for abortion; because of that duplication, the amendment is expected to be stripped in committee when the House bill is merged with the Senate bill).

Pete Sessions distinguished himself in the debate by defending the insurance industry practice of charging women more for health insurance comparing women to smokers, then joining Republicans in staging an "I Object" shout down of the Democratic Women's Caucus as members took turns at the podium explaining how women benefit from health care reform. (One of our Sessions Watchers who served as an International Observer in Northern Ireland compared the outburst to Rev. Ian Paisley's "No, no, no" shout down of George Mitchell during the Good Friday Agreement.)

Republicans on the Sessions Watch team give a sarcastic "thanks a lot" to Pete Sessions and the protesters for making our party look like a childish gang of misogynists; Democrats on the team give Pete Sessions a sincere thanks, once again, for delivering two more congressional seats to the Democrats and pushing the votes for health care reform over the 218 mark.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pete Sessions compares being female to being a smoker

Despite repeated campaign promises to always be in the District on weekends, Pete Sessions is working overtime today to kill health care reform.

His latest outburst on the House floor drew "a burst of chatter" in the room, kind of like it does in bi-partisan settings here at home when Sessions gets stuck for an answer and says the first thing that comes to mind, usually a tangent about "socialism" or "Nancy Pelosi."

In his latest gaffe, Pete Sessions defended the insurance industry's practice of charging higher rates to women; the proposed health care bill would make it illegal for insurers to charge different rates based solely on gender. From Courthouse News Service:
In promoting the House health bill, New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone made reference to discrimination by insurance companies, citing their reluctance to insure people with preexisting conditions and differences in costs based on gender. "But that's not against the law," Texas Republican Pete Sessions said.

Pallone replied, "No, but we would make it against the law. Why do you have a problem with that?" he asked. "Why should a woman pay more than a man?"

"Well, we're all different," Sessions explained. "Why should a smoker pay more," he said before getting interrupted by a burst of chatter throughout the room.
So, in Pete's mind, being a woman is just like being a smoker--being female just a destructive habit some people pick up that the rest of us shouldn't pay for.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pete Sessions will have GOP Primary Challenger!

From Dallas County Republican Examiner:
Today I am proud to announce my candidacy for the 32nd Congressional District from the Great State of Texas and I want you to be the first to know. My decision to run has not been made lightly, and I can no longer continue to witness the reckless behavior of our government. I respect your hard work as the backbone of the local Republican Party and look forward to meeting you, working with you and hearing your views on the pressing issues facing our nation and Texas' 32nd District.

I grew up in Farmers Branch and graduated from R.L. Turner High School. I went on to earn degrees in music education and finance (MBA) from the University of North Texas and am now a Corporate Finance and Accounting Analyst. I have always voted Republican, even in my youth, and participated in the Denton County Republican Party before returning to Dallas County after the last election cycle. My concentration the last two years has involved lobbying for reform in the Texas transportation system. This experience has included speaking from the steps of the Texas Capitol at a march / rally last spring and testifying before the Sunset Commission of the Texas Legislature last summer, and contributed to the death of the Trans Texas Corridor earlier this year. I was also honored to speak on several resolutions at the 2008 Denton County Republican Convention.

I am a conservative Republican that endorses the State Platform, and as a corporate accounting professional, I am also a strong fiscal conservative. And sadly I recognize that record budget deficits under Republican leadership led to the exponentially greater debt spending that we see today. I know that our government is broke, in more ways than one, and pledge to do the job our current leadership is failing to perform.

My campaign will focus on issues affecting Texas' 32nd District and our government: Accountability, Fiscal Responsibility and the Economy. In coming days you will learn more about my campaign as I move forward to Victory in 2010! I hope to earn your support and your vote, and am looking forward to meeting each of you soon...
Thanks for stepping up to the plate, David, and good luck to you--you'll need it. Pete Sessions is a dirty fighter, he'll refuse to debate you, he'll pay kids to pull up your political signs (and might even get caught doing it himself), and he'll send out lurid glossy fliers accusing you of stuff you never did. Stay calm, stay cool, stay positive, and let him dish it out and look like the bad guy.

The Sessions Watch team encourages Republican precinct chairs to attend David Smith's announcement party and fundraiser; details at The Examiner, at this link: Announcement of candidacy for US House District 32 and campaign kick-off event.

Pete Sessions delivers NY-23--to Democrats!

The Democrats on the Sessions Watch team would like to thank NRCC Chair Pete Sessions for giving another Congressional seat to the Dems--NY-23, which has been a Republican district since the 1890s. Thanks, Pete, for delivering a district that's eluded Democrats for 100 years. We literally couldn't have done it without you.

The Republicans on the Sessions Watch team would like to remind the NRCC that this blog did try to warn you that Pete Sessions backs candidates with an uncanny ability to raise money for the other side.

And the team as a whole gives our bipartisan thanks to the NRCC once again for raising Pete Sessions' profile. Now, the whole country is watching him, which makes our job easier.

For those who haven't been following this race, here's a brief summary:
  • NY-23 became vacant when President Obama picked Republican Congressman John M. McHugh to be Secretary of the Army.
  • The local Republican Party chose Dede Scozzafava as their candidate, and Doug Hoffman won the backing of the Conservative Party of New York. Democrats chose Bill Owens.
  • The tally so far (with 93% precincts reported): Bill Owens is declared the winner, with 49% of the vote; Doug Hoffman came in second at 45%, and the GOP candidate came in last with 6% of the vote.
And what does Pete Sessions have to say about the election result? True to form, he refuses to take any responsibility himself, and blames someone else--in this case, the Republican Party of New York state:
On the heels of the GOP’s second special election loss in New York this year, Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Wednesday morning that Empire State Republicans need to adopt a more open candidate selection process.

“After two special elections in New York, there is no doubt in my mind that the candidate selection process lacks openness and transparency and should be changed to a primary system so voters can have a say in who their respective parties nominate,” he said in a statement...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pete Sessions votes yes to small business loans

In July, Pete Sessions was one of the few who voted against small businesses, joining only 40 other house members in opposing H.R. 2965 (see Pete Sessions votes against small business research and innovation).

But last Thursday, Pete Sessions joined the overwhelmingly bipartisan majority in voting for H.R. 3854, the Small Business Financing and Investment Act of 2009, which will improve lending and access to credit for small businesses.

Only 32 voted against (see Roll no. 830). Among the no-voters were 8 Texas Republicans, including Michael Burgess, Jeb Hensarling, Kay Granger, and Ron Paul.

So those of you who hounded Pete Sessions to vote for this bill owe him a thank you note for once!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pete Sessions votes against Defense, Solar Energy

On October 8, the House passed H.R. 2647, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010. The bill passed 281-146, with Pete Sessions joining the majority of Republicans who cast a "no" vote on this bill, presumably because it contained a provision expanding the definition of a hate crime to include crimes against people because of sexual orientation.

The bill passed the Senate 68-29, with both Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn joining the majority and voting in favor (see Roll no. 327).

The bill is now cleared for the President's signature.

Pete Sessions also voted against H.R. 3585, the Solar Technology Roadmap Act, "to guide and provide for United States research, development, and demonstration of solar energy technologies." The bill passed with bipartisan support 310-106, with 4 Texas Republicans (including Joe Barton) voting with the majority.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pete Sessions asks for stimulus money he voted against

Earlier in the month, the Texas delegation signed a letter asking the Obama Administration for money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to fund NASA (see the letter at the office of Congressman Pete Olson TX-22: MEMBERS OF THE TEXAS DELEGATION URGE STIMULUS FUNDS BE DIRECTED TO NASA
Current co-signers include: Sens. Cornyn and Hutchison, and (26) Reps. Barton, Brady, Burgess, Carter, Conaway, Culberson, Edwards, Gohmert, Gonzalez, Granger, Al Green, Gene Green, Hall, Hinojosa, Jackson Lee, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Sam Johnson, Marchant, McCaul, Nuegebauer, Olson, Paul, Poe, Sessions, Smith, Thornberry...
And, yes, that is the same bill that Pete Sessions (and all Republicans) voted against in January.

In other news, one of our Sessions Watchers found new information on why Pete Sessions likes Dede Scozzafava; he likes her because "the money" likes her. From The American Spectator:

Sessions was called out by conservative members of the caucus, and challenged when asked why NRCC resources -- cash and personnel -- were being used for Scozzafava. "We have a conservative running in this race, and the Republican Party is not with him," says a conservative House member who attended the meeting...

...Sessions, according to sources, angrily responded to the criticism...According to NRCC staff, Scozzafava was viewed as the "most cooperative" candidate of a group put forward by local Republican Party bosses in the 23rd District. "She wasn't going to be a loose cannon and the money was happy with her," says one NRCC source, saying that "money" referred to a pool of high-dollar donors with ties to former New York Governor George Pataki.
We kinda figured it had something to do with money.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pete Sessions and Poker, Part 2

On our way to looking up stuff about Dede Scozzafava, the Sessions Watch team found something interesting--Pete Sessions' top donor for the 2010 cycle so far is Poker Road, which leads us back to a question D Magazine asked last election cycle "What's the Deal With Pete Sessions and Poker?"

Take a look at Pete Sessions' list of individual contributors--of the top 20, the first 9 are connected in some way with poker. Five in the $2300-3000 donation range list their occupations as "Self Employed/Professional Poker Player, and list their residences in Las Vegas. Among others in the top 9 include the Poker Room Manager for the Bellagio in Las Vegas, who gave him $2,500, and Joe Sebok, CEO of Poker Road, an internet gambling site.

And poker benefits our district because...? And gambling fits in with Pete Sessions' Eagle Scout image because...?

UPDATE: Speaking of Las Vegas, Sessions Watch would like to thank a reader (who prefers to remain anonymous) for sending this picture of Pete Sessions enjoying himself at Forty Deuce strip club in Las Vegas.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pete Sessions supports ACORN-backed candidate

Right-wing Republicans are starting to figure out something the rest of us figured out long ago, that Pete Sessions has erratic judgement and does things for no apparent reason (like giving an earmark to a blimp company that has no experience making blimps)

Now, the right-wing of the party is in an uproar over the NRCC's endorsement of Dede Scozzafava, who has the backing of--wait for it--ACORN.

Yes, ACORN, an organization Pete Sessions hates so much that he was willing to throw the whole military-industrial complex under the bus to get rid of it.

The right-wing of the Republican Party is now asking itself, "What was Pete Sessions thinking when he endorsed Scozzafava?"

At Sessions Watch, we're stumped, too. Besides being backed by ACORN, Scozzafava is pro-gay rights and pro-abortion rights, two issues that Pete Sessions vehemently opposes.

So how come he likes her? At Sessions Watch, our best guess is that she gave him a big political donation, but a search of PETE Pac came up dry, unless she's involved with one of these organizations.

UPDATE: More headaches for Pete Sessions: Dick Armey to endorse 3rd party candidate over Republican in NY House race (from Dallas Morning News, h/t John Peterson):
The special election to fill New York's vacant 23rd congressional seat is perhaps the earliest test of the GOP's chances to reclaim the House in 2010. Yet the GOP candidate, Dede Scozzafava, has struggled to line up Republican support...

...Add North Texas' Dick Armey to the list of conservative stars backing [primary opponent] Hoffman...His endorsement of Hoffman is bound to cause headaches for establishment Republicans such as Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee and has had to defend his support of Scozzafava to conservative groups. Some Republicans are already worried that tea party activists may lead a revolt against incumbent Republicans who supported last year's TARP bailout.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Know Your District Lines: the Hamilton Park story

At a political event the other night, one of our Sessions Watchers had a long argument with a political junkie who insisted that Hamilton Park, an historically African-American neighborhood, is part of Pete Sessions' district. It is not; Hamilton Park is in TX-3, Sam Johnson's district. Click the map (from Sam Johnson's website) for an enlargement and take a look at the area between Forest Lane to the South and 635 to the North, bounded on the East and West by Coit and Greenville. That's Hamilton Park.

The person who insisted that Hamilton Park is in TX-32 cited the bill Pete Sessions sponsored, designating the Post Office at 8135 Forest Lane as Dr. Robert E. Price Post Office Building, named for a long-time Hamilton Park resident. When the TX-32 lines were drawn, the man insisted, Hamilton Park was included because Pete Sessions was so beloved by this neighborhood from his old district.

Here's the real story, which our Sessions Watcher tried unsuccessfully to explain: Pete Sessions originally wrote a bill naming the post office after Vaughn Gross, a principal of a Hamilton Park school, who just happens to also be a personal friend and campaign supporter of Pete Sessions ; residents of this historically African-American neighborhood petitioned to block Pete Sessions' bill before it went to the Senate:
In 2004, Mr. Sessions had proposed that the facility bear the name of Vaughn Gross, a white educator who served as principal of Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet School for five years.

After the U.S. House approved Mrs. Gross, community leaders started a petition drive to block Mr. Sessions' bill when it went to the Senate.
Under pressure from the community, Sessions retracted his original bill and agreed to name the new post office for the person the residents wanted, Dr. Robert E. Price. But the Hamilton Park incident left residents feeling that Pete Sessions was out of touch with voters in the district, so when the lines were drawn to insure a safe GOP seat in the newly created TX-32, Hamilton Park was excluded.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pete Sessions votes against extension of unemployment benefits

Last week, the House passed H.R. 3548 to extend unemployment benefits beyond the current limitation of 13 weeks; the bill passed with a 2/3 majority, 331-83, with Pete Sessions joining the minority of those who voted no (see Roll No. 722).

Middle Class Supports. While economists see signs of economic recovery, 14.9 million unemployed Americans still cannot find work. The unemployment rate continues to rise and now stands at 9.7%, keeping middle-class Americans at risk of being thrown out of work as a result of the economic downturn. According to the National Employment Law Project, 5 million Americans have been unemployed for six months or longer and half of the unemployed cannot find jobs within the first six months of receiving unemployment insurance benefits. There are 6 jobless workers for every job opening. Recent extensions of the duration of unemployment benefits have been necessary but insufficient: 400,000 unemployed workers will have exhausted their benefits by the end of September, a number that will increase to a devastating 1.3 million by the end of the year.

The Unemployment Compensation Extension Act would ease the financial pain associated with long-term unemployment. Unemployment benefits provide direct assistance to the current and aspiring middle-class Americans likely to be hardest hit during the economic downturn, people who want to work but have lost their means of support through no fault of their own...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pete Sessions votes to Defund Military Industrial Complex!

Pete Sessions was one of the first members of Congress to co-sponsor John Boehner's bill, H.R. 3571, to cut off Federal funding to "Any organization that has filed a fraudulent form with any Federal or State regulatory agency."

The bill was intended as a "de-fund ACORN" measure, but Democrats figured out right away that the broad wording of the bill could also cut funds to a long list of military contractors, effectively defunding the "military industrial complex."

The congressional legislation intended to defund ACORN, passed with broad bipartisan support, is written so broadly that it applies to "any organization" that has been charged with breaking federal or state election laws, lobbying disclosure laws, campaign finance laws or filing fraudulent paperwork with any federal or state agency. It also applies to any of the employees, contractors or other folks affiliated with a group charged with any of those things.

In other words, the bill could plausibly defund the entire military-industrial complex. Whoops.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) picked up on the legislative overreach and asked the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) to sift through its database to find which contractors might be caught in the ACORN net.
Lockheed Martin and Northrop Gumman both popped up quickly, with 20 fraud cases between them, and the longer list is a Who's Who of weapons manufacturers and defense contractors.
The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, 345-75, and the Project on Government Oversight is working on building a database of organizations that have defrauded the government:
At last count, it includes 87 instances of government contract fraud – federal and state – involving 43 contractors. You might want to focus on Lockheed Martin, which has 11 government contract fraud instances, or Northrop Grumman with 9 contract fraud instances including this $325 million False Claims Act settlement from earlier this year.
Bear in mind that, since 1994, ACORN has reportedly received a total of $53 million in federal funds, or an average of roughly $3.5 million per year. In contrast, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman respectively received over $35 billion and $18 billion in federal contracts last year. (Their totals since 2000 are $266 billion for Lockheed and $125 billion for Northrop.)
If you'd like to help Representative Alan Grayson build a list of organizations that have committed fraud against the government, contact him at this link: Help Rep. Grayson Find Fraud (and, yes, they've got Blackwater already).

Pete Sessions votes against civil discourse

As expected, Pete Sessions voted against the resolution disapproving of Joe Wilson's outburst during the President's speech to the joint session of Congress.

Sessions Watchers thinks that Congress should always strive for civil discourse, and that members should set an example for the public by practicing civil discourse at all times.

Of all people, Pete Sessions should be at the forefront of promoting civil discourse. After all, Pete Sessions is an Eagle Scout, as he likes to remind us:
Congressman Sessions is an Eagle Scout and a former Scout Master for 13 Eagle Scouts. He is a member of the Executive Board of the Circle Ten Council of the Boy Scouts of America. In 1999, Congressman Sessions was honored as a recipient of the National Distinguished Eagle Scout Award for service to his community as a Representative in Congress and for his commitment to furthering the role of the Boy Scouts of America in the lives of young men in the Dallas Community.
Is that what they teach in Scouting, that it's all right to show open disrespect for the President of the United States?

As we recall, Pete Sessions doesn't like it very much when the shouts of disapproval are directed at him. We all remember the 2008 town hall when Pete Sessions blamed the economic meltdown on "community organizers" and one person booed. Pete Sessions was so upset that he ran out the back door after the debate, without sticking around to visit with constituents. You'd think that experience alone would cause him to demand more civility in our national discourse over complicated issues like health care. But no, Pete Sessions thinks it's alright to disrupt people when they're speaking--but don't do it to him, 'cause that makes him mad.

The House resolution passed 240 to 179, with 5 voting present; commentary and roll call information is available at Congress.Org

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pete Sessions defends hate speech

A few weeks ago, one of our Sessions Watchers who served as an observer in Northern Ireland commented that the rhetoric on right-wing radio was similar to the hate speech broadcast on TV and radio during "the Troubles":
Ian Paisley would preach sermons referring to the Pope as "the Antichrist," and later, somebody would throw a petrol bomb through the window of a Catholic home. Two human rights lawyers were killed--Rosemary Nelson and Pat Finucane--and shortly before I went over, three little boys were burned to death in their beds after a Loyalist firebombed their house. I used to discuss the issue of our First Amendment rights with Irish people, talking about the right to anything you want in a public forum, tempered by the responsibility to tone down inflammatory speech that might prompt an unstable person to take direct action...this teabagger stuff is getting out of control, and I think Congress should take the lead in telling these "town brawl" protesters to knock it off before somebody gets killed!
Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did just that, comparing anti-Obama rhetoric to the hate speech in the 1970s that lead to the assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone:
Pelosi, responding to a question about anti-Obama sentiment, said that partisans on all sides of an issue have the right to voice their opinion. But after pausing, she added: "I have concerns about some of the language that is being used, because I saw this myself in the late '70s in San Francisco. This kind of rhetoric was very frightening, and it created a climate in which violence took place...Our country is great because people can say what they think and they believe. But I also think that they have to take responsibility for any incitement that they may cause," she said.
And, speaking in support of the haters, our own Pete Sessions, who either doesn't get it, or pretends to not understand how a mentally unbalanced person might be moved to react by a fiery speech at a tea party rally:
"The speaker is now likening genuine opposition to assassination," said Rep. Pete Sessions (Tex.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "Such insulting rhetoric not only undermines the credibility of her office, but it underscores the desperate attempt by her party to divert attention away from a failing agenda..."The speaker's verbal assault on voters accomplishes nothing other than furthering her reputation for being wildly out of touch with the American people," Sessions responded."
What an embarassment. It's all political point-scoring with our congressman. Pete Sessions should tend to his own affairs before calling someone else "wildly out of touch with the American people." One of his constituents, blogger alaprst, just wrote this piece for Burnt Orange Report: TX-32: Sessions Defends Extreme Teabagger Rhetoric:
Excuse me if I get a bit emotional, but I couldn't be more ashamed that Pete Sessions represents my congressional district (TX-32) than I am now.
It's bad enough that Sessions dishonestly claims that healthcare reform has been rejected by the American people when in fact poll after poll shows the completely opposite conclusion...

...Now Sessions has, in effect, allied with those who have toted guns during presidential events and have made hints of violence in placards seen during last week's teabagger protests.

Folks have a right to express their opinions, including those that strongly disagree with President Obama's policies and those of the Democratic leadership. But when my area's representative who also happens to be one of the main House Republicans made the statements that he did, it requires more than just mere comment. It requires that strong action be made to assure his defeat next year...
Read the whole piece at Burnt Orange Report, and be sure to give the writer a recommend.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pete Sessions votes against student loan overhaul

In a near-party line vote, the House passed H.R. 3221 which would shift student loan financing to federal programs, away from private banks. From Chicago Tribune:
The bill, passed on a party-line vote of 253-171, would save $87 billion over 10 years by abolishing subsidies to banks that have been criticized as excessive, supporters said. Most of the money saved would be channeled to increases in Pell grants for low-income students.

"We can either keep sending these subsidies to banks or we can start sending them directly to students," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., lead sponsor of the bill.
According to Dallas Morning News, Texas ranks second in the nation in student loan defaults; still, no Republicans in the Texas delegation cross party lines to support this bill (see Roll No. 719)

Pete Sessions votes against Advanced Vehicle Technology Act

From Congress.Org:
The House passed H.R. 3246, to provide for a program of research, development, demonstration and commercial application in vehicle technologies at the Department of Energy, by a yea-and-nay vote of 312 yeas to 114 nays, Roll No. 709.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pete Sessions votes against nature trails--again

You'd think an Eagle Scout would be the last person to vote against nature trails, but Pete Sessions does it every time. On Thursday, he did it again, voting against H.R. 965, which provides continuing authorization of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network. The bill passed 311-107 (see Roll no. 695).

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lobbyist sues in wake of blimp pork

From Politico:
A former aide to Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) has filed suit against the company for whom he helped secure a controversial $1.6 million earmark for a blimp project last year...

...According to his lawsuit, Plesha and Ferguson signed a contract in February 2007 under which Plesha, who is Sessions’s former communications director, would get $20,000 per month for one year, plus an option for a second year at the same rate, for a total of $480,000.

The lawsuit states that “as a direct result of Plesha’s services in 2007 through 2008, Plesha was able to secure a $1.6 million appropriation for defendants in September 2008..
Watch this space to see if anything sticks to Teflon Pete.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Health Care Field Hearing on Monday

From Dallas Morning News:
Republican Reps. Joe Barton of Arlington, Sam Johnson of Plano, and Jeb Hensarling and Pete Sessions of Dallas will host a Congressional health care field hearing on Monday in Richardson.

Panelists include: Eddie McBride, president of the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce; Christopher Crow, a doctor at Village Health Partners in Plano; Joel Allison, president and CEO of Baylor Health Care Systems; and Judge Glen Whitley from Tarrant County, first vice president of the National Association of Counties.
Where: Eisemann Center at 2351 Performance Dr. in Richardson
When: Monday, August 31, 7:00 p.m. (Doors open at 5:00 p.m.)
The event is free and open to the public

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pete Sessions Praises Ted Kennedy

From Dallas Morning News:
Of the hundreds of sentiments from Capitol Hill mourning the loss of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, among the most poignant comes from Rep. Pete Sessions...

"I am deeply saddened by his passing and most appreciative of his work on behalf of people with special needs," Sessions said in a statement.

"Without Senator Kennedy's leadership in the Senate, this bill [the Family Opportunity Act] would not have become law," Sessions said. "A fierce advocate of the liberal cause, Senator Kennedy will be remembered most for his ability to reach across party lines and work to get things done."
In 2001, Pete Sessions introduced The Family Opportunity Act alongside one of the most liberal members of Congress, Henry Waxman (CA-30). From Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law:
February 28, 2001-Legislation to give many more children with serious disabilities access to needed health and mentalhealth services was reintroduced this month by Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA)and Representatives Pete Sessions (R-TX) and Henry Waxman (D-CA).

The Family Opportunity Act of 2001 (S. 321 and H.R. 600) is also referred to as the Dylan Lee James Act, in honor of a little boy with Down syndrome who lived in Representative Sessions' district in Texas. He lost Medicaid coverage when his father received a $3,000 bonus. The bill targets the huge gap in coverage faced by families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, lack employer health coverage or have private insurance with inadequate mental health benefits.
Which brings us back to the questions that's been asked so many times on this blog: if Pete Sessions could support that bill, why the vehement opposition to a plan allowing anyone to buy into a public health insurance plan?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pete Sessions on health care: tell the President

One of the reasons members of Congress conduct town hall meetings is to listen and compile a list of constituent concerns and take that information back to Washington on our behalf. But when a woman told Pete Sessions about the cost of her husband's liver transplant anti-rejection medicine, he inexplicably told her to go to one of Obama's town hall meetings and tell her problems to the President!

CBS-11 did a story about her, called Falling Through The Cracks Of Health Care Debate; our video and transcript (from the Irving town hall meeting) follows:

Constituent: Thank you for giving us an opportunity to discuss this issue.
Sessions: Yes, ma’am.
Constituent: And Congressman, I respect the fact that you have a family member with special needs, and you would do anything you can to make sure that that person in your family is taken care of. I want to tell you my story about someone in my family who I care deeply about, who’s falling through the cracks of our current system and why I think having a public option is so important. Can I do that?
Sessions: Yes, ma’am. Absolutely. That’s why you’ve been invited down…
Constituent: Thirteen years ago, my husband was diagnosed with liver failure. He was told he needed a transplant to live. Nine months later, he received his transplant. Now, if my story stopped there and was only about health care it would be a wonderful story about how our country is admired around the world for the type of health care we receive. However, my story is not about our health care. My story is about health coverage, pre-existing conditions, and falling through the cracks in the system as it stands. My husband’s a semiconductor engineer, he made six figures a year, we were as middle class as anybody wants to be. And last Fall, when the economy collapsed, he lost his job. Now, we had the choice of staying on COBRA, and at the time, as you recall, at that time was $1500.00 a month for our family.
Sessions: Yes, ma’am.
Constituent: Okay. His insurance just for him, if I took myself and my two children off, was going to be over $600.00. The medicine to keep a liver transplant alive, without insurance, was going to cost me $700 a month. Now, unemployment was only $1500 a month, and we still had rent, and food, and utilities and everything else. Now, when the new administration came in and the stimulus package came through, we were able to get our—for nine months—insurance reduced. But at the end of those nine months, we’re back up to $1500 and our unemployment is gonna run out. There are no jobs to be had, especially jobs with insurance. The only people that are hiring now are hiring contract labor. Contract labor, they’re not required to insure; it’s a loophole in the business system. Now, without the medication, my husband is going to die. We’re already lost our home, we had to sell our car, I’ve had to cut as many expenses as I can possibly cut, in order to keep my husband alive. Alive. It isn’t a matter of—y’know, people are saying, “Well, why don’t you just go get Medicare.” He doesn’t qualify for Medicare. He’s healthy! He’s been post transplant for almost—
Sessions: He’s probably not old enough—
Constituent: — fifteen years —
Sessions: —for Medicare.
Constituent: He’s 54 years old. He’s not old enough. So we are in this black hole where, y’know, without the public option, all this bill does is say everybody has to be covered. If there’s no cost savings on anybody from the…for the insurer, there’s no incentive to make the insurance companies cover us at the same rate that anybody else gets, and all I’m asking for—I’m not asking anybody to take their insurance away from them. I’m just saying I am an American citizen, I deserve the same amount of insurance that anybody else gets… (applause) …we pay taxes…
Sessions: Thank you, and I think you’ve spoken very well.
Constituent: And I truly would like to know, why aren’t you on this? Please.
Sessions: I’ll tell you why I’m not on the bill. I’m not on the bill because people need to speak to the President when he goes around the country and to say, “Mr. President, let’s not do a trillion six hundred billion dollar. Let’s aim where the problem is, and let’s help people and let’s go…(audio drowned out by applause)…this President…this President was told that in thirteen days, he spent more money than George Bush spent in two wars for seven years, Katrina and New York City with 9-11…(cheers and applause)…and…that a person who is gonna be President has to be responsible for the national debt that is taking place that is killing jobs in this country…(unintelligible exchange between Sessions and Constituent, drowned out by applause)…and this President needs to hear from you and others so that he goes back and does something about the problem, not over everybody in here and ruining Medicare. (Cheers and applause from audience). And I—I as a member of Congress am trying to say, I have—I have open town hall meetings. I initiated the meeting with Eddie Bernice Johnson. I openly will say to anybody, including the President, “Mr. President, listen to people, go do something about the problem, don’t try to take over a government run health care plan…(cheers and applause)…I have great empathy. I really do. It doesn’t take a lot for me to figure out, and I started my career working as a paperboy. I worked every day, never missed a day of work when I worked in the private sector and I’ve gotta work for a living now, too. And I know all but for probably five genes that any of us have that are wrong it could be us that would be there, too. I, too, understand that. I’m not a mean, cold-hearted person. But the American public is also kind and generous, but don’t pick on everybody. (applause) Go and find the problem. So I would say that a group of people who were here from all the organizations need to go back and do a huddle with the President, and the President is a great salesman. But he is getting his clock cleaned (wild cheers and applause obscure audio)…dialogue with the President. And I’m very open to having dialogue with anybody here. Please aim for the problem. I would love to have you say to the President, “Mr. President, what we’re trying to sell is not working.” It’s not! You just can’t argue that case. But you still have needs, and we still have a problem, and Sessions agrees with that. Let’s solve the problem. Thank you very much.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pete Sessions Answers the Blimp Question (sort of)

A Sessions Watch team member from Oak Cliff (who we'll refer to as KP, for Kessler Park) attended last night's town hall meeting in Irving, and filed this report. For the benefit of those who want to see the blimp question first, we've put the video of Pete Sessions' answer at the top of the post. The transcript is at the bottom of KP's report:

Last night's town hall meeting took place in the gymnasium of Ranchview High School with the audience sitting on bleachers, which was an appropriate setting for what turned out to be more of a pep rally for Pete Sessions than anything of substance. Sessions Watchers who want to know how he keeps winning should go to one of these things. Pete Sessions can give the most non-sensical-non-answer you've ever heard, and receive thunderous applause and wild cheers. It's an amazing spectacle, for anyone with a brain.

I arrived an hour early to take pictures of some of the protesters outside; one person on the tea party side asked, "Are you a good guy or a bad guy?" I said, "I'm a good guy, because I'm taking pictures of signs from both sides of the debate." But seriously, as the song say, "There ain't no good guy, there ain't no bad guy, there's only you and me, and we just disagree."

The atmosphere inside the gym was reminiscent of the highly charged, hyper-partisan 2004 debates between him and Martin Frost. Back then, Sessions got NATO confused with the U.N.; compared the September 11 tragedy to "a home game" that we lost; and gave the wrong name for his own website--several times--on live TV, giving the opposition a chance to buy the domain name for an anti-Sessions website. (It also came out during the campaign that he streaked in college, then gave an interview to the press afterwards, using his real name! No big deal, really, except that the whole purpose of streaking was to do it spontaneously and anonymously, hence the term "streak." A streaker was supposed to be an unidentified naked blur, but he had to go an give an interview. Gee whiz, even when doing harmless pranks, he can't get it quite right!) But no matter what he said, every gaff, blunder and scatterbrained answer won him standing ovations from his supporters, for the simple reason that he was the Republican.

From the audience response to his answers last night, it's clear that times haven't changed any for the pro-Sessions crowd. We can watch him, pointing out his flip-flops and errors in judgement, but there's a slight majority of people in this district who just think Pete Sessions is the best Congressman ever, for reasons that elude the rest of us. If he did nothing more than read a list of names out of a phone book, ending with the word "freedom," his diehard supporters would cheer and applaud, proclaiming it the best speech he's ever given.

Just about every question was about health care last night, and, to Sessions' credit, he began the town hall by asking for people who disagreed with him to come to one of the two microphones, set up on opposite sides of the floor, and asked the audience to be polite. Interestingly enough, when people gave testimonies about how their insurance companies had let them down, there was huge applause from the audience, even from those who claim they don't want "government" having anything to do with health care. Sessions told several people with complaints about access to affordable health care to "tell it to the President," which kind of defeats the purpose of a town hall with your Congressman, doesn't it? Isn't he supposed to be our advocate in Washington? In answer to several consumer complaints about health insurance, he also explained that insurance regulation is an issue for the states, not Congress. But isn't state regulation a form of "government control of health care?" And as Pete Sessions has said many times, he wants people to be able to buy health insurance across state lines, which would then call for federal regulation, right? Some of his ideas have some loose ends that are a bit hard to tie up.

Towards the end of the town hall, though, he actually offered to help one woman who complained of high prescription drug bills--from what she said, it's likely that she falls into the Medicare Part D "donut hole," one of the problems with the bill that made several Republicans object to it, leading to Tom DeLay's infamous arm-twisting and keeping the vote open 'til 3:00 am. I would be interested to hear a follow-up from that woman, to see if he can really do anything for her, and if he'll vote on legislation to close that huge gap in prescription drug coverage.

Pete Sessions allowed one person on the "tea party" side to read a litany of objections to H.R. 3200 (published by Dick Armey's group Freedomworks) which have been refuted in several blogs and publications. One item on her list, which drew yells of affirmation from the audicence, was a charge that the bill allows illegal aliens to benefit--but Section 246 of the bill says it plain as day:

Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.
For all their yelling at the opposition to "read the bill," they apparently haven't taken their own advice! I was disappointed, though not surprised that Pete Sessions didn't correct her; surely Republicans have objections to the bill as written without making stuff up that isn't in there.

And then, someone asked the question we've all been waiting for--why a blimp? One man asked Pete Sessions about the blimp project, in a roudabout way, asking how the project would benefit North Texas, why the Illinois company (which had never actually made a blimp before) was picked, and what was accomplished from the forty thousand dollar engineering study. The audience tried to shout down the question, but Pete Sessions very graciously said, "Thank you very much, you asked a question and you're entitled to an answer," and went on to make this statement (this is directly transcribed from the video tape, and is unedited):
The appropriators had it for over a year before they brought it to the floor. The appropriators knew that the United States Army and Air Force is in fact looking for the opportunity to take massive amounts of weight from the United States to the theater. Blimps are much like the hydroplanes that the Marine Corps went to where they've got hovercraft. And they spend seventy-eight thousand gallons taking two tanks overseas on an aircraft. This would accomplish sixteen tanks for three gallons. The forty thousand dollars that was spent on the engineering study before they asked for it was looked at by the Air Force and the Air Force is interested in this and you watch what happens. Thank you so very much.
The overwhelmingly pro-Sessions audience greeted this statement with wild cheers and applause, on a par with the kind Oprah Winfrey gets when she tells her audience, "Look under your chairs...!" But his answer raised more questions than it answered. Interesting about the 40-thousand dollar engineering study, but the whole amount steered towards Jim G. Ferguson Associates was $1.6 million. Sessions also used a fake Dallas address for the company, making it look like a local project. Why did he do that? Is the company planning to relocate to North Texas? Though he did answer one of our questions, "Why a blimp" by explaining that the Air Force is considering dirigibles for transportation of supplies overseas, he did not explain why this company in particular is so well-suited for the contract, especially since they have no prior experience in manufacturing blimps. And, Pete Sessions placed this earmark into the appropriations bill himself, so what's the connection between him and this company? Is it former aide Adrian Plesha, who is now a lobbyist for the company? If it's a good project with no "funny business" attached to it, shouldn't he be featuring it front and center as a clean energy and cost-saving initiative instead of running away from the question?

Towards 8:30 p.m., even the diehard Sessions fans were leaving the gym, so I left, too. There was still a long line of people waiting to talk to him, so I hope he makes good on a promise he made at the beginning of the evening to do more town halls during the August recess. May I suggest Mountain View College?

Thanks, KP, for the report and video. Sessions Watch will follow Pete Sessions' advice and "watch what happens" with the blimp story.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Town Hall Blog

If you have pics and video of tonight's event, post the link to your blog, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, etc, into the comment section of this post. You may also use the comments section as a debate forum; thank you, in advance, for conducting yourselves in a respectful manner, and discussing disagreements without resorting to name calling, threats or abusive language.

Tonight's Town Hall: We've got questions!

To help our readers prepare for tonight, Sessions Watch has compiled a list of questions from our team members, readers and commenters. We'd like someone to ask these questions and report back with Pete Sessions' answer; we framed the questions in a way that fits into "sound bite" format, and that is unlikely to have your question shouted down by anybody who's come ready for a fight. The questions are also framed to guide Pete Sessions into giving a straight answer without veering off on a tangent, if that's even possible. Our wording is meant as a guide, but please feel free to put our questions into your own words:

Q: Last year, you submitted a request to the House Appropriations Committee for $1.6 million dollars to a dirigible company in Chicago. How many jobs are they bringing to North Texas? (h/t readers Jim, TRNF, Ed C; writer David Smith of The Examiner, and Sessions Watch team members in the southern portion of the district).

For Sessions Watch, this is the most important question we want answered; it's this kind of earmark that inspired us to start the blog in the first place. Team members who used to be represented by Martin Frost in the old 24th Congressional District regularly saw tax dollars coming back home, especially in the form of roads, bridges and other infrastructure project that directly benefitted the District. Pete Sessions, on the other hand, seems more interested in serving lobbyists than us; while he'll probably never be caught doing anything illegal, Pete Sessions often legislates in a way that does not serve the district, and he most always gets away with it, earning him the nickname "Teflon Pete." Now, with health care at the forefront, this issue's about to slide off, too. David Smith of The Examiner has promised to keep asking that question, but it would be great to have it asked by a constituent. Anyone?

Q: Thank you for being a co-sponsor of H.R. 1207, to audit the Federal Reserve. Now that there are 282 co-sponsors, how soon will it come up for a vote? (h/t John Peterson and reader Lisa who heard Dennis Kucinich explain the bill on Thom Hartmann's show). Those who haven't heard about this can listen to Dennis Kucinich explain the bill and the history of the Federal Reserve at this link: Dennis Kucinich on Thom Hartmann show, re: H.r. 1207. This is an important bill that's really slid under the radar, and is an example of bipartisanship at its best. The question is designed to guide Pete Sessions into talking about working together with the other side, nudging him away from portraying Democrats as "the enemy."

Q: Reader MT sent this along to a Sessions Watch team member via email, but unfortunately it has erroneous information. First the question, then the analysis: Since you voted in favor of Net Neutrality in 2006, will you support the Internet Freedom Act of 2009? That's wishful thinking on your part, MT. The 2006 bill you're thinking of, the Network Neutrality Act of 2006 was referred to the Subcommittee for Telecommunications and the Internet, and never came up for a floor vote. It would be worth asking, though, where he stands on Internet neutrality, since this issue has come up before, regarding his ties to the telecommunications industry who oppose such legislation. (Before running for Congress, Pete Sessions was a phone company executive for Southwestern Bell, and continues to receive large contributions from telecommunications lobbyists). If anyone wants to ask his position on Network Neutrality, have at it, but please do some research first.

And now, to health care:

Q: In a previous town hall meeting, you said that you do not receive government health care. As a consumer, I'm looking for a different plan, and I'd like to know where you shop! (h/t Nancy) This is meant to present consumer choice of health care plans in a humorous light, and to guide Pete Sessions towards an explanation of Congressional health care compensation. The Sessions Watch team thinks that in saying he doesn't receive "government health care," he means that he picks Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Aetna, Cigna, or one of the other private plans offered under the Federal Employees Benefit Plan. So technically, it's "private insurance," but since taxpayers fund his benefits, it's technically also a "government plan!"

Q: Your Republican colleague in the House, Joe Barton, recently chastised insurance industry executives on the policy of rescission, dropping customers' policies after they become sick. Do you agree with Congressman Barton that this is a bad business practice, and what is the role of Congress, if any, in ending this practice? (h/t Sessions Watch readers and team members who found the video of Joe Barton at the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on ending the practice of rescission). The wording of the question is to highlight the issue of rescission, getting it past the automatic boo-ers by mentioning that a member of the Republican party considers this to be a bad business practice. Hopefully, it will also guide Pete Sessions towards agreeing that rescission is a bad practice, and give him an opportunity to tell us his ideas on government's role in regulating businesses that engage in practices which hurt consumers.

Good luck to all town hall attendees; be sure to take pictures, write blogs, and post links to your work in the comments section of the town hall blog, which we'll set up beforehand.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Charting America's Health Care Future--a joint town hall with Pete Sessions and Eddie Bernice Johnson

This morning, Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30) and Pete Sessions held what was probably the country's most civil--and most tightly controlled--town hall forum on health care. Access was limited, with just over 300 tickets available on a first-come-first-served basis, with notices sent out via email and local media. Originally planned for a meeting room at SMU, the event was moved to Cityplace to accommodate a larger crowd; still, there were only about 325 people in attendance, with a promise of video streaming for those who did not get tickets.

Sessions Watch received some of the rare tickets for the event, which was co-sponsored by Curran Tomko Tarski LLP. We were invited to submit questions ahead of time to the co-sponsor's website, and our questions were compiled and presented to Mr. Sessions and Ms. Johnson in turn by Cal Jillson, professor of political science at SMU, who moderated the panel.

Our Sessions Watch group sat together in nervous anticipation, wondering, "Will this be the day Pete Sessions surprises us with rational thought, coherence, and statesman-like brilliance?" We all secretly hope that one day, Pete Sessions will dazzle us with some really great ideas, that one day we'll finally see what the slim majority of people in the district see in him when they faithfully cast their votes for him every two years.

But today wasn't that day. Pete Sessions was his usual self, delivering a few catch phrases--most notably "free market"--without any new ideas, and without acknowledging what most people feel across all party affiliations, that the free market has done a poor job of delivering access to health care to all Americans.

Cal Jillson began the panel discussion by giving a brief bio of each Representative; in his introductory remarks about Pete Sessions, he mentioned the Family Opportunity Act, but that never came up again in the Q&A portion (Sessions Watch submitted a question that came up in our comments section, asking if Pete Sessions would support allowing the uninsured to buy into Medicare, since he sponsored a bill allowing those with Down's Syndrome children to buy into Medicaid; our question was not one of the ones picked).

Following Cal Jillson's introduction, both Representatives gave a brief statement about health care reform.

Eddie Bernice Johnson went first, talking about the rising cost of insurance premiums, which, she said, are rising three times faster than inflation, and how we have a moral obligation to provide access to everybody and keep people from "falling through the cracks of a broken health care system." She gave a brief overview of the three sections of the bill currently in the House, and assured the audience that she has read everything in all three sections.

Pete Sessions used his time to talk about what the GOP has accomplished over the past 12 years, including expanded funding for the National Institutes of Health, the Medicare Part D drug plan for seniors, and Health Savings Accounts, which allow people to save for their own health care in a tax free savings account.

(Sessions mentioned the Health Savings Account in glowing terms, several times during the course of the panel discussion. He sees it as a way for people to "own" their health care and keep it from job to job, but doesn't seem to realize is that even if a person who pays into it regularly might not have saved up enough money for "surprises"--an emergency heart bypass, for instance, which runs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.)

He went on to outline what he sees as problems with the proposed House bill, but soon became bogged down into his own tangled logic; on the one hand, he worries that the bill focuses too much on what's working--employer-based health coverage--instead of the real problem, covering more people. But in the next breath, he started talking about how there aren't enough physicians to cover everybody who's not currently insured, and got sidetracked talking about how specialists would have to leave their practices to become primary care physicians in order to accommodate all of the formerly uninsured. (A lot of health care advocates think that would be a good thing, to have more primary care physicians diagnosing and treating illness early, instead of waiting until a specialist is the patient's only option). Pete Sessions also expressed concern about people not being able to choose their own doctor under a Public Option plan, without addressing the problem of PPOs, where your favorite doctor may not be on the list provided by the insurance company.

The first question presented by Cal Jillson was about portability; both agreed that people should be able to keep the same coverage when they change jobs, with Eddie Bernice Johnson talking about the benefits of the proposed House bill, which would offer a range of plans in an "insurance exchange marketplace," which would offer low group rates to participants. Pete Sessions countered with his plan for everybody to be able to buy into "bigger pools," where every association, church group, business, etc., could buy into a group insurance plan. "The free market should have a chance," he said, without acknowledging that the free market has been delivering health care for decades without coming up with a streamlined, cost-effective system where everybody has coverage.

The second question focused on what to do about people who are denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Cal Jillson addressed the question first to Pete Sessions, asking him if the market would provide health care to those with pre-existing conditions.

"The market should," he said assertively, "move towards covering pre-existing conditions." He suggested that people with pre-existing conditions could be covered by "coming in to fill out some paperwork" and "paying a little bit more." (That comment elicited the first groan from an otherwise silent audience). He went on to repeat what he had said before, about getting more people to buy insurance by creating "bigger pools" (which, incidentally, sounds a lot like the House plan for an "insurance marketplace").

Eddie Bernice Johnson spent her time talking about how a good health care plan should cover wellness, saying that current insurance plans only cover catastrophic expenses instead of the cost of managing chronic illnesses. She highlighted the success of community clinics, which educate people on managing such chronic illnesses as diabetes. People using the community clinics see a doctor regularly, which, she said, is more cost effective than waiting until a chronic condition gets out of control.

The next question covered Public Option and/or Co-ops to compete with private insurance.

Congresswoman Johnson talked about people unable to get coverage, due to pre-existing conditions, as well as those who have been "priced out of the market" for health insurance; she stressed the need to get them into a group plan where they can't be turned down.

Congressman Sessions loudly proclaimed such a plan "Socialized medicine," and seemed startled when the audience erupted in laughter!

At this point, the two members of Congress actually had an exchange, without the help of the moderator. Ms. Johnson reminded Mr. Sessions that when people go to emergency rooms, we all pay. "We taxpayers pick that up," she said.

Pete Sessions agreed that quality health care is important, saying "People don't get healthcare through insurance like they should. We want more and more people to have insurance!"

Just when it was getting good, the moderator stopped them in order to finish the questions attendees had submitted. The audience responded with calls for them to continue their exchange, but Cal Jillson asked for everyone to settle down and proceed with his list of questions.

Sessions said of Eddie Bernice Johnson, "We have a great relationship."

"Sure we do," said Eddie Bernice Johnson, which got another huge laugh from the audience.

Back to the question of co-ops, Sessions said no to that idea, saying, "We don't need to create anything new." Then, he went off on one of his famous circuitous tangents, on the topic of personal responsibility. He went off on a wild hypothetical situation in which someone would enter the emergency room after getting drunk or doing drugs on a Friday night, "Then," he said, "Somebody has to call an ambulance." He concluded his missive by saying that people need to exercise "personal responsibility," a statement which got weak applause from about 10 people.

Eddie Bernice Johnson looked at him and said, "I don't know how to respond to that." Just about everybody in that room erupted in laughter and applause! Then, she went on to explain that ambulances don't just come on Friday night, they come every day, reiterating her point about people avoiding wellness care because it's not covered by their insurance plan. "If insurance would cover people at a reasonable cost, we wouldn't be here," she said. Congresswoman Johnson went on to tell of the history of Medicare, and how it took twenty years to get it passed, saying "anything for people is hard to come by."

On the question of cost, Eddie Bernice Johnson talked about tax incentives to businesses who provide insurance, and stated one problem with the current system is that insurance companies don't want to take any risk, preferring to insure only healthy young people who don't get sick.

Pete Sessions told us about Health Savings Accounts again, saying "The free market works and works well."

The final question was about physician-owned hospitals; both Representatives agreed that in Texas, at least, physician-owned facilities are working well. (In other parts of the country, there have been problems with physicians ordering too many unnecessary tests to get more money from insurance companies, but both assured us that the Texas delegation is satisfied with the physician-owned facilities in our state).

"I'm all for creative financing," Eddie Bernice Johnson said, "because the last administration really made us broke."

The panel discussion with the members of Congress ended at 10:00 a.m., and was followed by a community panel discussions, with people representing hospitals and insurance companies talking about the need for reform. Sessions Watch didn't stay for that portion of the event, but if any of our commenters stayed, please feel free to share your thoughts about it in the comment box.

Before the event, Cal Jillson told us that this town hall is the only one in the country where a Democrat and a Republican have held a joint town hall; despite what appeared at first to be an overly-controlled ticketing system, it went very smoothly and there's no reason why this town hall couldn't be a model for others across the country.

The need for health care reform affects everyone, regardless of party affiliation. When your insurance company drops you because you got sick, they're not going to ask you if you're a Democrat or a Republican. To them, covering your illness is a "loss" that they have to cut. So isn't it time we stopped the screaming and started working together?