Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sen. Rand Paul single-handedly blocks bill that would have provided a $36 million extension of aid to 5,600 disabled or elderly refugees

From Reuters:

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., (pictured) infuriated Democrats and advocacy groups this week after he single-handedly blocked a bill that would have provided a $36 million extension of aid to 5,600 disabled or elderly refugees living in the U.S.

The Refugee Protection Act expired last week, meaning that government assistance for those who are currently eligible for Supplemental Security Income will stop until the program is renewed. SSI is awarded to a limited group of refugees who are elderly or diasbled -- including the deaf and blind -- and have a limited income.

Paul, the son of presidential contender U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and a co-founder of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, placed a hold on the bill after Democratic leaders reached a deal with Republicans to offset funding of the program by enacting fee increases for refugees seeking visas.

In a statement to multiple media outlets, the younger Paul said he is demanding an investigation into the Refugee Act after two refugees who were allowed to enter the U.S. through the program were arrested on terrorism charges in his home state of Kentucky earlier this year. The mishap has reportedly led him to believe the assistance provided to some of the refugees through the bill could be used to aid domestic terrorists.

"This incident alone raises serious questions about the system through which they came to the United States, and I am insisting on a full investigation on our practice of providing welfare to refugees," Paul said

Paul has said he wants assurances that refugees are properly vetted before he can pass the bill. He has also questioned how individuals from Iraq can be considered refugees under the measure since the country is a U.S. ally.

However, Roll Call reports that some Democratic aides say the terror suspects who were apprehended in Kentucky were not assisted by the program included in the bill, but instead received cash benefits from a separate initiative to help refugees. The one-year extension of funding for the bill in question would aid disabled and elderly veterans from areas such as Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom are victims of human-trafficking or torture.

"The bill ensures that refugees will not lose critical life-sustaining benefits that are their only safety net protecting them from homelessness, illness and other effects of extreme poverty," the bill's chief sponsor, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor on Monday, when he assumed the measure would pass in a unanimous voice vote. "Some of the disabled refugees this bill helps are people who have aided American troops overseas in Iraq or Afghanistan -- and risked their lives for America's cause."

Several Republican lawmakers, including Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.), John Cornyn (Texas), Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) helped pave the way for the bill's passage.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.,, a supporter of refugee benefits, told Roll Call that Paul's ability to block the legislation with a single "Nay" is an example of an inherent problem that complicates Congressional procedure.

"I would love to see a time when a 100-Member Senate would actually vote on things" and not allow "every one Senator" to force "the whole world ... to revolve around their issues," Leahy said.

As of now, it is unclear as to when the Senate might proceed with the legislation.