Tag Archives: filibuster

Hero of the Week Award, November 22: Democrats in the U.S. Senate

22 Nov

GraphCongratulations to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D – NV) and the Democratic caucus in the U.S. Senate. After years of abuse and obstruction by the GOP, they finally said, “ENOUGH.” Unable to get a simple up-and-down vote on three recent nominees to the DC Circuit Court, Reid made it clear that the Republicans had violated both the spirit and letter of every agreement made in the past few years about Presidential nominees. Even some long-standing holdouts — like Sen. Feinstein and Boxer of California and Sen. Leahy of Vermont — realized that this level of obstruction must be stopped. It’s about time.

I think it might be helpful to have a  brief history lesson: In 1917 the Senate created a method for ending filibusters, the cloture vote. It originally required a 2/3 majority and was revised down to a 3/5 majority. Both filibusters and cloture votes were used sparingly. In 1975, the non-speaking filibuster arrived, creating the model we’ve seen grow over the past few years. Just saying one intended to block a vote counted as a requirement for cloture. Even then, however, use was relatively rare.

Since President Obama took office, the Republicans have done everything they can to obstruct him. Their extraordinary use of the virtual filibuster has served as a way to nullify his election and especially his re-election–it is difficult for me not to see a racist agenda here. They didn’t like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau but couldn’t repeal the law, so they filibustered the President’s nominees. (That resulted in the election of Sen. Warren of Massachusetts, so they shot themselves in the foot with that one!) They want to keep the federal courts as conservative as possible, so multiple judges have been blocked. One might ask, one should ask: this type of block voting says two things: one, the GOP is not interested in serving all citizens of the United States, and two, where is there room for independent thinking and creating partnerships?

The so-called Nuclear Option that changed the rules only required a majority vote and it succeeded. For the rest of this Congress, any Presidential nominee except for Supreme Court justices will only require a simple majority to be approved. That ends a major logjam and takes a critical piece of obstruction away from the GOP. Given how broken the filibuster is, something more might be needed, but this is an excellent start. I might suggest that something more to be removing John Boehner as the Speaker of the House.

Of course the GOP is screaming with rage, even though they could have stopped the rules change simply by sticking to the agreements they had made. It’s amusing to note that one of the biggest whiners, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R – KY), threatened the very same thing when Democrats invoked far fewer cloture votes on Pres. Bush’s nominees. Hypocrisy much?

This change is long overdue. Big thanks to the trio of senators who have pushed hard to help make the Senate work again, Tom Harkin (IA), Jeff Merkley (OR), and Tom Udall (NM).

A related honorable mention goes to the ever wonderful Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D – NY). She’s been pushing hard for reform in military justice protocols to help stem the tide of sexual abuse and assaults. When senior Democrats pushed to water down her bill, she stood firm and now has majority support for real reforms.  Gillibrand is one of the best civil servants the United States currently has.

Ted Cruz Has His Health Care, Who Cares About Yours?

25 Sep
Sen. Cruz counts the number of people he actually cares about

Sen. Cruz counts the number of people he actually cares about

If anyone doubted just how twisted Sen. Ted Cruz (R – Pit of Hell) really is, his antics on the Senate floor this week are all the evidence we need. You see, Cruz is engaged in a talk-a-thon pseudo-filibuster to block a vote on a bill he actually approves of. If that sounds a bit whacky to you, then you’re paying attention.

A bit of background: Worst Speaker in History John Boehner recently caved to the tea-soaked fringe of his party and helped pass a budget bill that would avoid a shutdown of the government (for three whole months). The price? It removes all funding for the Affordable Care Act. That’s right, the House passed its 42nd effort to eliminate a law that would improve the lives of millions of Americans.

Sen. Cruz favors this bill. All his blather is aimed at one thing: running out the budget clock. If there isn’t a budget bill in place by Tuesday, the Federal government shuts down. (That worked really well for Newt Gingrich in the 90s…) So what it comes down to is this: Cruz, clearly grandstanding as he sets up a 2016 presidential campaign, is willing to risk a stoppage of most Federal services and cut off pay and benefits for millions unless the Senate passes the nasty House bill and blocks improved access to health care for another set of millions of Americans. In my best Dolly Parton voice from 9 to 5, “I never thought I would have to say this about another human being, but you are evil, that’s right you are evil Mr. Cruz.”

Talking much and saying nothing isn’t new for Senate Republicans, but Cruz is part of a new wave intent on putting their selfish hypocrisy on display. Remember when Rand Paul (R – Myopia) filibustered an Obama nominee to protest the administration’s stand on the use of armed drones? (And then reversed himself just days later after no-one was paying attention…) Cruz is engaged in just such grandstanding. In fact, Sen. Paul stepped up to lend a hand. So did Mike Lee (R – Who?), the worst Senator you’ve never heard of.

It’s all pointless, of course. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will call for a vote today and even the Republicans won’t muster enough votes to block it. The Senate will never defund the Affordable Care Act and the President would never sign such a bill. Cruz, Paul, and Lee  (The Three Stooges) just want to make it as hard as possible to work out a compromise. So, he babbles on about anything, giving television reviews and reading from Atlas Shrugged and Green Eggs and Ham. (That’s a literary analysis that can’t help Ayn Rand’s legacy any…)

Never mind that the majority of Americans (including a plurality of Republicans) oppose a shutdown. Even larger numbers oppose using health care to hold funding hostage. Even people who dislike (or more likely misunderstand) the health bill believe that it should be implemented and improved, not used for games. Sen. Cruz and Paul don’t care. His health care is secure; so is his salary. The rest of America can suffer.  A very odd approach to civil service.

Hero of the Week Award: April 19, Patricia Maisch

19 Apr
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

Despite massive popular support and rising levels of public violence, the U.S. Senate failed to pass even the weakest of gun control bills this week. In the face of this shameful behavior, one voice called out in the Senate chamber: “Shame on you!” That voice belonged to Patricia Maisch, my hero.

The woman from Tucson knows what she’s talking about. She was in the crowd when Jared Loughner opened fire, killing six and wounding many others including Rep. Gabby Giffords. Maisch leapt into action, helping subdue Loughner before he could reload. She has become an outspoken advocate for gun control and had testified in favor of congressional action.

She spoke for all sensible Americans with her outburst (which got her escorted out of the building). Congress is broken. Human lives matter less than lobbyists and corporations. Someone needs to speak the truth. Thank you, Patricia Maisch, for taking up that charge.

Honorable mention this week goes to the latest two countries to approve marriage equality for their LGBT citizens. Uruguay passed a bill last week which simply awaits the President’s signature (which he has promised). New Zealand’s Parliament approved a marriage bill on Wednesday, resulting in a joyous celebration amongst the legislators and onlookers. They are the 12th and 13th nations to approve full equality as a matter of law. How sad that the “Land of the Free” is still waiting for the same kind of justice.

Hero of the Week Award: July 27, Christian Bale

27 Jul

Hero of the Week

This week’s hero is another Celebrity Gone Right story. In the aftermath of the shootings in Aurora, CO, there were many heroes. First responders, police investigators, hospital personnel, and friends and family of the victims all did their part to minimize the horror of the situation. One man with a connection to the incident that was both central and peripheral was actor Christian Bale, star of the Batman feature playing in the theatre.

While it’s clear that Bale, DC Comics, and Warner Bros. have no direct responsibility for the actions of a crazed gunman, Bale decided to use his celebrity to engender some healing. Many studio executives, the director, and other actors made wonderful statements of condolence. Bale quietly went to Aurora and visited each of the victims. He also took time to visit hospital staff and some of the first responders. Warner Bros. made it clear that the decision to go to Aurora was Bale’s, not a publicity department arrangement. Bill Voloch, interim president of the Medical Center of Aurora noted the value of the visit.

It was good for the patients. We hope it was therapeutic for them, and all the staff really appreciated him coming.

It’s a simple thing, perhaps, but it shows a humanity that rarely gets celebrated in the hype of summer films or in the 15-minute celebrity status gained by the perpetrators of such crimes. Bale’s kindness was noted by comic aficionados, local, and national media.

Honorable mention this week goes to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Regular readers will know that TSM is hardly Reid’s biggest fan given his compromise and capitulate strategies when dealing with Senate Republicans. This week, however, Reid scored a major victory. In a deal with Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Rancid Tea Bag, KY), he got both a Democratic and Republican tax break bill onto the floor for a simple majority vote. With the filibuster removed, the Democratic plan passed (51 – 48!) while the Republican rich-get-richer plan failed. While the Senate bill, which extends middle class tax credits and the tax breaks for Americans making less than $250,000 per year, will be DOA in the House, Reid’s strategy crafted an important pre-election contrast between the governing priorities of the two parties. Nicely done, Senator!

Dear America, thanks for letting us play with your Senate. Sorry we broke it. Best, Republicans.

9 Dec

The U.S. Congress has two houses for a reason. The House of Representatives is the very democratic, majority rules, free-for-all. The Senate is supposed to be the more deliberative, contemplative, august body that weighs the significant issues and gives every state an equal vote in major national issues. The minority party has a certain level of authority in the Senate, allowing, hypothetically, a broader spectrum of input. Bad news, folks, it just doesn’t work that way anymore.

If you’ve heard/watched/surfed any news over the past two years, you’ve been bombarded with they myth of the 60-vote majority. The Republicans in the Senate have hijacked the filibuster to derail any issue they dislike. Because they are much better at voting in lockstep than the Democrats, even a 60/40 split paralyzed action on major issues. Action in the Senate has come down to a minority vote of fewer than 40 rather than a majority vote of 51 or more. This is wrong. However much CNN wants you to believe it, a 60-vote majority is not a part of the Founding Fathers’ plan for the Senate.

The filibuster was intended as a measure to continue debate so that all aspects of a key issue could be considered. If a Senator found a particular issue particularly troublesome, he or she could hold the floor to wear down the opposition. Now all one has to do to derail an issue is imply that one might not vote to suspend debate, which takes 60 votes. Suddenly the hypothetical moderate Republicans like Susan Collins of Maine get huge amounts of control as Harry Reid and President Obama court them with all kinds of promises and negotiations, just to get them to agree to end debate. (Republican in Petulant Jackass Clothing Joe Lieberman plays this card a lot too.)

Back when the Republicans held the Senate, Democrats tried to use the filibuster to block noxious Bush appointees. The Republicans threatened the “nuclear option” which would have changed the rules (at least for appointments) to minimize the use of cloture votes and the 60-vote requirement. A gang of 14 Senators panicked and agreed to let most of the nominees get through so the rules wouldn’t change. Bad plan – the rules don’t work any more and need to change. Yes, some day the Republicans will control the Senate again and I’ll be a bit sad that the supermajority isn’t required for every little thing. But here’s the rub – those rules can change with a simple majority vote at the start of each new Congress. You think the Republicans won’t take advantage of that as soon as they can?

Let’s use our (shrinking) majority to accomplish something. At the start of the new Congress in January, the Senate needs to change the rules of debate and voting. Respect for the minority should be reasonably maintained, but the power of the minority to hobble legislative action should be eliminated. Harry Reid should remember that he’s the Majority Leader, not Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Scott Brown, or Joe Lieberman. We need legislative action, not more partisan paralysis. Bad deals and goofy negotiations to maybe get one Republican to consider voting to end the bloody debate must end. If it doesn’t, we wind up with more watered-down healtcare initiatives, no action on climate change, and billionaires holding the unemployed hostage.

P.S. – Cheers for my Senator Jeff Merkley for a strong proposal to improve the rules.

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