3 Things You Need to Know about Today’s Minimum Wage Vote

Here’s the first thing:
Today, the Senate did not vote on raising the minimum wage.  (If they had voted, the bill would almost certainly have passed.)
Rather: today’s vote was on whether to end a filibuster.  The filibuster is a parliamentary maneuver that allows a minority of Senators to prevent the full Senate from voting on a measure.  Since President Obama was elected, the GOP has used the filibuster to drive Congress into gridlock.  (Read more about the filibuster and Scott Brown here.)
The Senate can still vote again (and again) in the future on whether to end the filibuster.

Here’s the second thing:
The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has been keeping track of corporate profits since 1947.  For the first 40 years after that, there was an almost perfect relationship between total corporate profits and the minimum wage: total corporate profits were almost exactly 55 billion times the minimum wage.  But once the 1986 corporate tax cut started impacting the economy, that changed. (It changed even more after the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts.)

profits vs minimum wage

And here’s the third thing:

Today’s vote to end the filibuster failed by only six votes.  New Hampshire’s Sen. Kelly Ayotte was one of them.

4-30-14 Minimum Wage Filibuster Vote

The Rules change that could end gridlock in the US House

Record dysfunction in Congress: it’s NOT just the Senate, and NOT just the filibuster.

Republican extremists in the House have also been using parliamentary tricks to block legislation – including bills that had bipartisan support and would have passed if our elected Representatives were actually allowed to vote.

“The use of ‘closed rules’ has excluded most House members from full participation in the legislative process,” Rep. Louise Slaughter, ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee, wrote earlier this week.

“Under a closed rule, no amendments are allowed on the House floor. As a result, House Republicans are able to pursue a politically driven agenda without allowing commonsense amendments that could achieve bipartisan compromise.  This approach has also empowered the most extreme members of the House to pursue narrow policy goals at all costs.”

Like, say, the government shutdown.

“On Sept. 30 — the eve of the government shutdown — Republicans on the House Rules Committee changed the rule so only House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) could call up a Senate-passed clean funding bill — a bill that has the votes to pass the House and would end the shutdown, if it were given a vote.”

One man, standing in the way of a vote that impacts millions of Americans.  (Remind you of anything?  Such as: then-Senator Scott Brown single-handedly blocking an extension of unemployment benefits, back in 2010?  The Senate couldn’t vote until they added an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.)

This is what’s REALLY wrong with Congress:  our elected Representatives aren’t being allowed to vote on legislation that has bipartisan support.

GOP leadership is using the “closed rule” process to keep the House from passing legislation.  Last year was the most “closed” year in House history.  “In fact, the House GOP passed as many closed rules in a single week in October as during the entire last year of Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) speakership.”

The Senate is finally reforming the filibuster.

Isn’t it time for the House to reform the “closed rule” process?

CWA Commends Leader Reid and Democratic Senators Who Voted to End Gridlock in U.S. Senate

Washington, D.C. –Today, Senate Majority Leader Reid and nearly every Democratic Senator have acted to end Senate gridlock and obstruction on Presidential nominations.

The Communications Workers of America commends Leader Reid for his leadership in ensuring that the President’s executive and most judicial nominations get an up-or-down vote. Today’s Senate action restores an important principle of our democracy.

The Senate majority’s procedural action means that President Obama’s nominations will get confirmation votes.

This procedure isn’t new and there’s nothing “nuclear” or revolutionary about it. Instead, it is the Republicans’ recent strategy of preventing up or down votes on qualified nominees without respect to their merits that has been a radical departure from Senate history.

Republicans have been blocking votes on qualified executive and judicial nominees as part of a larger strategy to undermine laws and agencies they disagree with, and to deny President Obama his constitutional authority to fill vacancies.

After months of Republican empty promises and broken agreements, Leader Reid had no other choice but to put forward the procedural motion. The Senate has changed application of the rules at least 18 times in the last 35 years, though not necessarily regarding nominations. In 1980, then Majority Leader Byrd used the exact same procedure to eliminate filibusters on a motion to proceed to nominations.

“The Senate action re-enforces the intent of Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which clearly states that the Senate’s obligation of advice and consent is based on majority support, not super majority support.  This is a good first step toward restoring a Senate that functions as an integral part of our democracy,” said CWA President Larry Cohen.

CWA has been working for Senate rules reform as a convener of the Democracy Initiative, an organization representing 20 million members that has been working on rules reform and other democracy issues.

Will Yesterday’s Filibuster Agreement Fix The Broken Senate?

Senator Harry Reid

Senator Harry Reid

Yesterday Senator Harry Reid laid out his ultimatum to the Senate Republicans.  He called it his ‘nuclear option’.  Reid said that if the Republican Senators did not remove their objections on Presidential appointees that he would change the rules of the Senate to take away that option completely.  The Republican Senators eventually caved.  They will remove their objections and allow up and down vote on these nominees.

Yeah we won, sort of.   When all the dust settles, Americans do win this battle.  The Senate will confirm the Thomas Perez (Department of Labor), Richard Cordray (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau), Gina McCarthy (EPA), and Fred Hochberg (Export-Import Bank nominee) with an up and down vote.  They also agreed to remove the NLRB nominees and replace them with two new nominees, which the Republicans have agreed not to block.

That is good news.  We are making progress and we should have two new board members on the NLRB before the August recess.

The Communication Workers of America have been pushing very hard for changes in the Senate.  They started a campaign called ‘Fix the Senate’ in which they are calling for Senator Reid to change the filibuster rule and go back to speaking filibuster. The speaking filibuster rule made Senators stand in front of the Senate when they wanted to block a bill.

CWA President Larry Cohen released this statement:

“It’s likely that we’ll see four of the seven nominations go forward as part of the agreement reached by the Senate, and that’s positive. This encourages us that we can move toward a 21st century democracy when, as in this case, we build a broad coalition like Fix the Senate Now to mobilize Americans and make sure their voices are heard.”

Cohen also raised his concerns about the nominations to the NLRB.

“Today’s Senate action does raise this question: of the seven nominations, why were two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board singled out?

President Obama will nominate two good candidates to the NLRB who will stand up for the workplace rights of 80 million working Americans.”

Why WERE the NLRB nominees singled out? That is a very interesting question.  Will the Republicans Senators hold true to their word that they will not object to two new nominees?  Are they doing this to delay the appointment of these members in an underhanded attempt to effectively shut down the NLRB?

Cohen continues, “Our path for change remains the Fix the Senate Now coalition, an organization of unions, civil rights and community groups, greens, people of faith and others. We will continue to work together to fix the broken Senate and to ensure that a Democratic majority on the NLRB is confirmed before the August recess as the Senate has assured.”

Sen. Mitch McConnellWhile everyone agrees that today’s actions by the Senate are a big step forward, however did we really win anything?  We may have won this battle, but the war is far from over.  How long will it be before the Senate Republicans block another nominee, or another piece of legislation?  We still need to push to change the filibuster rule in the Senate.  The Senate has become a black hole due to the fact that the minority blocks every bill the majority is pushing.  These obstructionists have created a system where the minority has all the power and they are abusing it.

Will this new ‘let’s work together’ attitude continue past the end of the week?  Lets not forget the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that was made about filibustering every bill back in January.  That agreement seemed to last about a week before the Republicans went back to their old bad habits.  Only time will tell who is telling the truth and who is not.


AFL-CIO President Trumka Comments On NLRB Nominations

President Obama, with the nominations announced today, has taken an important step toward restoring stability to our system of labor-management relations, which has been in disarray since the DC Circuit’s decision in the Noel Canning case.   For America’s workers, businesses and the promotion of healthy commerce, putting forward a full, bi-partisan package of nominees to the NLRB is the right thing to do.

The package includes individuals who have challenged recent actions by the NLRB and who have views on labor relations matters that we do not agree with. But working people need and deserve a functioning NLRB, and confirmation of a full package will provide that stability. The labor movement understands that when the NLRB is not at full strength and cannot enforce its orders, America’s economy falls out of balance, as it is today with record inequality and a shrinking middle class. We urge members of the Senate to act quickly and confirm the President’s full slate of nominees.

“We say no…”

For most Christians, today marks Good Friday. It also marks 105 days since the deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Earlier this Holy Week, hundreds of people walked and prayed from the White House to the Capitol in a traditional “Way of the Cross” liturgy. The group, which included more than 20 Episcopal bishops, remembered those whose lives have been taken by guns and challenged a culture of violence.

This short video of their walk is worth watching.

The gun control legislation proposed by President Obama in the wake of the Newtown shootings now faces threats of a Senate filibuster.


GOP Block Sequester Reform Bill; How Much Are We Regretting Not Changing The Rule Now?

In the beginning of the year there was a lot, I mean a lot of discussion about changing the filibuster rule in the US Senate.  Throughout the country Americans were calling on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to use his power in the Senate to change the current filibuster rule.

Fo those who do not know or understand what a filibuster is, let me give you a little background.   The filibuster is a way for the majority to hold up legislation from passing the Senate by a a simple majority vote.  Originally a Senator would have to stand in the Senate chamber and talk, and talk, and talk, until he would win over enough votes to vote the bill down, or the Senator is overruled by a 2/3rd vote.  The best example of this comes from the American movie classic ‘Mr Smith goes to Washington’.

This ‘talking’ filibuster was the standing rule in the Senate until the 1970s.  Prior to that a Senator could do anything, including reading his favorite recipes to keep talking.  In fact in the 1930′s that is exactly what Senator Wayne Morse did for 15 hours.  The only way to stop a filibuster was to evoke a term called ‘cloture’. Cloture requires 60 of the 100 Senators to agree to stop the debate, therefore ending the filibuster.

Sadly in the 1970s  this rule was changed to the the current version of the filibuster.  Now there is no longer a ‘talking’ requirement to filibuster a bill.  Now a minority can just say they are going to filibuster a bill, forcing a cloture (60 of 100) vote before the Senate can move forward on a bill.

Of course I am going to talk about how the current GOP Leadership in the Senate is using this to literally block everything that is going through the Senate right now.  And yes I know that Democrats in the past have used the same rule to stop legislation when the Senate was under a GOP rule.

The current GOP leadership in the Senate is using this rule to stop things they have never done before.  Recently they held up the confirmation of Secretary Hagel.  For the first time ever, a filibuster was used to hold up a cabinet appointment.

Now the GOP leaders in the Senate are once again using the filibuster to stop the sequestration reform bill from passing.  They are refusing to raise revenues or close loopholes in the current tax code to balance the spending cuts they are screaming for.   When Senator Reid called for a vote on the Democratic option, it passed with a 51-49 majority, but failed to meet the 60 vote cloture requirement.  So once again the GOP is the Senate have effectively stopped this legislation from moving to the House.

I wonder how Senator Reid is feeling about his gentlemans agreement with Senator McConnell to ‘reduce the number of filibusters’, instead of changing the rules?  I wonder if he is regretting that decision now? Bring back the days of a talking filibuster. If you have a problem with the proposed legislation, let everyone know that you are opposed to it by standing in front of the entire Senate (and the country).  Say what you have to say. If you are persuasive enough your filibuster will prevail, if not then the majority rules.  Only when we can change this rule will we get to a point where legislation will once again move through the Senate.

Think you have union rights? What Happens if there’s no NLRB?

Got Union Rights?Earlier today, a federal appeals court ruled that President Obama improperly appointed three members of the National Labor Relations Board in January 2012.  The Court ruled that the Senate was “in session” rather than “in recess” when President Obama made the appointments, because the Senate held “pro forma sessions” – some lasting less than a minute – during their 20-day holiday break.

The Justice Department had reviewed the issue a year ago and determined that the recess appointments were constitutional.  Similar cases are pending elsewhere in the country — and other appeals courts could rule differently.

NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce announced today that the Board “will continue to perform our statutory duties and issue decisions” until the question is finally resolved, most likely by the Supreme Court.

That’s probably not the short-term outcome expected by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the 41 other GOP Senators who were part of today’s lawsuit.

Probably, those GOP Senators expected to simply put the NLRB out of business.  Here’s how:

  1. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that the Board must have at least three members to act – voiding almost 600 decisions that had been issued by the NLRB during the 27 months it had only two members.
  2. The Senate GOP has used the filibuster to block President Obama’s nominations to the NLRB, both before and after that Supreme Court decision.
  3. If today’s appeals court ruling is upheld, then the NLRB will be left with only one Senate-confirmed member — and therefore without any authority to act.  (That would also overturn the hundreds of NLRB decisions made since last January.)

What does that mean to the country, if the NLRB has no authority to act?  Here’s how the Washington Post described this scenario, a year ago:

Workers illegally fired for union organizing won’t be reinstated with back pay. Employers will be able to get away with interfering with union elections. Perhaps most important, employers won’t have to recognize unions despite a majority vote by workers. Without the board to enforce labor law, most companies will not voluntarily deal with unions.

One more time: the NLRB can’t act unless it has at least three members.  The GOP Senators in today’s lawsuit are trying to invalidate three of the current four members, reducing Board to only one member.  And at last report, “GOP senators, including Graham and McConnell, had vowed to block confirmation of any new NLRB nominees.”

Think you’ve got union rights? 

Read more about the GOP’s assault on labor rights in The Hill here.

Take Action Today To Fix The Senate And End The Silent Filibuster

If you’re like me, you are fed up with what’s been happening in Congress lately.

Important legislation that addresses the tough issues that we are facing never reaches the Senate floor.

The reason? Misuse of the filibuster.

The filibuster used to be an important tool that gave the minority a real voice in the Senate. But today Senators regularly hold “silent” filibusters, stopping important legislation without ever having to stand on the floor of the Senate to explain why.

We have a rare chance to fight back against business as usual in Washington. But we must act now, before the Senate votes on the rules for the new session of Congress.

Call your Senators at 1-866-937-5062 to demand change.

What do the DREAM Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Employee Free Choice Act and DISCLOSE campaign finance reform have in common? All four bills passed the House of Representatives and gained majority support in the Senate. But they did not become law because of the silent filibuster.1

Many Senators are as frustrated as we are with this lack of progress. Senators Jeff Merkley and Tom Udall have introduced Senate Resolution 4 to fix the problem. Resolution 4 replaces the silent filibuster with the “talking” filibuster, to ensure that Senators who oppose a bill have to speak on the Senate floor to explain their objections.

It’s clear that in order to move our agenda forward we must fix the filibuster. Ask your Senators to co-sponsor Senate Resolution 4 today.

1The Washington Post, 17 bills that likely would have passed the Senate if it didn’t have the filibuster, December 5, 2012.

Today Could Be Your Last Chance: Take To Minutes To Call and Help Fix The Senate

Something is broken in Congress, and it’s up to us to fix it.

The filibuster used to be an important tool that gave the minority a real voice in the Senate. Not anymore.

For too long now, this tactic has been misused and abused. Congress has stopped legislating effectively, with Senators using ridiculous dodge tactics to block real progress.

We have a chance to restore the filibuster to its original purpose, but we need your help to do it. Pick up the phone right now and urge your Senator to support Senate Rules Reform. Call 1-866-937-5062 or text FIXTHESENATE to 69866.

Before the start of the last legislative session, Republicans made a “gentlemen’s agreement” – they promised to cut down on the number of times that they blocked debate on bills.

But that promise was quickly broken, and over the past two years more motions were made to prevent bills from being openly debated than during any other Congressional session in history.

And so bills like the DREAM Act, the Employee Free Choice Act, and the Bring Jobs Home Act were all railroaded – blocked from both debate and vote.

Right now, all it takes is a handful of Senators to stop the rest from making progress. With reform, the filibuster can once again be a tool of empowerment, rather than just a cheap scare tactic. But we’ve got stand up and fight for that reform.

Before the next Congress is gaveled into session, get on phone and call your Senators to say you support Senate Rules Reform, and that they should, too:

It’s easy and only takes a few minutes. Call 1-866-937-5062 or text FIXTHESENATE to 69866.  When your call is answered, say “I am calling to ask the Senator to support Senate rules reform, including returning to a talking filibuster.”