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.

Translating from TeaPartyese: What “negotiate” really means

Stahlwille ratchet head (1/2 SQ)Don’t let them fool you.

When GOP Congressmen say they “just want to negotiate” – what they’re really saying is “we’re going to have it our way”.

And when they talk about “compromise” – they’re really talking about “ratcheting it down even further.”

You know how a ratchet works, right?  When you turn it, the screw can only go one way.  And the Tea Party’s position is: government can only get smaller.

They’re yelling about the federal deficit – and accumulated federal debt – but the only “solution” they’re willing to entertain is to cut spending.  Have you heard anybody suggest raising revenues, lately?

The fact is: as a share of the nation’s economy, federal tax revenues are at almost-record lows. Yes, they were lower, back when Harry Truman was President – but that was before Medicare was enacted in 1965.

Federal Tax Revenues as Percentage of GDP

And it looks like the GOP may have already won the federal budget game.

Remember 2011, when House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan came out with his budget“$4 trillion of cuts over decade

Remember how radical that budget seemed, back then?  How far to the right?  How extreme the cuts appeared?

Now, take a closer look at the “continuing resolution” passed by the Democratically-controlled Senate last week, in a last-ditch effort to avoid the government shutdown.

Yeah, the same “continuing resolution” that the House GOP won’t send to an up-do-down vote, without further concessions.

Funding levels in that “continuing resolution” are about 10% less than what Chairman Ryan proposed, back in 2011.

And it came from the Democrats.

And it’s still not enough for the GOP.

Ratchet, ratchet, ratchet.

—————————————

Read more about how the Senate’s continuing resolution compares to the Ryan budget here.

See the tax revenue data that my chart is based on here.

 

 

 

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.

 

“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.

 

Changing the Rules of the Game


In Congress – as in wrestling – sometimes the rules make the all the difference in who wins or loses.

That’s why the upcoming fight over the Senate filibuster means a lot to working families.

The filibuster is a procedural method that the minority party can use to perpetually delay any legislation it doesn’t like.  If a bill doesn’t get to the Senate floor for a vote, it doesn’t ever get passed – even if a majority of the Senate would vote to approve it.  It’s a back-door way for the minority party to kill legislation, or at least hold the bill up in Committee until it is amended to the satisfaction of the filibustering Senators.

photo by Diane Beckwith-Zink via Flikr

Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown
photo by Diane Beckwith-Zink via Flikr/Creative Commons

Remember two years ago, when Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown “single-handedly” blocked an extension of unemployment benefits?  Senate Republicans used the filibuster to hold up the bill until it was amended to include an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.  (The final version cost $900 billion; but only 6% of that cost was for unemployment benefits.)

That’s how the filibuster works – and works against working families.

Using the Senate filibuster to kill legislation is such an “inside game” that – at least as far as we can tell – no one has been tracking filibusters in recent years.  But during the last campaign season, Progress Massachusetts looked closely at Scott Brown’s voting record and came up with 40 bills that would have passed the Senate – if they hadn’t been killed by a Republican filibuster.  The list includes:

  • Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 (the original financial regulatory reform bill);
  • Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act;
  • Emergency Senior Citizens Relief Act of 2010;
  • American Jobs Act of 2011;
  • Rebuild America Jobs Act;
  • Middle Class Tax Cut Act of 2011; and
  • The Buffett Rule (a 30% effective tax rate on income exceeding $1 million).

All of those bills would have passed the Senate – if they had ever gotten to the floor for a vote.

So, here’s what may be changing:

Yesterday, Majority Leader Harry Reid said that when the Senate is sworn in next January, “he will attempt to diminish the power of Republicans to slow or stop legislation by putting limits on the filibuster. …Mr. Reid would like to limit what procedural motions are subject to filibusters, and to force senators to return to the practice of standing around forever, reading the phone book or what have you, if they choose to filibuster a bill before its final passage.”

Yes, it will be just a procedural change to Senate Rules (if it happens).

But just think where our country might be, now, if the Senate had been able to actually vote on all those bills that Scott Brown helped block.