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Will Yesterday’s Filibuster Agreement Fix The Broken Senate?

Senator Harry Reid
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.

 

Changing the Rules of the Game

Marines_Wrestling


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.

 

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