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Thomas Perez: What are they so scared of?

Yep, they were ready.

Less than 50 minutes after President Obama nominated Thomas Perez to be our next Secretary of Labor, Rush Limbaugh was already attacking him.  (Rush didn’t even know what position Perez had been nominated to – but he was quite certain he could tell his listeners “exactly who this guy is”.)

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) was already vowing to use parliamentary rules to block Senate action on the nomination.  Senators Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) were right there, giving the press their talking points.  Even Investors’ Business Daily weighed in, with an editorial calling Perez “radical” and “a boatload of trouble.”

The GOP messaging campaign was primed and ready to go, well before the nomination was even made.  Listen to the words they use: “New Black Panthers”, “Hugo Chavez”, “illegal immigrants”, “hardcore Islamist groups”.  Political code words, galore.

Now look at the GOP talking points from an objective perspective.  Someone has sifted through this man’s entire career, looking for anything and everything they could exaggerate or stretch into an innuendo.  Things that happened at the Department of Justice, before Perez got there?  Quotes taken out of context?  Unsubstantiated accusations made by one political commentator, repeated as “fact” by others?

Gotta wonder what they’re so scared of.

Yep, looks like it’s going to be an ugly confirmation fight.  Need a primer to separate fact from fiction? Media Matters has a good one, here.

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.


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