What happened in the US Senate yesterday? (Hint: They’re not trying to overturn Citizens United anymore.)

Money Corrputs by Light Brigading via Flikr

photo by Light Brigading via flikr

Yesterday, the Senate GOP voted to block any further consideration of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

That means the amendment won’t go over to the House of Representatives for a vote.

And it won’t go out to the 50 states for a ratification vote.

The proposed amendment would have explicitly authorized Congress and state legislatures to set campaign finance limits. (Read more about Citizens United and the resulting “unprecedented amounts of outside spending” in the 2010 and 2012 elections here.)

So… those 16 states that have already voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United? Sorry, folks.

All those other states – including New Hampshire – whose state Legislatures have shown interest in a constitutional amendment? Sorry, folks.

Those 80% of ordinary Americans – including 72% of ordinary Republicans – who oppose Citizens United? Sorry, folks.

The Senate GOP knows better than you do.

So you don’t get a vote on this.

Who to thank, for taking the states’ vote away? The 42 GOP Senators who voted to block the amendment yesterday.

citizens_united_switched_votesOr, more bizarrely, the 25 Senators who on Monday night voted to let the amendment proceed – but by Thursday afternoon, had changed their votes to block it. (And yes, that would include New Hampshire’s own Senator Kelly Ayotte.)

If those 25 Senators had voted the same way on Thursday as they voted on Monday, the constitutional amendment would be going to the House. And then, maybe, out to the 50 states for ratification votes.

So… what happened during those 68 hours, to make those 25 Senators change their votes?

Can’t tell for sure, from out here in the hinterlands. The news is full of the Oscar Pistorius case… 9/11 remembrances… the Ray Rice case… ISIS and the spectre of terrorism. But there’s relatively little press coverage of this attempt to amend our Constitution.  The 80% of Americans who oppose Citizens United probably don’t even know that the Senate took a vote yesterday.

Here’s my best guess: I think Mitch McConnell happened. I’m guessing that the Senate GOP Leader told them how to vote… and the 25 Senators did. (Even Arizona Sen. John McCain, one of the sponsors of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, more commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act.)

That’s just a gut-instinct guess, but there are two things behind it.  First, during Committee consideration of the amendment, the GOP members marched in lockstep to oppose the amendment. Every recorded Subcommittee and Committee vote was strictly along party lines.

Second reason: GOP Leader McConnell has opposed campaign finance limits since… well, it seems like forever.

Take some time and listen to the GOP Leader’s speech at a June “retreat” for billionaires organized by the Koch Brothers.

In his remarks, GOP Leader McConnell tracks the history of campaign finance reform efforts “back to the beginning of the 20th century” … and how they “petered out” during “the great prosperity” of the 1920s. (Do you think he remembers how the 1920s ended?)

He reminisces about his own efforts to block passage of campaign finance reform:

We had filibuster after filibuster, which in my first term in the Senate I was leading. And then it came back again in the first two years of Clinton. The bill would pass the House, the bill would pass the Senate, and then it would go to conference. And I was so determined, I came up with a new filibuster. That’s all I’d ever done before was filibuster and go in, go into conference. We had to do it all night long. Under (inaudible) procedure every senator had an hour, and if you didn’t show up right on time, you were out of luck.

Everybody rallied together. This was about two months before the great fall election of 1994. Everybody rallied together. We went around the clock. Everybody showed up on time. And I thought, well, maybe we’re finally through with this nonsense.

He says “The worst day of my political life was when President George W. Bush signed McCain-Feingold into law.”

He talks about his own lawsuit to overturn McCain-Feingold. (You can read the Supreme Court decision here.)

He talks about what has happened since his lawsuit.

So what really then changed the Court was President Bush’s appointment of John Roberts. The most important was Sam Alito because we lost the McCain-Feingold case five to four because of Sandra Day O’Connor. The majority was all liberal. Then she retired, and Sam Alito replaced her, and we now have the best Supreme Court in anybody’s memory… Now, that’s where we are today. I’m really proud of this Supreme Court and the way they’ve been dealing with the issue of First Amendment political speech. It’s only five to four, and I pray for the health of the five.

And then he talks about some other things of interest to his audience of billionaires: like minimum wage… environmental regulation… regulation of the financial services industry. And he promises to use federal spending bills to “go after” those issues.

And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board (inaudible).

And – in response to a mostly-inaudible question from David Koch about “free speech” and amending the Constitution – GOP Leader McConnell says:

Having, having struck out at the Supreme Court, David, they now want to amend the Constitution. … These people need to be stopped, and believe me, something that I thought to do (inaudible) what is spent (inaudible) independent coordination?
(Laughter.)
(Applause.)

Yeah, read that again: “These people need to be stopped.”

THAT’s why I’m guessing “Mitch McConnell happened” to those 25 Senators who switched their votes between Monday and Thursday.

What can we do about it, now? What can we – the 80% of Americans who oppose Citizens United – do, now that the Senate GOP has blocked the amendment?

We can make it a campaign issue.

Scott Brown in 2010 Image by Wiki Commons

Scott Brown in 2010
Image by Wiki Commons

Starting here in New Hampshire, with Scott Brown… who, as Massachusetts Senator, helped block the DISCLOSE Act back in 2010. Here in New Hampshire, 69% of us want a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Even among Granite State Republicans, six out of 10 want a constitutional amendment. (Sen. Ayotte: who were you listening to, when you voted yesterday?) How do you think Scott Brown will vote on this, if he is elected in November?

We need to make Citizens United an issue in the 2014 campaigns.

There’s not all that much else we can do, at this point.

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If you want to wander through Leader McConnell’s campaign finance disclosure records – including $14.8 million in “large individual contributions” – click here. Remember: that’s just contributions to his official campaign.

“Outside spending” is much harder to track. So far, during this election season, McConnell has also “been boosted by $2.2 million in positive ads, mainly by the [U.S.] Chamber. Outside Republican PACs have already spent $7 million on ads attacking his Democratic challenger, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.”

A running tally of money that “non-profits” have spent on electioneering so far in the 2014 campaign is available here.

—–

More information about grassroots efforts to support the “Democracy for All” amendment is available here.

Tuesday’s NHLN story about the amendment is here.

Can We Overturn Citizens United? US Senate will vote again later this week.

(FLICKR LIght Brigading

(FLICKR LIght Brigading)

Last night, the proposed constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United moved one tiny step forward. By a 79-18 vote, the US Senate invoked cloture to end a GOP filibuster of the measure.

That means the Senate will actually be able to vote on the amendment, probably later this week. But will it pass? One Hill reporter says, “The amendment is almost certain to fail.”

That’s because constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote in the Senate – and until last night, the Senate GOP had been working in lockstep to defeat (or undermine) the measure. Every recorded Subcommittee and Committee vote was strictly along party lines: with the Democrats in favor of moving the proposal forward; and the Republicans trying to keep it from seeing the light of day.

So even though some GOP Senators (including NH Sen. Kelly Ayotte) voted to end the filibuster last night, it’s quite possible they will be pressured into voting against the amendment when it comes up for a vote.

If the Senate approves the amendment, it will still need to be approved by the House and ratified by two-thirds of the states. (Read more about the process here.)

Cash Bribe Politician MoneyWhat’s at stake: The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission helped unleash unprecedented amounts of outside spending in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. (Read more here.)

It has led to billionaires like Sheldon Adelson wielding incredible personal influence.

It led to Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell making a pilgrimage to a “secret strategy conference of conservative millionaire and billionaire donors hosted by the Koch brothers” where he promised to block debate on “all these gosh darn proposals” like increasing the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, and allowing students to refinance their college loans.

Now, Mitch McConnell may believe – as he told those prospective donors – that “all Citizens United did was to level the playing field for corporate speech…. We now have, I think, the most free and open system we’ve had in modern times. The Supreme Court allowed all of you to participate in the process in a variety of different ways.”

But America is seeing through that spin.  

Sixteen states have already endorsed the idea of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

More than 500 local governments have already supported such a change. (Here in the Granite State, the list includes: Alstead; Amherst; Andover; Atkinson; Barnstead; Barrington; Bradford; Bridgewater; Chesterfield; Conway; Deerfield; Eaton; Exeter; Francestown; Henniker; Hampstead; Hudson; Kingston; Lee; Lyme; New Boston; Northwood; Rindge; Tilton; Wakefield; Webster; and Windham)

And the public? America is united on this issue. There is more agreement on overturning Citizens United than on just about anything else. 80% of Americans – and 72% of Republicans – oppose Citizens United. Here in New Hampshire, 69% of Granite Staters support a constitutional amendment like the one the Senate will finally be voting on. (Amendment supporters include six out of every 10 NH Republicans, and almost three-quarters of NH independents.  Senator Kelly Ayotte, are you listening?)

So this past weekend, the GOP tried out some new spins, trying to rationalize why they will be voting against something that eight out of 10 Americans support.

New Spin #1: It’s the Democrats! “‘Senate Democrats have long been funded by a group of billionaires bent on maintaining their power, yet they pretend to be outraged’ by the spending of the Koch brothers and their allies. …In advance of Monday’s floor debate, Senate Republican staffers circulated a chart showing the reach of Democracy Alliance…”

(No, this spin does not explain why Republicans want to maintain the Citizens United status quo. If the Republicans and the Koch Brothers are truly outraged by Democratic big-dollar contributors – why don’t they vote to approve the constitutional amendment?)

New Spin #2: Guns! (Yes, really.)

Here’s how the National Rifle Association described Citizens United: “The court declared unconstitutional the parts of the law that had been enacted for the explicit purpose of silencing the NRA and its members. Of course, the gun-banners in the White House and Congress opposed the decision because it thwarted their plans.”

Here’s how the NRA described the amendment to overturn Citizens United: “As the title of the proposed constitutional amendment suggests, S.J.R. 19 is intended to allow anti-gunners in Congress to silence their critics and to control the gun ‘debate.’”

(The actual title: “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relating to contributions and expenditures intended to affect elections.” And: while the NRA may be #5 on the list of non-profits that spend money on electioneering… the proposed amendment isn’t actually about guns. It’s about allowing Congress and the states to “regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.” It’s about “protect[ing] the integrity of government and the electoral process.”)

Does the GOP really think either of these spins is going to stick any better than the “Citizens United leveled the playing field” spin?

Why is this such an important issue for those of us in the Labor movement?

Reason 1: “Whatever slice [of political contributions] you look at, business interests dominate, with an overall advantage over organized labor of about 15-to-1. Even among PACs – the favored means of delivering funds by labor unions – business has a more than 3-to-1 fundraising advantage. In soft money, the ratio is nearly 17-to-1.”

Reason 2: Mitch McConnell, shilling for those billionaire donors: “In late April, Senate Republicans, led by McConnell, successfully filibustered a bill to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, a widely popular measure that would increase wages for at least 16.5 million Americans. Earlier in the year, McConnell also led a filibuster of a three-month extension of unemployment insurance to some 1.7 million Americans.”

Is our government really for sale to the highest bidder?

The 2014 campaigns are breaking fundraising records set in the 2012 and 2010 elections.

Isn’t it time to send this constitutional amendment to the states for a ratification vote?

Shea-Porter Urges Veterans Conference Committee to Keep Language Very Similar to Her Veterans Health Equity Act

WASHINGTON, DC – As members of the House and Senate form a Conference Committee to complete debate on legislation that will increase accountability at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and hire more doctors and nurses to provide timely, quality care for veterans, Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01)sent a letter today to the Conference Committee urging them to retain language included by the Senate, which is very similar to her Veterans Health Equity Act.

“Like my bill, the Senate-passed Veteran Access to Care Act includes a provision to ensure that veterans who live in a state without a full-service VA medical facility, such as New Hampshire, and who live more than 20 miles from a full-service VA medical facility, may access care from a private healthcare provider,” Shea-Porter said. “I respectfully request that you retain the language in Section 301 of H.R. 3230 as passed by the Senate, which is very similar to my bill, the Veterans Health Equity Act. This provision will solve some of the problems that rural veterans, many of whom live in New Hampshire, face when traveling long distances to receive medical care. The long ride to a VA medical facility has been a huge and unfair burden to our oldest and sickest veterans, and we have a chance to lift that burden now as part of the new VA legislation.”

Section 301 of the Veteran Access to Care Act would “expand availability of hospital care and medical services for veterans through the use of contracts.” Shea-Porter’s legislation would ensure that “every state has a full-service veterans hospital or that similar services are made available through contracts with hospitals in the state.”

Shea-Porter originally introduced the Veterans Health Equity Act in 2008. Since then, every member of New Hampshire’s delegation has cosponsored or reintroduced the bill.

Senators Shaheen and Ayotte worked to include the provision in the Senate VA bill. The Republican House Majority brought up the House VA bill under a closed rule, meaning language could not be changed.

Shea-Porter has been a leader in the effort to address issues within the Department of Veterans affairs. She supported the Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014. She cosponsored the  Veterans Timely Access to Health Care Act. And she was one of the first House Democrats to call for new leadership at the VA.

Full text of the letter is below.

+++

June 23, 2014

The Honorable Bernie Sanders
Chairman, Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
Russell Senate Building, Room 412
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Richard Burr
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

The Honorable Jeff Miller
Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
335 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Mike Michaud
Ranking Member, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
333 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

I respectfully request that you retain the language in Section 301 of H.R. 3230 as passed by the Senate, which is very similar to my bill, the Veterans Health Equity Act. This provision will solve some of the problems that rural veterans, many of whom live in New Hampshire, face when traveling long distances to receive medical care. The long ride to a VA medical facility has been a huge and unfair burden to our oldest and sickest veterans, and we have a chance to lift that burden now as part of the new VA legislation.

All too often, veterans from my state must travel to Vermont or Massachusetts because New Hampshire no longer has a full-service VA medical facility. New Hampshire is currently one of the few states in the nation that does not have a full-service veterans hospital or equivalent access to comparable care. That is why I introduced the Veterans Health Equity Act in 2008, and have reintroduced it in my ensuing term. My bill would increase veterans’ access to VA or equivalent health care in New Hampshire. This is a matter of fairness. Since I originally introduced this bill, access to in-state medical care for New Hampshire’s veterans has improved, but not enough.

Like my bill, the Senate-passed Veteran Access to Care Act includes a provision to ensure that veterans who live in a state without a full-service VA medical facility, such as New Hampshire, and who live more than 20 miles from a full-service VA medical facility, may access care from a private healthcare provider.

Thanking veterans for their service means honoring our commitments to them, and that includes a commitment to timely, accessible, and convenient medical care. By retaining this provision, Congress can ensure that veterans living in rural areas far from a VA medical facility can access care in a way that does not cause hardship, and ensure that our veterans are treated as they deserve. I respectfully ask that this important provision be retained in Conference.

Sincerely,

Carol Shea-Porter

Member of Congress

 

Utterly Disgusting! The NH GOP In The NH Senate Kill A Minimum Wage Increase

Utterly disgusting, despicable, shameful, disgraceful, and appalling are all words I would use to describe the actions taken by the Republican Senators in the NH Senate today as they voted to kill the minimum wage increase.

Straight down party lines the Senate voted 13-11 to kill the minimum wage bill that would have helped lift 76,000 Granite Staters out of poverty.

“Later this evening, a sales clerk in Derry or a waitress in Hampton will return home from a hard day’s work and will have to decide whether to pay the bills on her kitchen table or to go to the grocery store – because she doesn’t have enough to do both,” said Jeff McLynch, executive director of the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute. “The Senate had an opportunity today to ease their struggles and the difficulties faced by thousands of New Hampshire residents like them. Yet, rather than pass a modest, gradual, and sustained increase in New Hampshire’s minimum wage, the Senate simply walked away.”

“Senate Republicans have again voted against the best interests of Granite State families,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley.

“I am disappointed that Senate Republicans voted today against a bill to restore and increase New Hampshire’s minimum wage, a measure that an overwhelming majority of Granite Staters support because it would strengthen our economy and help improve the economic security of working families,” stated Governor Hassan.

“Increasing New Hampshire’s minimum wage will lead to more economic growth by rewarding hard work and improving workers’ productivity,” stated Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen. “Senate Democrats believe we must raise the minimum wage, because increasing the minimum wage leads to greater income opportunity, so everyone will have a chance to succeed and get ahead.”

“Senate Republicans had the chance to put partisan politics aside and do the right thing for the 76,000 residents of New Hampshire who would benefit from this bill, but they failed them with this vote today,” concluded Larsen.

The minimum wage increase would have helped 76,000 low-income workers including.  The facts do not lie, 72% of the New Hampshire’s minimum wage workers, who would directly or indirectly benefit from this bill are age 20 and older with nearly 40% being 30 and older. 59% are women and 14% are parents.  Increasing the minimum wage would have benefited over 21,000 children are living NH.

Due to inflation and legislative inaction, New Hampshire’s minimum wage has lost 23 percent of its purchasing power since 1979. Failure to adopt a new increase means that the real value of the minimum wage could fall to just $6.50 per hour within the next several years.

“New England can be an expensive place to live,” McLynch added. “Policymakers in every other state in the region have acknowledged this reality and set their minimum wages above the federal level. Only New Hampshire expects people to continue to stretch $7.25 per hour to meet that high cost of living.”

“A Senate Republican making $185,000 a year called the minimum wage bill ‘feel good legislation’ but refused to spend even one day living in the shoes of his constituents who makes less than ten percent of his salary, even when they are working full-time,” said Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director of Granite State Progress, in reference to Senator Peter Bragdon’s opening remarks. “Senator Bradley chose to use industry talking points instead of rely on economic data, and Senator Sanborn voted against the bill without disclosing the conflict of interest that he pays some of his workers minimum wage.”

“In contrast, several Senate Democrats took the Minimum Wage Challenge to live on minimum wage before voting on this bill. That experience illustrated for them the lack of affordable housing options, the slim budgets, and the constant anxiety that a minimum wage earner lives with every day. Questions about how to put gas in your tank and food on the table become very real when you don’t have a $185,000 golden salary to live on. Minimum wage earners work hard and play by the rules, but Senate Republicans sent a message loud and clear that they don’t care,” Rice Hawkins said. (Read full statement from GSP here)

“Senate Republicans have again voted against the best interests of Granite State families,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley. “No one who works full time in New Hampshire should have to live in abject poverty, but that’s the world we live in because of GOP obstructionism. Raising the minimum wage would not only help lift thousands of families out of poverty, but it would also stimulate our local economy and alleviate pressure on our public assistance programs. The Republican Senate caucus, not to mention gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein and Senate candidate Scott Brown, should be ashamed of themselves. By opposing this commonsense measure, they are effectively damning the families that most need our help.”

“People working full-time in New Hampshire should be paid enough to support their families and I will continue fighting to restore and improve our state minimum wage in order to boost our economy and strengthen the economic security of thousands of Granite Staters,” concluded Hassan.

Senate Republicans Block A Vote On Raising The Federal Minimum Wage

Sen. Mitch Mcconnell (Image Gage Skidmore CC-FLIKR)

Sen. Mitch Mcconnell (Image Gage Skidmore CC-FLIKR)

Once again Senate Republicans blocked a vote on the the Minimum Wage Fairness Act in a 54-42 vote.

“Washington Democrats’ true focus these days seems to be making the far left happy, not helping the middle class,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky as he voted to block legislation that would lift millions of Americans out of poverty.

According to the AP, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) was the only republican with the fortitude to do the right thing and vote for the increase.  Over 70% of Americans support raising the minimum wage and yet the legislation was blocked by only six Republican Senators.

Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) told the AP in a statement:

“Raising the minimum wage is about giving hard-working people a chance at economic mobility. Millions of Americans who work full time making minimum wage and support a family live under the poverty level. This legislation would help those hard-working Americans lift themselves out of poverty and earn wages they can spend in their communities, stimulating economic activity and job creation.”

Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Co-Chairs Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) released the following statement today after Senate Republicans blocked a bill to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 and increase the tipped minimum wage:

“We are deeply disappointed that Republicans in the House and Senate continue to fight for the world’s biggest corporations and ignore working families who can’t survive on $14,500 a year. The cost of food and childcare has increased, while the minimum wage is lower than it was in 1968 after calculating for inflation.

“A stagnant federal minimum wage is a stain on our nation. It tells working Americans putting in fifty or sixty hours a week that it doesn’t matter how hard they work—they will never get ahead. Approximately 28 million people would see a pay increase if we increased the minimum wage to $10.10 and 900,000 would be lifted out of poverty. Raising the minimum is the right choice for American businesses who are starving for customers. It would create a needed increase in economic activity, which allows businesses to grow and hire more people.”

“A fair minimum wage that is enough to put a roof over your head and food on the table should be a basic promise Congress makes to America’s families. Today’s vote is not the last. The Congressional Progressive Caucus will continue to organize and advocate for an increase in the federal minimum wage until President Obama signs the bill.”

This legislation would have lift more than 10,000 Granite Staters out of poverty and resulted in a raise for more than 110,000 Granite Staters, including approximately 67,000 New Hampshire women

Senator Jeanne Shaheen released the following statement:

“It’s disappointing that once again a minority of Senators were able to block action on a plan that has otherwise overwhelming support from the American people. More than 110,000 hardworking Granite Staters deserve the hard-earned raise the Minimum Wage Fairness Act would have provided, and this plan would have also helped create New Hampshire jobs, boosted our economy, and made sure workers could provide for their families.

“New Hampshire workers deserve a fair wage for an honest day’s work, and I will continue fighting to increase the minimum wage so we can strengthen our economy and give hardworking Americans a fair shot at success.”

The fight is far from over, and there is a glimmer of hope to get an increase accomplished.  “Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has said she and some other senators would be willing to reach a compromise on a lower figure than $10.10.”

 

On The Senate Floor Shaheen Calls For Extension Of Unemployment Insurance (VIDEO)

Vote on extending unemployment insurance scheduled for this afternoon

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) called on her colleagues to support an extension of unemployment insurance in a speech on the Senate floor this morning. In her remarks Shaheen highlighted the consequences that the failure to extend unemployment insurance has already had on the economy and Granite State families; to date New Hampshire has lost an estimated $1.8 million worth of economic output as a result of lost emergency benefits.

Senator Shaheen’s remarks as prepared for delivery are included below:

Mr. President, I came to the floor because later today the Senate will vote on a short-term extension of emergency unemployment benefits for the thousands of New Hampshire citizens, over a million throughout the country, who are being hurt right now by the failure of Congress to act.

I have heard from a number of New Hampshire constituents since unemployment insurance expired back in December. They make the case much for eloquently than I can about why we need to extend these unemployment benefits. I want to read some excerpts from some of those letters.

One of my constituents, a 62-year-old woman from Windham, New Hampshire, explained that despite her best efforts, she will be one of the many long term-unemployed without any unemployment benefits if she doesn’t find a job by March.

She began working at age eight delivering papers with her brother, put herself through college, and earned a master’s degree with the help of her employer.  She wrote “I’m not too proud to do any honest job.  I’m losing my house and can’t afford to pay my mortgage any longer.  There are so many of us out there.”

A woman from Windham, New Hampshire wrote to me.  She is 55 years old, and has held a job since she was 16. Last August, she was laid off in a merger, and has been actively seeking a job in her health care field.  She explained that her unemployment check has helped her pay for her essential living expenses.  She and her sister take care of their 90 year-old parents in their home, and this income is critical to their care.

A 58 year-old woman from Merrimack wrote that she lost her job in May 2013, and has had nine interviews, but no offers.  Without unemployment assistance, she will not be able to afford her car payment, her mortgage, or food and utilities.

A constituent wrote to me explaining that after 29 years as a teacher, her job was eliminated.  She has been on unemployment since June, and has applied to nearly 100 jobs. Think about getting up every day trying to figure out where to apply just to have a shot at getting back to work.  Her savings are exhausted and she is on the verge of losing her house since her unemployment benefits – her only source of income- have expired.

She wrote: “This seems unfair to me having worked hard and been a taxpayer into the system all of my working life. I fail to see how not extending benefits will be beneficial to me and the 1.3 million other Americans…especially in light of an already fragile economy.  Please do your best to remember those of us who never planned to have to depend on unemployment for this long but who have fallen victims to these times.”

I did a telephone town hall and heard from thousands of people across New Hampshire. One of the people I heard from was a woman named Kathy from Danbury. She told me that she had worked since she was 14, and she’s now out of a job. Her unemployment benefits have expired, and she doesn’t know what she’s going to do.

You know, we need to think about Kathy and all of the people who we’re hearing from in our offices. We’re supposed to represent the people who need help across this country. My constituents are exactly right – we are threatening the fragile economic recovery by failing to extend unemployment insurance.

The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the expiration of unemployment insurance will cost the economy 310,000 jobs.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that each dollar we spend on extending unemployment insurance generates about $1.50 in economic growth.

And we learned this week that failing to act has already drained more than $2.2 billion from the economy, including $1.8 million from New Hampshire.  Not to mention, all of the people whose personal stories are tragic because they want to work. They’re out of a job through no fault of their own, and we need to provide them with some assistance while they try and get back on their feet so they don’t lose their home, so they don’t lose their car, so they can put food on the table.

I urge my colleagues to come together today. It is time for us to act to support an extension of unemployment insurance.  I certainly hope we are going to do that.

I yield the floor.

New Out-Of-Stater Jumps Into The NH U.S. Senate Race

New U.S. Senate Candidate Launches Campaign in New Hampshire; Will Challenge Scott Brown, Bob Smith in Republican Primary

a Mike Morrill for US Senate - Emphasis

Courtesy Photo

CONCORD, NH – A new candidate for New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate race launched his campaign during a press conference at the New Hampshire State House on Monday, January 27th. Michael Morrill announced he is running for United States Senate from the state of New Hampshire, seeking the Republican nomination in the primary. Morrill does not believe the fact that he currently lives in Pennsylvania will be a detriment to his campaign.

“There’s an open seat in the Republican Senate primary and someone has to fill it. Why not me?” Morrill said. “Like Scott Brown and Bob Smith, I see this race as pure opportunity.”

During the press conference Morrill outlined his qualifications to be elected the next U.S. Senator from New Hampshire, and his promises to the people of the state.

“Like Scott Brown, my family and I have strong ties to the Granite State that go back many generations. I have two brothers who live here. My father spent his last years here. I went to Boy Scout camp in Antrim. My mother lives in Amesbury.  I know that’s in Massachusetts, but it’s close enough. In addition, I have found Lost River –on many occasions. My car has climbed Mt. Washington. I have skied Attitash.  Well, I have ridden the alpine slide.”

“But it’s not just my deep New Hampshire roots that have compelled me to seek to become your U.S. Senator.  As I said earlier, this is really about one thing: pure opportunism. And that’s really why I want to be your United States Senator.  Like former Senators Smith and Brown, I’m looking for a cushy job, with lots of travel opportunities, great publicly-funded healthcare and a retirement plan that requires little investment on my part, but produces a retirement income that will make me comfortable in my old age. I promise to visit this great state at least twice a year once elected.”

Granite State Progress, a progressive advocacy organization, arranged the tongue-in-cheek press conference. Michael Morrill is the executive director of Keystone Progress, Granite State Progress’ sister organization in Pennsylvania.

“Morrill’s intent to run for U.S. Senate may not be real, but his New Hampshire credentials are and follow the same logic that Massachusetts’s Scott Brown and former Sen. Bob Smith, most recently of Florida, are using to justify their presence in New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate race,” said Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director of Granite State Progress. “New Hampshire voters will choose for themselves who they want to represent them, but let’s not forget that Brown and Smith are jumping into this race out of political opportunity, pure and simple.”

We Can’t Abdicate Trade Policy to Secret Negotiations and Non-Elected Officials

Washington, D.C. — In testimony at the Senate Finance Committee’s hearing on “Advancing Congress’s Trade Agenda: the Role of Trade Negotiating Authority,” Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America called for a strong and enforceable role for Congress in setting trade policy and priorities.

Last week, legislation calling for “fast track” authorization of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade agreements was introduced.

“Trade agreements are no longer just about tariffs and quotas. They are about the food we eat, the air we breathe, the jobs we hold. We cannot abdicate this process to non-elected representatives. We cannot let foreign policy objectives trump domestic concerns and in the process unravel our own democracy instead of strengthening others,” Cohen said.

“Nor should we abdicate the decision to determine with whom the U.S. should negotiate. Vietnam is a 90 million person nation that is a party to the TPP negotiations.  The minimum wage in Vietnam is 28 cents an hour, and the average hourly wage is 75 cents. Vietnam’s is a record of non-existent workers’ rights and an extensive roster of human rights violations, including the documented use of child labor,” he said.

Cohen was the only witness testifying in opposition to “fast track” authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade deals. He addressed the issues that a broad coalition of unions, environmental organizations, consumer groups, fair trade advocates and others have joined to work for trade policies that benefit everyone.

“We recognize the reality that we are living in a global economy. Trade policy, done correctly, is a win for the U.S. economy and U.S. workers.

“It is critical that we work to stop the global race to the bottom that has been the result of old-style trade agreements. As a nation, we strive to improve our standard of living and provide a better life for our children and grandchildren. We should not compromise on these values and reduce the quality of life for Americans through our trade policies.” Cohen said.

Congress should establish these priorities for fast track legislation, Cohen said.

1. Document that any new trade deal is not likely to add to the nearly $1 trillion in annual trade deficit in goods. This deficit has increased by five times since we adopted NAFTA.

2. Document the net effect on employment, don’t look only at increases in exports. Each trade deal comes with the promise of job growth, yet the overall impact has been job loss, due to a wave of imports and offshoring.

3. Document the effect on pay and workers’ standard of living. Since NAFTA was negotiated, U.S. wages have stagnated and workers’ weekly take home pay is $100 less than 40 years ago.

4. Ensure that consumer protection regulations by federal, state and local governments are not diminished.

5. Ensure that all trading partners comply with ILO principles and convention. The U.S. has ratified just two of those eight principles that cover workers’ rights, child labor and freedom of association.

6. Ensure that environmental standards are not degraded and are enforceable.

7. Ensure that these social goals are enforceable at least at the same level as all other sections, like patents, investment protection and intellectual property rights.

8. Ensure that Congress plays a meaningful role in setting priorities and limits the authority the U.S. Trade Representative to negotiate on basic governance and human rights.

 

Read the full testimony here: http://www.cwa-union.org/fasttrack-cohen-testimony

Read the executive summary here: http://www.cwa-union.org/fasttrack-cohen-summary

AFL-CIO President Trumka’s Statement On Senate Colture Vote on Unemployment Insurance

Richard_TrumkaLast year, lawmakers appallingly deserted 1.3 million jobless workers and went home for their own holiday without extending unemployment insurance benefits. Today, the Senate took an important step to assist those still searching for work when it cleared the way for a temporary unemployment benefits bill.

Unemployment insurance serves as a lifeline for millions of jobless Americans and their families. For many job seekers, unemployment benefits are the difference between total hopelessness and a place to live and food on the table.

The urgent business before us now is fixing what’s wrong with our economy. Maintaining the unemployment benefits program won’t just keep families out of crisis. It helps to spur the economy and keep it growing.

The Senate should quickly act to pass this bill and the House must act immediately. Further failure will mean more than 3 million more qualified people who will be denied extended benefits. Millions of Americans counting on unemployment insurance to help them through tough times are counting on the House to do the right thing.  We cannot afford to leave any working families behind.

Shaheen Calls For Swift Passage Of The Employment Non-Discrimination Act

Shaheen: No one should be hired or fired because of sexual orientation or gender identity

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) is urging her colleagues to swiftly pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to important protections from workplace discrimination.  In remarks on the Senate floor, Shaheen drew parallels between the struggle for equality during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and similar struggles LGBT Americans are dealing with today.  

Below are Senator Shaheen’s remarks as prepared for delivery: 

Mr. President, almost fifty years ago Congress passed the Civil Rights Act.

This landmark legislation prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, and gender in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Most of us in the Senate recall the passage of this legislation.

And many of us saw firsthand painful examples of the legally-sanctioned discrimination that existed before the Civil Rights Act.

My elementary school years were spent in a state where black and white Americans were treated differently under the law.

I can still picture the separate water fountains for blacks and whites. I recall vividly going to the movie theater where black Americans could only sit in the balcony.

These practices were wrong, and they ended only because of the Civil Rights Act.

This week the Senate has the opportunity to extend our national quest for equal opportunity for all by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

This legislation simply prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

I am proud to be a cosponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, just as I was proud as Governor of New Hampshire 16 years ago to sign legislation making New Hampshire only the 10th state to include sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination laws.

That state legislation went further than the bill before the Senate this week. It not only covered employment, but housing and public accommodations as well.

Both the New Hampshire senate and house were controlled by Republicans. The bill passed both bodies with large bipartisan majorities. It was not seen as a partisan issue.

Including sexual orientation in New Hampshire’s anti-discrimination laws was just another step forward in our state’s long history of promoting civil rights.

No one should be hired or fired in the United States because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

I realize that no law can erase prejudice from someone’s heart. Prejudice will continue to exist after the Employment Non-Discrimination Act becomes law, I know.

That’s not the issue.

The issue is whether it is acceptable as a matter of law in the United States to hire or fire someone because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

In declaring our independence from Great Britain, our founders stated “[w]e hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….”

Equality under the law is part of our national creed.

Let’s take another step forward this week in advancing equal opportunity for all.

Let’s pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act with a strong bipartisan majority.