Monday, November 19, 2012

Liz Warren & the Filibuster

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
   Check this out: from The Boston Globe yesterday, “Warren’s victory sends message that defense industry needs new business model.”
    “So, the Massachusetts Defense Technology Initiative believes that Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren “has an obligation” to the defense industry? The outcome of the election suggests otherwise.
   Warren’s victory over Senator Scott Brown, despite the contribution of 30 times more money to the Brown campaign from defense firms, should send a strong message. The people have spoken. We need to cut defense outlays regardless of short-term economic ramifications.
    Those concerned with uncontrolled government spending should look to wasteful weapons systems and Cold War vestiges rather than to the Medicaid and Social Security programs that millions have paid into and rely upon for future sustenance.
    Even if it hurts the bottom line at Raytheon, General Dynamics, and other defense giants, the outdated and counterproductive notion that the United States should be the world’s weapons supplier and police force has been repudiated by the results in this election. Defense contractors should take note and recalibrate their business models accordingly. That is their obligation.”
   When was the last time you heard of a politician seriously associated with making sensible, appropriate cuts in defense? I don’t think I ever have. Are you hearing any right now in Washington concerning this so called Fiscal Cliff? I’ll answer that. No! So called entitlements is all they’re talking about (there is no fiscal cliff, that’s a term designed to scare the American people, because when the American people are scared politicians usually get their way (i.e., the Iraq War), and these are not entitlements, but programs bought and paid for by the working class). Just think of what we could do here in the good old United States if we were able to spend some of that money which is always earmarked for defense.
    We could do quite a bit, get rid of the deficit everyone seems so worried about, education, infrastructure, a green economy. Hell, we could even go to Mars.
    In any case there seems to be one thing for certain, Senator elect Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts doesn’t appear to be shy.
    She wants to make a few changes right off the bat, on the very first day of the 113th Congress. And unlike Mitt Romney’s promises to end Obamacare, and a host of other projects he had in mind on the first day he was in office, she may really be able to do them... with a little help.
     She, and a few other Senators, want to change some rules.
     Typically, a Senate rule change requires a super majority of 67 yes votes, something that would be difficult for Democrats, with their narrow 53 seat majority, to achieve. However, on the first legislative day of a new Congress, a simple majority of Senators, just 51 votes, can approve new rules. That “legislative day,” will be January 24th.
     So what are we talking about here? What we’re talking about is the filibuster.
     What’s a filibuster? Funny you should ask.
     Wikipedia tells us: “A filibuster is a type of parliamentary procedure where an individual extends debate, allowing a lone member to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a given proposal. It is sometimes referred to as talking out a bill, and characterized as a form of obstruction in a legislature or other decision-making body.
    The term in its legislative sense was first used by Democratic congressman Albert G. Brown of Mississippi in 1853, referring to Abraham Watkins Venable’s speech against "filibustering" intervention in Cuba.”
    Well, isn’t that interesting.
    As in the clip above with Jimmy Stewart, the filibuster was supposed to be a tool used by the minority in the Senate to delay a vote, and used sparingly. However, when Barack Obama became President, when the Democrats controled both Houses of Congress, the Republicans set out obstructing anything Obama or the Democrats tried to put through, and began using the filibuster as a bludgeon, and in record numbers. They would filibuster everything. They would block their own legislation if Obama signed off on it!
    During the first two years of Obama’s presidency they would pretend they were not doing that. They were lying:”>

    As Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks pointed out, all the Republicans had to do to stop a vote from proceeding was to threaten a filibuster, which would then take a super majority of 60 votes to override, or as they say, a vote for clouture. The Democrats have 51 seats in the current session of Congress, with 2 Independent seats who caucus with them, for a total of 53 seats (in the 113th Congress the Democrats will have 53 seats, with 2 Independent caucusing with them, for a total of 55). 53 is no where near 60, so in order to end a filibuster the Democrats would need the help of at least 7 Republicans. Do you think the Republicans would be at all helpful in moving along the business of the country and help out a little? By golly no! They haven’t been very helpful at all.
    Okay, let’s return to our definition of a filibuster. “an individual extends debate, allowing a lone member to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a given proposal. It is sometimes referred to as talking out a bill...”
    This refers to a time when Senators actually had to stand up, as Jimmy did in the clip above, and talk. And for as long as they kept on talking no further business could be acted upon. That’s the rules.
    “One of the most notable filibusters of the 1960s occurred when southern Democratic senators attempted, unsuccessfully, to block the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by making a filibuster that lasted for 75 hours, which included a 14 hour and 13 minute address by Senator Robert Byrd.” -Wikipedia
    In the current Congress, all the Republicans have had to do is threaten a filibuster, then what usually happens is that the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, would move on to other business because to stay on the bill that was being threatened was considered a waste of precious time.
    Reid had been asked to make rule changes regarding the filibuster at the beginning of the 112th Congress, but he’s old and slow to change, and instead made a gentleman’s agreement with the Minority Leader, Mitch “Turtle Boy” McConnell, that the filibuster would be used very little so as to not clog the business of the Senate. McConnell is no gentleman, and that agreement fell apart almost as fast as it was made.
    Well you know how volatile Harry Reid is. McConnell must have pissed him off, because now he seems to open to a change in the Senate rules that would force those who filibuster to once again have to take to the floor and talk, to actually explain to the American people why they are against a certain bill so adamantly, and keep on talking, and talk and talk and talk.
    I guess Harry’s not to worried about “time spent” anymore.
    This rule change should have the effect of limiting filibusters... hopefully, (some say this step is not enough and more sweeping changes should be made, but I guess, we shall see) and has been urged upon Reid by Senators such as Tom Udall of New Mexico, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Senator-elect... Elizabeth Warren.
    Liz sent me an Email the other day. It went like this:
“Richard, [she calls me Richard],
I'm honored that I will have the opportunity to serve the people of Massachusetts in the United States enate, and I'm deeply grateful for everything you've done to help send me to Washington.

You know what I want to do. When I'm sworn in just a couple of months from now, I want to fight for jobs, for students crushed by debt, for seniors who paid into Social Security and Medicare, for equal pay, for clean energy, for marriage equality. I want millionaires and billionaires and Big Oil companies to pay their fair share. And I want to hold Wall Street accountable. You know what I care about.
But here's the honest truth: it will be incredibly difficult to do any of that if we can't get up-or-down votes in the Senate.
Remember Jimmy Stewart's classic film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? (Yes, I do) I love that movie. That's what most of us think of when we hear the word "filibuster" -- a single passionate senator speaking for hours about legislation they fiercely oppose until they literally collapse with exhaustion.
But that's not what the filibuster really looks like. Now any senator can make a phone call to register an objection to a bill, then head out for the night. In the meantime, business comes to a screeching halt.
On the first day of the new session in January, the Senate will have a unique opportunity to change the filibuster rule with a simple majority vote, rather than the normal two-thirds vote. The change can be modest: If someone objects to a bill or a nomination in the United States Senate, they should have to stand on the floor of the chamber and defend their opposition. No more ducking responsibility for bringing the work of this country to a dead stop.
Senate Republicans have used the filibuster 380 times since the Democrats took over the majority in 2006. We've seen filibusters to block judicial nominations, jobs bills, campaign finance transparency, ending Big Oil subsidies -- you name it, there's been a filibuster.
We've seen filibusters of bills and nominations that ultimately passed with 90 or more votes. Why filibuster something that has that kind of support? Just to slow down the process and keep the Senate from working.
I saw the impact of these filibusters at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Forty-five senators pledged to filibuster any nominee to head that new consumer agency, regardless of that person's qualifications. After I left the agency, they tried to hold Richard Cordray's nomination vote hostage unless the Senate would agree to weaken the agency and limit its ability to hold Wall Street banks and credit card companies accountable.
That's not open debate -- that's paralyzing progress.
I learned something important in my race against Senator Brown: voters want political leaders who are willing to break the partisan gridlock. They want fewer closed-door roadblocks and more public votes on legislation that could improve their lives.
Our campaign didn't end on Election Day -- and I'm counting on you to keep on working each and every day to bring real change for working families.”
   I bet she would like your help as well. Here’s a link to a petition you can sign to help out. I signed it:

    A yesterday I was presented with an on line petition to have Liz placed on the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Senate Committee. That would be the big bank’s worst nightmare.
    There are two openings available.
    I signed that petition too.

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