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Barack Obama
"Lincoln Sells Out Slaves"
by: Rob Kailey - Sep 13
1 Comments
If You Haven't Seen This
by: Rob Kailey - Apr 28
5 Comments
Impeach the President?
by: Rob Kailey - Mar 16
15 Comments
It's the system, stupid!
by: Jay Stevens - Oct 24
7 Comments

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Rob Kailey is a working schmuck with no ties or affiliations to any governmental or political organizations, save those of sympathy.
filibuster

It's the system, stupid!

by: Jay Stevens

Sun Oct 24, 2010 at 18:37:25 PM MST

Matt wrote about Ryan Lizza's piece on the failure of climate-change legislation in the Senate, and found in it reason to "abolish the rules" of the Senate, which are "making our nation ungovernable." You probably know filibuster reform had me at "hello," so I put the article on the back burner, only slogging through it today.

Spoiler alert! I'm going to give away the ending, so if you want to be surprised, stop reading now!

The bill failed because of a combination of partisan Republicans, commercial interests' control of Congress, and fearful Democrats with a too-steady eye on polling numbers:

In September, I asked Al Gore why he thought climate legislation had failed. He cited several reasons, including Republican partisanship, which had prevented moderates from becoming part of the coalition in favor of the bill. The Great Recession made the effort even more difficult, he added. "The forces wedded to the old patterns still have enough influence that they were able to use the fear of the economic downturn as a way of slowing the progress toward this big transition that we have to make."

..."The influence of special interests is now at an extremely unhealthy level," Gore said. "And it's to the point where it's virtually impossible for participants in the current political system to enact any significant change without first seeking and gaining permission from the largest commercial interests who are most affected by the proposed change"....

As the Senate debate expired this summer, a longtime environmental lobbyist told me that he believed the "real tragedy" surrounding the issue was that Obama understood it profoundly. "I believe Barack Obama understands that fifty years from now no one's going to know about health care," the lobbyist said. "Economic historians will know that we had a recession at this time. Everybody is going to be thinking about whether Barack Obama was the James Buchanan of climate change."

Quite the shocker, eh? Okay, maybe not. But certainly the failure of climate change legislation is the icing on the cake of the systematic failure of government, finance, and media. Sure, in DC-land, it was collateral damage in its strange Kabuki theater, but climate change is the biggest crisis we've ever faced, our response to it here and now likely determining whether our planet will be habitable for humans in the next generation or so. (Sorry, kids. A bunch of Senators didn't like the idea of hurting coal industry short-term profit.)

There's More... :: (7 Comments, 667 words in story)

The Structural Defects of Congress

by: Matt Singer

Mon Oct 11, 2010 at 12:40:35 PM MST

Ryan Lizza has a dazzling whirlwind tour of the failure of the U.S. Senate to pass climate legislation -- a failure that some of Lizza's sources indicate will set a hard carbon cap back years (huge victory for ice caps yearning to be oceans).

Climate change suffered from a lot of problems: a trio of backers who are possibly uniquely unsuited to passing major legislation, a crowded plate of legislation moving forward, and an issue that uniquely moves the right but moves only a relatively elite segment of the left.

Beyond that, it really suffered from what I'll simply call the U.S. Senate. Coming off of the 2008 elections, voters handed Democrats 60 U.S. Senate seats (one by the narrowest of margins). But unlike most foreign countries, our parties (especially the Dems) are fairly big tents and a number of members feel very little need to follow the party line.

In addition, there is a lot of good reason for minority parties in the U.S. (as elsewhere) to stand against the majority party.

So add all of this up and combine it with the filibuster and the tendency in American politics is to reward the most self-interested, short-sighted, and least competent lawmakers. It was the filibuster that gave us the Cornhusker Kickback in the health care bill - the special package of goodies that Ben Nelson demanded in exchange for his vote. It also resulted in the ridiculous Gang of Six negotiations that resulted in watered-down legislation but no Republican votes for the measure.

There's an important lesson here -- from virtually any policy experts' viewpoint, the health care bill would have been improved by passing a bill that only required 51 votes instead of 60.

The next Congress will have an option to bring back the ability of a Senator to call the question (a rule that existed in the early years of the Senate). There are other reforms that could be considered, some stronger (abolish the Senate), some weaker (water down the cloture, but keep it in place). But the body would be wise to abolish the rules. It is making our nation ungovernable. A nation that cannot solve collective challenges without unanimous consent is a nation that will not long survive.

Discuss :: (3 Comments)

"In chaos, people don't listen to reason..."

by: Jay Stevens

Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 06:38:38 AM MST

Hey all. Sorry about the intermittent posting. There's been some travel, and a primary computer that desperately needs its hard drive wiped and the OS reinstalled. I'm half tempted to go back to Ubuntu; Vista has been a mess. But what about Windows 7? Has anyone used that, and been pleased?

Anyhoo - last week I lashed out at Baucus and Tester over their refusal to back Senate procedural reform. I stand by the lashing, and stand by the need for reforming Senate procedural reforms, and I've brought along my friend George Packer to bolster my case:

Like many other aspects of senatorial procedure, Rule XXVI, Paragraph 5 is a relic from the days when senators had to hover around their desks to know what was happening on the floor during the main afternoon debate. (The desks, some built as long ago as 1819, are mahogany, and their lids lift up, like those in an old schoolhouse; the desks of the Majority and Minority Leader are still equipped with brass spittoons.) In the press lounge, McCaskill said, with light sarcasm, "Somebody told me the rule is to make sure people pay attention to what's happening on the floor during debate and not be distracted by committee work. Clearly, it's an old rule."

The Republicans had turned this old rule into a new means of obstruction. There would be no hearings that afternoon; the general and the admiral would have to come back another day. Like investment bankers on Wall Street, senators these days direct much of their creative energy toward the manipulation of arcane rules and loopholes, scoring short-term successes while magnifying their institution's broader dysfunction....

Under McConnell, Republicans have consistently consumed as much of the Senate's calendar as possible with legislative maneuvering. The strategy is not to extend deliberation of the Senate's agenda but to prevent it. Tom Harkin, who first proposed reform of the filibuster in 1995, called his Republican colleagues "nihilists," who want to create chaos because it serves their ideology. "If there's chaos, things will tend toward simple solutions," Harkin said. "In chaos people don't listen to reason...."

On July 21st, President Obama signed the completed {financial reform} bill. The two lasting achievements of this Senate, financial regulation and health care, required a year and a half of legislative warfare that nearly destroyed the body. They depended on a set of circumstances-a large majority of Democrats, a charismatic President with an electoral mandate, and a national crisis-that will not last long or be repeated anytime soon. Two days after financial reform became law, Harry Reid announced that the Senate would not take up comprehensive energy-reform legislation for the rest of the year. And so climate change joined immigration, job creation, food safety, pilot training, veterans' care, campaign finance, transportation security, labor law, mine safety, wildfire management, and scores of executive and judicial appointments on the list of matters that the world's greatest deliberative body is incapable of addressing. Already, you can feel the Senate slipping back into stagnant waters.

Read the whole thing. Weep. The current obstructionism is not part of any Senate tradition. The Senate has become a dysfunctional body where professional fundraisers, not statesmen, rule. Bogged down by a 1,600-page procedural rulebook - with many rules therein written for another era with a different kind of Senator in mind - the Senate has stopped the legislative process for a country in economic and environmental crisis. This is our time, and the citizens have risen to the challenge. We've done our work.

If you are wondering why Democratic House members are in trouble this year, it's not because Americans are naturally more conservative. They're not. President Obama won his election on a progressive platform, as did the Senators and House members in 2006 and 2008, and the Republican congressional delegation still has approval ratings that rival Iran's. No, the reason that people are angry is the United States Senate. Change the Senate, modernize its rules, address the problems that face the country, and do the will of the electorate. It's that simple.

Discuss :: (3 Comments)

Tester, Baucus obstruct Senate reform

by: Jay Stevens

Wed Jul 28, 2010 at 08:25:31 AM MST

Holy smokes! According to this Hill article, "Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate are pushing for filibuster reform at the start of the new Congress next year."

Great, right? Fantastic! What I've been calling for...for ages! Let's get it started -

What's that? There are Democrats that oppose this? "Five Senate Democrats" said they wouldn't support filibuster reform, and "another four lawmakers say they are wary about such a change"? What? How's that? It must be what Steve Benen said, that "most of the support" for filibuster reform "comes from newer members of the chamber, but it's the Dems who've been around for a while...who are most inclined to keep things the way they are, regardless of the consequences to the institution or the country, right?

It's a reminder that no one wants to give up a weapon they might want to use themselves someday. Republicans are abusing procedural rules now to undermine a progressive agenda, and some Dems are no doubt thinking they'll be able to abuse those same rules down the road.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) told The Hill, "I think we should retain the same policies that we have instead of lowering it.... I think it has been working."

I don't know what Senate Akaka has been watching, but it doesn't sound like this one.

With the Senate Democratic majority due to shrink, and Republicans becoming more hysterically conservative, these anti-reform Dems are inviting a disaster -- a government incapable of passing legislation.

So when we hear Max Baucus opposes filibuster reform, we shouldn't be surprised. After all, as a "moderate," he's one of the Senators you have to custom-tailor a bill for in order to avoid a filibuster. Pork! Pork! Pork! For Montana! And an effective roadblock to pass any law that would protect or benefit ordinary Americans over Baucus' constituents. Like WellPoint, say. Or maybe, as former Senator Fritz Hollings claims, the filibuster allows Senators to do more fundraising. Ending the filibuster would crimp the fundraising of the Baucuses of the Senate.

But not someone like Tester, right? Not a freshman Senator elected on a wave of populist progressive fervor. Whose supporters slogged in the rain to ensure he represented Montana as a reformer in the US Senate? That he do his best to help end the bitter partisanship that marred Congress in recent years? That he work for the people of the state, and not the varied deep-pocketed interests that have held the Senate - and the country - hostage?

Wrong.

Sen. Jon Tester, a freshman Democrat from Montana, disagrees with some of his classmates from more liberal states.

"I think the bigger problem is getting people to work together," he said. "It's been 60 for a long, long time. I think we need to look to ourselves more than changing the rules."

Seriously, I'm flabbergasted.

Speechless.

I mean, where do you start with this? Yes, the filibuster has been in effect for a long time. But its use for standard legislation is a new and radical change:

But even a cursory glance at the proceedings of the 110th Senate shows something is clearly different this time. Republican leaders are evoking filibusters at a torrid pace, seemingly intent on blocking nearly every piece of legislation that comes across their desks, even measures with wide Republican support.

During the Legislature's first session, which ended in January, the majority was compelled to invoke 78 cloture votes, an average of more than one a week. And things seem to be repeating themselves in the second session, with 44 cloture motions as of June 13, for a total of 116 so far in the 110th Congress.

By contrast, the previous record was 61 cloture votes during the entire 107th Congress of 2001-2002. Republicans are on track to triple that total by the time the second session closes next year.

Compare that to earlier sessions of Congress. Between 1917 and 1963, "the procedure was invoked only five times."

A quick glance at the history of the filibuster shows that, in its original inception, it wasn't intended to block votes on legislation, but to foster debate. Senators had to actually debate on the floor to delay a vote on a bill until 1975, when the "virtual" filibuster was allowed. Now, all you need to do is announce you're filibustering, and - voila! - 60 votes are required.

Rachel Maddow:

Republicans now have a defacto standing filibuster on practically everything. They've made so that passing anything in the Senate requires sixty votes, a super majority every time. This situation has never existed before. This was not the situation in any previous Congress ever. Really. I know the beltway reporting makes it seem like sixty is normal. This is the way it's always been. Democrats did it too when they were in the minority.

It is not true. This really has never happened before in the history of the U.S. Senate....

Under current Senate filibuster rules, Montana's Mike Mansfield couldn't have forced Strom Thurmond to continue debate indefinitely on the Civil Rights Act of 1957, thus ensuring its passage after a 24-hour marathon speech by the segregationist.

And Michael Tomasky reminds us that requiring a supramajority on all votes was distinctly not what our nation's constitutional architects envisioned for a functioning national legislature. "[The Senate] was never supposed to prevent action when clear majorities backed something,
writes Tomasky, "as frequently happens today." And he quotes James Madison, "opposing supramajority requirments in all but a few cases (treaty approval, ouster of members)":

In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule; the power would be transferred to the minority.

So, no, Senator Tester, this is decidedly not how the Senate has historically gone about its business, and the current filibuster has not been around a long time.

As for "getting people to work together..." I'm not sure what Tester means by that. Getting Republicans to support Democratic legislation? Um...you'd have thought even Senator Tester's short-lived experience in the US Senate would show him the folly of that kind of thinking. This isn't the Montana legislature of a decade ago, Senator Tester.

Today's Republicans are deliberately sabotaging legislation that would ameliorate the nation's economic woes with an eye on worsening the economy for the 2012 elections. Today's Republicans are deliberately sabotaging any climate change legislation, wooing the money and support of energy conglomerations and paying lip service to AM-radio-fueled Beckian paranoia. These are not people you can work with, Senator Tester.

This is not why we elected you US Senator for the state of Montana.

Discuss :: (7 Comments)

Would you obstruct Congress for this man?

by: Jay Stevens

Thu Dec 20, 2007 at 20:18:16 PM MST

While we're talking about Republican obstructionism, the latest impedimentary effort from our Friends of Fettering is the blocking of recent FEC nominations. There are four nominees - two Democrats and two Republicans - and Senate Democrats want to nominate them individually, while Senate Republicans want to nominate the group as a block, and if they can't, well, there'll be no nominating at all. Which means no FEC during the upcoming election year.

What's the big fuss? you ask. Why are Republicans stubbornly refusing to allow an up-or-down vote on each of the four nominees?

Meet Hans Spakovsky.

If you've followed what I've written about GOP voter suppression efforts, you know his name. In fact, his degradations against voter rights as a member of the politicized Bush Department of Justice are so myriad and plentiful, that it would take days of work to paint an accurate profile of the man.

Luckily Dahlia Lithwick has already done the heavy lifting.  

There's More... :: (0 Comments, 401 words in story)

Doping allegations haunt Senate Republicans' record-breaking pace

by: Jay Stevens

Thu Dec 20, 2007 at 10:47:28 AM MST

Congratulations to the Senate Republicans of the 110th Congress! As Colby noted, it's official, Senate Republicans are the most obstructionist political bloc ever in the history of Congress!

Yesterday, with a filibuster of an omnibus budget bill, marked the Republicans' 62nd procedural move to block or amend legislation, breaking the previous high-water mark set in the 107th Congress (coincidentally also with a Republican minority in the Senate).

And there's still a year to go!

I'm not going to lie to you, folks. A record-setting pace like this isn't easy. Hand it to Senate Republicans, it took not only effort, but creativity to filibuster 62 times in half of a Congressional session. If it means filibustering their own bills, then so be it.

You've got to wonder, what with Senate Republicans poised to more than double the previous effort of obtuseness, maybe, like with doped MLBers, we're witnessing the side effects of performance enhancers. Viagra rage? Should we collect urine and blood samples? Henry Waxman, take notice!

In any case, you've got to admire these Barons of Blockage, these Huns of Hampering, these Shahs of Shackledom: we'll probably never witness such superhuman efforts to frustrate again in our lifetimes.

Discuss :: (10 Comments)
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