Imagine for a second. It is Wednesday morning, November 5. The numbers in Alaska are too close to call waiting for the votes from small towns all over the state to come in, Louisiana and Georgia are heading to run-offs (with Georgia's taking place after the Senate convenes in January), and the current numbers the Senate is 47 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and 5 Independents (with newly elected Senators Greg Orman and Larry Pressler, joining Bernie Sanders, Lisa Murkowski, and Angus King).
While it is almost certain that, in the end, Bernie Sanders will caucus with the Democrats and Lisa Murkowski will caucus with the Republicans, there might be a period of time when these five will work together to make some changes to how the Senate operates to make it less dysfunctional and less party-based. If the election results theoretically turn the independents (especially King, Orman, and Pressler) into the balance of power in the Senate, what changes do you think will take place? What changes would you like to see take place?
For me, I would like to see changes to the filibuster rule. I do not oppose having a filibuster, but I think that the filibuster should be limited to final passage of a bill. Let the bill come to the floor for a debate by majority vote, let amendments to the bill pass by majority vote, prevent the leadership from just substituting a new version for the amended bill at the last second (any leadership substitute being treated as just another proposed amendment), and then permit a filibuster only on the final vote after the Senate has had a chance to address all of the objections to specific provisions in the bill (making it clear that the filibuster is to the concept of a bill and not the substance).
Keeping the requirement for sixty votes for cloture on the final bill would also give the declining number of centrists in the two parties (of course, if we are replacing centrists in the two parties with independents, the result is the same) a chance to work out a compromise version that centrists on both sides can live with.
As we start a new year (a mid-term election year), it is an appropriate time to look at goals/resolutions for 2014 for the Democratic Party.
For the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, two separate resolutions/goals:
1) Out of the nine Republican targets (Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia), win at least five of the nine. Realistically, 2008 was a great year for Democrats running for the Senate and winning 20 senate races again is not likely, but if we can win five of these nine we keep control.
2) Take at least one Senate seat away from the Republicans (best chances may be Georgia, Kentucky, and Maine). We are going to need some Tea Party help to do this, but the one thing that we can count on the Tea Party is to give us a Senate seat or two by winning a primary.
For the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee:
A simple resolution, defy history and pick up seats in the mid-term election of a second term. The party not in the White House normally picks up seats in the mid-term, especially when the other party is in its second (or more) consecutive term in the White House. The Democratic goal is hindered by the dwindling number of swing seats. A majority may be too much to ask for, but ending the year with 205-10 representatives might be achievable.
For the Democratic Governors Association:
1) Of the nine Republicans up for re-election in swing or lean Democratic states (Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), win at least four.
2) While this to some extent overlaps with the other resolution, have a strong showing in the southwest (defending Colorado, seeking open seats in Arizona and Texas, and challenging Republicans in Nevada and New Mexico). While it may not be possible to win all of these seats, keeping them all competitive is a necessary step to laying down a foundation for taking these states in 2016.
For the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee:
1) Regain control of some state legislative houses (particularly Iowa House and New Hampshire Senate and one of the houses in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan).
2) Narrow the gap in other states.
Realistically, a lot of state houses have large Republican majorities (partially for geographic reasons, partially due to gerrymandering). However, picking up five or six seats per state would be a down payment on taking some of these houses later in the decade. Additionally, it might allow Democrats to work with more moderate Republicans against some of the more extreme measures put forward by the Tea Party.
Several weeks back, the US Senate passed a version of filibuster reform, essentially by consent. Having had some weeks to digest the two resolutions that were adopted, some basic thoughts.
1) In reaching a compromise, the Senate passed one temporary resolution (expiring at the end of this Congress) and one actual amendment to the Standing Rules. Because the temporary resolution does not technically amend the standing rule, it is not entirely clear how it impacts the standing rule.
2) The temporary change (S.Res.15) appears to limit debate on a motion to proceed (without need for a formal cloture motion) and to establish an order for offering and considering amendments after the motion to proceed passes. The rule also provides for the consideration of amendments after a cloture motion is adopted on the entire bill. In theory, this rule would effectively require only one cloture motion on a bill, limiting the ability to stall legislation.
3) The permanent change (S.Res. 16) also makes changes to the rules governing a motion to proceed. Under this change, if the leaders of both parties sign the cloture motion, there is no further debate on the motion to proceed after the adoption of the cloture motion. In other words, one Senator can't cause a delay on a bill with bipartisan support by insisting on debating the motion to proceed.
The permanent changes also address the rules for conference committees. If a cloture motion is filed on a motion to request/agree to a conference committee, debate on the cloture motion is limited to two hours with no further debate on the motion to proceed to conference if the cloture motion passes.
4) Both sets of changes eliminate some procedural hurdles that allow built-in delay. Under the temporary change, a cloture motion is no longer needed on a motion to proceed. Under the permanent changes, while a cloture motion is still needed to allow a vote on proceeding to a conference committee, there is very limited debate on that motion and the underlying motion for a conference. These rules do not alter the ability of 41 members to defeat legislation or a nomination, but they do speed up the process after a cloture motion has been adopted and limit the places in the process where a cloture motion is required.
5) As the recent vote on cloture on the Hagel nomination shows, the problem in the Senate is not just the waiting period after a cloture motion (or the number of places in the process where clotrue can be invoked), but the simple fact that 41 membes can block Senate action. There were alternative proposals to solve this problem, but the leadership decided (probably because the Republicans control the House) against fighting that battle this Congress. At some point, some of these ideas need to get serious consideration -- particularly a requirement for actual debate as part of a filibuster and a gradual reduction in the number of voters needed for cloture if a prior cloture motion fails (i.e. at some point, a majority can force a vote on the merits).
On Thursday, the 113th Congress convenes -- likely with a whole stack of issues dropped on its doorstep by the worst Congress in history. While there will be a lot of real business to attend to, there is a key procedural measure that occupies the first day of any session -- the adoption of the rules governing procedures in each chamber.
Because each member of the House begins a new term at the start of each Congress, the House sees a need to formally adopt the new rules at the start of each Congress. The Senate, on the other hand, assumes that since the start of the new Congress is the start of the term of only one-third of the membership that the old rules carry over into the new Congress. However, many legal scholars believe that on the first day of the new session, the Senate could, by majority vote, choose to adopt a new set of rules. (After that first day, the current rules require a two-thirds vote to close debate on a motion to amend the rules).
Currently, Senate Rules (particularly Rule 22) as interpreted by the Senate and its parliamentarian allow unlimited debate on almost everything. (One exception is a "reconciliation" bill implementing a budget resolution adopted by both the House and Senate.) Debate can only be limited if a cloture motion receives 60 or more votes or there is unanimous consent to end debate. Under the rules, it is possible to force a cloture vote at multiple stages of a bill (e.g. the motion to bring the bill to the floor for formal consideration, any amendment to the bill, passage of the bill, consideration of a report from a conference committee).
In the old days, cloture only needed to be invoked to defeat an on-going debate (i.e. if people stopped debating a bill, it could proceed to a vote). Under the modern ipractice of the cloture rule, all that is needed is for a Senator to object to proceeding to a vote. Not too surprisingly, this relaxed debate requirement has led to a need for more cloture motions with the result that few bills and few presidential appointments make it through the Senate. (By my count, there were only 52 roll call votes on final passage of legislation in the Senate and 74 votes on contested nominations during this past Congress.)
With this self-inflicted gridlock in the Senate, the issue is whether the Senate will take the opportunity on Thursday to fix some of the problem. Many of the newer Senators on the Democratic side would like to change the rules, but the question is whether the leadership will go along with any of the ideas.
Ideas that have been expressed in the past include: 1) lowering the number of votes required for cloutre (either reducing the actual number or changing it from members sworn to members voting so that an absent Senator is not equivalent to a no on the motion); 2) only allowing a filibuster on final passage or on a conference report; 3) exempting additional measures from filibusters; and 4) requiring actual debate by those seeking to prevent a vote instead of allowing opponents to merely object to a vote.
As recently as Friday, polls of Missouri showed incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill facing a tough re-election race against St. Louis Congressman Todd Akin. Over the past several years Congressman Akin had made multiple comments which were outrageous, and Democrats had hopes that, once Missouri got to know the Todd Akin that we knew, the numbers would turn around.
Then Todd Akin opened his mouth and explained what he thought about allowing victims of rape to get an abortion. Twenty-four hours later, the national party is begging Todd Akin to get out of the race.
There are several key dates upcoming that could influence whether Representative Akin does the honorable thing or if he tries to struggle on and overcome his own political beliefs.
First, Missouri allows a candidate who has been nominated by a political party to withdraw no later than 5:00 p.m. on the eleventh Tuesday prior to the general election which just happens to be this Tuesday. One caveat, the section requires that the withdrawing candidate have been nominated. However, a candidate is not nominated until the election results have been certified. Certification takes place within two weeks of the Secretary of State receiving the abstracts of returns for all of the counties and the counties can only submit the results after the county verification board meets, and the counties have two weeks to complete the verification process. In other words, Tuesday is the deadline for the counties to finish the verification process, and the Secretary of State does not need to certify the results until next Tuesday. So it is unclear that Representative Akin can officially withdraw at this point.
Assuming that he does, the State Republican Committee would then have two weeks to meet (after official notice is given by the Secretary of State which must be given within twenty-four hours of the Secretary learning of the vacancy). State law requires that a majority of the committee be present at the meeting, that the meeting take place in the area to be represented, and that a majority vote of those present is required to nominate a candidate. No proxies are allowed. That means notice would go out on Wednesday, and the nomination meeting would have to take place by the Wednesday after Labor Day. How many of the 68 members of the Republican state committee are going to be out of state through Labor Day in Tampa? It would be rather embarassing to fail to get a quorum together and be unable to nomiate a replacement candidate.
Second, assuming that Representative Akin survives the next 24 hours, the next key date will be this weekend. If he can survive the daily media calls for him to step down, the start of the conventions should distract the media attention away from him and allow him to attempt to rebuild his candidacy after Labor Day.
Third, assuming that the post-Labor Day polls show that Akin is dead neanderthal walking, the last key date is September 25th -- the last day to withdraw with court approval. While theoretically, a court could refuse permission, it is unlikely that a court would. I would not be surprised if the state party had Akin announce that he will be withdrawing, but postpone the formal paperwork until after Labor Day to give the committee a chance to informally agree on a candidate and get that candidate's campaign committee set up.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director Guy Cecil released the following statement regarding news that Republican Senator Olympia Snowe would not seek reelection:
“As we said from day one, unexpected opportunities will emerge and the DSCC will be in a position to seize on these opportunities.
“Maine is now a top pick up opportunity for Senate Democrats. If there is one place in the country that is likely to reject the extreme, anti-middle class, divisive Republican agenda it is Maine. Democrats not only hold a strong registration advantage in the state, but this is a state that the President won by 17 points in 2008 and will likely win by a significant margin this year as well.”
First off, if we get really lucky, Bob Kerrey will run for the seat. When he retired, he indicated he might someday return to public life. His support of both Jim Webb and Al Franken in their respective runs for the Senate indicates he still knows politics. He was popular as an elected official, and it was never clear exactly why he left. And Bob, we need you...
Of course, if you're a long time reader, you know I pine for Tom Daschle. Americans have short memories, so I'm thinking his taxes are in order by now, and he won't repeat past mistakes.
Either would be a strong candidate, especially in this watershed year.
I cannot think of any other first tier Democratic candidates from Nebraska, maybe someone else can think of one.
In January, I'll be up with my forecasts for the Senate, and we can start to look at whether or not we hold it. Holding the Senate matters, but I have a history of vacillating on the idea of sell-out Democratic Senators, of which Ben Nelson is certainly a poster child, along with Max Baucus. "Holding the Senate" matters in terms of having a Speaker who controls what gets to the floor and a number of other important facets. But in terms of the vote, Ben Nelson hasn't been with us in, um, forever. My thought always is: what good do they do us if they vote against us anyway? But I know the prevailing thought always was "it's okay, they'll be with us when it counts." At least, that was the argument I was given in 2006 when I felt I couldn't vote for Bob Casey because of his stands on abortion and, by extension, women's rights.
But as we've seen in the past few years, party hasn't matter when that party has a "D" in its name. So I say good riddance, Ben. I want you to put up a blog and point out every single time you use Medicare, Social Security, government pension and every other benefit you get with my hard-earned tax dollars that you have worked so hard to insure I never see.
On Sunday, I posted a link to Bernie Sanders' letter to Obama. (Yes, you can still sign). He made a speech on Monday which outlines his plans for shared sacrifice. You can read the full text here. He had 12 suggestions which are posted in their entirety after the jump. His numbers are incredibly telling: there is enough money around to lead us back to the Clinton era surpluses.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) bluntly asked Obama whether he was willing to fight for Democratic priorities amid GOP calls for trillions of dollars in spending cuts.
In asking the question, Waxman said he’d asked several Republicans about their White House meeting the day before and had been concerned by their response.
“To a person, they said the president’s going to cave,” Waxman told Obama, according to his colleague’s account.
“If you’re not going to cave, eliminating that misunderstanding is very, very important to the negotiations,” the lawmaker said, retelling Waxman’s message. “And if you’re going to cave, tell us right now.”
Obama, however, “didn’t answer the question,”
Yeah, I know.
Want to do something? Tell your Senators and Rep about Sanders' plan and that your next vote for them depends on their support of it. Sign the petition supporting the letter. Attend a Speakout event in your area. General information:
The Speakout for Good Jobs Now tour will feature stops in numerous cities across America giving Americans the chance to speak out about how the economy is affecting them. Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus will listen to what everyday Americans have to say and take that back to Washington with them as they continue to fight to reinvigorate the American Dream — the ability to put in a day’s hard work for good wages and benefits so we can provide our children with a better future.
If you like to play sing-along-with-the-Senate, that group that put the fun back in dysfunctional, you know that the last votes of the year relate to appropriations. It's not that they don't know they have to get it done, and it's not like they don't play around with things related to appropriations all year. Again....putting the fun...
Yesterday, 73 Senators voted to repeal the ethanol subsidy. As you know, the first caucus is in Iowa, and corn is one of the 4 basic food groups in Iowa, and candidates go to Iowa and take the I-love-ethanol pledge. It's as ubiquitous as brushing your teeth every morning, although it's really like brushing one shiny front tooth and ignoring all the rest of the incisors, plus canines and molars. You can see the list of who voted how here, and yes, I'll be calling Bob's office today. Because we SHOULD repeal the ethanol subsidies. And quit requiring ethanol to be a gasoline additive. But this vote wasn't about the dead areas in the gulf caused by farming runoff (along other reasons). It wasn't about how ethanol costs MORE than gasoline, both financially and in terms of pollution, nor about how it decreases gas mileage...no, this was a vote for show. It's actually one of the 94 amendments (so far) to S. 782, the Economic Development Revitalization Act of 2011. Text here. First, there's a rumour that Obama would veto, but I cannot find a legitimate source. Mostly though, the bill itself has a zero percent chance of passage. It's a decent bill (excepting a bunch of amendments) - it seeks to form a partnership between the government and industry to help domestic manufacturing and increase public works projects.
Which is why it won't pass: money would have to be appropriated. Think back to the last several Decembers.
But hey, war in Afghanistan, and other places (vote here about how many wars we're fighting if you haven't already, the number seems to be in flux), the lack of judges, climate change, medicaid cuts, unemployment....the list goes on...but hey, this week they got Anthony Weiner to resign. Is it my imagination, or has the Congress reached the point that we really only have 2 functional branches of government?
In a flurry of voting, the FY 2011 budget deal struck between President Obama, Speaker Boehner, and Leader Reid is now law.
I put the House actions in the Quick Hits at the right. In sum, the House faced opposition to the budget from progressive Democrats and from Tea Party Republicans. It's another example of that odd alliance of the wings versus the middle that we've seen so many times already this year. In this case, the middle won handily, passing the budget.
The votes in the House to defund health care reform and Planned Parenthood, were more nearly party line, with just a handful of defectors--in the case of Planned Parenthood, the small numbers who crossed party lines nearly cancelled each other out.
The votes in the Senate went somewhat differently.
On the budget itself, Leahy, Levin, Sanders, and Wyden joined 15 Republicans in voting against the budget. It's interesting that two of the Republicans in the Gang of Six were among the opponents.
Back in January, we discussed whether letting the Senate vote on defunding health care reform was a good idea. Good idea or not, they voted today. It turned out to be a straight party line vote: every member of the Democratic caucus, including Lieberman and Sanders, voted to preserve funding; every Republican voted against.
They also voted today on whether to defund Planned Parenthood. A few days ago, two thirds of us thought fewer than 56 Senators would defend the funding. It turns out we were too pessimistic: Brown, Collins, Kirk, Murkoswki, and Snowe all voted against defunding, along with every member of the Democratic caucus, for a total of 58 votes.
One note: contrary to many media reports concerning the budget deal, these were not up and down votes, but rather cloture votes, and thus needed 60 Senators for the Republicans to prevail. So it's possible Planned Parenthood could have garnered even more GOP defectors had it actually been up for a vote--as it stands, a Senator could argue that they voted for cloture in order to have an up or down vote, and that they might have voted against defunding later. Quite possibly the result would have been the same, but we'll never know. Personally, I would have preferred up or down votes, so as not to give those Republicans that excuse.
As part of a deal that averted a government shutdown, it's been agreed that the Senate will have an up-or-down vote on whether to continue funding Title X, the government program championed by President Nixon that supports family planning clinics including Planned Parenthood.
This was an innovative solution to the sticking point, allowing Speaker Boehner to tell the social conservatives in his base that he kept the question alive, while President Obama can claim that he held the line. Politically, if multiple Republican Senators vote for continuing funding, that would be a big win for the Democrats, as it would be clear that the radical right almost shut down the government over a program that even many Republicans favor. If, on the other hand, the program just barely survives a vote, that would give the social conservatives momentum. And if the worst happened, and the program was actually defunded...
Time to play pundit: what do you think the vote total will be?
On March 1, the Senate approved by unanimous consent a resolution in regards to Libya. Clause 7:
urges the United Nations Security Council to take such further action as may be necessary to protect civilians in Libya from attack, including the possible imposition of a no-fly zone over Libyan territory
On March 17, the United Nations passed a resolution that:
Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory, and requests the Member States concerned to inform the Secretary-General immediately of the measures they take pursuant to the authorization conferred by this paragraph which shall be immediately reported to the Security Council [emphasis in original]
The similarity in language is notable, particularly since there were reports that the United States insisted on the "all necessary measures" aspect.
My question, then, is did the Senate get what it asked for? And if not, in what ways does this differ?
Happy New Year campers, and welcome to the start of the 112th Congress, which will convene on Wednesday. Before we get to the crux of the discussion, just a timing note. In addition to getting more paid vacation time then any other group of people, including union workers and even most part time workers, Congress generally doesn't meet Monday or Friday. That's 102 scheduled vacation days (exclusive of the Monday/Friday deal) with adjournment on 8 December, leading to an additional 16 days off. Strikes me as obscene. If I owned a company and paid someone in the neighborhood of $250,000/year in salary, benefits and perks (exclusive of the office budget) - I'd expect that person to work more than he/she took vacation. But maybe that's just me. You can see the full calendar here.
Then again, this might be a good year for gridlock, given what the House led by the Tan Man and his DeMint-led cohorts in the Senate want to do.
On their agenda:
Repeal healthcare. And no, this won't happen.
Repeal safe and legal abortion. This might happen.
Repeal DADT. NOT gonna happen.
Debt ceiling? The tea baggers are already up in arms about what the lame duck Congress did, and they do NOT want to raise it. Hopefully, cooler heads amoung the Republican intelligencia (sole member: Karl Rove) and the GOP members who've been around long enough to want to come back for an additional term will prevail.
Spending bills: remember there's no budget, just a continuing budget resolution that will need to be renewed/reviewed/reconsidered/beaten with a stick in February.
This morning the Senate is taking up cloture motions on the Dream Act and Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
One of the "highlights" of the end of the debate was Senator McConnell complaining about the majority abusing the procedural rules to prevent amendments on 43 bills over the past four years. Senator Reid's response was to simply note the much more extensive abuse of the procedural rules by the minority to prevent votes on bills.
The motion on cloture on the Dream Act failed by a vote of 55-41. I do not have an exact breakdown on the votes but it sounded like some Democrats from rural areas like Senator Tester voted no. The only Republican that I heard voting yes was Senator Lugar. So even if all Democrats had voted yes, there would only have been 59 votes for cloture.
Still to come is the vote on DADT.
MSNBC is reporting the following Democrats as voting no -- Tester, Nelson of Nebraska, Pryor, Hagan, and Baucus. The following Republicans voted yes -- Lugar, Murkowski, and Bennett.
It is sounding like at least four Republicans are supporting cloture on DADT.
Motion for cloture on DADT passes by a vote of 63-33. TPM lists the following Republicans as voting yes: Brown of Massachussetts, Murkowski, Voinovich, Snowe, Kirk, and Collins.
Update: DADT IS DEAD. The vote was 65-31. GOP Senators voting yes were Scott Brown, Richard Burr(!), Susan Collins, John Ensign, Mark Kirk, Lisa Murkowski, Olympia Snowe and George Voinovich.
The Republicans intend to block anything and everything. This should come as no surprise to those of us who read, but still, they put it in a letter yesterday. They took their first shot yesterday, when they blocked school lunch money in the House. Meanwhile, Obama is convinced that becoming the most capitulating appeaser since Chamberlain is a good thing since, and I quote:
The American people did not vote for gridlock.
Um, Mr. President, YES THEY DID. With every Republican elected to take a seat held in the 11th, every state assembly and senate position, and every governor's mansion.
Theoretically, they'll be voting against the tax cut extension for those earning less than $250,000/year today in the House. Holding hostage the unemployed with no extensions, the budget, the lunches and everything else for the 98% of America that is not seriously rich. As an aside, this is an excellent piece on the state by state effects of the cessation of unemployment extensions, in case you want state-by-state data.
So you might assume that anyone NOT a Republican will blink first, roll over, and play dead.
Then again, you might believe that the Democrats, led by the appeaser in chief, will suddenly grow an actual spine, and go with Robert Reich's Option "B", in thought, deed and messaging.
There are those who, while normally sane and cognizant, have fallen off a thinking cliff and believe that there is some answer in the middle.
By the way, if you wonder why I keep harping on the unemployment extension, it's because it is important not only to the people who will need welfare if it doesn't go through, but for the economy as a whole. Unemployment dollars are dollars that get spent every day. Rich tax money? They just hold onto it, and it doesn't go into our delicate economy. Further, it is an integral part of the safety net, and there is something morally bankrupt about a government that caters to the rich at the expense of hungry children.
My real question is: at what point does the electorate realize that they voted against their own self-interest, unfortunately, I know the answer, and it's NEVER.