Tag Archive: Congressional Game of Chicken

Jan 22 2013

Congressional Game of Chicken: Fixing Filibuster Don’t Stop Now, Part VII

Don’t Stop Now! Call Reid’s office at 202-224-3542, and tell him to include the talking filibuster and/or flipping the burden of the filibuster.

Reform the Filbuster

Sign the Petition



Will Harry Reid kill real filibuster reform? Vote is tomorrow, January 22.

1/21/2013 10:00am by Gaius Publius

(W)e should be calling Harry Reid’s office today and tomorrow (early morning EST):

    Harry Reid:

    (202) 224-3542

Reid also has four Nevada offices, all with phones. If you call:

  1. Tell him (politely) to act like a Democrat instead of a Beltway insider & Mitch McConnell’s virtual golfing buddy.
  2. Tell him to support the Merkley-Udall proposal and nothing less.
  3. Say if he doesn’t get real filibuster reform passed in the Senate, he owns the silent filibuster for the next two years. Every Republican obstruction will be his obstruction as well.

Let’s give him naming rights if he fails us like he did two years ago. The Senator Harry Reid Silent Filibuster™, brought to you by Senator Harry Reid, the Republicans’ new best friend in the Senate.

Other Dem senators who may be wavering:

Baucus Max MT D (202) 224-2651
Boxer Barbara CA D (202) 224-3553
Feinstein Dianne CA D (202) 224-3841
Heitkamp Heidi ND D (202) 224-2043
Hirono Mazie HI D (202) 224-6361
Leahy Patrick VT D (202) 224-4242
Reed Jack RI D (202) 224-4642

Make the call, please. Today… early (EST). Make several. I’d be shocked if the folks in the $800 suits hit the chambers anytime before 10 or 11am – gotta have time for those lobbyist breakfasts and all.

Harry Reid seeks middle path on filibuster

By MANU RAJU, Politico

1/17/13 6:41 PM EST

The contents of a filibuster reform package are not yet finalized, sources say, and Reid is still trying to cut a bipartisan deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to avert a partisan showdown on the floor next week. But Reid seems to have discarded one of the more far-reaching proposals sought by liberals – forcing senators to actually carry out a filibuster – because of fears that the plan would effectively kill the potent delaying tactic used frequently by the minority party.

Reid’s most pressing demand is to eliminate filibusters used to prevent debate on legislation from starting. He also wants to end filibusters used to prevent the Senate from convening conference committees with the House. And he’s eager to pare back the use of filibusters on certain presidential nominations.

Senators could still filibuster in any number of situations under this approach. But Reid is weighing whether to shift the burden of the filibuster from those who are seeking to defeat it onto those who are threatening to wage one. Rather than requiring 60 votes to break a filibuster, Reid is considering requiring at least 41 senators to sustain a filibuster. That would amount to a subtle shift to force opponents to ensure every senator is present in order to mount a filibuster.

Still, what Reid is considering would fall short of a plan pushed by Sens. Merkley, Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who want to require anyone who is threatening to filibuster to actually carry one out on the floor – much like in the infamous movie classic, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

Under their plan, if a filibuster is not defeated – but at least 51 senators want to overcome the delay tactic – senators who are obstructing would go to the floor and carry out the talk-a-thon. But once the senators stop talking, the Senate could overcome the filibuster with just 51 votes, rather than the 60 that is currently required.

Republicans and a handful of Democrats oppose this approach because they fear that it would effectively usurp the power of an individual senator to filibuster and effectively lower the threshold to overcome a filibuster from 60 votes to 51.

To repeat-

(W)e should be calling Harry Reid’s office today and tomorrow (early morning EST):

    Harry Reid:

    (202) 224-3542

Reid also has four Nevada offices, all with phones. If you call:

  1. Tell him (politely) to act like a Democrat instead of a Beltway insider & Mitch McConnell’s virtual golfing buddy.
  2. Tell him to support the Merkley-Udall proposal and nothing less.
  3. Say if he doesn’t get real filibuster reform passed in the Senate, he owns the silent filibuster for the next two years. Every Republican obstruction will be his obstruction as well.

Let’s give him naming rights if he fails us like he did two years ago. The Senator Harry Reid Silent Filibuster™, brought to you by Senator Harry Reid, the Republicans’ new best friend in the Senate.

Other Dem senators who may be wavering:

Baucus Max MT D (202) 224-2651
Boxer Barbara CA D (202) 224-3553
Feinstein Dianne CA D (202) 224-3841
Heitkamp Heidi ND D (202) 224-2043
Hirono Mazie HI D (202) 224-6361
Leahy Patrick VT D (202) 224-4242
Reed Jack RI D (202) 224-4642

Make the call, please. Today… early (EST). Make several. I’d be shocked if the folks in the $800 suits hit the chambers anytime before 10 or 11am – gotta have time for those lobbyist breakfasts and all.

Jan 17 2013

Congressional Game of Chicken: Fixing Filibuster Sign the Petition, Part VI

Time is getting short to reform the filibuster rule of the Senate. The debate and vote to reform will take place January 22, the day after Pres. Obama’s inauguration for his second term and before hearing on the president’s nominees for important cabinet vacancies.

Reform the Filbuster

Sign the Petition

Filibuster Reform Advocates Launch Petition To Include Talking Filibuster

by Sabrina Siddiqui, Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — With just a week left to influence the looming debate over filibuster reform, Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with the progressive Daily Kos community, launched a petition on Monday to drum up support for a proposal that would eliminate the silent filibuster.

The hope is to maintain pressure for reform that would include the talking filibuster. Merkley, Udall and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) have been pushing one such approach, which would still allow the minority to filibuster legislation but would require members to do so by actually standing and speaking on the floor. The Merkley-Udall-Harkin plan also seeks to streamline conference committee assignments and nominations, and eliminate the motion to proceed — a motion typically offered by the majority leader to bring up a bill or other measure for consideration.

Their proposal is competing with a scaled-back bipartisan plan introduced by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and backed by six other senators. In a statement accompanying the petition, Merkley argues that “other proposals out there don’t go far enough, and won’t change the culture of obstruction that paralyzes the Senate.”

“Without a talking filibuster, obstructionist Senators will still be able to silently stall any piece of legislation they want without any accountability,” he writes.>

Merkley: Time is now to reform Senate filibuster rules

Filibuster reform will be first thing on the docket when the U.S. Senate convenes on Jan. 22.

Under the U.S. Constitution, a majority of each house have the power to change its rules on the first day of the legislative session by a simple majority vote. The Senate convened the first session of the 113th Congress on Jan. 3 – and the three Democratic senators introduced SR 4. Here’s what it would do:

  Clear the path to debate – Those objecting to legislation would only have one opportunity to filibuster legislation. Specifically, the ability to bring up a bill for simple debate (the motion to proceed) would not be subjected to a filibuster.

   Restore the “talking filibuster” – Those wishing to filibuster legislation must actually hold the floor and be required to actually debate the legislation. It would end “silent” filibusters where one senator quietly objects and is not required to take the Senate floor.

   Put filibuster supporters on record – 41 senators would have to affirmatively vote to continue debate, rather than forcing 60 senators to vote to end debate.

   Expedite nominations – The process for approving nominations would be streamlined, shortening the amount of time required for debate once a nomination is brought to the Senate floor.

Historically, the filibuster was intended to protect the minority party’s interests on extraordinary issues, and it was rarely invoked. But in today’s contentious political climate the filibuster has been used in record numbers (nearly 400 times in the 112th Congress) to block votes and debate, and the requirement for 60 votes to end a filibuster has proved virtually insurmountable. For example, much of the legislation organized labor has fought for to restore collective bargaining rights and to create jobs  – from the Employee Free Choice Act, to the Bring Jobs Home Act, the American Jobs Act, and many more – never received a Senate floor vote because of the filibuster threat, even though the legislation had majority support from senators.

For these reasons, SR 4 is endorsed by the AFL-CIO and some 50 progressive groups – in a coalition called Fix the Senate Now.

As our friend, Gaius Publius at AMERICAblog says:

This is my reminder – you can help hold that group together. We need strong filibuster reform, not a weaker version. Call your senator if you believe in this (click to find the phone number).

In addition, call these senators – they are the Democrats flirting with “well, I don’t really know” when the last public list of supporters was announced:

  • Baucus Max MT D (202) 224-2651
  • Boxer Barbara CA D (202) 224-3553
  • Feinstein Dianne CA D (202) 224-3841
  • Heitkamp Heidi ND D (202) 224-2043
  • Hirono Mazie HI D (202) 224-6361
  • Leahy Patrick VT D (202) 224-4242
  • Reed Jack RI D (202) 224-4642

As of last report, these are the Democratic waverers (and shame on them). Please make the calls, now and daily (if you can) until January 22.

Reform the Filbuster

Sign the Petition

Jan 11 2013

Congressional Game of Chicken: Fixing Filibuster, Part V

The unintended consequence of the Republican threats, bluster and temper tantrums over President Obama’s cabinet nominees is helping Sen. Jeff Merkley make the case to pass filibuster reform among Senate Democrats.

Cabinet pushback and the case for filibuster reform

by Steve Benen, Maddow Blog

At a certain level, Senate Republicans huffing and puffing about President Obama’s recent nominations seems irrelevant, since the GOP has a 45-seat minority. Unless Republicans intend to start filibustering qualified nominees — a step without precedent in American history — it’s pretty likely the president will be able to pick the members of his own team.

And yet, the aggressive posturing continues. Republicans killed Susan Rice’s nomination before it even happened, based on nothing but misplaced spite. They started trying to crush Jack Lew’s nomination yesterday and Chuck Hagel’s nomination last week. And don’t even get me started on Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) tantrum on John Brennan’s CIA nomination.

There is, however, an unintended consequence to all of this chest-thumping: Republicans are making an excellent case for filibuster reform, just as Senate Democrats have to decide on how best to proceed.

h/t  Jonathan Bernstein at The Washington Post‘s Post Partisan Blog

How To Destroy the Filibuster

by David Weigel, Slate

Republicans say they’ll block Chuck Hagel and Jack Lew. Democrats are using that threat to change the filibuster.

On Wednesday morning, most business reporters confirmed Barack Obama’s next choice to lead the Treasury Department: White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew. Within hours, the same reporters got a statement from Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking member of the Budget Committee and a man who’ll have some say over whether Lew gets the job. [..]

He would oppose Barack Obama’s nominee because the nominee had a dangerous amount in common with Barack Obama.

Sessions’ outrage was manna to an unexpected group of people: Democrats. For months, a group of freshman Democratic senators have been trying to nail down 51 votes to reform the filibuster. On Jan. 22, when the Senate votes on this congressional session’s rulebook, they’ll need to keep that group together. Every time a Republican threatens an Obama nominee, their job gets easier. [..]

“If they want more debate on Chuck Hagel at Defense or Jack Lew at Treasury, then let them talk through the weekend,” (Sen. Jeff) Merkley said. “If this former, conservative colleague is so outrageous … they can expend the energy and really filibuster him. Hopefully, then, we’d be able to at least have transparency.”

Keep stomping your feet and shouting your outrage with the our most sincere thanks for making the case to fix filibuster.

Jan 04 2013

Congressional Game of Chicken: Fixing Filibuster, Part IV

“Get out the old phone books,” as Chuck Todd suggests in the video below, if Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) are successful in bringing filibuster reform to the Senate. By using Senate rules, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) recessed the chamber at the end of Thursday’s proceedings to extend the legislative day until later this month. Debate will begin on January 22, two days after the inauguration.

“I think the conversation is going to continue between [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell [(R-Ky.)] and Harry Reid about this. I think they’re going to see if there’s a way to reach a bipartisan agreement, they’re still talking,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.).

“We’re going to preserve our rights, we’re going to stay in the first legislative day and deal with the rules when we get back after the inauguration,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), a leading proponent of reform.[..]

Liberals say the Levin-McCain proposal is inadequate because it would not implement their highest-priority reform, the so-called talking filibuster.

Udall and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore), the leading advocates for filibuster reform, say lawmakers who filibuster legislation should be required to actively hold the floor and debate. This would make it more arduous for senators who want to hold up business – they would have to organize teams to hold the floor for days or even weeks on end.

Udall said he would have to be convinced to support the Levin-McCain plan because it would not implement a talking filibuster rule, which he said is “the heart of the matter”

He said Reid may insist on it as part of any overhaul of Senate rules.

“The talking filibuster is still very much on the table,” Udall said.

Real Senate filibuster reform needed

By Frank Knapp, Jr., vice chairman, American Sustainable Business Council Action Fund


Much of this problem lies with the voters rewarding extreme partisanship over cooperative problem solving and Congress making policy decisions that guarantee later stalemates.

However, there is one self-inflicted structural problem in the U.S. Senate that magnifies both these electorate and policy decisions – the filibuster.Except for rare occasions, the Senate is ruled by the minority. With 60 votes needed to end a filibuster that can essentially be “called-in” by the minority, the American public is being deprived both of a truly deliberative body and seeing the consequences of their voting behavior.

There is no transparency or accountability under today’s Senate filibuster rules. Consequently we have had an abusive and undemocratic use of filibusters in recent years at every step in the legislative process. The Senate has become frozen in its ability to address the nation’s problems, especially when it comes to promoting a healthy economy. That is why many business organizations like the American Sustainable Business Council, a national coalition of business organizations that together represent over 150,000 small and medium businesses, strongly supports filibuster reform.

Merkley, Udall Escalate Criticism Of Scaled-Back Filibuster Reform

by Sahil Kapur, TPMLiveWire

Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Udall (D-NM) held a briefing with reporters Thursday to make the case for adopting their “talking filibuster” proposal with 51 votes via the constitutional option. [..]

Udall said the Merkley-Udall plan has “good momentum” and said he believes it has the necessary 51 votes to pass under what Republicans call the “nuclear option.” Changing the rules ordinarily requires 67 votes.

On Filibuster Reform, Advocates Claim Momentum

by Ryan Grim and Sabrina Siddiqui, Huffington Post

The Senate postponed debate on reforming the filibuster Thursday, as advocates cited the support of 48 senators for eliminating the silent filibuster using the so-called constitutional option, a measure that requires 50 votes plus that of the vice president. [..]

The main component of the Merkley-Udall approach is the talking filibuster, which still enables the minority to filibuster legislation but would require them to do so by actually standing and speaking on the floor. Additionally, the proposal would also streamline conference committee assignments and nominations, and eliminate the motion to proceed — a motion typically offered by the majority leader to bring up a bill or other measure for consideration.

On this morning’s The Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd, Sen. Merkley appeared to discuss why what he and Sen Udall propose is better filibuster reform and where the negotiations stand.

Jan 03 2013

Congressional Game of Chicken: Round 2 of the Road to Austerity

Last night the House of Representatives voted to make permanent the Bush/Obama tax cuts on all but the top 1% of tax payers and increasing taxes on on 77.1 percent of U.S. households, mostly because of the expiration of a payroll tax cut. With the bill set to be signed by Pres. Barack Obama, Congress and the White House move to the next manufactured crisis that this bill set up, the draconian sequester cuts to defense and non-defense spending and the debt ceiling, also a manufactured “crisis.” The bill did hold off those draconian cuts for two months, just in time for spending to hit the debt ceiling.

Pres. Obama made it clear in his address after the passage of the “Fiscal Cliff” bill, that he would not allow the debt ceiling to be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations over spending.

“I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed. We can’t not pay bills that we’ve already incurred.”

“If Congress refuses to give the United States government the ability to pay these bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy would be catastrophic – far worse than the impact of a fiscal cliff.”

This bill was not the best deal as this article on the behind the scenes Senate dealings by Ryan Grym at Huffington Post tells it:

The White House sent Reid a list of suggested concessions as his staff debated what to send back to McConnell. Reid looked over the concessions the administration wanted to offer, crumpled up the paper and tossed it into his fireplace. The gesture was first reported by Politico and confirmed to HuffPost by sources with knowledge of it, who noted that Reid frequently keeps his fire going and is fond of feeding a variety of proposals to it.

Reid’s staff then called McConnell’s office with a simple message: Our last offer stands. There will be no further concessions. McConnell took to the Senate floor, complaining that he had no “dance partner” in Reid, and called Vice President Joe Biden, a man he assumed would be more willing to give. McConnell was right.

Perhaps the most important concession he wrangled from the administration, which Reid had been unwilling to make, was a two-month extension of the sequester, automatic cuts to defense spending and domestic programs that were supposed to be triggered Jan. 1. Reid wanted much more, worried that the two-month period will simply set up another colossal showdown that will also rope in the debt ceiling and funding for the government. “The deal itself is OK, but sets up Democrats for [a] worse fight and strengthens Republicans’ hand for what they really want: cuts,” said a Democratic source close to Reid. “Biden gave away the store on timeline. Two months and we’re back at this and in worse shape.”

President Barack Obama has vowed not to negotiate over the debt ceiling, but Democrats in the Senate are worried that they’ve now lost their leverage. “Everyone knew taxes would be raised on high earners,” said the Democratic source. “So with that out of the way, what do we bargain with?”

All they had to do was let the tax cuts end and pass new tax bill that included extension of unemployment benefits, ended unconstitutional the debt ceiling nonsense and added some stimulus to really create jobs, since we all know that tax cuts don’t. But no, Pres. Obama had to have this done and kept backing away from his so-called “line in the sand.”

If anyone believes at this point that Obama stand up to the threats of a government shut down by Republicans refusing to raise the debt ceiling without serious concessions on Medicare and Social Security, consider these three reasons to doubt from Jon Walker at FDL Action

1) Failure to stick to previous lines in the sand – In past negotiations Obama has failed to stick to his previous lines in the sand. Obama did not stick to his demand that the Bush tax cuts end for income over $250,000. Similarly despite saying he would not play games with the debt ceiling, Obama seemed to treat it as just another bargain chip when trying to get a deal with John Boehner.

2) Dismissing unilateral action – The Obama administration has dismissed unilateral action to address the debt ceiling. Doing something like invoking the 14th amendment would probably be the easiest way to defuse the fight, but the administration has declared that “not an option.” Even if the Obama team didn’t think it was a legally viable solution by completely removing the threat it has weakened its bargaining position.

3) Allowing the creation of a new super cliff in two months – When WP Joe Biden took over the negotiations from Sen. Harry Reid the major concession he made was to have only a two month delay of the sequestration cuts instead of a one year delay.

Meanwhile the “irrational exuberance” of Wall St’s feral children over the tax deal abounds with the markets closing on a high. Let’s see what happens in two months when we sit on the edge of another cliff.

Jan 01 2013

Congressional Game of Chicken: The Feral Children of the House

Up Date 20:04 EST The House Republican leadership has decided to put the Senate bill on the floor for an up or dowm vote later tonight.

The CompromiseEarly this morning the Senate passed the “Fiscal Cliff Bill” by vote of 89 – 8. Voting in opposition for various reasons were Democratic Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Michael Bennet (D-CO) along with Republican Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Richard Shelby (D-AL), Rand Paul (R-KY), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Marco Rubio (R-FL). At the Washington Post‘s Wonk Blog, Suzie Khimm gives us a cheat sheet for the deal which included a one year extension of the farm bill. However, no matter how you look at this bill that raises taxes on incomes over $450,000, taxes for the middle class will go up:

Taxes will rise on the middle class even if this deal passes, because it doesn’t include an extension of the payroll tax holiday. That means that the paychecks for more than 160 million Americans will be 2 percent smaller starting in January, as the payroll tax will jump from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent. And a huge number of those hit will be middle class or working poor (Two-thirds of those in the bottom 20 percent would be affected by a payroll tax hike.).

The reality is that the payroll tax holiday hurt contribution to Social Security and was a back door to tying it to the debt/deficit argument. What would have been better for the lowest 20% of tax payers was the Earned Income Tax Credit that the payroll tax cut had replaced two years ago.

All of this may now be moot. As of the afternoon, the Republican feral children led by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) are against the bill and want to amend it.

Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the influential House majority leader, emerged from a two-hour meeting with GOP colleagues and said he opposes the Senate bill, which would let income taxes rise sharply on the rich. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said Cantor “forcefully” expressed his concerns during the closed -door session, during which other GOP members expressed grave doubts about the agreement.

Cantor’s opposition likely dooms the chances for fast House passage of the legislation without changes, which could prolong efforts to avert the automatic tax increases and spending cuts that technically took effect on Tuesday. If there is no agreement by the end of the current Congress at noon on Thursday, negotiations would have to start over in the next Congress. Many economists believe that the fiscal cliff’s full effect would drive the economy back into recession.

The Republicans are scheduled to meet at 5:15 PM EST. Regardless of what goes on in the House, the Senate has adjourned until Jan. 3 when the new session begins and it is highly unlikely that they would return.

This will certainly puts Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) in a bad position since he had supported an “up or down vote” on the bill that was crafted by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-SC), since it now appears that he has completely lost control of the House Republican. The biggest objection of to the bill is the lack of spending cuts as Ryan Grym at “Huffington Postreports, highlighting the probelms for Boehner:

“We’ve got to provide responsible spending balance long-term,” said Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.) “This bill does not do that.” Republicans who filed out of the House GOP meeting sounded cautionary notes about the fiscal cliff deal, suggesting it faces serious trouble.

House GOP sources said that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), a leader of the conservative wing and a potential threat to House Speaker John Boehner, is expected to vote against the Senate deal if it comes to the floor, breaking the leadership unity that existed around Boehner’s “Plan B.” And Republicans leaving the meeting said that Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Boehner’s leading rival, spoke against the bill, BuzzFeed’s John Stanton reported.

“Leadership is currently listening to the members so as to figure out the best path forward,” Cantor spokesman Doug Heye said.

Cantor told CNN’s Deirdre Walsh flatly, “I do not support the bill,” and said no decisions have been made on how to proceed.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) told the National Review’s Robert Costa that there are “real divisions” between Boehner and Cantor, and that Cantor was vociferous in his opposition, with the upcoming leadership elections hanging over the meeting. He said that conservatives were heartened to see Cantor take on Boehner in front of the entire conference.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is reporting that the Senate’s bill would add $4 trillion to the deficit over a decade.

The House Democrats have their hands tied at this point but if the bill does make it to the floor for debate they do have some action they can take:

If Republicans attempt to offer amendments — as is expected — Democrats will oppose a rule to allow that to happen procedurally.

If the GOP then tries to pass an amended bill, “they will have to do it with their own votes,” said Rep. James Clyburn, (D- S.C.), a member of the leadership. Either scenario would kill the deal.

If the GOP doesn’t offer an up or down vote on the Senate deal, well, that would kill the deal, too.

And then what? “Well, I say that then we wait for the new Congress to come in on Thursday. We’ll have better numbers, more members on our side,” said Clyburn. “Then we offer a new bill that they will like even less. They didn’t like the 450 (thousand dollar in household income) floor on the tax increase? Let’s see how much they like it when we push it back down to 250 (thousand)!”

Former Clinton Labor Secretary and professor at University of California, Robert Reich has voiced the opinion that no deal is a better than a bad deal and advocates going over the cliff.

Up dates to follow.

Dec 30 2012

Congressional Game of Chicken: On the Brink of a Stalemate

Up Date 16:33 EDT: Republican Senators have taken Social Security off the table as part of the negotiations for the “fiscal cliff.”

With the deadline for the expiration of Bush Tax cuts and austere spending cuts, the Senate negotiations have reached a stalemate. At the last minute, the Republicans demanded significant cuts to Social Security benefits. House Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who was described as  “shocked and disappointed” and this may well be the “poison pill” that ends the charade of “fiscal cliff” talks.

The development came after a long weekend of negotiations during which the two sides had been making progress.

The aide said Democrats had shown flexibility on the major sticking points involving taxes. They had not ruled out maintaining the tax on inherited estates at the current low rate, as Republicans prefer. And they had been open to a deal that would allow taxes to rise on many fewer wealthy households than President Obama had proposed. Republicans were seeking tax increases only on income higher than $400,000 or $500,000 a year, while Obama wanted to set the threshold at $250,000 a year.

But Obama was pressing for $30 billion in new spending to keep unemployment benefits flowing to the long-term unemployed, and he wanted to postpone roughly $100 billion in automatic spending cuts set to hit agency budgets next months. In exchange for those items, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) insisted Sunday that Democrats put cuts to Social Security benefits on the table, noting that Obama had offered to do so as part of the big deficit-reduction package he had been negotiating with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio.)

Republicans declined to comment on the new offer, but noted that Obama endorsed the adjustment, known as chained CPI, again Sunday, in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press.

President Obama suggested that he was open to the highly unpopular proposal to cut increases to Social Security by linking it to the “chained CPI” in the context of a larger deal.

The other “monkey wrench” that McConnell threw into the mix was estate taxes which are scheduled to increase to the Clinton level of 55% on estates over one million dollars. The estate tax currently exempts the first $5 million of inheritance and taxes the remainder at 35 percent, which the Republicans want to keep. Pres. Obama wants to make it less generous, reducing the exemption to $3.5 million and taxing the remainder at a 45 percent rate. This tax only affects an extremely small number of people.

Under the Republican proposal, 3,800 people would pay the estate tax year, also near an average of $3.3 million. The GOP proposal would raise $182 billion for federal tax coffers over the next 10 years.

Under Obama’s proposal, 6,500 people would pay the estate tax next year, with an average payment estimated at about $3 million. The president’s proposal would raise $284 billion in tax revenue over the next 10 years.

No action by Congress would send the estate tax back to what it was in the 1990s – with a $1 million exemption and 55 rate percent for the remaining share. That would affect more than 40 million Americans.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-SC) has reached out to Vice President Joe Biden to break the impasse.


Dec 06 2012

Republicans Propose Lifting Cap on Debt Ceiling Then Filibuster

History was made in the Senate when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-SC) filibustered his own bill and got PWD by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Really. Not kidding.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wanted to prove on Thursday that Democrats don’t have the votes to weaken Congress’ authority on the debt limit. Instead they called his bluff, and he ended up filibustering his own bill.

The legislation, modeled on a proposal McConnell offered last year as a “last-choice option” to avert a U.S. debt default, would permit the president to unilaterally lift the debt ceiling unless Congress mustered a two-thirds majority to stop him.

McConnell brought up the legislation Thursday morning. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) initially objected, seemingly proving the Republican leader’s point that it cannot pass the Senate. But then Reid ran it by his members and, in the afternoon, agreed to hold that same vote. This time it was McConnell who objected.

“The Republican leader objects to his own idea,” Reid declared on the floor. “So I guess we have a filibuster of his own bill.”

Here is Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) full response along with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

The signs of desperation are starting to show. Here’s hoping that the Democrats hold and strengthen their line on the fiscal bluff. Sen. Reid has my respect for that move.  

Dec 05 2012

Congressional Game of Chicken: Fixing Filibuster, Part III

Ready or not, here it comes, filibuster reform. Or so says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:

WASHINGTON — Keeping with his post-election pledge to reform the filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday proffered that changes to the rules of the upper chamber will be made, leaving it up to Republicans if they would like to participate. [..]

“There are discussions going on now [over filibuster reform], but I want to tell everybody here. I’m happy I’ve had a number of Republicans come to me, a few Democrats,” Reid told reporters Tuesday at his weekly press availability. “We’re going to change the rules. We cannot continue in this way. I hope we can get something that the Republicans will work with us on.”

“But it won’t be a handshake,” he added. “We tried that last time. It didn’t work.” [..]

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has repeatedly slammed Democratic efforts to reform the filibuster, was unmoved by Reid’s statement.

“Well, there is growing Democratic unease with breaking the rules to change the rules,” McConnell said later Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “I think it will be very difficult for that to come about. I think it will be bad for the Senate.”

McConnell added that in accordance with Senate rules, such an effort would require a 67-vote majority, and that Reid’s approach to make the changes with a simple 51-vote majority — a procedure that has been labeled a “nuclear option” by its opponents — would be “bad for the institution, bad for the country.”

It’s only breaking the rules if the other side does it. Otherwise it is perfectly within the rules on the first day of the new congress.

Sal Gentile, a staff member for MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes, writes:

If President Obama wants to get anything done in his second term, Democrats in the Senate will have to overcome one major obstacle: the filibuster.

In the last four years, Republicans have used the filibuster to prevent landmark pieces of legislation-such as the DREAM Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act and additional measures to stimulate the economy-from even reaching the floor for debate, let alone a vote. Republicans have shattered previous records for filibuster use, and the share of bills introduced in the Senate that have been passed has reached an all-time low. [..]

The filibuster has mutated over the years from a quirk of the Senate rules and an obscure procedural instrument-known mostly for so-called “lone wolf” filibusters like the one from the iconic film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – to a routine impediment to legislative progress, a bludgeon used by the Republican minority to quash virtually any attempt by Democrats to govern. [..]

The proposed changes, which have the strong backing of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and nearly 51 Democratic senators, are also broadly endorsed by a wide range of Constitutional scholars and the public at large. A new Huffington Post/YouGov poll released Friday found that 65% of Americans favor tweaking the rules to require senators to debate a bill on the floor if they wish to block it from proceeding.

Even the man responsible for enforcing and administering the rules of the Senate endorsed some of the changes. In an interview on Up w/ Chris Hayes Saturday, Alan Frumin, who served as the parliamentarian of the Senate for nearly two decades until he retired last year, said he supported changes that would forbid senators from filibustering bills before they reach the floor for debate. Frumin also said he favored changes that would bar senators from blocking bills once those bills have passed the Senate and are ready to move to a conference committee with the House. [..]

The filibuster is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, and many of the Founders argued forcefully against proposals that would have required more than 51 votes to pass legislation in the Senate. In 1788, for example, James Madison, known as the ‘Father of the Constitution,” wrote in Federalist No. 58 that requiring a supermajority in the Senate would “reverse” the “fundamental principle of free government.” Such a policy would empower special interests and make government “oligarchic,” Madison said.

“An interested minority might take advantage of it to screen themselves from equitable sacrifices,” Madison wrote, rather prophetically. “Or, in particular emergencies, to extort unreasonable indulgences.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., a leading advocate of filibuster reform, joined Up host, Chris Hayes for a discussion on the prospects of filibuster reform in the Senate. Adding the views are panel guests Alan Frumin, former Senate Parliamentarian and author of  “Riddicks Senate Procedure;” Akhil Amar, Yale Law School professor and author of “America’s Unwritten Constitution: The Precedents and Principles We Live By;” Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, MSNBC contributor, senior analyst at Latino Decisions and fellow at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin; and Richard Arenberg, co-author of “Defending the Filibuster: The Soul of the Senate.”

Busting the Filibuster

Nov 27 2012

Congressional Game of Chicken: Fixing Filibuster, Part II

Jon Walker at FDL Action was pretty miffed at this editorial in the Los Angeles Times regarding filibuster reform, especially this really stupid paragraph:

One response would be to eliminate the filibuster altogether. As a Senate rule, it can be changed by the majority party, and Democrats could eliminate it (though, of course, Republicans would almost certainly filibuster such a move). That, however, would also do away with the filibuster’s legitimate and historic place. Rather than eliminating the rule, the better approach would be to amend it in such a way as to preserve the ability for minorities to fight against one-party steamrolling while scaling back the filibuster’s capacity for obstructing everything.

Yikes! This is not only stupid, as Jon said, but it is wrong about how the Senate rules can be changed. Rules changes can’t be filibustered. While making such a rule change in the Senate would normally require a 67-vote majority, but when the Senate comes back into session in January, Democrats could use a set of procedural rules often called the “nuclear option” and pass the changes with a simple 51-vote majority. That scares the pants off the Republicans and had Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blustering and making:

The Kentucky Republican said changing the filibuster – which was designed to protect the minority but has become a tool for constant gridlock in the modern Senate – would fundamentally alter how the Senate operates.

McConnell accused Democrats of trying to employ a “naked power grab.”

“In the name of efficiency, their plan is to use a heavy-handed tactic that would poison party relations even more,” McConnell said in a lengthy floor speech Monday. “In the name of efficiency, they would prevent the very possibility of compromise and threaten to make the disputes of the past few years look like mere pillow fights.”

Sen. McConnell was exaggerating since no one, not even Majority Leader Harry Reid, who said he “favors” filibuster, has suggested eliminating it entirely. But who would expect anything less than hyperbole from a man whose party has set a record for filibusters with over 360 since the Democrats came into the majority. But not to be outdone by their fearless leader other Republican senators voiced their objections in strongly worded terms:

Republicans are threatening even greater retaliation if Reid uses a move rarely used by Senate majorities: changing the chamber’s precedent by 51 votes, rather than the usual 67 votes it takes to overhaul the rules.

“I think the backlash will be severe,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the conservative firebrand, said sternly. “If you take away minority rights, which is what you’re doing because you’re an ineffective leader, you’ll destroy the place. And if you destroy the place, we’ll do what we have to do to fight back.”

“It will shut down the Senate,” the incoming Senate GOP whip, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, told POLITICO. “It’s such an abuse of power.”

I’m not exactly sure how they would accomplish a “shut down” if the tool they’ve been using to shut down the senate is taken away from them or changed so that they can no longer obstruct the business that the majority was elected to do. After all for six years the Republicans, with Dick Cheney George W. Bush in the Oval Office, used the threat of the “nuclear option” to end any Democratic attempt at filibuster. Now the shoe is on the other foot and suddenly ending filibuster will destroy democracy.

We’ve been down this road before:

With the obstruction of a very united minority, there has been a great deal of debate about the filibuster and the reform of Senate Rule 22. In a New York Times op-ed, Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, recalls how in 1975 when he was a Senator, the Senate voted to reduce the number of votes required to end filibuster from 67 votes, a super majority, to the current 60 votes. Clearly, he states this was not enough. Filibuster threats and cloture votes blocked legislation nearly 100 times in the 111th Congress.

Mr. Mondale argues that essentially, these rules abrogate the Constitution which only requires a 67 vote majority for the approval of treaties, “in all other instances it must be assumed that the Constitution requires only a majority vote”. In other words, many of the Senate rules are unconstitutional and could be done away with on a simple majority procedural vote under Parliamentary rules. That was the “[nuclear option ” that was used as a threat by the Republicans to force the Democrats to capitulate when they were in the minority.

One more time from me:

I have said this a number of times, the filibuster as it is currently being used to obstruct the Senate is unconstitutional. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land and cannot be abrogated by the Senate merely making a rule. The Vice President presides over the Senate and has a duty to make rulings on order and procedure when the Senate is in session. The Constitution provides for “one-person-one-vote” and “majority rules”, there is no mention of “filibuster”.

It is amazingly simple:

  1. During debate, a Republican Senator engages in a standard obstruction tactic, such as a hold, actual filibuster, or proposing numerous, non-germane Amendments.

  2. The Vice President, as Presiding Officer, rules that Senator’s hold, filibuster or spurious amendments out of order.

  3. The Senator who holds the floor, and had attempted the hold (filibuster, or amendments), could then appeal the decision of the Presiding Officer to the Senate as a whole.

  4. A simple majority (51) can then vote to uphold the ruling of the Presiding Officer that the hold (filibuster or amendments) were out of order.


This mechanism is not without precedent:

In 1975 the filibuster issue was revived by post-Watergate Democrats frustrated in their efforts to enact popular reform legislation like campaign finance laws. Senator James Allen of Alabama, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate and a skillful parliamentary player, blocked them with a series of filibusters. Liberals were fed up with his delaying tactics. Senator Walter Mondale pushed a campaign to reduce the threshold from sixty-seven votes to a simple majority of fifty-one. In a parliamentary sleight of hand, the liberals broke Allen’s filibuster by a majority vote, thus evading the sixty-seven-vote rule. (Senate rules say you can’t change the rules without a cloture vote, but the Constitution says the Senate sets its own rules. As a practical matter, that means the majority can prevail whenever it decides to force the issue.) In 1975 the presiding officer during the debate, Vice President Rockefeller, first ruled with the liberals on a motion to declare Senator Allen out of order. When Allen appealed the “ruling of the chair” to the full Senate, the majority voted him down. Nervous Senate leaders, aware they were losing the precedent, offered a compromise. Henceforth, the cloture rule would require only sixty votes to stop a filibuster.

And what Jon said:

There is no legitimate reason for allowing the minority, the party which lost the recent election, to have a veto in the Senate. The founders never intended a Senate minority to have such awesome power over basic legislation. The Constitutions clear stated the few  very important issues that should require a super majority in the chamber, everything else was intended to be a simple majority vote.

The idea that without a filibuster a majority in the Senate is going to steamroll are system is laughable. A senate majority is already checked and balanced by the House, the President and the judiciary. If a party does manage to dominates multiple elections allowing them to full control, they should be able to enact the agenda they run on. That is how democracy are suppose to work.

The US Senate has always been the slow deliberative body, it was not the intent of the Founders that it become bogged down to a halt by the minority misusing a rule that is probably not even constitutional in the first place. Sen. Reid was far too trusting of the duplicitous Republican leadership at the start of the 112th congress when he accepted their “gentlemen’s agreement”, shutting down the reform proposed by Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). The Republicans are not to be trusted.

I’m with Jon. It’s time the Senate ended the obstruction and put an end to Rule 22 altogether. Neither the Senate or the world will end and our elected officials will get back to governing.

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