Category Archives: filibuster

Harry’s Gambit

ReidSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV):  Floor Statement 11/21/2013 –

In the history of the Republic, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations. Half of them have occurred during the Obama Administration – during the last four and a half years. These nominees deserve at least an up-or-down vote.”

“This gridlock has consequences. Terrible consequences. It is not only bad for President Obama and bad for the United States Senate; it’s bad for our country. It is bad for our national security and for our economic security.”

“Today the important distinction is not between Democrats and Republicans. It is between those who are willing to help break the gridlock in Washington and those who defend the status quo… This change to the rules regarding presidential nominees will apply equally to both parties. When Republicans are in power, these changes will apply to them as well.  That’s simple fairness. And it’s something both sides should be willing to live with to make Washington work again.”  (emphasis added)

The money quote is in the first line.   The motivation comes in the press release wherein Senator Reid states the obvious:

“It is a troubling trend that Republicans are willing to block executive branch nominees even when they have no objection to the qualifications of the nominee. Instead, they block qualified executive branch nominees to circumvent the legislative process. They block qualified executive branch nominees to force wholesale changes to laws. They block qualified executive branch nominees to restructure entire executive branch departments. And they block qualified judicial nominees because they don’t want President Obama to appoint any judges to certain courts.”  (emphasis added)

In short, nominees are being stymied for reasons which are superfluous to the functioning of our courts or to the operation of our executive branch — it’s pure politics.   Reid goes on to explain in a trip down memory lane:

“At the beginning of this Congress, the Republican Leader pledged that, quote, “this Congress should be more bipartisan than the last Congress.” We’re told in scripture that, “When a man makes a vow… he must not break his word.” Numbers 30-2. In January, Republicans promised to work with the majority to process nominations… in a timely manner by unanimous consent, except in extraordinary circumstances.

“Exactly three weeks later, Republicans mounted a first-in-history filibuster of a highly qualified nominee for Secretary of Defense. Despite being a former Republican Senator and a decorated war hero, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s nomination was pending in the Senate for a record 34 days, more than three times the previous average. Remember, our country was at war. Republicans have blocked executive branch nominees like Secretary Hagel not because they object to the qualifications of the nominee, but simply because they seek to undermine the very government in which they were elected to serve.”

And so it began… it didn’t take the Republican minority a full month to renege on their promise to deal with the backlog of civilian nominees.   Now what?

Oh, wail the Washington Chatterati, this action to reduce the filibusters of judicial and executive will come to grief.  The acrimony will increase!  Uh, if it took the GOP only three weeks to back off from their initial promise not to filibuster qualified nominees, the level of acrimony has already hit the top of the scale.  Not to mention the Republican precipitated Government Shutdown which was not exactly an outstanding example of cooperation and good will.

Not sure if the Gridlock assertion is real?  The full list of civilian nominations in committee is located here.  The list of judicial nominations for the district and circuit courts is available here.  It doesn’t take much imagination to look at the lists and conclude that if the Republican minority in the Senate were to filibuster each and every nominee there would continue to be serious backlogs in our courts for the foreseeable future.   Now, consider the “acrimony factor.”

If the present system, allowing the filibuster of every civilian (including judicial) nominee, were to continue in the Senate, and if the Republicans regained the control of the Senate, then it isn’t inconceivable that the Democratic minority would revert to the same tactics as the GOP in the 113th Congress.  Imagine the judicial system if this were to continue through subsequent Congresses?

The only people who would be served by a completely dysfunctional judiciary are those who are already fulminating about the Evil Government taking their unspecified “freedoms,” the modern anarchists.

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Filed under filibuster, Filibusters, Judicial, Politics, Reid

Bits and Pieces

Jig Saw PuzzleFrom the Sinecure Foundation for the Advancement of Easy Jobs:  “The Republican leader (John Boehner) said during a speech at the Ripon Society Tuesday that after listening to the president’s inaugural address, there was no doubt in his mind that in order to get his full agenda accomplished before he leaves office, Obama will be trying to “annihilate the Republican Party.” [Media-ite]   This from the party of Self-Deportation, Gerrymandered Congressional Districts, Electoral College Manipulation, Carry Your Rapist’s Child to Term, Cut Medicare, Privatize Social Security, Start a Lovely War with Iran, Only Sluts Take Contraceptives, Hillary Clinton Cries on Cue, Guns Have More Rights Than People, Corporations Are People My Friend, Only Black People Are On Welfare, and We Have To Cut Social Security Benefits to Protect The Income of Uber Wealthy Americans…. to which one might say, “Please Proceed.”

From The Myopic Vision Division of the Stunt and Special Effects Department:  Nevada Senator Dean Heller evidently can’t discern the difference between an unconstitutional publicity stunt and the stuff of which budget and policy are made.  See more at Nevada Progressive.

From the Real World With Numbers In It:  The U.S. Department of Labor reports that unemployment insurance initial claims are the lowest they’ve been for the last five years.   The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports: “An offender was armed with a gun, knife, or other object used as a weapon in an estimated 22% of all incidents of violent crime.” And, “Firearms (28%) were the most common weapons used in robberies.” Contrary to the amount of press and media coverage given, violent crime doesn’t lead the statistics.  The most common crime in the U.S. is good old fashioned theft.  Of the 20,057,180 crimes reported in the country as of 2009 — 11,709,830 were thefts, (pdf) which dropped by 6% from the previous reporting period in 2008.  Violent crimes were down 11.2%, assaults were down by 10.8%.  So, if crime rates are trending down, and only 22% of crimes involved an offender armed with “something,” then explain to me why my House Must Be A Fortress?

From the Department of the Do-Able: “The deal will address the filibuster on the motion to proceed by changing the amount of debate time that would follow a cloture vote from 30 hours to four, speeding up Senate business and allowing more legislation to reach the floor. But the deal still requires Democrats to muscle 60 votes to invoke cloture on that motion, despite Reid’s earlier suggestion that he would bar a filibuster on that motion entirely. [full story Huffington Post]  OK, I’m not thrilled with this, but it’s do-able, and cutting the time from 30 hours to 4 hours after a motion to proceed, does make it possible for things to….proceed.  And there is this:

“First, senators who wish to object or threaten a filibuster must actually come to the floor to do so. And second, the two leaders will make sure that debate time post-cloture is actually used in debate. If senators seeking to slow down business simply put in quorum calls to delay action, the Senate will go live, force votes to produce a quorum, and otherwise work to make sure senators actually show up and debate.”  (emphasis added)

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Filed under filibuster, Gun Issues, Heller, Politics, Republicans

Things that could get me to toss confetti in 2013

ConfettiThere are things that could get me to toss confetti for 2013.   Not many, mind you, which would justify the consequent vacuuming, but a goodly handful.

#1. The Senate of the United States of America does something constructive with the FILIBUSTER rule.   The original rule was intended to prevent the willful trampling of minority points of view, but the abuse of the rule is now part of the clichéd “Washington Gridlock.”  There is a delicate balance between Majority Rule and Minority Rights, but Obstruction for its own sake is not a laudable occupation.

#2. The Republicans in the House of Representatives eschew the  Hastert Rule , under which a majority of the majority party caucus must agree to the passage of a bill before a vote can be taken on the House floor.  This might have been a lovely idea if the current majority party caucus weren’t the replication of that other cliché– a wheelbarrow load of frogs.  Governance requires compromise, and compromise demands the admission that we don’t always get everything we want.  Ideological posturing is not a substitute for principled discourse.

#3.  Someone in a position to do something about it finally figures out that arguments over raising the debt ceiling are academic at best and consummately silly at worst — rather like announcing that because I overspent my budget for this holiday season I’m going to chop up my credit cards and not pay the bills.  Aside from being the most fiscally irresponsible action imaginable, it’s also a manifestation of the idea that the full faith and credit of the United States is some kind of bargaining chip in ideological squabbling.

#4. The National Rifle Association (aka No Rational Argument) stops pretending to care about the right of our citizens to keep and bear arms, and honestly announces that its ultimate intention is to promote the sale of as many firearms as its manufacturing donors can create.  After that, it should be far easier to discuss comprehensive background checks, closing the gun show loophole, and banning military style assault weapons.

#5. More people, perhaps even more people in the national media, stop referring to “The” government and start calling it what it is — OUR government.   “The” government calls to mind the institution which cracks down on Moonshiners, or enforces school integration, or ignores calls to make Jefferson Davis’s birthday a national holiday.  “The” government didn’t decide to integrate public schools — “our” government did. “The” government didn’t decide to enact regulations to prevent air and water pollution — “our” government did.  And, “The” government didn’t create the Food Stamp (SNAP) program — “our” government did that.  And so it goes.  Continual references to “The” government is an unfortunate holdover from the Reaganesque caricature of government designed to promote the financial health of the economic elite by appealing to the discontent with those laws “our” government enacted to promote OUR general welfare.

#6. Our representatives on Capitol Hill learn to say “____ isn’t the end of the world as we know it.”  I could do with a great deal less hysterical hyperbole.  “This is the Largest Tax Increase In The History of the Universe!”  Probably not.  “This is the worst violation of human rights ever!” Probably not that either.  “This will create the worst calamity known to man.” Probably not.  “This will destroy our ____.”  Again, probably not.  Excuse me while I chuckle at the pomposity of this meaningless prognostication.

#7.  Journalists who seek to inform me via the television set prove to be (1) knowledgeable about the subject under discussion, and (2) include fact checking as part of the “context” of which they speak so often.  If a statement made by a politician is factually inaccurate, they will tell me; and I hope they’ll be able to offer a correction.  I really don’t care if they are correcting the record in the wake of Left Wing Larry or Right Wing Richard’s pontification.  The object of the exercise should be to impart accurate information so far as it can be known — I can get my “entertainment” elsewhere.  Bluntly, the “he said, she said, and then he said” reactions from professional chatterati or elected representatives is less entertaining than a good professional wrestling match, which at least has the grace to admit it’s a scripted farce.

#8. Somebody finally declares the Culture Wars over and done with.  Our contemporary version appears to incorporate a toxic dose of good old fashioned misogyny.  Women make up about 51% of our population and telling them they cannot have an abortion (even in the cases of an ectopic pregnancy or as the result of a rape) is paternalistic to the core.  Worse still would be telling them that their employer can decide if their health insurance plan covers contraceptive medication.

#9.  On a related note, it really doesn’t do to blame God for everything.  I’d cheer the week that some blowhards weren’t showcased in the media for pronouncing God’s Wrath for … whatever.  Hurricane Katrina — God’s wrath for a Gay Pride gathering? Really?  God’s wrath because we don’t pray hard enough?  That certainly doesn’t explain the attack on congregants in the Knoxville Unitarian church.  God’s Wrath because we don’t have organized  prayer in schools? Huh?  No one at Columbine High School, Platte County High School, Northern Illinois University, Virginia Tech University, or Sandy Hook Elementary knew how to pray and practiced it regularly? Spare me the Westboro Wannabes who “know” the mind of God better than a six year old child.

#10.  The confetti will fly when we begin to have a serious discussion about global climate change without having to incorporate the phony “science” offered up by the fossil fuel industry.  No, there isn’t a “controversy” here. And, no reputable science deflects our responsibility as human beings for the contamination of which we are clearly capable.

Speaking of the Almighty, there’s an old story about the man caught in a flood which seems appropriate at the moment.  “Why, he cried out to God, am a trapped in these flood waters?”  The Almighty, sorely tired of listening to the wailing, said, “I sent you warnings.” “When?”  “When?” responded the Deity. “When indeed.” “I sent you warnings on the radio. You ignored me. I sent you warnings in television broadcasts, and you ignored me. I even sent a deputy sheriff to personally advise you to evacuate. And, you ignored him too.”  ….

We’ve been visited with major named storms, watched ice caps diminish, seen glaciers disappear… and all together too many people are ignoring the warnings.

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Filed under abortion, conservatism, ecology, energy policy, family issues, Federal budget, filibuster, Filibusters, Global warming, Gun Issues, Health Care, national debt, pollution, public health, racism, religion, VA Tech, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights

Heller, GOP sustain filibuster of Cyber Security Bill

OK, thus much for the spirit of bipartisanship and negotiation — according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) the Senate of the United States of America has been working on a cyber-security bill, the rationale for which ought to be reasonably clear to anyone who’s ever Googled anything.   Or, put in nicer, fancier terms:

“National security experts say there is no issue facing this nation more pressing than the threat of a cyber attack on our critical infrastructure.  Terrorists bent on harming the United States could all too easily devastate our power grid, our banking system or our nuclear plants.  A bipartisan group of Senators has worked for three years to craft this legislation. Yet Republicans filibustered this worthy measure in July.”  (Reid 11/14/12)

Surely this should have been something about which at least a modicum of agreement might have been secured?  The Senate Majority thought so:

“It’s imperative that Democrats and Republicans work together to address what national security experts have called “the most serious challenge to our national security since the onset of the nuclear age sixty years ago.”I found it encouraging when a number of my Republican colleagues – Senators McCain of Arizona, Chambliss of Georgia, Hutchison of Texas, Kyl of Arizona, Coats of Indiana and Blunt of Missouri – recently wrote President Obama advocating legislative action on cyber security.   They wrote: “An issue as far-reaching and complicated as cyber security requires… formal consideration and approval by Congress… Only the legislative process can create the durable and collaborative public-private partnership we need to enhance cyber security.”  (Reid 11/14/12)

What did the Senate Republicans do with the Cyber-security bill? They filibustered it.   And, what did they do when the Majority Leader submitted a cloture motion to stop the filibuster?  They rejected the cloture motion on a 51-47 vote.   “They” would include newly elected Nevada Senator Dean Heller (R-NV). Who, evidently, doesn’t see the need for a “durable and collaborative public-private partnership” to “enhance cyber security.”

The running total for filibusters is now 110 filibusters, 68 cloture motions filed, and 37 successful votes to invoke cloture and stop a filibuster.

Three years of work on a piece of legislation, and work on a matter which should engage the attention of Senators (some of whom surely do  online banking), and the effort comes to a screeching halt before the GOP obstructionism in the Senate.  Memo to Senator McConnell (R-KY): The President isn’t going to be a one term office holder.

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Filed under filibuster, Reid, Republicans

Monday Charts and Graphs

** It’s Monday Morning And Obamacare Is The Biggest Tax Increase Since The First Dynasty of UkhaimirOr. Not.   The following chart from the Washington Post is instructive:

** Poor Grover (Norquist), “Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, for example, stated, “it’s now clear that ‘Obamacare’ is all about taxes and it hits everybody, not just rich people.” [CBPP] There’s a chart for this bit of hysteria too:

** In case you missed it, “Middle-income and low-income Nevadans would pay somewhat more in taxes under the Congressional Republicans’ approach to extending the Bush tax cuts than they would under President Obama’s approach, while high-income Nevadans would pay far less under the Republican approach, according to a new analysis from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) and Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ).  National figures show the same pattern.”  [PLAN] (emphasis added)   There’s a chart for that too:

The full report from which this chart is reproduced is here. (pdf)

** The Sin City Siren covers the little dust devil the Heller Campaign would like to kick up about Rep. Shelley Berkley’s (D-NV1) efforts to save the kidney transplant center at UMC (Las Vegas).    OK, her husband is a surgeon.  Does this obviate the need to have kidney transplant services in southern Nevada?  No.  Kidney disease is the 9th highest cause of death in Nevada (2009), for which the Silver State gets a ranking of 12th in the nation. [CDC] The Heller campaign’s attempt to equate Berkley’s so-called conflict of interest falls neatly into the Ignoratio Elenchi category of catch-all fallacies of irrelevance.

** We can do better.  Las Vegas, NV was number 1 in the nation in African American unemployment as of 2011.  The 2011 rate was 22.6%.  [EPI] Things could be better for manufacturing employment nationally:

Remember when the Senate Republicans filibustered S.3816 on September 28, 2010? The Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act failed to get the 60 votes necessary to break the filibuster, the cloture vote was 53-45. [Roll Call 242, 111th Congress]

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Filed under Berkley, filibuster, Filibusters, Health Care, health insurance, Heller, Nevada Congressional Representatives, Nevada economy, Nevada politics

Heller Logic: The Art of the Glittering Silly Syllogism

Senator Dean Heller’s (R-NV) commentary on the failure of S. 2343 (The Student Loan Interest Rate Bill) to break through a Republican filibuster:

“Instead of compromising, the Democrats want to raise taxes on small business at a time when we need jobs,” said Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, who voted against the measure. “They brought this vote to the floor knowing that it wouldn’t pass.” [LVSun]

In order to buy this a person needs to suspend most activities which normally take place in the cerebral cortex.  What did we say about “small businesses” yesterday?   Heller’s argument depends on a silly syllogism:

(1.)  Small Businesses can be S corporations.  (2.) S. 2343 raises self employment taxes on S corporations.  (3.) Therefore S. 2343 raises taxes on small businesses.

Once more, here’s why this is a Silly Syllogism:  The bill raised self-employment taxes on TWO types of S corporations — NOT all of them, only ones categorized as “professional business services.”   The bill didn’t even raise self-employment taxes on many of the professional business service S corporations because those self-employment taxes would apply IF and ONLY if the S corporation/partnership had at least $200,000 in annual modified adjusted gross income.

So, to what is Senator Heller objecting? “Democrats want to offset the cost of that change by getting rid of a tax loophole that lets certain corporations avoid paying Medicare and Social Security taxes.” [LVSun]  (emphasis added)  Therefore, it’s reasonably apparent that Senator Heller opposes getting rid of the ‘professional business service’ loophole for SOME configurations of S corporations.

Conflating the self-employment taxes paid by furniture dealers, lighting contractors, service station owners, and other small businesses listed yesterday, with “professional business services” like Washington, D.C. lobby shops, industrial-sized law firms, and Wall Street hedge funds isn’t precisely “protecting small businesses” … especially if the owners of small service and retail businesses which are NOT hauling in over $200,000 in modified adjusted gross income have kids in college.  Conflation is a handy rhetorical tool, but it usually doesn’t serve to make family budgets stretch to meet educational expenses for the offspring.

Heller: “They want to raise taxes on small business at a time when we need jobs.”  No, “they” want to close a tax loophole which allows highly profitable S corporations to avoid self-employment taxes which most other small business owners pay.  By valiantly protecting the interests of hedge funds, large lobby shops, and big law firms, Senator Heller has placed himself firmly among the ultra-right wing champions of the Financialists.

Not surprisingly, there was a time when Republicans thought this loophole was icky — when former presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards used it to create a sub-chapter S corporation for his law firm, and avoided some $591,000 in payments to Medicare/Social Security by paying himself a $360,000 annual salary instead of reporting the $26.9 million he made in four years.  [NYT] Ah, but that was then, and now the Republicans have enthusiastically embraced the loophole for their friends in corner offices of lobby shops, law partnerships, and hedge fund firms.  Meanwhile, there are two other points to be made about Heller’s newly discovered love of loopholes for the 1%.

First, there’s that “They brought this vote to the floor knowing that it wouldn’t pass,” argument.  Why wouldn’t S. 2343 pass?  It got 52 votes in the Senate — that’s a majority when the base number is 100.  No, it didn’t even get to a floor vote because the Republicans were filibustering it.  Unfortunately, the corporate media has been slow to report the Filibuster Follies of the 112th Congress, because the artificial 60 vote threshold just to bring a measure to the floor for an up or down vote has become common place.   Senate Republicans have filibustered just about every major piece of legislation. There’s a word for that: Obstructionism.  It really doesn’t do to attack the opposition for bringing legislation to the floor when it’s the GOP which is preventing floor votes on major bills.

Secondly,  there’s that “Instead of compromising,…” portion of Heller’s commentary.    Compromise with what?  The Republican version of the bill seeks to divert funds from preventative health care programs, while the Democratic version seeks to close the S corporation loophole.   One observation is obvious, when the versions are so completely different any compromise is, well, compromised.  Another reasonable observation is that in order to secure passage Democrats would have to accede to Republican demands — while offering no guarantee that the measure would achieve enough votes to break a filibuster.

A third observation is also possible, that it is more important to Republicans like Senator Heller to protect self-employment tax loopholes for the 1% than it is to secure funding for Nevada’s public health programs:

“Since 2010, Nevada has received $7.5 million in grants from the Prevention and Public Health Fund created by the Affordable Care Act. This new fund was created to support effective policies in Nevada, its communities, and nationwide so that all Americans can lead longer, more productive lives.”  [HHS]

That funding which House Speaker John Boehner was pleased to call a “slush fund,” has been of use in Nevada.  Some examples: The state has received $583,000 for “Community Transformation Grants, which empower communities to use evidence-based interventions to prevent heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and other conditions by reducing tobacco use, preventing obesity, and reducing health disparities. These dollars also help support a chronic disease prevention grant program and strengthen evidence-based employer wellness programs.”  We’ve also received $3,863,000 for anti-smoking programs, “This funding supports anti-tobacco education campaigns, telephone-based tobacco cessation services, and outreach programs that are proven to reduce tobacco use and those focused on vulnerable populations, consistent with the HHS Tobacco Control Strategic Action Plan.”   [HHS]   [More here]

But, hey, why would Nevada need smoking cessation funding assistance?  Maybe because we’re an island of dark green in a region of lighter shades?

However, by Senator Heller’s lights it’s evidently more vital to protect those who use the S Corporation Loophole to avoid paying into Medicare and Social Security than it is to help Nevada “kick the habit” and promote anti-obesity efforts to make our children healthier?

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Filed under 2012 election, filibuster, health, Health Care, Republicans

Finally, someone says it: Demand Is The Job Creator

After 30 years of supply side hoaxterism, and a steady drum-beat of support for economic policies which serve the interests of large corporations, literally at the expense of small business and working Americans — a venture capitalist says it:

” I’ve never been a “job creator.” I can start a business based on a great idea, and initially hire dozens or hundreds of people. But if no one can afford to buy what I have to sell, my business will soon fail and all those jobs will evaporate. ” [Hanauer]

Conservatives have tried, and largely succeeded, to tell the American public that in spite of hard evidence to the contrary The Stimulus Failed.  They’ve tried, and largely succeeded in convincing the minimally or only ideologically informed that no spending programs will produce permanent economically successful results.  What they’ve failed to grasp, and what is so succinctly stated by Hanauer is that NO business or enterprise is permanent.

A lack of demand is associated with several of the common factors for small business failure.*   Small businesses don’t fail because of “government regulations,” or because of “the Bank;” they fail because their numbers don’t add up.  The number one reason for small business failure: “There is not enough demand for the product or service at a price that will produce a profit for the company.”  [NYT]   This covers a host of other issues:  Did the start-up try to compete with a company that can operate with economies of scale?  Did the business open up in a declining market?  Did the business over-expand?

Even a cursory review of the typical lists of reasons for start-up and small business failure will yield evidence that the owner failed to initially understand demand levels, failed to physically locate in areas of high demand, or became overly optimistic about the overall level of demand and over-expanded the operations.  Failure to do proper budgeting and accounting within the firm means that there was no accurate way to determine if the demand was sufficient to keep the company floating above the profit line.   These elements return us to the starting point: The business failed because there wasn’t enough demand to produce a profit for the company.

Missing The Point

Conservatives speak as though every job created in the private sector is “real” or “permanent,” when the uncomfortable FACT is:

“Seven out of 10 new employer firms survive at least 2 years, half at least 5 years, a third at least 10 years, and a quarter stay in business 15 years or more. Census data report that 69 percent of new employer establishments born to new firms in 2000 survived at least 2 years, and 51 percent survived 5 or more years.” [SBA] (pdf)

The Tax Relief Coalition (read: US Chamber of Commerce, NFIB, National Association of Manufacturers, National Association of Wholesalers & Distributors, Associated General Contractors, and International Foodservice Distributors Association) opposed the American Jobs Act because:

“America’s job creators… are critical to the effort to rebuild our economy and create the jobs necessary to put our unemployed back to work. Unfortunately, the Senate is expected to take up yet another bill that, if enacted, would seriously impair our ability to accomplish that goal.” (Tax Relief Coalition, Letter To Congress, 11/30/11) [Republicans] (emphasis in original)

The serious impairment?  A 0.5% tax on top level incomes, which the Republicans in the Senate deemed “punitive.”  Senate Republicans sustained their filibuster of S. 1917, the Middle Class Tax Cut Act, extending the payroll tax reductions for working Americans on December 1, 2011. [roll call 219] The bill contained a tax surcharge on millionaires and billionaires, the “job creators” our venture capitalist cited as not creating any jobs.  Only 20 Senators could be found to support Senator Dean Heller’s unfortunate “hit everyone but the millionaires and billionaires” proposal, S. 1931 to extend the tax cuts.  [roll call 220]

As long as conservatives continue to oppose any measures which would increase demand (i.e. put money in the pockets of those most likely to spend it), and so long as they continue to put the interests of the upper 1% before the interests of the remaining 99%, the economy will be variously described as “moderate,” or “sluggish,” or “slow.”  [FED Beige Book]

Reality Check

Small businesses are, indeed, crucial to the American economy:

“Small firms:
• Represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms.
• Employ about half of all private sector employees.
• Pay 43 percent of total U.S. private payroll.
• Have generated 65 percent of net new jobs over the past 17 years.
• Create more than half of the nonfarm private GDP.
• Hire 43 percent of high tech workers (scientists, engineers, computer programmers, and others).”  [SBA]

However, 30% of the new starts will be gone in two years,  50% will be gone in five years, and only 25% will be around for fifteen years or more.  Those left by the wayside will not have found “enough demand for the product or service at a price that will produce a profit for the company.”

Notes and references: * Jay Goltz, “Top Ten Reasons Small Businesses Fail,” NYT, January 5, 2011.  Robert Longley, “SBA: Why Small Businesses Fail,” USGinfo.  Patricia Shaefer, “Why Small Businesses Fail: Top Seven Reasons,” BusKnowHow.  Melinda Emerson, “Reasons Businesses Fail: 5 Reasons why,” Small Business Trends, April 5, 2010.

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Filed under Economy, filibuster, Heller, Senate, Taxation

Learning to Love Phil E Buster

In January 2011 a few Senate Democrats announced their intention to address filibuster reform in the U.S. Senate.  [The Hill] One idea tossed into the hopper was to return to the original concept of the filibuster — in which a person who wanted to filibuster or confirmation would have to physically take the floor in extended debate.  Another suggestion would have disallowed filibusters on motions to bring legislation to the floor.  As the current situation stands, it takes 60 votes to bring an item up for a vote, and 3 days can be consumed merely getting to the debate process.

Needless to say, the Senate GOP fired back that the filibuster reform ideas were a Democratic power play.  [HuffPo] As noted in the previous post this is a far cry from the Elephant bleating when there was a prospect that some judicial nominees from the Bush Administration might receive no “upper’down” vote in that body because of a Democratic member filibuster.

Most of the month of January was consumed by negotiations over the filibuster rules, and eventually absolutely nothing substantial was done.  [WaPo] What emerged from all the protracted negotiations were a handful of modest revisions.  One of these would “curtail” but not eliminate the nefarious anonymous hold, another would decrease the number of mid-management level positions subject to Senate confirmation.  [TPM] A third minor adjustment removed the provision that an amendment had to be read if it had been publicly available for 72 hours.

One of the points in the final understandings at the end of January 2011, was that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agreed to reduce the number of filibusters on motions to proceed. [RGB]  Obviously, Minority Leader McConnell used one of his filibusters on motions to proceed to prevent a vote on whether or not to confirm Goodwin Liu to the 9th Circuit Court.

During the 110th Congress Republicans filibustered a record 139 times, in the 111th Congress they filibustered 136 times, and since the 112th Congress has been in session (January 2011) they have forced 10 cloture motions.  [Senate]

Neither side has much enthusiasm for major overhauls in the filibuster system.  The Republicans can use it to force a 60 vote affirmation of just about any business in the Senate.  The Democrats, now in the majority, remember when they utilized filibusters to slow down Republican measures.  However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some bits of tinkering that would serve the American public better than the current slow-walk-and-stall proceedings in the U.S. Senate.

#1.  The Senate could make better use of its time if filibusters on motions to proceed were eliminated.  If the minority party wants to filibuster a bill, or a nominee seeking confirmation, fine.  However, it’s protracted silliness to have a filibuster on a motion to proceed — so that the underlying bill or confirmation can be filibustered in turn.

#2. Eliminate the anonymous holds.  If a member of the minority party in the Senate wants a hold (filibuster) on a bill or confirmation, he or she should have the intestinal fortitude to admit it.   Under the current rules a member can place an anonymous hold, but must admit to it in 2 days if the hold is not withdrawn.  After the two day period the hold can be attributed to the Party Leader in the record.  In other words, the Party Leader shelters the member imposing the anonymous hold.  There are no circumstances in a supposedly transparent legislative system for anonymity.

#3. Further reduce the number of nominees who require Senate confirmation.  There are some positions, such as the “Alternate Representative of the United States to the United Nations for Political Affairs” which may not be of such import as to require Senate confirmation when the regular Representative has already been confirmed.  Do we really need Senate confirmation of appointees to the Board of Trustees for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation?  To the Board of Trustees of the Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Culture and Arts Development?”

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>Bunning’s Bombast: The Batters Have A Perfect Target

>Approximately 176,000 Nevadans are out of work; 20,000 are losing their unemployment benefits; and, Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) is single-handedly holding up consideration of a bill that would offer an extension. [LVSun] Senator Bunning’s obstructionism might be characterized as a “principled stand” if not for the fact that he’s waffled on unemployment benefit extensions and related issues such that it’s extremely hard to tell precisely what “principle” it is on which he is currently mounted.

Someone Ought To Pay? Senator Bunning wants the extensions paid for. All well and good. However, when H.J. Res. 45 (AKA Pay/Go) legislation was before the Senate on January 28, 2010 Senator Bunning voted “NAY.” [roll call 12] In the space of a few short weeks Senator Bunning has moved from being against Pay As You Go to demanding it. So, is the “principle” pay-as-you-go? Evidently not.

The other problem with Bunning’s stance is that unemployment benefits are, in principle, already paid for: “The people who are get unemployment insurance PAID FOR INSURANCE. Some people have paid unemployment insurance all their lives and are using the benefit for the first time. This is NOT welfare or some gimme entitlement. People paid into an unemployment insurance pool to get this benefit. What happened to the unemployment insurance pool we have all been paying for? Congress and the various state legislators raided it to pay for wasteful departments and programs. Instead of looking at unemployment insurance monies as a trust fund for lean times, politicians squandered it in wasteful programs and tax breaks for the rich. Republicans and Democrats are both equally to blame in squandering the nation’s wealth.” [SFexam] (emphasis added)

The third problem with Bunning’s “principled stance” is that he’s been perfectly willing to vote in favor of unfunded projects and policies before, especially those aforementioned tax breaks…the unfunded Bush tax breaks for the upper 2% of American income earners had cost the U.S. Treasury some $929 billion, with $860 billion in direct costs and another $69 billion in interest payments by October 2005. [EPI] The “tax breaks” were supposed to “pay for themselves” by promoting economic growth — only that didn’t happen. “Unfortunately for most Americans, almost every broad measure of economic activity—GDP, jobs, personal income, and business investment, among others—has fared worse over the last four years than in past business cycles.” [EPI 2005] However much Bunning may argue that the tax breaks were “supposed to work,” the fact remains that he voted in favor of tax breaks that the CBO reported would increase the federal deficit and indebtedness not once, but twice.

On the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, May 23, 2001 (passed 62-38) Bunning voted YEA. Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 The 50-50 tie in the senate was broken by Vice President Cheney’s yes vote on; Bunning voted YEA.

Someone ought to work? Perhaps Senator Bunning is opposed to unemployment benefits as a matter of principle, [] believing as Senator Kyl (R-AZ) expressed it that unemployment benefits make unemployed people less likely to seek work? While ideologically pure, this probably isn’t the message the GOP wants to make it attempts to shift the political focus in the media from the health care access reform debate to “jobs, jobs, jobs.” Nor does it help that Senator Bunning’s voted for these kinds of extensions in the past. Therefore, it’s difficult to discern what “principle” is being upheld at on this point either.

What Senator Bunning has provided up to now is perfect target for the Democrats. Representative Dina Titus (D-NV3) tossed her pitch: “Sen. Bunning’s obstructionist delay tactics are a perfect example of why the American people think Washington is broken,” Titus said. With Southern Nevada residents “facing high unemployment, a foreclosure crisis and skyrocketing health care costs, they want to see elected officials working together,” she said. “Unfortunately, one Republican in the Senate is standing in the way.” [LVSun] She continued in an e-mail: “One senator is delaying the passage of critical legislation that would extend unemployment benefits, help with health insurance for unemployed Americans, prevent cuts in Medicare physician payments, and provide small business loan guarantees. “With people in District Three facing high unemployment, a foreclosure crisis, and skyrocketing health care costs, they want to see elected officials working together to bring real change. Unfortunately, one Republican in the Senate is standing in the way. The legislation that unanimously passed the House and has significant bipartisan support in the Senate would provide vital assistance to Nevada’s families who are fighting every day to make ends meet.”

Representative Shelley Berkley (D-NV1) added another issue related to the Senator’s filibuster: “Congresswoman Shelley Berkley today called on Republicans in Congress to stop supporting an effort to block legislation that protects payments to doctors who treat seniors and members of America ’s military covered under TRICARE. Failure to pass the extension will leave residents in Las Vegas and nationwide facing the loss of unemployment benefits, COBRA and other critical assistance. “The American Medical Association has called this Republican delay tactic ‘shocking’ because it could force physicians in Nevada and across the nation to limit the patients they see, including members of our armed forces and reserves covered under TRICARE and Valley seniors on Medicare,” said Berkley.” (e-mail message 3/01/10)

Those looking for a rationale behind Senator Bunning’s actions may be no more satisfied than those seeking to comprehend the exact reasons the tsunami from the Chilean earthquake was not as formidable in some parts of the Pacific Ring as expected. It probably was unnecessary for Dana Milbank to restate a litany of Bunning blunders during his last senatorial campaign season. [WaPo] The point is not that Senator Bunning is being erratic, but as illustrated by Representatives Titus and Berkley in their messages to constituents, Senator Bunning’s actions have had a negative effect on programs as wide ranging as highway construction projects to TRICARE services to our Armed Forces and veterans.

Representatives Berkley and Titus aren’t the only members of the 111th hoping Senator Bunning will cease and desist. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) called on the Senator from Kentucky to allow a floor vote. [Roll Call] Senator Bunning objected.

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>The Filibuster Follies: Fact, Fiction, and Futility

>Perhaps the American public is becoming as tired of the Republican filibusters as Senator Harry Reid (D-NV)? A February 5-11 poll by CBS/NYT reported 50% of our population saying No to more filibusters, 44% in favor of supporting the filibuster rule. Independents split on the question: 46% keep the filibuster rule in place, 49% saying it should be changed. [TPM]

The conflict over the use of the filibuster is a matter of whose ox is being gored. During the Bush Administration supporters of the President decried the use of the filibuster by Democratic colleagues in the Senate as “obstructionist.” However, with a Democrat in the White House we are no longer hearing “The President Deserves To Have His Own Nominees,” or “Upper’Down Vote” from the GOP members. The number of filibusters in the Senate skyrocketed during the 110th Session after Democrats won a majority and the GOP locked into a strategy of filibustering everything in sight. [McClatchy] Prior to the 110th Congress, the record number of cloture motions filed to break a filibuster was 82, during the 104th Congress. [Senate]

Some numbers might be instructive:
108th Session: 62 filibusters, 49 cloture votes, 12 cloture votes successful
109th Session: 68 filibusters, 54 cloture votes, 34 cloture votes successful
110th Session: 139 filibusters, 112 cloture votes, 61 cloture votes successful
111th Session: (to date) 74 filibusters filed, 42 cloture votes, 38 cloture votes successful

Silly Arguments: Win The Day By Defining Away Your Problem

There have been attempts to suggest that no matter what the process, the Republicans haven’t filibustered anything recently: “This is astonishing. A filibuster is the successful use of 41 or more votes to prevent the closing of debate. There wasn’t a single filibuster in 2009. Not one.” (GatewayPundit) Actually, no it isn’t. A filibuster, as the Senate itself defines it, is an attempt “to hold the Senate floor to prevent a vote on a bill.” [Senate] A filibuster isn’t the successful blocking of a piece of legislation — it is the effort to block legislation by holding the Senate floor. Additionally, the conservative pundit was flat wrong. A quick look at the Cloture Results for 2009 shows several “Fs” in the result column, instances in which an effort to invoke cloture failed.

A cloture vote to break a filibuster filing may be invoked, withdrawn, vitiated, failed, or perhaps there will be no action taken. However, a filibuster by any other name is still a tactic to sustain the hold of the Senate floor.

The stratagem goes back to 1841 when a minority in the Senate tried to block a bank bill sponsored by Senator Henry Clay. Clay threatened to change the Senate Rules to allow the majority to close debate (cloture), and was roundly rebuked by Senator Thomas Hart Benton. Using the “modern” GOP apologist’s argument, South Carolina Senator J. Strom Thurmond did not spend 24 hours and 18 minutes filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (the Senate record). No one then, or now, is seriously arguing that Senator Thurmond didn’t filibuster the proposed act.

Filibusters were moderately successful after the adoption of the cloture rule during the Wilson Administration. “On March 8, 1917, in a specially called session of the 65th Congress, the Senate agreed to a rule that essentially preserved its tradition of unlimited debate. The rule required a two-thirds majority to end debate and permitted each member to speak for an additional hour after that before voting on final passage. Over the next 46 years, the Senate managed to invoke cloture on only five occasions.” [Senate] Those seeking specifics regarding the actual implementation of a filibuster can delve into Senate Rule XXII on the precedence of motions. [Rules.Senate] In part, the present rule on cloture asks: “Is it the sense of the Senate that the debate shall be brought to a close?” And if that question shall be decided in the affirmative by three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn — except on a measure or motion to amend the Senate rules, in which case the necessary affirmative vote shall be two-thirds of the Senators present and voting — then said measure, motion, or other matter pending before the Senate, or the unfinished business, shall be the unfinished business to the exclusion of all other business until disposed of.”

Too Much Of A Good Thing: Using or Abusing The Filibuster

The “modern” version of a filibuster allows a minority to simply announce that a filibuster is on, and then a cloture vote is required to get an up or down vote on a bill or nomination under the terms of Rule XXII. Republicans faced with a possible filibuster of judicial nominees from President George W. Bush in 2005 briefly advocated using the so-called Nuclear Option, i.e. having Vice President Dick Cheney rule from the chair that the filibuster was “inconsistent with the Constitutional grant of power of the president to name judges with the advice and consent of the Senate.” The shoe is now firmly on the other foot. As indicated above, there have been 74 filibusters filed during the 111th Congress, with 42 cloture votes taken, yielding 38 filibusters broken and 4 successfully sustained. [Senate] A list of cloture motions filed during 2009 and 2010 is available from the Senate Reference service.

While there is certainly an argument to be made that the filibuster is an essential part of protecting the rights of a minority in any democratically elected deliberative body, there are also profoundly good reasons to argue that some modification might be necessary.

First, if a cloture vote must be taken on any and all motions before the Senate this could easily deter Senators from introducing legislation on topics which do not have widespread initial support. The counter argument might be that if a topic doesn’t have broad initial support then it ought not to be raised at all. However, if this line of thought diminishes the possibility that a Senator (majority or minority) could introduce legislation for the purpose of getting public attention focused on a particularly important problem in some sectors of the public, then some possibly quite good bills may easily “die a’borning.”

Secondly, if a cloture vote must be taken on nearly every piece of legislation to hit the Senate floor, there is the distinct possibility that the exception becomes the rule; the result being an almost permanently paralyzed debate and voting process. The “two-track” rule currently allows a filibuster to coincide with other Senate business, but the almost indiscriminate use of filibuster filings can, and does, slow the already phlegmatic process. What once was a relative rarity in legislative procedure can all too quickly become the norm, and as the list of 2009/10 filings indicates the already phlegmatic can quickly become merely dilatory.

Third, there’s a public relations price to be paid for dilatory deliberations. Those seeking confirmation of their belief that the U.S. Senate is a dysfunctional place where good ideas go to die will find sufficient examples in the filings from 1993 through 2009. [Senate] Those already believing that the Senate is a body composed of individuals more concerned with campaigning than governing will also find their preconceptions sustained. There’s a common sense proposition that says ‘when everything is important, nothing is important.’ A strategy used almost indiscriminately on a wide range of nominations and bills tends to lose focus, and the act of stopping action becomes more important than the significance of the action or nomination itself. This is the point at which the epithet “Obstructionist” begins to stick.

Finally, the modification of the filibuster need not necessarily be a formal revision of current rules. Minority leadership, either Democratic or Republican depending upon the composition of the Senate, should prioritize its use of the strategy. A blade used too often becomes dull.


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