Category Archives: Senate

Party of Sexual Predator Protectors?

Okay, so when did the Grand Old Party, the Republican Party, become the party of sexual predator protection?  There was the Access Hollywood tape… gee, that was just “lock room talk.” “Boys will be boys.”  Women came forward, but the GOP marched on to an electoral college victory.  The President stands credibly accused by a former Playboy model, a porn star/director, and others.  What’s the expression? “A fish rots from the head down.”  The Republicans stood by him.

Roy Moore wanted a seat in the US Senate.  Republicans supported him… in the face of credible accusations of sexual misconduct with minors.  Moore lost, to the credit of the citizens of Alabama who didn’t buy into the idea that the man is always right, the woman is always hysterical (and wrong), and it’s not “right” to ruin a man’s reputation — even if the man did a banner job of wrecking the woman’s life and reputation.

Where was Rep. Jim Jordan’s attention when members of the wrestling team at OSU were being assaulted?  He didn’t know?  How do assistant coaches — those who are actually the closest to team members — not know?  How do they not report what they know or suspect?  Did he not care enough to investigate rumors? Check on what team members were saying?  Where are the Republicans?  Where are the calls for a full investigation in addition to the one conducted by the university?

Former Congressman Blake Farenthold said he was going to pay $84,000 in a sexual harassment settlement; he ultimately decided to pay — absolutely nothing.  Nothing.  Where are his fellow Republicans calling for him to live up to his agreement?  Crickets. Silence.  There is no reason to believe the Republicans will do anything to rectify this situation.

And here in Nevada — Storey County Sheriff Gerald Antinoro was the subject of investigations for sexual misconduct.  AG Adam Laxalt decided not to press any charges, and accepted Antinoro’s endorsement in the gubernatorial race.   From the Republicans? More crickets…silence…acceptance…a willingness to look away, to let boys be boys, to dismiss locker room talk, to set the lowest bar possible for men’s conduct.  No accountability.  No responsibility.  No consequences.

So, when did the GOP become the party protecting the likes of Brett Kavanaugh? When did Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell know there were more than just the one allegation of sexual misconduct facing Kavanaugh?  Were the Republicans shoving the confirmation vote in order to get Kavanaugh (Trump’s Get Out Of Jail Free Card) on the bench before more women came forward with their stories?

Enough!  Contrary to what some Republicans have tried to tell me via my television screen, most high school boys (both back in the Jurassic Era during my attendance and today) are not sexual predators in training — or practice.  Some are, but that’s why these cases are “news” — they are not the standard, or even the most common practice.  Yes, there are employers who are guilty of sexual misconduct — an inordinate number of whom seem to have served on the Republican National Committee finance arm — but, this is not the norm.  These examples are outside the bounds of acceptable conduct, and they should be seen as such.

Register.  Help others register.  Check your registration.  Help others check their registration.

Vote.  Help your friends and neighbors get to their polling stations.

There is no other antidote to political corruption than voting. Good old fashioned voting. Good old fashioned American citizens voting, and facing down the Russian bots behind the “walk away” movement or other cynical attempts to depress the vote.

VOTE like your right to vote depends on it.

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Filed under Politics, Senate, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights

Meanwhile! Back At The Ballot Boxes

Not that I’m unconcerned about sexual harassment (etc) BUT there’s another story which is getting lost behind the steady drip of the Mueller Investigation and the deluge of harassment stories — not to put too fine a point to it, but the Russians played havoc with our election in 2016 and the Congress of the United States hasn’t done squat about it.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence seems perfectly happy to make charges and counter-charges about “collusion” without apparently looking all that deeply into what espionage techniques and strategies were applied by the Russians, and what was the outcome. Nor have I heard one peep out of them about how to better secure our election institutions and systems against incursions.  Given White House water boy Devin Nunes is in charge of the committee, I don’t suppose we’ll get that much out of this outfit, and that’s both a tragedy and a missed opportunity.

While the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence manages to sound more organized and focused,  there’s not much emerging from that quarter either.   Again, the committee seems to have Republicans intent on proving there’s “nothing to see here,” and Democrats hoping to find the smoking arsenal.  Again, the conspiracy/collusion segment is only part of the story, and while it’s important so too is the notion that we need to find out what the Russians did, how they did it, and how we can prevent this from happening in future elections.

Then there’s the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.   Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) seems rather more interested in absolving Republicans and the President from responsibility for or knowledge of Russian activities than in finding out exactly what happened in 2016.   I wouldn’t want to hang by my hair for as long as it will take to get this outfit to determine what laws were broken, or eluded, by Russians — nor how we might want to modify our statutes to prevent future problems.  The House Judiciary Committee is essentially AWOL on all manner of topics, case in point the “calendar” for the subcommittees is almost blank for the month of December with one FBI “oversight” hearing, and one session with Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein.  The Chairman appears to be more concerned with disparaging the Mueller Investigation than with determining how to identify and prevent foreign incursions into our elections.

Remember back on September 22, 2017 the Department of Homeland Security finally informed 21 states that their elections systems had been hacked in some way, shape, or form:

“The federal government on Friday told election officials in 21 states that hackers targeted their systems before last year’s presidential election.

The notification came roughly a year after officials with the United States Department of Homeland Security first said states were targeted by hacking efforts possibly connected to Russia. The states that told The Associated Press they had been targeted included some key political battlegrounds, such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The A.P. contacted every state election office to determine which ones had been informed that their election systems had been targeted. The others that confirmed they were targeted were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and Washington.” (emphasis added)

21 states, notified a year after the fact was bad enough — but not only was the information belated, but some of it wasn’t even accurate.

“Now election officials in Wisconsin and California say DHS has provided them with additional information showing that Russian hackers actually scanned networks at other state agencies unconnected to voter data. In Wisconsin, DHS told officials on Tuesday that hackers had scanned an IP address belonging to the Department of Workforce Development, not the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) said in a statement Wednesday that DHS gave his office additional information saying hackers had attempted to target the network of the California Department of Technology’s statewide network and not the secretary of state’s office.”

So, we might expect the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee to be looking into this?  No, the Chairman, Sen. Ron Johnson is more interested in finding out if members of the Mueller team are biased against the current President.  The “logic” appears to be that because Special Counsel Mueller REMOVED those who made prejudicial statements in text messages therefore the investigation is prejudiced.  It doesn’t get more bass-ackwards than this.   Can we expect oversight regarding the slowness and inaccuracy of the DHS response to election hacking?  Under the current Senate leadership probably not.

The national broadcast media (as usual) is currently chasing the newest shiny object — which members of the Congress can or cannot keep their hands to themselves and their “little soldiers” zipped inside the “barracks.”  This is an important topic — but to continue to focus on the salacious and to continue to ignore the insidious is not in the best interest of this country and its institutions.

There are questions introduced last August which remain unresolved, and for which we should demand answers:

  1. What was the extent and nature of Russian hacking (and meddling) in the US election of 2016?
  2. Will the United States deploy safeguards and countermeasures to address thee Russian activities?
  3. Will the frustrations of state governments with the quality of information shared by DHS be alleviated? Will states receive up to date and accurate information so they can prevent hacking and meddling?
  4. What measures should be taken to prevent future hacking and meddling, and to give the states the support they need to deal with forms of assault as yet undeployed by the Russians?

The Mueller Investigation can explore and illuminate the extent to which criminal statutes may have been broken in regard to the 2016 election, but it cannot determine how the US analyzes, evaluates, and prepares for the next round of elections.  That should be the function of Congress, but then we seem to have one so focused on giving tax breaks to the wealthy and so determined to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid they can barely pay attention to the transgressions of their own members (speaking of Farenholdt here) while chasing conspiracy theories about the “Deep State” opposition to the administration.

Perhaps in the midst of asking our Senators and Representatives about the “questions of the day,” we should squeeze in a couple of questions (see above) that have been sitting on the shelves since last Summer?

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Filed under Congress, Homeland Security, House of Representatives, Politics, Senate, Voting

#Enough Thoughts and Prayers, rights aren’t necessarily conveniences

Mass Shooting Victims

The photos of the victims of mass killings in this country show the faces of America. White, black, brown, gay, straight, men, and women. From the very young to the elderly.  And they all died too soon at the hands of those who could arm themselves with lethal weapons without any inconvenience.

The 2nd Amendment says we all have the right to keep and bear arms … there is NO mention in the Amendment that purchasing firearms has to be “convenient.”

The gun fetishists among us cry that their “rights are infringed” if they are to be inconvenienced in any way when purchasing or procuring lethal weapons. They cite their imaginary well greased slippery slope to full tilt gun control.

And, lo! cry the fetishists and their allies, any imposition of a burden of responsibility is a denial of our civil liberties.  But, wait a minute. It is inconvenient to register to vote – however, that’s the inconvenience we accept to prevent voter impersonation.  It’s inconvenient to edit and fact check news articles – but that’s the inconvenience we accept as part of the freedom of the press to avoid charges of libel.

It is inconvenient for government officials to get search warrants, but that’s the balance we have to prevent unlawful searches and seizures.  It’s inconvenient for the judicial system that a person may not be compelled to testify against himself – but that’s the inconvenience we accept to make the system work under constitutional principles.

How easy it appears to be to have advocates of the implementation of the Patriot Act speaking of national surveillance, and justifying those National Security Letters, while bemoaning the restrictions on those included on the terrorist watch list who seek to purchase lethal weapons.

If we didn’t infer “convenience” in the 2nd Amendment, then might we have fewer suicides, fewer murders, fewer mass shootings and killings.  Fewer funerals, fewer remembrances, fewer tragedies, and a much safer society?


Filed under Congress, conservatism, gay issues, Gun Issues, Hate Crimes, Senate, terrorism

The Campaign for the Middle Class Isn’t Over

The candidates are no longer running ads, the campaigns have been shut down, BUT the campaign for the American Middle Class continues.  The next phase comes as the Congress debates how to reduce the national debt — brought to us by two wars fought “off the books,” ill considered tax rate reductions, and a nasty recession.  If the American Middle Class is to avoid the detonation of the Austerity Bomb (aka the Fiscal Cliff) then we need to:

(1) Let our Senators and Representatives know that without an increase in the tax rates for millionaires and billionaires the ARITHMETIC necessary to reduce the national debt doesn’t add up.

(2) Remind our Senators and Representatives that federal discretionary spending has already been cut by $840 billion to $916 billion over the next ten years [QS] in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

(3) Let our Senators and Representatives know that we understand merely closing a few loopholes in the tax code isn’t nearly enough to make a serious dent in the national debt.  If they are serious about debt reduction then “increasing revenues” can’t be a code phrase for “tinkering with deductions and loopholes.”

If millionaires and billionaires don’t want a national debt passed along to their children and grandchildren — it just might behoove them to help pay off some of it.



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Filed under Congress, Federal budget, income tax, national debt, Politics, Senate

Double Trouble: Rate for Student Loans on a Tight Calendar

Famous last words?  “We’re confident that if Congressional Republicans are serious about sparing more than 7 million students the equivalent of a $1,000 tax hike, Members of both parties can come together and get this done before rates double in two weeks,” White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said.”  [Roll Call] First, some of those 7 million individuals staring down the barrel of a doubled student loan interest rate are right here in Nevada.  Secondly,  the two parties aren’t all that far apart.

There’s the GOP version of how to pay for the program: “The Republicans offered an increase in current employee contributions to the Civil Service Retirement System over the next three years to offset the cost.”  And, there’s the Democratic version: “ Reid proposed a payfor that already was agreed to by Republicans in a Senate transportation bill. Reid suggested creating fewer tax deductions for pension contributions and increasing premiums that employers pay in to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.”  [Roll Call]

There are TWO weeks before the deadline.  There are only six more work days on the House of Representatives calendar. [House]  The Senate recesses for “state work” sessions on May 28th. [Senate] Movement with a bit more alacrity might be in order.

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Filed under 2012 election, House of Representatives, Reid, Senate, Student Loans

Obstructionists Vow More Obstruction

 Priceless.  The Senate Republicans are threatening to bring the Senate to a “grinding halt” unless one of their members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is renominated and confirmed.  [Las Vegas Sun] This would be the same commissioner who once declared she’d “never touched” Yucca Mountain, except of course she did.  Secondly, how does one bring the current U.S. Senate to a grinding halt when it’s not going anywhere in the first place.   Have the Senate Republicans taken a look recently at the voluminous list of nominees for ANYTHING who still have their confirmations tied up in committees?

Ten nominations under the jurisdiction of the Senate Armed Services Committee who would take positions in the Pentagon or with Court of Military Commission Review are stalled.   The nomination of a person to be a member of the Consumer Product Safety Commission has been tied up in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee since January 24th.  Four nominations are still pending from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, another three are still to be confirmed from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee list.

Six confirmation votes remain for nominees subject to the jurisdiction of the Senate Committee on Finance.   Twenty-two nominees have yet to get a confirmation vote who are on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee list.  Twenty-four nominees have yet to have a confirmation vote from the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions listing.  Another eight nominations on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee have yet to get confirmed.

Three nominees whose candidacy goes back to March 2011 have yet to be confirmed who were subject to the jurisdiction of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.  A whopping thirty-three nominations subject to the jurisdiction of the Senate Judiciary Committee have yet to get a confirmation vote.  Three more nominations concerning Veterans Affairs still await a confirmation vote.

For all intents and purposes the list thus far already looks like a Grinding Halt. Perhaps there are nuanced differences between Grinding Halts and Screeching Halts?

On all other matters, the Senate has taken a grand total of sixty-six roll call votes since the beginning of the second session of the 112th Congress in January.  Of the sixty-six roll call votes thus far 11 were votes to break Republican filibusters, and 1 was on a “motion to proceed.”

Eighty-two notices of intent to filibuster have been filed in the 112th Congress, there have been forty-eight votes to invoke cloture, but the filibusters have  been broken only 26 times. It really is hard to imagine that a “grinding halt” would be much worse than the current “halting” pace of the  Senate.

A person might characterize inaction as a Grinding Halt, a Screeching Halt, a Total Halt, or a Complete Halt.  However, when a deliberative body has accomplished so little of its business because of endless obstruction such as that listed above, it really is hard to tell if its functions have come to any kind of Halt when it’s not moving forward in the first place.

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Filed under Filibusters, Republicans, Senate, Yucca Mountain

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

Substance versus Symbolism equals Gridlock

Senate Majority Leader  Harry Reid (D-NV) would like to see another little glint of bipartisan support for a bill in the upper house:

“The Senate voted overwhelmingly (94 to 1) Monday evening to move forward on a bill that would repeal a 3 percent withholding tax on federal and state government contractors, a regulation of George W. Bush’s presidency that hasn’t taken effect yet. It’s slated to, in 2013 — that is, unless Congress repeals it first, which it appears to be on its way to: the House voted 405 to 16 in favor of the repeal last month.

Reid now plans to attach language that would give a tax break to companies who hire recent veterans — another bit of Obama’s jobs plan — to the tax withholding bill.”  [LVSun]

Senate Republicans should like this measure — it should appeal to their predilection for tax breaks and it supports efforts to entice employers to hire veterans.   That said, we can’t take passage today as a given, even if the intentions supporting it are good:

“…for this service, the United States makes a promise to our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen in return.  That promise isn’t about flag waving or yellow ribbons. And it lasts long after the parades and holidays are over, through every day of every year of their lives.

It is a guarantee that the American Dream for which every service member fights — and for which many of their comrades have died — will be waiting for them when they come home.

But since September 11, 2001, this country has allowed that promise to lapse. Today, there are 240,000 unemployed veterans of the fight against global terrorism.

Among veterans who served since September 11, unemployment is 12.1 percent — more than three percentage points higher than among the general population. Among the youngest veterans, those under 25, the unemployment rate was nearly 22 percent last year.” [DemSen]

After the Senate’s “morning business,” the body will resume consideration of the motion to proceed on H.R. 674 repealing the 3% withholding tax on state and federal contractors.   Everything of any substance is subject to the evidently perpetual Republican filibuster — requiring 60 votes.

Enter the symbolism:

“Republican Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t speak specifically about veterans on the Senate floor Monday, but scolded Reid for standing in the way of what bipartisan cooperation could actually achieve.

“The problem is, every time Republicans pass one of these bills over in the House, Democrats here in the Senate refuse to take it up. The Democrats who run the Senate are just letting all these bills die,” McConnell said.” [LVSun]

And, what might those bills be?  Here’s a hint: They aren’t JOBS bills.  The House took a symbolic vote to “repeal Obamacare,” i.e. the Affordable Care Ace and Patients’ Bill of Rights [roll call 10] which would allow health insurance corporations to continue to abuse rescission clauses, refuse to cover cancer screenings, declare children born with birth defects to have ‘pre-existing conditions,’ and refuse to offer basic coverage including screenings for autism.  The repeal would also obviate what was originally a Republican idea, i.e. the individual mandate, a so-called “private sector” solution to the lack of health insurance for the middle and working classes in this country.  Why is this symbolic?  Easy, what are the odds a Democratic president is going to sign off on repealing a signature piece of his administration’s legislative package? And, what are the odds of the GOP getting enough votes to sustain a veto over-ride vote?

The House took another symbolic vote on February 11, 2011 to pass a bill calling for an effective stop to all government regulations making them subject to Congressional approval, as specified in H.Res. 72.  [roll call 33] The target, of course, for the most part are environmental safety regulations.

A month later the House Republicans passed a bill to kill the FHA refinance program [roll call 171] and to kill the HAMP Program. [roll call 198]

Then the House gestured grandly to the Republican base passing H.R. 3 “No tax funds for abortion” as if the Hyde Amendment had somehow disappeared into the ether. [roll call 292]  The Republican controlled House returned to the abortion issue with the egregious  H.R. 358 which it passed on October 13, 2011. [roll call 789]

In a tip toward the American Petroleum Institute’s legislative wish list the House passed “amendments” of the Clean Air Act [roll call 465] and H.R. 2018 ” amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to preserve the authority of each State to make determinations relating to the State’s water quality standards..”  [roll call 573]

On July 21, 2011 the House voted to reduce the powers of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Dodd Frank Act) [roll call 621]

When Substance Met Symbolism

Yes, the Senate leadership may very well let these bill die on the vine.  The strategy seems abundantly clear.  The House will pass legislation highly objectionable to the Democratic leadership of the Senate and impossible for the President to sign, and then the Republicans in the Senate will cry that the leadership won’t consider their bills.

“As Obama pointed out today, there is no Republican initiative that can meaningfully be called a jobs bill. They passed a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but did not keep their promise to develop a “replace” bill, or even begin the work on doing so. Same thing on financial regulation: they don’t like Dodd/Frank, but there is no Republican alternative.

To the extent that they do bother to develop bills and move them to the House floor, Republicans aren’t really legislating, because they have no intention of developing laws that can pass through the Senate and earn the president’s signature. Thus the health repeal, and thus their regulatory agenda this fall, little or none of which has any real chance of becoming law.”  [WaPo]

A significant bloc of the House has declared “compromise” to be a sign of weakness, a failure of principle, and a symptom of caving.  So, there will be no bills issuing from the House which have the proverbial sno-cone’s chance.  There will, no doubt, be more symbolic attacks on the EPA, the Department of Education, and the Dodd Frank financial reforms.  There will be little or nothing of any substance, certainly not on immediate jobs creation.

It is Sound and Fury…signifying nothing.

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Filed under employment, financial regulation, Health Care, House of Representatives, McConnell, Reid, Senate, unemployment, Women's Issues

GOP Uninterested Even In Small Measures That Would Increase Employment

How can we tell that Republican in Washington, D.C. aren’t all that serious about creating JOBS for American workers?   In the recent past business leaders have made three rather modest and pragmatic proposals for expanding the U.S. economy.   Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) summarized them as follows:

First, reauthorize a program that gives grants to the technology companies that are inventing new products, like the electric toothbrush or body armor for soldiers, so these innovators can continue to grow and hire. That’s what we tried to do with the Small Business Innovation Research legislation.

What stopped this highly recommended piece of legislation?  The Senate Republicans filibustered it.  On May 4, 2011 Senate Majority Leader Reid brought S. 493 up for a cloture vote, and on May 4, 2011 44 members of the Senate — all Republicans — voted to sustain the filibuster.  [Roll Call 64]

Second, they said we should modernize America’s air travel system, making it safer and more efficient to fly America’s skies. That’s what we tried to do when we reauthorized the Federal Aviation Administration.

H.R. 658, the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act (2011) passed the House of Representatives on April 1, 2011 and the Senate on April 7, 2011 — and now the bill sits awaiting the report from conferees to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions.   For all the talk from the GOP side of the aisle about “JOBS” and economic improvements, there seems to be little sense of urgency about tackling this recommendation from business leaders.

Third, we must reform our patent system and clear a three-year backlog of applications. The next laptop computer or iPod could be in that pile, just waiting to be taken from the basement to the boardroom. That’s what we tried to do with the America Invents Act. [Reid]

S. 23, the Patent Reform Act of 2011 was passed by the United States Senate on March 8, 2011.  It’s been “held at the desk” since March 9, 2011.  To be held at the desk means “A maneuver reserving the right of action on a measure to the full Chamber, rather than to a committee. A bill held at the desk is available for immediate consideration. Since it is not referred to a committee, the bill has no hearings or committee reports accompanying it from that Chamber. A bill passed by one Chamber and referred to the second Chamber often is held at the desk in the second Chamber, particularly when the second Chamber already is working on similar legislation.” [LexisNexis]

H.R. 1249, the America Invents Act passed the House on May 23, 2011 on a 304-117 vote.  [Roll Call 491]   It was received by the Senate on May 27, 2011, and there it sits.

Senator Reid summed up the situation: “Congress has already taken up all three of these measures. Not one has become law. Why? Republicans have killed or stalled all three of these important pieces of legislation – legislation business owners say they need to put more than half a million Americans back to work.” [Reid]

How do Senate Republicans plan to convince the American public they are anxious to put their constituents back to work, and to address the unemployment rate, when they’ll not even move forward on three relatively small suggestions which have significant support from the business community?

Perhaps it is because they are narrowly focused on holding the world economy hostage so that they can maintain (1) low taxes for millionaires and billionaires, including hedge funds and their managers, (2) tax havens, tax loopholes, and tax subsidies for major corporations, and advance their perennial attacks on  (3) Social Security and Medicare.

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Filed under Reid, Republicans, Senate

>DeMint Threatens Senate Shut Down

>There’s obstructionism and then there’s Roadblock Republicanism. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) is on an ego trip of epic proportions. We can put these first two sentences together to make a nightmare for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). DeMint has threatened to put a personal hold on ALL legislation that has not already been hot-lined as of the end of business today. [Roll Call] Hot-lining is a common term for a bill on which members of both caucuses have checked with their respective membership and found no opposition; the bill is then sent forward for a vote. Shorter version: DeMint wants to block all legislative action on anything that hasn’t already been hot-lined or cleared by HIS office. [TP] ] 

Senator DeMint is quite simply suggesting he wants to make an already bad situation worse.  “This logjam is not the result of laziness—the Senate in the current 111th Congress has worked more days than any other Senate in recent memory. Nor is it entirely the result of ideological sparring, although the Senate would not be the mess it is today if a minority of its members were not engaged in unprecedented obstructionism. Rather, it is a monster born from the Senate’s increasingly tight schedule alongside each senator’s sweeping power to run out the clock before anything gets accomplished.” [CAP]

Senators can extend debate (one should use that term advisedly because what we see on C-SPAN usually bears little resemblance to an actual debate on a specific issue) 30 hours at a time forever and ever and ever. As CAP explains, a filibuster has come to mean the refusal to provide the 60th vote needed for cloture. Even if a cloture motion does succeed in breaking the filibuster the Senate minority can demand yet another 30 hours of post-cloture debate…and so it goes.

FYI: The actual Senate rule creating this clock management problem is: After no more than thirty hours of consideration of the measure, motion, or other matter on which cloture has been invoked, the Senate shall proceed, without any further debate on any question, to vote on the final disposition thereof to the exclusion of all amendments not then actually pending before the Senate at that time and to the exclusion of all motions, except a motion to table, or to reconsider and one quorum call on demand to establish the presence of a quorum (and motions required to establish a quorum) immediately before the final vote begins. The thirty hours may be increased by the adoption of a motion, decided without debate, by a three-fifths affirmative vote of the Senators duly chosen and sworn, and any such time thus agreed upon shall be equally divided between and controlled by the Majority and Minority Leaders or their designees. However, only one motion to extend time, specified above, may be made in any one calendar day. But, as Scarlett said, “Tomorrow is another day.”

The situation isn’t improved by the existence of a small cadre of obstructionist Senators who give every appearance of having made it their live’s work to filibuster anything and everything in sight. The aforementioned Senator DeMint has voted to sustain filibusters 93% of the time. Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) has a 92% record. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) is in 3rd place with an 87% record. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) has an 86% record. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has an 86% record. Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) has an 85% record. Our very own Senator John Ensign (R-NV) has an 84% record, and rounding out the top eight is Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) with 82%. [FB]

This situation might be acceptable to those who devoutly believe that the federal government would be best run by doing absolutely nothing. However, it’s extremely difficult to argue that there should be more accountability in government while obstructing Senate business at the same time. First, we’re reminded that authorization bills which set forth the guidelines for how federal monies are spent get caught up in the Senate legislative logjam, and this has consequences: “depriving authorizing committees of their power to enact and amend authorizing legislation undermines effective congressional oversight. This is because an agency’s willingness to cooperate with a congressional committee is directly related to that committee’s ability to punish the agency for noncompliance. Without authorizing legislation, only appropriators have significant power to apply pressure to federal agencies, but overburdened appropriations committees are unlikely to have the time to monitor every single federal program without help from authorizing committees.” [CAP] (emphasis added)

Budget delays can also yield wasteful government practices. If project officers and administrators have a working budget enacted 12 months before implementation there’s time to request and and process contract and grant proposals, and to appoint people to review the contracts and grants. Without sufficient time for this process to be completed we get work-arounds and short cuts like the infamous No-Bid Contracts. Therefore, loudly demanding “accountability” and “transparency” in government while simultaneously insisting on using the filibuster and debate rules to delay appropriation and authorization bills is an exercise in creating a government that is un-accountable and the least transparent.

The pathetic capacity of the Senate to enact, confirm, oversee, authorize, and appropriate, is obviously exacerbated by the antics of such members as Senator DeMint. Clearly the Senate could use some adult supervision, and Majority Leader Reid could certainly use the opportunities given thereby to bring some important legislation to the floor for up-or-down votes. 

If the U.S. Senate is to be anything other than emblematic of broken government, then it should give serious consideration to the overuse and abuse of the filibuster rule, and to the problems it has with clock management.

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