Tag Archive: filibuster

Ending the Dark Night of Discrimination Against LGBT Service Men & Women

After a 17-year roller coaster of uncertainty, Republican antipathy, and valiant efforts of supporters, the Senate today did us proud. Its members overcame a filibuster and will shortly vote to repeal the injurious, unworkable Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Kudos to our two NJ senators who supported the repeal.

It was long overdue. Public opinion polls, the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff, members of the armed forces and even some Republicans were ready to move forward. Before the vote to limit debate, Senator Lieberman said, “Removing legalized discrimination is an American value.” The vote was 63-33.

Having ended the filibuster, the Senate is expected to formally vote on DADT later today. The House already passed the bill earlier this week. For procedural reasons the repeal will not take effect until at least 60 days.

Senator McCain shamefully said, “today is a very sad day. This can cause men to lose their lives.” Other unhappy Republicans suggested that the future of an arms treaty with Russia was endangered by Democratic efforts to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Before the DADT cloture vote Republican Senators blocked the Dream Act that would create a path to citizenship for certain illegal immigrant students who came to the United States as children and  completed two years of college or military service.  After the vote Sen. Lautenberg said, “Senate Republicans have turned their back on promising students who are working against all odds to reach their full potential.” Another key Senate bill to fund medical care for 911 First Responders is facing an uncertain fate. Republicans heap praise on these individuals but show little concern for their failing health.  

On the Delaware Earthquake and New Jersey

I didn’t think it would happen but my Chris Coons bumper stickers don’t seem like a hopeless gesture anymore.  Here are some thoughts on what happened last night:

No one to blame but himself: Mike Castle by all accounts is a decent guy, but he voted to impeach Bill Clinton during a lame duck session (but only on one charge, such a moderate!) and voted to invade another country based on lies. You can’t help feed your citizens a diet of poison for decades and then be surprised they’re sick.  

They all deserve to lose: Even though the Tea Party is wrong and is supporting people who will make our problems worse, the sad fact is that, conservative, liberal, or moderate, all the incumbents have failed us. Ten percent unemployment is unacceptable, and did I mention a permanent land war in Asia?  

RoseAnn Salanitri. If Christine O’Donnell can get the Senate nomination in Delaware, why not the equally absurd RoseAnn Salanitri in New Jersey? Imagine who’s going to turn out in June 2012 for the obscure Congressional primaries after months of red meat Republican Presidential campaigning. On the other hand, Chris Christie’s proxy was beaten by Sarah Palin’s proxy in Delaware, but he should have more power in his own state, and conservatives have more of a history (pro and con) here in primaries. I’ve read Salanitri’s book on physics, anyone interested?

Frank LoBiondo: I’m afraid we’ve seen the last of Frank LoBiondo’s votes with us on climate change, because the lesson is that if the national conservative movement focuses on you you’re vulnerable to even an absurd candidate. I think O’Donnell is about the quality of opponent LoBiondo drew in the primary. LoBiondo has already been running scared of the Tea Party after some initial tough talk so he already knew it. The flip side is that some Democrat should step up in 2012, because who knows what will happen in the NJ2 primary next time? Someone will have to vote to pass the budget if Republicans gain the majority and LoBiondo may have to vote with the President from time to time, even while casting right-wing nutty votes that won’t look good in a general election if someone could publicize them.

The Black Swan: This is a good analogy to how Wall Street got into us into this mess with advanced statistics. All summer, Nate Silver’s 538.com listed Republican chances of winning the Delaware Senate seat as 99%. We can now see that he underestimated an unlikely event, or rather, didn’t think about it at all.  Just as Wall Street’s statistical geniuses underestimated or completely missed the possibilty that the mortgage market had become dominated by national trends and outright fraud, so too Silver underestimated the possibilty that Republican primary voters have become very ideological. On the other hand, the statistical guys also told us Derek Jeter would be much worse this year, so don’t sneer at everything, just be careful.  (Why black swan? just because you’ve seen 100 white swans doesn’t mean there are no black swans.)

Menendez should act: In the spirit of being careful, I hope we see some spending from the DSCC, even if the NRCC says they’re pulling out and polls look good.  At this moment, the President is a liability and nothing is safe.  

Senate Reform: Bob Menendez has been silent on filibuster reform but we now know we will have a Senate with even more extreme partisan Republicans (if you don’t think O’Donnell will be in the Senate, see Utah.) Tom Coburn single-handedly blocks an enormous amount of legislation and appointments. The clubby Senate rules may have worked in a era where the parties were not ideological, and liberal Republicans were a commonly used phrase, but that era is now ancient history. The Constitution calls for a majority to pass laws and approve appointments, not 60%, and even provided for a tie-breaker vote.  

Appointments: For the same reason as above, Obama should give every one of his executive branch appointees recess appointments. Let the Senate vote to reject any that are truly bad, otherwise don’t reward delay.    

Republican Filibuster of School Aid to New Jersey Defeated

The long Republican filibuster to stop aid to states was defeated today:

President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in the Senate earned a long-sought win Wednesday as a $26 billion measure to help states and local school boards with their severe budget problems cleared a GOP filibuster.

The bill advanced by a 61-38 tally that ensures the measure will pass the Senate on Wednesday or Thursday. It would then return to the House for a final vote that would deliver it to Obama for his signature.

Key votes from Snowe and Collins supported our Senators Menendez and Lautenberg. I believe ultra-right-winger Garrett was the only New Jersey Representative to oppose the bill, though I may be mistaken, since the bill has changed forms many times. (The title says it’s about FAA regulations!)

A major development for New Jersey, and no thanks to most national Republicans. Now that the filibuster is defeated, the bill is expected to pass later in the week due to the obscure and little-used Constitutional rule that majorities of the House and Senate can pass a law.  

Frank Lautenberg’s Filibuster Reform Proposal

I see that Ezra Klein spent the morning at the Senate Rules Committee’s hearing on filibusters and holds. He reports that Senator Frank Lautenberg’s reform proposal was discussed:

Lautenberg’s proposal is more modest. Called the Mr. Smith Bill (Lautenberg brought a cardboard image of Jimmy Stewart from the film to the hearing), the bill would allow the Senate majority leader to call an immediate cloture vote as long as there is no discussion occurring on the Senate floor and the deadline for amendments has passed. This would force filibusters to actually be conducted on the floor — hence the “Mr. Smith” moniker — if the opposition wants to take advantage of the two-day “ripening period” before the Senate can vote to end a filibuster…

Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer was enthusiastic about Lautenberg’s plan, calling it “ingenious,”

Obviously when your “side” is in the minority the filibuster seems attractive, and both sides have made ample use of it, but there’s really no argument that its routine use is a very recent invention, one that has no basis in the Constitution. One expert presented statistics that showed a remarkable change around the 1993-1995 Congress.  

Unfortunately, it is pretty disturbing to see that one official believed Lautenberg’s proposal was poorly written:

Rybicki had a point to make, and a persuasive one: the Lautenberg and Bennet proposals are too vague. For example, Lautenberg’s proposal works by allowing the majority leader to “move the question” on cloture. Rybicki noted that there is no such motion in the Senate rules. It is clear enough what Lautenberg meant, but the bill as written would be hard to implement.

Frankly I can’t help but worry that the proposal was never intended to go into effect and is nothing . On the other hand, there’s a lot of negotiations ahead so perhaps it’s silly to nitpick a proposal at this stage.

(Don’t know who Mr. Smith is? Go buy the movie.)

Update: Oops, I just realized that Lautenberg’s testimony is online. It is excellent:

To Lautenberg and Menendez: Don’t Adjourn

I see that once again a handful of Republican Senators are holding up extension of unemployment benefits. We all know that this bill will command more than 60 votes, just like last time, once a vote is allowed. Last time the Senate went into recess, Lautenberg and Menendez made statements of outrage, and after the recess Bunning dropped his hold.

I really hope that this time the Democrats don’t allow the Senate to go into recess. Don’t tell me it’s outrageous when you reward your opponents with a vacation. Show how seriously you take this, and keep the Senate working as long as they hold up the bill!

Update (late Thursday night): The bill is still being held up.  McJoan of Dailykos says “they’ve voted to adjourn for the night, 49-39, though not for recess. The adjournment resolution allows them stay in session through Wednesday if needed.” There are reports that Reid and McConnell reached a deal to extend benefits for a week, but the House rejected it.

Second Update (Friday morning): Of course, no deal was reached and the Senate will adjourn anyway. Pathetic. The link has a good discussion of the procedures to overcome the hold.

The roll call vote to adjourn is here and I’m pleased Menendez voted no.

Filibuster all night tonight?

Update 7:30PM: The WaPo says a deal has been reached and a vote will be held tonight.

Senator Frank Lautenberg sees that Senator Jim Bunning is not acting alone, but has the support of some other Senate Republicans, and he’s not afraid to call it a filibuster:

“Construction sites are job sites,” stated Lautenberg.  “The irresponsible action taken by Senate Republicans is causing critical transportation projects across the country to be shut down.  Workers are being sent home without pay and communities are being saddled with inactive projects.  With unemployment running high across the country, it is unfathomable that Senate Republicans have targeted American families to pay the price for the political games they are playing in Washington.  It is time for Senate Republicans to put people ahead of politics, end this damaging filibuster and let workers get back to work.”    

According to Roll Call, we may see a real filibuster tonight (via Daily Kos):

Although no final decisions have been made, Democrats confirmed it is increasingly likely that Democrats will force Bunning into an actual filibuster of unemployment insurance extension Tuesday night by repeatedly offering up unanimous consent agreements to bring the bill to a vote.

Although Members often threaten actual filibusters, they rarely materialize. Instead, lawmakers tend to rely on “Cadillac filibusters,” essentially stalling procedures that can be used to block legislation without having to actually stay put on the Senate floor.

Democrats on Tuesday signaled they have the resolve to remain in session throughout the night to force Bunning to abandon his cause. The American people “want an end to these games. And I hope that today we’ll see the end. If we don’t, we’re going to have to have a long, long night ahead of us to make the point that it’s wrong for one Senator to stop our people, our American people, from getting the help they deserve,” Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Tuesday.

Let’s hope Democrats are successful.  

Update (6:19pm): TPM says Senate Dems “seem to be officially denying it for now.”

Menendez condemns obstruction of judges, but what will be done?

Senator Menendez gave a great speech on the nomination of Judge Greenaway, who is being held up by Senate Republicans despite the bipartisan support for him. Indeed, no one will speak publically against him, the “hold” is done in secret.

Mr. President, I rise in support of the nomination to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit of a distinguished jurist from New Jersey, Judge Joseph A. Greenaway, Jr., which seems to be blocked by some people in this Chamber yet unknown. I know it is not from my side of the aisle because I have checked. So it is on the Republican side of the aisle.

The heart of the speech is:

Our friends on the other side came to the floor in the last administration, the administration of President Bush, on countless occasions to argue for an up-or-down vote. I heard that many times: “Give us an up-or-down vote,” demanding that a simple majority of the President’s nominees is all that is needed–a simple majority of this Chamber. That is a position diametrically opposed to their position today. In fact, they went so far at that time to proclaim that filibusters of the President’s nominations were unconstitutional, and they threatened what became known then as the nuclear option–to undo the right of Senators to filibuster a nominee. Well, which is it? What do my friends on the other side believe is right or is the question: What do they believe will work? Where is the call for an up-or-down vote now from our Republican colleagues? Where is the argument on the unconstitutionality of filibusters now? You can’t have it both ways.

We can agree to disagree on some nominees on principle, and we have over the years. But the numbers this year belie any notion that the obstruction of Judge Greenaway and all the pending nominees is purely a matter of principle. In this past year, our Republican colleagues have obstructed virtually all the President’s nominees, confirming only 12 Federal circuit and district court nominees, the lowest number in a half century. Let me repeat that: the lowest number in a half century. Contrast that to the 100 judicial nominees confirmed in the 17 months Chairman Leahy chaired the Judiciary Committee during the Bush administration.

The important question, really, is what will Senator Menendez and his colleagues do about it? Greenaway does not even face a real filibuster, he faces “holds” that mean Republicans can threaten to waste huge amounts of the Senate’s time on a routine nomination. It’s clear that the Senate’s rules no longer function and unconstitutional super-majorities are being required for nearly everything and everyone. Vice President Biden with a mere majority of Senators could change this situation once and for all, and while charges of hypocrisy will fly, in the long run both parties will be better off. If a judge or a bill are bad, just get a majority to vote no. Menendez should use the “nuclear option” and end the filibuster. Or at least work weekends and evenings if Republicans insist on unnecessarily adding days of debate.  

Garrett wants to leave Congress

Last week, the Republicans became so desperate to prevent Congress from addressing the mortgage crisis or funding the war (really!), that they resorted to repeatedly calling for votes to adjourn.  And what hard-core right-wingers went along with the call to quit without finishing their job?  

  • Mike Ferguson, who’s quitting Congress this year.

  • Jim Saxton, who’s quitting Congress this year.

  • Scott Garrett, who’s seeking to return next year.

    Here are Garrett’s votes to disrupt Congress, all on the single day of May 7th: House Vote 291, 286, 280, 279, 276, 273, 271, and 267.  

    If Garrett is so eager to leave, we should help oblige him.  No other New Jersey Republican who wants to keep his job has the nerve to act this way.