I have been bemused for many years by the peculiar mindset represented by DC centrism. I have written about it a number of times over the years, in my book The Progressive Revolution: How The Best In America Came To Be, and in many of my blog posts. DC Centrism embraces what the political establishment, especially including the big special interests who tend to control this town, thinks is right, even when the vast majority of Americans are opposed to it.
For example, cutting Social Security, something 80% of Americans oppose, is a classic example of DC centrism. Another example is focusing obsessively about the deficit while ignoring new measures to create jobs, which is the reverse of what voters want the government to focus on. Bailing out, and now subsidizing, the Too Big To Fail banks is yet another example. And these three examples really just scratch the surface- there are so many ways that DC Centrism is different from what the centrist position of real voters is.
I was thinking about all this again over the last week while I was out in my home state of Nebraska, where the Senate and Governor races are wide open. While traveling around the state talking politics with folks, I was also doing email conversations with friends about the South Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Minnesota, and Oregon Senate races. In all of these cases, the political situation goes against DC conventional wisdom, as candidates and potential candidates scramble the usual political labels and dynamics. Let’s look at the situation in all of these races.
This morning I sat in on a conference call with Merkley and Udall, who explained how they were planning to roll out a framework for other senators to examine soon. (Here's Dave Weigel's report.) Certainly the urgency to do so has only been heightened by events of the past few days, with Republicans using the filibuster to effectively forestall any action by the Senate in the lame-duck session beyond extending the Bush tax cuts -- including approval of the START treaty, DADT repeal and the DREAM Act.
Fundamentally, as these events have demonstrated, Republican abuse of the filibuster has rendered the Senate into a body in which only the supermajority rules. Considering that it was clearly never designed to be anything other than a majority-rule body by the Founding Fathers, it's a pretty classic case of hypocrisy for Tea Partying right-wingers who love to parade their love of the Founders whenever possible.
So I asked them about whether they intended to use the Founders' intent as a kind of marketing point for their plan. Here's what they said:
Udall: That point is very much talked about. And it was not that long ago that there were major pieces of legislation in which the public discussion always was, 'Can we get 51 votes to pass this?'
We had controversial Supreme Court justices -- for example, Clarence Thomas -- who was passed through without a supermajority. There was no cloture process or extended debate requested by those who opposed him.
It was considered a privilege to exercised -- that is, the privilege of delaying the Senate so that you could continue to make your points was considered a precious privilege to be exercised upon very rare occasion. That social contract has been eliminated. And members of the Senate are ready to make their objection to the regular order of 51 on everything, and often many times on a single bill, and that has done what you've just described, which is it has turned the Senate into a supermajority body. And for all those who say, do not disrupt the tradition of the Senate, the response is, the tradition of the Senate has never been for it to be a supermajority body.
Merkley: To give you one little factoid here: When Lyndon Baines Johnson was in the Senate, the time he was the Majority Leader from 1954 to 1961, in that entire six-year period, he only attempted to cut off debate, filing cloture, one time. The last two years, Harry Reid had to do that 84 times.
So we've taken something that was an extraordinary rare expression of opposition -- where you went down to the floor and you did everything you could to persuade the American people and your own constituents as to your point of view -- now we don't do that. Now the only filibuster -- the only filibuster I think I've really seen, a true filibuster in the Senate tradition, in the two years I've been here is what happened with Bernie Sanders in the last couple of days, where he took the floor for approximately eight hours or more to actually talk about the tax package.
Most of the time, we see this in a secret way, when you look at C-SPAN2 and you're looking at the Senate, you see a quorum call, the post-cloture debate time -- that time is not being utilized for debate, and that has rendered the Senate a broken institution.
Merkley also talked about the dysfunction that occurs after a cloture vote -- that is, a vote to end the debate and thus the filibuster -- fails to reach the 60-vote threshold:
WASHINGTON -- Leaders of the effort to reform the filibuster in the Senate are pushing forward despite the election outcome, working to gather support within the Democratic caucus while reaching out to Republicans. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said that he and a core group of members will canvass their colleagues throughout November and December.
"We'll start the informal discussion in our caucus. Are you for reform? What kind of reform?" Udall told HuffPost.
On the first day of the 112th Congress, Udall said, he will rise and make a motion to establish rules for the session, making the argument that the chamber is entitled by the Constitution to set its own rules. Vice President Joe Biden is then expected to rule -- as vice presidents have done in the past -- that the motion is in order. Senate Republicans will challenge the ruling and Democrats will move to table the objection. Only 50 votes will be needed to table the objection. If Democrats succeed, a debate would then begin over how to reform the rules.
Udall said he and newer Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) have been gradually winning support for their effort to reform the rules.
Abolishing the filibuster is far from the only reform under consideration. "You could clear out a lot of the underbrush," said Norm Ornstein, a constitutional scholar who advised Udall on the effort. Currently, after the majority files a cloture motion to break a filibuster, 30 hours of "debate" must happen before the vote. That vote is followed by another 30 hours until the final vote is held, which means a single effort can take a full week of floor time.
That time could be reduced or eliminated -- or split in two 15-hour sections divided among the parties, Ornstein said. Or separate rules could exist for executive branch nominees, alleviating the crisis of understaffing that has beset both administrations since at least 2007.
Cantwell appeared at a news conference at the Capitol with Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both of California, as well as Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Two other sponsors, Sen. Patty Murray, and Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, did not attend.
Feinstein recalled "thick black tar"despoiling the waters after the 1969 oil spill near Santa Barbara, which helped spawn the modern environmental movement.
Absent a permanent ban on drilling, "there is no guarantee whatsoever that this will not happen again," Feinstein said.
I remember the Santa Barbara oil spill too. I took the picture at the top of this post at Surfers' Point in Ventura, less than 20 miles south of Santa Barbara. The beaches in this area are home to endangered birds like these:
The thing is, that Santa Barbara spill took place 40 years ago and it's still not completely gone. If you take a walk on the beach by UCSB in your bare feet, you'll come home with blobs of tar on your feet. The brown pelican is finally making a comeback after fighting back from the Santa Barbara oil spill and then the impact of DDT on its eggs. At sunset, you can see pelicans skimming the shore, looking for that last school of fish before the sun goes down. They're magnificent.
Our coastlines are our first non-renewable resource, not oil.
Advocates for more domestic drilling say the proposed West Coast ban would lead to even more imported oil.
"This is more of the same that we've had for 30 years" under the federal ban, said Dan Kish, senior vice president of policy for the Institute for Energy Research, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group that believes tapping into America's petroleum potential is one answer to energy independence.
Kish said it was particularly galling that California wants to cordon off its coasts when it's the nation's largest energy user. He said polls show the majority of American favor offshore drilling.
Blocking new oil explorations, Kish said, may simply send more ocean tankers carrying foreign oil toward California and elsewhere.
Mr. Kish, we will have to figure it out. I'm just not willing to sacrifice this...
I already called Arlen Specter's and Bob Casey's offices to see if they're going to sign on. Call your senators now and let them know you want them to support this last-minute push for the public option. If you don't get them tonight, call again tomorrow morning:
Four senators have signed a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to pass a public option for insurance coverage through the use of reconciliation.
The list of signatories includes both usual and somewhat unusual suspects, from the progressive wing of the party -- Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) -- to less ideological lawmakers who find themselves in primary election contests -- Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Col.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
"Dear Leader Reid," the letter says:
We respectfully ask that you bring for a vote before the full Senate a public health insurance option under budget reconciliation rules.
There are four fundamental reasons why we support this approach - its potential for billions of dollars in cost savings; the growing need to increase competition and lower costs for the consumer; the history of using reconciliation for significant pieces of health care legislation; and the continued public support for a public option.
The petition is part of a larger effort by a coalition of progressive groups to rally Democratic lawmakers around the idea of passing a government run health insurance option through a parliamentary maneuver that would allow an up-or-down vote.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America and Credo -- a socially-conscious business -- have already secured the signatures of 119 House Democratic lawmakers for the late-stage public option push. The progressive advocacy group MoveOn.org also has emailed constituents asking them to push their representatives to co-sign the petition.
This is certainly good news. I don't know if it has a snowball's chance in hell of passing, but you never know:
Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) announced today that they will introduce the Retroactive Immunity Repeal Act, which eliminates retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that allegedly participated in President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program.
“I believe we best defend America when we also defend its founding principles,” said Dodd. “We make our nation safer when we eliminate the false choice between liberty and security. But by granting retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies who may have participated in warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, the Congress violated the protection of our citizen’s privacy and due process right and we must not allow that to stand.”
Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said, “Last year, I opposed legislation that stripped Americans of their right to seek accountability for the Bush administration’s decision to illegally wiretap American citizens without a warrant. Today, I am pleased to join Senator Dodd to introduce the Retroactive Immunity Repeal Act. We can strengthen national security while protecting Americans’ privacy and civil liberties. Restoring Americans’ access to the courts is the first step toward bringing some measure of accountability for the Bush-Cheney administration’s decision to conduct warrantless surveillance in violation of our laws.”
“Granting retroactive immunity to companies that went along with the illegal warrantless wiretapping program was unjustified and undermined the rule of law,” Feingold said. “Congress should not have short-circuited the courts’ constitutional role in assessing the legality of the program. This bill is about ensuring that the law is followed and providing accountability for the American people.”
I've been asking members of Congress if they would forego their August recess to make sure health care won't get left behind. Why shouldn't republicans and democrats work instead of taking a holiday? Since I asked President Obama if he should demand that Congress stay in DC to work on health care in August the media has picked it up too and now we're getting statements from Congress saying they would work instead of taking a holiday.
I asked Blue America's Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR) if he would give up the August recess to make sure legislation gets done. Here's his reply:
"I'm committed to passing health care reform and I'm extremely concerned that the window of opportunity is starting to close. Anything that can speed up Senate deliberation is valuable. And if keeping the Senate in session in August can move the bill forward, I'm absolutely committed to being here."
Sen. Merkley is committed to reforming health care and he now joins the list of members who have said they will work in August. Thanks so much Senator.
It was looking grim early last night for Jeff Merkley in his race to unseat Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, but that was mostly because the Multnomah and Lane counties hadn't been counted much yet.
Those counties started coming in this afternoon and evening, and the trend is so strong in his favor (at last check, Merkley had about a 10,000-vote lead, and growing) that the Oregonian has called it for him.
Congratulations, Senator Merkley. Thanks to you and your awesome staff for all your hard work. And Democrats have just inched a tad closer to a filibuster-proof majority.
"Senator Stevens' campaign for re-election is continuing to move full steam ahead. Our office has been flooded today with calls and emails from supporters urging the Senator to press on. The message from them is clear: Alaska needs Ted Stevens in the U.S. Senate."