Posts Tagged ‘Harry Reid’

TPP ‘fast track’ is dead, for now

January 30, 2014

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday that he is opposed to “fast track” rules for enacting the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.   This is good news.  It means that the TPP and its companion proposal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (aka Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement) anytime soon.

hulk-tppThe problem with “fast track” is that it would require the Senate and House to debate these two complex agreements under tight deadlines and then vote them up or down without amendments.  Since the provisions of the two agreements won’t be known until they are introduced, there wouldn’t have been time to intelligently evaluate the agreements.

Leaked information indicates that both agreements would enact corporate wish lists into international law that couldn’t be changed by individual governments.  The worst are the “investor protection” provisions that allow corporations to ask unelected international tribunals to overturn national laws and regulations or order compensation for unjust loss of “expected profits.”

Blocking the TPP and the TTIP are a good first step.  The next will be to roll back or amend the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the World Trade Treaty and all other so-called trade agreements with “investor protection” provisions.

Filibusters and our undemocratic Senate

November 26, 2013

      The one provision of the U.S. Constitution that cannot be amended is equal representation for the states in the Senate (see Article V).

This guarantee was the price of having all 13 original states agree to a Constitution in the first place.  So we’re stuck with the theoretical possibility that Senators representing 51 states with 18 percent of the population could cast a majority vote.

This doesn’t matter much with enactment of laws.  For a bill to become a law, it must also be approved by the House of Representatives, which is chosen on a population basis, then signed into law by the President or passed over his veto by a super-majority.   But to appoint judges, ambassadors and other federal officers, the President only needs the advice and consent of the Senate.

Most democratic nations have parliamentary forms of government, in which the parliamentary majority chooses the Prime Minister and routinely approves the PM’s proposed laws and appointments.  If the executive and the legislature disagree on any important measure, the people get to vote on who is right.

These systems work well most of the time.  When they don’t work, it isn’t because of the tyranny of a majority, but because there are multiple parties than can’t work together.  I don’t think the people of any democratic country would want to create the equivalent of the U.S. Senate.

We Americans don’t have a choice because the principle of state sovereignty is baked into our Constitution.   I think there is a case to be made for our exceptional system of checks and balances, but I don’t think we need to carry it beyond what our Constitution requires.

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Harry Reid’s source and Mitt Romney’s taxes

August 8, 2012

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said somebody told him that Mitt Romney paid no income taxes over a 10-year period, and said there’s no way to know whether this is so unless Romney releases his income tax records.  Romney said he paid a great deal in taxes, but refuses to release the records.

There is a way to resolve this.  Let the two of them agree on an impartial arbiter.  Since both of them are Mormons, maybe it could besomeone in the Latter Day Saints hierarchy.  Reid could bring an envelope with the name of his informant.  Romney could bring thick manila folders giving his income tax returns.  The impartial arbiter could report on (1) whether Reid had an informant, without revealing the name, and (2) how much, if anything, Romney paid in income taxes, without revealing details about Romney’s business dealings.

Somebody figured out how it is theoretically possible for Romney to have paid little or no income taxes over a 10-year period.  Click on Missing the Key Issue? to read how it could be done.

Click on Mitt Romney’s Offshore Accounts, Tax Loopholes and Mysterious IRA for more about Mitt Romney and his secrets.

Click on The global financial elite’s invisible empire for a report on how the economic elite hide a big chunk of the world’s wealth in secret tax havens.

Nuke the filibuster!

September 3, 2010

A majority of U.S. Senators wanted to include a public health care option in the Affordable Care Act.  Yet they couldn’t get it in.  A majority of U.S. Senators favored the Employee Free Choice Act which helps protect workers who want to organize labor unions from employer pressure and retaliation. Yet they couldn’t get it through.

Under Senate rules, it takes 60 votes, not 51, to allow a bill to be brought to a vote. Without the 60 votes, individual Senators have unlimited time to talk – “filibuster” –  and delay action.

Reform of the Senate is litmus-test issue.  It is an issue that overrides all other issues. Without Senate reform, no other meaningful change can take place.

While the use of the filibuster was once an emergency tactic used in unusual circumstances, it has now become routine means by which the minority party prevents the majority party from enacting its program.

It’s not just the filibuster.  The routine business of the Senate requires not just 60 votes, but unanimous consent, in order to proceed.  By threatening to withhold consent, an individual Senator can have any appointment put on “hold.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama accept this as normal.  They say that if the mean old Republican minority uses filibuster threats and “holds” to block their program, there’s nothing they can do about it except complain.

The problem is that the same rule which requires 60 votes to break a filibuster requires 67 votes to change the rule. Yet there is a solution.  It is what the Republicans first called the “nuclear option,” then the “constitutional option” when they were in the majority and the Democrats threatened to filibuster the Supreme Court appointments. Proponents of the “constitutional option” quote Section 1, Article 5, of the Constitution, which says “each House may determine the rules of its proceedings” and say that the Vice President, who presides over the Senate, may at the beginning of the new term propose a new rule to be voted up or down by the majority.

The Constitution specifies a two-thirds vote by the Senate only to ratify treaties, propose constitutional amendments, override presidential vetoes, expel members or impeach federal officials.  If the majority gives up its right on any other issue, it is because it chooses to do so.

Why don’t the Democrats get behind the “constitutional option”?  Why don’t they make an issue of the filibuster?  Why do they allow the minority to stymie their key programs?  One reason may be that they want the filibuster as a weapon in reserve when they are back in the minority.  Another is that there would have to be a reform of Senate procedures going beyond just the filibuster.  Otherwise the angry minority could put all of the Senate business on “hold.”

The United States has more checks and balances in its system of government than any other important democracy.  Under parliamentary systems, a Prime Minister is chosen by the majority party or a majority coalition in the legislature, and can normally expect to see his or her bills enacted into law.  When the legislature rejects an important bill, there normally is an election to choose a new Prime Minister.

Under the U.S. system, a bill must be passed by the House of Representatives, which is elected on a population basis for two-year terms, and then by the Senate, which is elected on a state sovereignty basis for staggered six-year terms, and then signed into law by the President, who may be of a different party, and then possibly be vetted by the Supreme Court.  We don’t need anything additional that is not in the Constitution.

Click on Fix the Senate Now for a filibuster reform web site. [Added 12/23/10]

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