Posts Tagged ‘Senate’

Why were Democrats AWOL on minimum wage?

January 26, 2015

President Obama in his 2013 State of the Union message proposed tying the minimum wage to the rate of inflation.

A blogger named Jamison Foser pointed out that the Democrats, who had a majority in the Senate, did not introduce any legislation in 2014 to accomplish that.

minimum_wage_onpagePresident Obama in his 2014 State of the Union message proposed an increase in the minimum wage.

Foser pointed out that the Democrats, who still had a majority in the Senate, introduced a bill in April to raise the minimum wage and, when it failed, they did not try again.

The Republicans who controlled the House of Representatives meanwhile passed bill after bill to repeal Obamacare.

Pundits ridiculed them for this, but in the 2014 elections, the Obamacare mess was a much bigger issue for voters than minimum wage.  Some states that passed referendums to increase the minimum wage still voted Republican.

This is a failure of the whole Washington leadership of the Democratic Party.

What good are politicians who won’t fight for the public good even when it’s popular?


After the State of the Union by Jamison Foser.  Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist.

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.


No use “griping and groaning”

October 4, 2010

President Obama is right.  It’s no use “griping and groaning” about the state of politics.  The only way to make things better is to support candidates who are working for the things I believe in. No matter how discouraging the political situation, there always are some candidates worth supporting.

Senator Russ Feingold

I admire the steadfastness of my congressional representative, Louise Slaughter, but her reelection is virtually certain.  Instead I have sent a contribution to Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.  He was the only U.S. Senator to vote against the USA Patriot Act in 2001 and one of 28 to vote against authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq.  He joined with Senator John McCain to successfully introduce the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act.  He opposed the bank bailout and favored a single-payer national health insurance plan (although in the end he voted for the Affordable Care Act).  He opposed the new financial regulation law as inadequate.

He is in his third term in the U.S. Senate, but is in danger of losing his seat to Ron Johnson, a conservative businessman new to politics, who is outspending Feingold three to one in the campaign. Click on Russ Feingold campaign if you’re interested in helping him.


Abusive conservatives and battered liberals

October 1, 2010

It is bad enough when 41 Senators block action supported by the other 59, but there is something worse – a single Senator blocking action supported by the other 99.

Senate procedures allow for up to 30 hours of debate on bill or appointment that comes before it, even with cloture.  Currently the Senate has before it more than 100 appointments and more than 350 bills passed by the House, most of them noncontroversial.  There aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week to debate all of these.  So routine, noncontroversial business requires “unanimous consent” to waive the rules.

In the past, Senators have sometimes refused unanimous consent – put a “hold” on a bill – when they have some objection to it.  But in the current Senate, the “hold” and other procedural technicalities are being used not because of specific objections, but for the purposes of obstruction and blackmail.

What surprises me is not so much that these abuses take place as that there is no outcry against them by the Democratic leadership.  The whole thing reminds me of the relationship of an abusive husband and a battered wife.  It takes two to maintain such a relationship, an abuser and an enabler who tolerates the abuse.  The battered wife keeps deluding herself that if she just finds the right approach, the abuse will stop.  But in fact it won’t until she finds a way to walk away from the relationship.

I have great sympathy for actual battered wives who are trapped in abusive relationships and see no way out, I agree there is a need for battered women’s shelters and other services, and I certainly do not blame the victim in such circumstances.   I do, however, blame the battered liberal Democrats who accept the abusive relationship.


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]