The Terrible Cost of Not Fixing the Filibuster Sooner

Senate Democrats were all about getting things done, and that kept them from getting anything done. They didn’t take on the filibuster head-on, so now obstruction is the expected norm. There have been more than 380 filibusters and the public (and apparently the media) doesn’t know there has been even one. It is time to MAKE THEM TALK if they want to filibuster a bill.

380 Filibusters – The Public Doesn’t Know

Under Lyndon Johnson there was one filibuster, and the public knew about it because a Senator had to talk all night. In the last few years there have just a few been more than one and the public doesn’t know about it at all. How many filibusters have there been? Harry Reid writes in Politico: “Since Democrats took control of the Senate in 2006, Republicans have mounted 380 filibusters.”

If you talk to the public you will find people do not know about this. Most people do not believe there has been even a single filibuster because they haven’t seen it happen. To the public a filibuster is a dramatic event, a big deal, involving Senators talking all night until they fall down from exhaustion.

Here’s the thing. The public hates obstruction, and would apply the right amount of pressure if they knew about it. That is how democracy is supposed to work. But the public does not know that obstruction is occurring. The silent filibuster tactic has been successful because people don’t see it. And that means that democracy isn’t working the way it should.

The Senate Made A Mistake

In the 1970s the Senate changed rules that required a filibuster to be a spectacle and a talkathon. Instead they wanted to be able to move on and get things done so the “silent filibuster” was enabled. Nobodye could have predicted that a corporate/conservative minority would later use the new “silent filibuster” tactic more than 380 times to keep anything from getting done. The filibuster is now so abused that the media tells the public that Senate rules require 60 votes to pass any bill.

Senate Democrats have been irresponsible in allowing this to continue, because democracy wants the public to be alerted to obstruction. In their wish to get things done and get along with the other side they have been accomplices in the obstruction strategy. They have resisted making a big deal out of each and every obstruction, resisted using theater tactics like “bringing out the cots,” resisted “making waves” by changing the rules, and tried to just keep the Senate moving along and getting along. But the result of accommodating the conservatives is they have enabled a take-no-prisoners minority to just block everything. Since the public is largely unaware of this minority obstruction they are not applying the pressure that a functioning democracy requires.

Basics:

  • People believe a filibuster is senators talking all night.
  • People have not seen any senators talking all night.
  • People do not believe there have been any filibusters.
  • But there have been more than 380 filibusters.
  • Democracy suffers because the public does not understand that these filibusters are occurring.
  • We, the People are not getting from our government what we want and need.
  • Conclusion: Make. Them. Talk.

A Simple Fix – Make Them Talk

Make. Them. Talk.

There is a simple fix that will stop obstruction — except when obstruction is appropriate. This simple fix is to change the rules back to what people think the rules already are: make them actually filibuster in the way the public understands. They should make them talk all night if they want to obstruct a bill.

Here is why making them talk all night is the best solution. While getting rid of the ability to silently and secretly obstruct action it retains the ability of the minority to make their point, and does it in a way that brings that point to the attention of the public. By killing the “silent filibuster” and making Senators engage in the public theater of a dramatic event, where they stand in the Senate chamber and talk and talk, Democrats can actually restore a functioning democracy and engage the public in our democracy.

But when something is happening that is truly egregious and the minority wants to bring the public’s attention to this, they can alert the press and their supporters and get started in a dramatic talk-all-night theater event. They can launch an actual filibuster, just like the movie. It will be big news. The news channels will all make a big deal of this, and people can contact each other and organize a response.

Making them talk gives the public time to get involved. In fact it invites the public to get involved. Or not. It gives the public the choice, which is why we have those first three words in our Constitution.

The Cost Of Filibuster Abuse

The core principle of our government is that We, the People make the decisions. We are supposed to have self-government by majority rule. But in the last few years this has been turned on its head by this silent filibuster obstruction. Nothing gets done, and the public doesn’t understand why not. The cost to We, the People has been staggering.

How many things that the people and our economy want and need have been blocked in the last few years? Well, aside from literally everything, I mean. This abuse of the rules even keep us from learning who or even what country (Disclose Act) is paying for the abuse of the rule.

Just a few examples: Here are just a few examples — just a few out of 380+ filibusters — from Dylan Matthews in the Washington Post, in 17 bills that likely would have passed the Senate if it didn’t have the filibuster,

  • DREAM Act
  • DISCLOSE Act
  • Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)
  • Public option
  • Paycheck Fairness Act
  • Permanent middle-class Bush tax cut extension
  • Rescinding of the upper-income Bush tax cuts
  • Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act
  • Emergency Senior Citizens Relief Act
  • Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act
  • American Jobs Act
  • The Buffett rule
  • Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act of 2011
  • Repeal Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act
  • “Shared Sacrifice”
  • Withholding Tax Relief Act of 2011
  • Burmese import restrictions
  • Appointments – [click through to see the whole list]
  • Again, those are just a few of the things that We, the People want and need, that were blocked by Republican filibusters. JOBS. The public option. Stopping tax breaks for outsourcing. Ending the huge tax breaks for the oil companies and the billionaires.

    A big one: Labor: This week’s anti-union vote in Michigan shows us that one cost to We, the People was that reforming labor law was blocked. Blocked by filibuster in 2007, Senate Democrats dropped this in 2009 because it could not get past a nother filibuster — just one of 380.

    June, 2007, GOP Senators Filibuster Employee Free Choice Act,

    A majority of Senators voted in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) today, but the vote was nine votes short of the 60-vote requirement to break a filibuster of the bill by a handful of obstructionist Senators.

    Then in 2009, (again from 17 bills that likely would have passed the Senate if it didn’t have the filibuster above), Democrats were trying to get the Employee Free Choice Act passed,

    But at the time, well over Democratic Senators had indicated their support of the bill, which also got 51 votes and passed the House in 2007, when Democrats had fewer seats, meaning it was especially likely to pass in 2009.

    And of course, never forget climate change. Action has been obstructed and obstructed and obstructed…
    So many solutions to our country’s problems have been obstructed by corporate&billionaire-funded minority filibusters!

    Things You Can Do

    Fist, be aware that the filibuster does exist and has been used 380 times, even though you haven’t seen anyone talking all night.

    Call the offices of both of your state’s senators and tell them you want them to fix the filibuster and make them talk all night if they want to block a bill. You can use this number: 1-877-782-8274.

    Visit Fix the Senate Now and sign up for updates.

    There is a Fix the Senate Now Facebook page. “In the US Senate, back room deals and filibuster rules allow a handful of senators to stop the rest from making any progress. Let’s fix the Senate, now.”

    Follow @FixTheSenate on Twitter.

    Start your own Fix the Senate online petition; Use an online petition tool like SignOn.org to start your own petition to ask your Senators to reform the Senate rules. You can get ideas for language to use at http://fixthesenatenow.org/page/s/signthepetition/.

    New Mexico Senator Tom Udall has a special Senate Rules: Common Sense Reform website with a lot of resources and recent press coverage, as well as all of Senator Udall’s past statements on rules reform.

    Because it is time to Make. Them. Talk.


    This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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    Michigan Races To Bottom With Anti-Union Law

    Pay attention to what is happening in Michigan, because it will add downward even more pressure to your wages and benefits, wherever you live and work. Republicans in the Michigan legislature have rammed through anti-union “right-to-work” laws making union dues voluntary even as unions a required by law to provide services to members and non-members. They say this will make Michigan more “business-friendly” by driving down wages and benefits, thereby stealing jobs from states where working people have rights. The actual intent is to get rid of the unions altogether, and their ability to fight for the 99% in the ongoing class war with the 1%.
    Continue reading

    Guest-Hosting Fairness Radio Today

    I am sitting in for Patrick O’Heffernan’s Fairness Radio show today at 2pm EST / 11am Pacific time.
    You can tune in online at www.cyberstationusa.com or on www.blogtalkradio.com – just click on “Listen Live” (or on your local station in our coverage area.) Call in at 424-675-6806 or email questions live to fairnessradio@gmail to be read on the air.
    The specific Blog Talk Radio link for today is:

    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/the-fairness-doctrine/2012/11/01/fairness-radio

    Jobs First Because Jobs Fix Deficits

    What happened to jobs? The pubic wants government to do something about jobs and getting the economy moving, and in DC the only thing is this weird argument about … anything but jobs and getting the economy moving! “Fiscal cliff?” What about jobs? Fixing the economy will fix the debt, not the other way around.

    Economic Storm Clouds

    The economy is slowing, with signs of trouble on the horizon. Recent economic indicators are not so good. Trade deficits are huge, a bad manufacturing number this week, Europe still stagnant and slipping (because of austerity), China slowing. NY Times says, “Recent economic data “surprisingly weak,” and “recovery sputtering.” From Republicans Balk at Short-Term Stimulus in Obama Plan,

    “As the debate rages in Washington, data has shown the recovery once again sputtering, with the underlying rate of growth too slow to bring down the unemployment rate by much and some of the economic momentum gained in the fall dissipating in the winter.”

    It’s Demand Stupid

    This slowing is not happening because people are “worried about the fiscal cliff.” It is because there are not enough jobs, and the wages of the people who do have jobs are stagnant with all the gains in the economy going to a very few at the very top of the economic ladder. Europe is slowing because they attacked deficits instead of hiring people to do jobs. We are slowing because the government stopped stimulus and started cutting.

    The slowdown is because the jobs are not coming back fast enough, wages are stagnant and falling, and the government is not doing anything about it. And that means that there is not enough “demand” in the economy to cause investment and hiring.

    Businesses want customers, not tax cuts — and certainly not cutbacks. In fact most of what DC is focused on — austerity — will make the situation worse, possibly even much worse, as it has done in Europe.

    Small Stimulus In President’s Proposal

    To his credit the President’s “fiscal cliff” proposal does contain a limited stimulus to help keep the economy moving, at least at its current slow pace. But we really need a massive investment in jobs. The President’s offer of $50 billion in stimulus for one year is insufficient, but at least it is something. The Republicans offer less than nothing, they want government efforts cut.

    Jobs Fix Problems: The DC elite, major media and lobbying apparatus is focused like a laser beam on how much to cut, so the wealthy can have even more. But the public isn’t stupid, they get that there is a disconnect because they know that jobs fix problems, jobs fix deficits and lots of jobs fixes wage stagnation. Strong employment = wage growth. Strong wages = strong economic growth.

    The People Spoke — The Election Was Supposed To Have Decided This

    The election made it obvious, the public wants jobs, wants government services like Medicare and Social Security protected and even expanded, and more than anything wants taxes raised on the ultra-wealthy.

    The election made the public’s wishes clear. But Washington continues to simply ignore what the public wants, and is focused like a laser beam on what a few billionaires want.

    It was like there was an intense focus on the election, the public spoke, and then the very next day all attention shifted back away from what the public wanted and onto this austerity agenda that helps the billionaires at the expense of the rest of us.

    A Government Of, By and For We, the People

    I recently watched the PBS series The Dust Bowl. One thing that stood out was how the government actually cared about what was going on with the people, was trying to solve the problems, and how the people got it that the government was on their side.

    Today it is a very different story, with the government isolated and largely under the control of wealthy and powerful interests. The current “fiscal cliff” absorption being only the most recent example.

    The public doesn’t get what is going on in DC. They want JOBS first, they want the meager government services they do get preserved and even expanded. And they want a fix to the problem of the last few decades of wage stagnation, corporate domination, outsourcing manufacturing, deferring infrastructure maintenance, unionbusting, age discrimination, and cancelling TV shows everyone likes. (Just seeing if you are still reading.)

    Economy Has Lots Of Jobs That Need Doing

    Jobs solve problems. Right now the country has lots of problems, so the country needs lots of jobs, which solve problems. And by great coincidence right now the country needs lots of things done. The country needs to repair and modernize its infrastructure. The country needs to update its electrical grid. The country needs to make its buildings and homes more energy efficient. All of these are things that improve the economy in the long run. And the remarkable thing is that all of these are things that will have to get done sooner or later.

    So the country could just hire people to do those jobs that need doing — like FDR did. How hard is it to understand that?

    1) Hire people to modernize the infrastructure and make buildings and homes energy efficient.

    2) All those people are participating in the economy again: paying taxes, buying things, not getting food stamps and unemployment.

    3) The economy is much more efficient because of the work that got done on the infrastructure and energy efficiency.

    4) The newly efficient economy is more than able to pay off the cost of all the work that was done — that had to be done eventually.

    Republicans Obstructing Everything

    The current Republican view is that government itself hurts the economy, is “in the way,” and that taxes and government spending “take money out of the economy.” So they continue to block all efforts to revive the economy through jobs programs, investment in infrastructure, even helping the unemployed.

    They say that providing unemployment benefits keeps people from being forced to take the lowest-paying, nastiest, most demeaning job that comes along. But progressives believe in democracy and say that’s the point of helping each other — that we are a country where we are in this together to build mutual prosperity — unemployment benefits prevent a death spiral of continually falling demand.

    Republicans talk about “pro-growth” policies, always meaning tax cuts for the rich. They say that only rich people “create jobs” so giving more and more money to these “job creators” will eventually trickle down to the rest of us. But all actual evidence shows that this policy does nothing to promote growth, only inequality. In fact the times of highest taxes on the wealthy have been the times of more jobs and more economic growth shared by more of us.

    Business Gets It

    I recently came across this Comstock Partners, Market Commentary: The Deficit Did Not Cause The Recession; The Recession Caused The Deficit,

    Both Wall Street and Washington have lost sight of the major cause of the deep recession and exceedingly slow economic recovery. To hear all the talk, the major concern is about the impending fiscal cliff and the federal budget deficit. Fix the fiscal cliff and make major reductions in the deficit, they say, and all will be ok. We think they’ve got it wrong.

    Go read why…


    This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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    Call Your Member Of Congress And Say “Discharge Petition”

    House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi wants members of Congress to sign what is known as a “discharge petition” to force a vote on keeping taxes at current levels for people making under $250,000. Call your member of Congress to let them know you support this. The more noise and publicity this gets, the more it puts pressure on hostage-takers to stop taking hostages.
    Here is what is going on. At the end of the month the “Bush tax cuts” expire. While most of the cuts go to people at the high end of the income ladder, there are some cuts for people making less than $250K that will also expire. The President and Democrats as asking Republicans to go ahead and approve this, since they say they agree. But Republicans are trying to keep the Bush tax cuts for their wealthy backers and and willing to prevent extending these tax cuts for middle in order to do it. In other words, they are holding the middle class hostage. A “discharge petition” can force this bill to come up for a public vote.
    The Hill sums it up succinctly, in House Dems try to force vote on extending middle-class tax rates,

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday announced Democrats would circulate a discharge petition to force a House vote to extend current tax rates only on annual household income below $250,000.

    The Senate has already approved the extension, but Republicans are objecting because they want all of the Bush-era rates to be extended, including on income above $250,000.

    Sabrina Siddiqui at the Huffington Post reports, Nancy Pelosi Threatens Discharge Petition To Break Fiscal Cliff Stalemate,

    Pelosi called on House Republican leadership to bring that legislation to the floor next week and threatened that if they do not schedule a vote on the Senate bill, Democrats will file what’s known as a discharge petition on Tuesday to force a vote on the measure in her chamber. If Democrats successfully obtain 218 signatures on the discharge petition, it would automatically force the middle income tax cut bill to the floor for a vote.

    “We believe that not [bringing the Senate bill to the floor] would be holding middle income tax cuts hostage to tax cuts for the rich,” Pelosi said. “Tax cuts for the rich which do not create jobs, just increase the deficit, heaping mountains of debt onto future generations.”


    This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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    m4s0n501

    How the Territorial Tax Cut Destroys Jobs

    There is a little-discussed proposal that was introduced into the “fiscal cliff” discussions by the CEOs of the “Fix the Debt” campaign. This is for a “Territorial Tax System” idea that lets multinational companies off the hook for taxes on offshore profits. This plan is particularly dangerous to American wages and jobs — YOUR wages and job — as well as any American companies that don’t export their profit centers. This threat is not limited to the blue-collar jobs that have been disappearing, it also threatens the professionals, “knowledge workers,” designers, innovators and others who contribute to corporate profits here in the US.
    The Territorial Tax proposal asks for no taxes on foreign profits of American corporations. This system would encourage and practically force companies to move profit generation (innovation, intellectual property, etc.) out of the US. This gives corporations an incentive to move everything that makes them money out of the country — every profit center, every job, every factory, every designer, inventor, etc.
    This plan only benefits the giant multinational corporations — and helps them kill off even more American jobs and smaller businesses. And without those wages and taxes our infrastructure, schools, police and fire protections, and everything else here will decline even more.
    If executives brought these American-company profits back to America now, disbursed it to shareholders or reinvested it in their companies — and paid the taxes due — this would be at least a $1.2 trillion boost to our economy. The taxes owed to We, the People wold help pay for our schools, etc., or help pay down our debt. But instead of just doing the right thing, this Territorial Tax Dodge System will add another layer of corporate game-playing, encouraging them to report even more of their profits as being made out of the US. It also lets the ones who have dodged taxes by holding cash offshore — and away from their own shareholders — get away with it. See this Citizens for Tax Justice report on companies that have been holding cash offshore — away from our ability to tax them as well as from their own shareholders, Which Fortune 500 Companies Are Sheltering Income in Overseas Tax Havens?

    A new CTJ analysis of the financial reports of the Fortune 500 companies shows that 285 of these corporations had accumulated more than $1.5 trillion in overseas profits by the end of 2011, and there is evidence that a significant portion of these profits are located in tax havens.

    In particular, our analysis shows that ten corporations, representing over a sixth of the $1.5 trillion in unrepatriated profits, reveal sufficient information to show that they have paid little or no tax on their offshore profit hoards to any government. That implies that these profits have been artificially shifted out of the United States and other countries where the companies actually do business, and into foreign tax havens.

    A March Bloomberg report, Cash Hoard Grows by $187 Billion in Untaxed Overseas Profits also looked into specific companies that hide profits offshore (and away from shareholders) to avoid their corporate taxes.
    The Institute for Policy Studies warns about the Territorial Tax in a report, The CEO Campaign to ‘Fix’ the Debt, A Trojan Horse for Massive Corporate Tax Breaks,

    The 63 Fix the Debt companies that are publicly held stand to gain as much as $134 billion in windfalls if Congress approves one of their main proposals — a “territorial tax system.” Under this system, companies would not have to pay U.S. federal income taxes on foreign earnings when they bring the profits back to the United States.

    The full report continues,

    A territorial system would give companies additional incentives to disguise U.S. profits as income earned in tax havens in order to avoid paying U.S. income taxes.

    [. . .] S&P 500 companies as a whole have nearly $1.5 trillion parked offshore, according to Citizens for Tax Justice. While some of these profits are offshore because a U.S. multinational corporation produced a product offshore and sold it to a foreign consumer, a significant share is there for the purpose of avoiding taxes.

    Here’s how it works. The U.S. corporate tax code requires U.S.-headquartered corporations to pay a tax rate of 35 percent on their profits regardless of where in the world those profits are earned. But there are two important exceptions. First, U.S. corporations are granted credits for any taxes paid to foreign governments. Second, any profits deemed permanently reinvested offshore are exempted from U.S. taxes until and unless they are returned to the United States.

    The report details ways that corporations shift profits out of the country.
    David Cay Johnston talked about this idea on the Ed Show in May,

    Well, what it would encourage companies to do is to take all their intellectual property that they haven`t moved and anything else they can out of country, so that they earn a dollar here in the U.S. and they show it to their shareholders, and then they may magically send it to the Cayman Islands and it disappears to the IRS.

    So even if they are making things here in the U.S., they`ll be able to move profits out of the country by having their intellectual property out of the country. Secondly, if they find a place that has similar rules, then you move the jobs offshore and you can still earn tax free profits.

    2004 – Been There, Done That, CUT Jobs

    In 2004 corporate lobbyists got the American Jobs Creation Act passed, letting multinationals bring their foreign cash back at a special low rate. We allowed corporations to bring profits back to the U.S. at a tax rate of 5.25 percent, instead of the top corporate rate of 35 percent.
    After bringing the profits back from the tax havens where they had been parked, the companies involved actually cut jobs. Alain Sherter, in Sure, a “Tax Holiday” on Overseas Profits Is a Great Idea — If You Hate America, looked into what happened and wrote,

    The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found that the companies that got the biggest tax breaks following the 2004 rate cut went on to eliminate jobs over the next two years. Instead of hiring, they mostly used the repatriated funds to repurchase stock or pay dividends — and to expand outside the U.S.
    But it did provide a huge incentive to do even more offshoring of profits and jobs, because this scheme worked and the money came back in a tax holiday. So of course they are proposing to do it all over again.

    Sherter points out this really does benefit a very few at the expense of the rest of us, including other companies,

    Repatriation holidays also favor a handful of huge corporations at the expense of other companies, especially businesses without operations around the globe. In 2004, a total of five companies reaped more than one-quarter of the benefits from the tax holiday, while 15 firms got more than 50 percent. To pay for such a cut without raising the deficit, meanwhile, the U.S. would have to increase taxes on other U.S. businesses or make even deeper cuts in already tight federal spending.

    Be aware of this Territorial Tax proposal. It is offered by the Fix the Debt CEOs, and it is entirely about reaping even more billions for the billionaires, at the expense of all of the rest of us and the country.

    This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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    iPhone Personal Hotspot Troubles

    The AT&T iPhone “personal hotspot” just doesn’t work with our iPhones.
    The other day I wrote about my new Nexus 7 pad. It’s wonderful.
    For travel with the pad I need wireless. So I switched my iPhone’s AT&T plan over to the one that lets you use it as a “personal hotspot.” This makes the phone into a device that receives cellular data and acts as a wireless router to which you can connect your computer and other devices.
    It worked for about a day. Then it stopped working. I went to the Apple Store, they couldn’t figure it out and gave me a new phone — which also wouldn’t work. At the store we called AT&T to get things started on their end. So the next day I spend about 4 hours on the phone trying everything, and they gave up and “escalated” it.
    (My wife’s iPhone 4s worked, mine is an iPhone 5 — she hasn’t updated the OS to the one with the terrible maps.)
    About a week later AT&T said they had it fixed. And it appeared to work — for a while. Now it only works once in a while, maybe 20% of the time. And the thing is, now hers only works about 20% of the time as well.
    SOMEtimes I can trigger the hotspot to work by plugging my iPhone into my computer with the cable, which makes it work over USB and for some reason some of the time that turns on the wireless hotspot so the Nexus 7 sees it… But only sometimes.