Senate Democrats: Change Filibuster Rules, Make Them Talk

Republicans filibustered the extension of unemployment benefits on the Senate floor Tuesday. Why? Because they can get away with it. Look at how the press reported what happened.

If the public doesn’t know that filibusters are occurring, how can democracy hold Republicans accountable for doing it? Instead they hear from the corporate media that the bill is “stalled,” “the Senate failed” or “the Senate deadlocks” due to “finger-pointing” or “partisan squabbling.” What message does the public get from that? Probably that they shouldn’t bother to vote.

The New York Times: “Unemployment Extension Is Stalled, With 2 Proposals Defeated in the Senate“: “Unemployment benefits for 1.3 million of the long-term unemployed — and millions more in the future — were imperiled on Tuesday after Senate efforts to reach accord on legislation to revive them collapsed in partisan finger-pointing.”

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GOP Economic Sabotage Continues With Filibuster of Jobless Benefits

Republicans are engaged in yet more hostage-taking obstruction. (Whatever gave them the idea that hostage-taking can work?) They are engaged in a filibuster of the effort to extend unemployment insurance, using it as a hostage to try to get even more cuts to the things government does to make our lives better. Their “pay-for” demand is really a demand for Democrats to agree to even more economic sabotage.

Senate Republicans Monday continued to fight Democratic efforts to pass an extension of federal unemployment insurance benefits for people who have been out of work longer than 26 weeks. Traditionally our government has provided this assistance to unemployed workers at times of high unemployment. This is an “automatic stabilizer,” meaning that this assistance helps stop the downward spirals that occur when business hit recession. Unemployed workers aren’t forced to pull back from paying mortgages or rent, or buying food and other basic needs, which then causes even more unemployment.

Many feel this economic stabilization effect is the reason Republican oppose the extension. They suspect Republicans want the loss of this assistance to cause more layoffs, foreclosures and economic hardship. This way the economy looks worse as the 2014 elections approach, and voters will turn on what they perceive as the “party in charge” – namely the Democrats.

By requiring “pay-fors” – cuts somewhere else – in exchange for allowing this assistance to the unemployed, they are removing the economic boost that the program provides, causing damage to the economy. In other words: they are engaged in economic sabotage.

One such proposal from Republicans is to stop working people with disabilities from claiming both Social Security Disability Insurance and federal unemployment benefits. Cutting this really means preventing people with disabilities from taking the risk of going out and working to see if they can get off of disability. Michael Hiltzik writes about this at the Los Angeles Times in “An awful idea: Hammer the disabled to pay for unemployment benefits”:

It uniquely burdens the disabled among all workers, and it sets a terrible precedent of raiding Social Security to pay for other social programs.

… The idea that disabled persons are “double-dipping” by collecting wages or other compensation while also getting a disability check is enshrined in conservative attacks on disability. But it’s untrue. The Social Security disability program is designed as a bridge to full employment. Its benefits aren’t intended as a substitute for wages, but a supplement.

Michael Tomasky writes about the hostage-taking involved here in “The Fight Over Unemployment Benefits Underscores the Right’s Extremism” at The Daily Beast:

Republicans are insisting on cuts from elsewhere in the federal budget to pay for the benefits’ $6.4 billion cost. And Democrats are talking with them. But there’s no progress yet. In fact, it seems today that even the six Republicans who voted in the Senate last week to allow debate to proceed would not vote to extend the benefits just yet.

[. . .] if Democrats win, great. But it looks like they’ll only win by agreeing to the pay-for demand, which means that there’ll be new demands next time. There’s no end to how far right these people will go.

Richard Eskow (who really should have a column in the New York Times) writes about the economic sabotage of “pay for” in “No, Congress, You Shouldn’t “Pay For” Extending Unemployment Insurance”:

The simple truth is, Democrats are still being outmaneuvered by Republicans on economic policy. They’re letting the GOP call the shots, rhetorically, even though Republicans lost two out of three seats of federal government (the Senate and White House). They even lost the total popular vote for the House of Representatives.

… Here’s a better idea: Don’t try to pay for extended unemployment benefits. Don’t boast, as Reid did last week, that the extension is “entirely paid for.” Sure, Democrats will eventually need to make a deal – if they can – in order to extend unemployment insurance benefits. But why aren’t they first making the case against “paying for” those benefits on the Republicans’ terms?

Why aren’t Democrats instead speaking up against the “pay for” logic that gives a free pass to the wealthy and corporations – especially when the total cost is a blip, a rounding error, on a $1 trillion 2014 federal budget?

Economically, “pay for” is a Catch-22: It means every job-creating proposal must be offset with job-killing cuts elsewhere.

5 Reasons To Extend Unemployment Insurance

The AFL-CIO Now blog offers “5 Reasons Congress Must Extend Unemployment Insurance.” (Click through for details, charts and links.)

1. The long-term unemployment rate is higher than ever before.
2. The typical unemployed worker has been out of work longer than ever before.
3. More unemployed workers are running out of benefits than ever before.
4. The unemployment rate remains unacceptably high.
5. There are still three job seekers for every job opening.

Call To Action

The Coalition on Human Needs wants us to “tell your senators to renew federal unemployment insurance now, before the next recess, and don’t tie renewal to harmful amendments like denying the Child Tax Credit to low-income immigrant families or denying aid to unemployed workers with disabilities.”

If you haven’t called your senators yet (or even if you have!) please call 1-877-267-2485 (Toll Free). (Thanks to AFSCME for making this toll-free number available.)

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Who Will Fight To Help The Unemployed?

At the beginning of November, the poor went over the “Hunger Cliff” as Food Stamps were cut. Now long-term unemployment assistance will run out at the end of December. Regular people think the government has given up on them. They have been hit by one blow after another, with little or no help in sight. They see shutdowns and budget cuts at the very time the government needs to spend more to help Americans.

This is part of the Republican effort to turn Americans against government, because the public will blame Democrats. Democrats have to stop letting Republicans get away with it, and return to being seen as trying to help the unemployed and poor.

Long-Term Unemployment Assistance Running Out

In a few days, long-term unemployment benefits run out in spite of a “budget deal.” This cutoff of long-term aid means that in most states aid will end after a person is unemployed for 26 weeks, and in other states even less – some dramatically less. It occurs at a time when the average length of unemployment is 37 weeks, and there is still only one job for every three people still bothering to look for work.

1.3 million people will lose this assistance immediately, just after Christmas. By mid-2014 another 2 million will lose this aid as well.

“If my wife loses her benefit before she finds a job, we lose our house.” – Philadelphia resident.

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Budget Deal Is More “Awesomely Destructive,” Economy-Killing Austerity

Austerity is holding back our economy — and that’s the plan. There is simply no other way to explain it. Republicans know voters blame (or credit) the party of the President for the economy, and they are doing everything they can to make things as bad as can be. This new “budget deal,” for example, holds the country in full austerity, with spending lower than even the original “Ryan budget” that shocked everyone.

Austerity kills economies and jobs, and they know it. We know it, they know it, everyone knows it. It is obvious in front of our faces, and Republicans continue to force cuts — with many Democrats going along.

Spending

Since the financial collapse government spending has been cut and the results have been terrible for the economy. Under every previous President government spending and hiring propped up the economy until recovery was underway. Republicans as well as Democrats understood this is how it has to be done. Until now.

In Charts: What if Obama spent like Reagan? Ezra Klein explains, “It’s simply a fact that real government spending fell in three of President Obama’s first four years.” Klein compares government spending to Reagan and ‘W’ Bush:

Under Reagan and ‘W’ spending went up. This helped the economy get out of recessions. Under Obama, with a much worse recession, Republicans forced spending to go down.

What was the effect of these cuts? This next chart shows how this is a drag on GDP:

So yes, the spending cuts are obviously hurting the economy.

Paul Krugman’s blog post, Unprecedented Austerity comments on this. He starts with a chart showing what has happened to government spending since Obama took office, writing, “Look at total government spending — federal, state, and local — and correct it for inflation …”

Krugman writes, “You can see that there was a brief, modest spurt in spending associated with the Obama stimulus — but it has long since been outweighed and swamped by a collapse in spending without precedent in the past half century.” He calls this, combined with private-sector deleveraging, “awesomely destructive.”

“Awesomely destructive.” And you can see it.

That “modest spurt in spending associated with the Obama stimulus”? This is the effect the stimulus spending had on jobs:

The stimulus took us from losing more than 800,000 jobs each month to gaining jobs every month since. It completely turned the situation around. But then it stopped and Republicans were able to force austerity and kill off the recovery.

This Budget Deal

So that’s the story of what has happened to government spending as Republicans impose austerity. Down down down. Now we have a “budget deal” (that even leaves out help for the long-term unemployed and doesn’t replace the “Hunger Cliff” $5 billion Thanksgiving Food Stamp cut, etc…) This next chart shows where this budget deal fits with earlier budgets proposals.

This is what is missing from the explanations of this budget “deal:” spending will still go way down. This is not a spending increase, it is less of a destructive, devastating cut than the full “sequester” would be next year. But it is still a cut, and it will still cost us jobs and economic growth. It will still be “awesomely destructive.”

And that is their plan. It will still let them campaign on “Obama’s terrible economy.”

Jobs

This chart from Calculated Risk shows how government hiring pulled us out of previous recessions, which government firing is holding us in this one.

Key point, Presidents Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton and ‘W’ all increased public hiring to help get us out of recessions. But under Obama and austerity the public sector has lost 703,000 jobs.

The public sector grew during Mr. Reagan’s terms (up 1,414,000), during Mr. G.H.W. Bush’s term (up 1,127,000), during Mr. Clinton’s terms (up 1,934,000), and during Mr. G.W. Bush’s terms (up 1,748,000 jobs).

However the public sector has declined significantly since Mr. Obama took office (down 703,000 jobs). These job losses have mostly been at the state and local level, but more recently at the Federal level. This has been a significant drag on overall employment.

The 2014 Election

So let’s take bets: do you disagree that Republicans are planning to campaign in 2014 by saying that the terrible economy is Obama’s fault?

PS: Some of these charts are from Three Charts That Show That Republicans Have Won The Budget War by Danny Vinik, who writes that “the fact of the matter is that the GOP has won the budget wars.” Let’s see if they take credit for the economy and terrible human pain they are causing.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Food Stamps Cut Just In Time For Thanksgiving

This is that time of year when newspapers bother to write about how there are hungry people in America. But this year is special. As the recession drags on for the non-1%, cuts in Food Stamps have completely swamped the capacity of food banks and other non-government assistance. Meanwhile pending cuts in unemployment compensation and even more cuts in Food Stamps and other assistance programs mean things will get much worse for millions of invisible Americans.

Hunger Cliff

Have you heard about the Nov. 1 “Hunger Cliff?” On November 1 the Food Stamp program was cut. Millions of Americans are out of work, unemployment benefits have run out (and been cut), winter is arriving in force, but Congress allowed a temporary, recession-boosted increase in the Food Stamp program to run out! $5 billion in urgently-needed assistance just went away.

Terrance Heath told the story in 47 Million Americans Are Going Over the “Hunger Cliff”, writing “Millions of Americans will plunge over the “Hunger Cliff” tomorrow, when $5 billion in cut to food stamps go into effect tomorrow. While Congress negotiates even more cuts, millions of Americans will face negotiating where their next meal will come from.”

Food Banks Swamped

The “Hunger Cliff” has hit people hard. The cuts mean people just can’t get enough to eat. Hungry people are swamping the food banks.

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Democrats: The Filibusters Aren’t Stopping — What Are You Going To Do About It?

Senate Democrats, there have been over 400 filibusters. What are you going to do about it? We the People want to know. We thought we had elections. We thought things were decided and the country could finally move forward.

Are We the People the boss here, or are the billionaires and giant corporations behind this obstruction in charge?

Obstruction Of The People’s Will

Everything that We the People want to get done is being obstructed. In the Senate there is what the corporate media call “a requirement to get 60 votes for anything to pass” and in the House there is the “Hastert Rule” that prevents legislation from getting a vote if a majority that would pass it includes Democrats.

The country is being held back by an intentional strategy to block economic recovery and obstruct change that the public wants, so that Republicans can campaign for office saying the economy is bad so vote for us, and then mocking democracy saying, “How’s that hopey-changey thing workin’ out for ya?”

Are you going to do something about it? Are you going to deliver for We the People? We elected you to use the power of your office to deliver for us.

They sure are delivering for the billionaires and giant corporations who are paying them to do this.

Senate Democrats: What are you going to do about it? Who is the boss, We the People or the billionaires and giant corporations paying for the obstruction?

Here is Rachel Maddow interviewing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this week:

Please visit Fix the Senate Now.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Gonna Go Make Some Money

There is a phrase I hear from DC people a lot: He/she is going to “go make some money.”

Usually this means that someone in government is going to take a job for a corporation, likely on Wall Street, “for a while” and then come back. It is, of course, collecting the payoff for playing along with the corporate agenda.

Of course, in progressive circles it means someone is going to find any old NON-progressive-organization job because that means actually making enough to live on…

Not Sexist Summers, Please

Larry Summers for the Fed? Seriously? There are better choices for Federal Reserve chair; in particular, Janet Yellen is more than qualified and would do a great job.

Ezra Klein writes in, “Right now, Larry Summers is the front-runner for Fed chair,” “The word among Federal Reserve watchers right now is that the choice is down to Janet Yellen or Larry Summers as Ben Bernanke’s replacement.”

The White House is not actively shooting this down and this is just an insult to American women.

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The Coming Fast-Track Trade Outrage

Trans-Pacific Partnership – the corporate sovereignty treaty – is coming and they’re going to try to push it through Congress with “Fast Track.” It’s really, really important to pay attention to this one.

You have seen what the “free trade” agreements have done to cities like Detroit and Flint, along with entire regions of the country, several key industries, the middle class and ultimately our democracy. Now a super-treaty is coming down the pike and corporate forces are asking Congress to give up their Constitutional authority to act as a check-and-balance with something called “Fast Track.” We have to stop this before it is too late.

Next Up: Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

The super-treaty coming down the pike is called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is a mega-agreement involving several Pacific-rim countries at the same time, with a special “docking” provision that lets new countries join without new negotiations.

Only a small part of this “trade” treaty is about trade at all. Most of it is about elevating corporate rights above the rights of citizens and sovereign countries to reign them in. Much of TPP is about “investor rights.” “Investor” in this case means people with tons of money, and this is about giving them rights so their interests come above what citizens and their meddlesome laws might try to do to mess things up for them. Minimum wages, environmental protections, workplace safety and other “regulations” are all things citizens do to make their lives better but that make trouble for investors.

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