Hey, DSCC: Quit whining about Republican obstruction

I have had it with e-mail blasts like the latest from J.B. Poersch of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee:

Republicans tried every trick in the book to block us, but Senate Democrats scored important health care reform wins in the past two weeks. We passed the Mikulski Amendment, to make sure every woman gets crucial cancer screenings. And we defeated the Senate's version of the Stupak Amendment - one of the biggest attacks on choice in a generation.

But these wins didn't faze the Republicans. A lot of what they are doing to kill the Senate's bill isn't making the headlines - but that doesn't make it any less insidious. We've pulled together facts on their latest heinous tactics in our new Obstruction Report.

The e-mail goes on about how the DSCC will save us from "roadblock Republicans":

We're tracking their each and every move so that they can't get away with it. Whether it's attempting to force the entire health care bill back to committee, bringing up inane amendments just to vote them down, or writing a manual devoted to killing the bill, Republicans will stop at nothing to derail health care reform - and destroy our Senate majority.

Click here to access the new Obstruction Report. We're tracking what they're doing - and we're not going to let them get away with it.

Yes, the Republicans are bad-faith negotiators, and that obstruction manual by Judd Gregg was a repulsive piece of work. (We dodged a bullet when Gregg didn't end up in Obama's cabinet.)

At the same time, it's been obvious all year that Senate Republicans would work as a bloc to kill any health care bill worth passing. That's why I opposed the pursuit of bipartisanship on health care and in particular the time-wasting "Gang of Six" talks on the Senate Finance Committee.

It's equally obvious that the the "roadblock Republicans" couldn't do a thing to block health care reform if there weren't a few Democrats willing to help them. In case J.B. Poersch hasn't noticed, we have 60 senators caucusing with Democrats now. Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley aren't preventing a bill from passing. Our problem is people like Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu and Joe Lieberman. None of them will rule out joining a Republican filibuster, and because of them, an already watered-down bill is becoming worse by the day.

The Senate's version of the Stupak Amendment, which the DSCC is so proud of defeating, was the pet project of Democrat Ben Nelson. He's still threatening to block the whole bill.

Senator Tom Harkin is thinking about trying to change the filibuster rule because of "what he sees as the abuse of power by a couple members of his own party whom he said are threatening to join the minority party if their every demand is not met."

Why would I send money to the DSCC when they will turn around and spend it on behalf of senators who may block health care reform? Lincoln in particular is facing a tough campaign next year. But don't worry, the DSCC will spend millions to help her.

If I hear the DSCC promising to cut off any senator who doesn't vote for cloture on a major domestic policy bill, I will consider donating to the organization again. Otherwise, I have better things to do with my money than reward Senate Democrats who pin their own failures on "Republican obstruction." I'll donate to the individual campaigns of members of Congress who are not working against me.

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Harkin may introduce bill to end filibuster

The Burlington (IA) Hawk Eye reports that Senator Tom Harkin may reintroduce a bill to end the filibuster:

Nearly 15 years ago, the Iowa senator first introduced legislation that would end the Senate rule of filibuster, or endlessly debating a bill until its ultimate demise. The bill ultimately failed to pass the Senate by a vote of 76-19.

Given what he sees as the abuse of power by a couple members of his own party whom he said are threatening to join the minority party if their every demand is not met, Harkin is considering reintroducing the legislation.

"I think, if anything, this health care debate is showing the dangers of unlimited filibuster," Harkin said Thursday during a conference call with reporters. "I think there's a reason for slowing things down ... and getting the public aware of what's happening and maybe even to change public sentiment, but not to just absolutely stop something."

Harkin noted with interest that his original legislation was cosponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who has been threatening to filibuster the legislation.

Harkin's idea would preserve means for senators to slow down debate on a bill without imposing a 60-vote threshold for all bills in the Senate:

"Today, in the age of instant news and Internet and rapid travel -- you can get from anywhere to here within a day or a few hours -- the initial reasons for the filibuster kind of fall by the wayside, and now it's got into an abusive situation," Harkin said.

He and the constitutional scholars agree that the intention was never to hold up legislation entirely.

To keep the spirit of slowing down legislation, though, Harkin's proposal back in 1995 would have kept the 60-vote rule for the first vote but lessening the number required in subsequent votes.

He said for instance if 60 senators could not agree to end debate, it would carry on for another week or so and then the number of votes required to end debate would drop by three. Harkin said it would carry on this way until it reached a simple majority of 51 votes.

"You could hold something up for maybe a month, but then, finally you'd come down to 51 votes and a majority would be able to pass," Harkin said. "I may revive that. I pushed it very hard at one time and then things kind of got a little better."

This approach makes a lot of sense, although it will be an uphill battle to get a critical mass of senators to agree to change the rules.

Not long ago Ezra Klein publicized a memo from December 1964, which suggests that the recent election improved chances for Medicare to pass the Senate (by approximately 55 to 45). There was no expectation that Medicare couldn't pass without a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

One way or another, the current abuse of the filibuster in the Senate needs to end. The Constitution does not contain any supermajority requirement for ordinary legislation to pass the Senate.

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Lieberman not sold on health care compromise

Brian Beutler reports for TPMDC that last night's deal among Senate Democrats still may not be enough for Joe Lieberman.

"I am encouraged by the progress toward a consensus on proposals to send to the Congressional Budget Office to review. I believe that it is important to pass legislation that expands access to the millions who do not have coverage, improves quality and lowers costs while not impeding our economic recovery or increasing the debt.

"My opposition to a government-run insurance option, including any option with a trigger, has been clear for months and remains my position today.

"Regarding the 'Medicare buy-in' proposal that is being discussed, we must remain vigilant about protecting and extending the solvency of the program, which is now in a perilous financial condition.

"It is my understanding that at this point there is no legislative language so I look forward to analyzing the details of the plan and reviewing analysis from the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of the Actuary in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid."

It's possible that the trigger in the compromise could bring over Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, getting Democrats to 60 votes even if they lose Lieberman. However, that's no guarantee.

Harry Reid never should have taken the budget reconciliation route off the table. I understand that there are drawbacks to that approach, but I would rather see our leaders push a stronger bill through with 51 votes in the Senate.

Update [2009-12-9 16:0:23 by desmoinesdem]: Beutler notes that the Gore-Lieberman platform during the 2000 presidential campaign called for lowering the age at which people are allowed to buy in to Medicare.

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Not Just The Filibuster

I agree with a lot of what people have written about filibuster reform; the Senate's current 60-vote cloture threshold often protects political play-acting as much as it does true debate.

But there's a corollary problem...the Liebermanization (Joeing?) of DC: a Senator like Lieberman can offer objectively false policy arguments and the political media still treats them as substantive, ideological contributions to Senate discourse.

Steve Benen has usefully documented all seven(!) reasons Lieberman has offered to justify his opposition to the public option. All seven are, obviously, bogus (i.e. #4: the public doesn't support it!).

But even though the beltway media treats Joe's "concerns" as legitimate ideological objections, it's really Occam's razor that applies: Lieberman opposes the public option for the sole reason that the left supports it.

That's it, full stop.

Lieberman isn't the type of "moderate" who's looking to represent the constituency of a purple state, and his kvetching about "trouble ... for the national debt," is obviously bunk. Instead, what Lieberman's doing is a near-naked attempt to retain his contrarian credentials in DC and his place of prominence in national discourse. When Harry Reid introduced a bill with an opt-out public option, Joe Lieberman's opposition to the provision was the firmest in the caucus. So now reporters gaggle around Joe hoping for any further comment.

Will Joe block Obama's biggest initiative? Is he open to compromise? What will he say on Gregory this Sunday? Have a sufficient number of people complimented his tie this morning?

It's the Joementum twofer: by opposing the public option, Lieberman found a way to poke a stick in the eye of the political left and bolster his own political relevance at the same time.

Lieberman's ideology IS self-interest, and in DC that's usually good enough.

But what if Lieberman's false arguments were roundly debunked in the press? What if everything Joe said wasn't taken at face value? Maybe, just maybe, he would lose the incentive to obstruct the president's agenda in the Senate.

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Lieberman Agreement?

Last night The Hill reported a secret agreement to secure Lieberman's cloture vote on health care reform. Today TPM has Reid's office denying it:

Reid spokesman Jim Manley told us: "There is no such understanding. We hope to have his vote in the end but we are not there yet."

A leadership aide also told us: "Senator Reid is speaking with Senator Lieberman and all members of his Caucus. To say that there is some 'understanding' about votes at the end of the process is preposterous."

I wouldn't put too much weight in the denial. Even if some secret agreement does exist, the caucus will deny it so Lieberman can enjoy his side of the deal: temporary (pretend) relevance.

Because if there really is an agreement and leadership confirmed it, reporters would stop flocking to Joe.

And then he'd be sad.

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