Starving the Beast: Cut, Cap and Balance

The debt limit is a largely symbolic check on excessive borrowing which in the past has been frequently raised with little to no controversy. Such periodic increases are necessary to keep the government running and paying its bills, regardless of ideology.

However, Congressional Republicans are now demanding that certain conditions must be met in order to win their approval of a debt ceiling increase. They have termed their list of demands Cut, Cap and Balance, and claim it is a necessary measure in order to keep the government debt from spiraling out of control, and thus keep the country functioning.

Yet the Cut, Cap and Balance Act scheduled to reach the House floor this week is anything but necessary to keep the country functioning. Rather, it is the crown jewel, the final step of conservatives' long-pursued "Starve the Beast" strategy to downsize government. It would radically limit the flexibility of the federal government to provide a social safety net, buttress the economy in tough times and respond to great national challenges, now and into the future.

But don't take my word for it. Check out this week's 90 Second Summary and decide for yourself:


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S02E04: H.R. 3 Compared to Hyde

cross-posted from Main Street Insider

This week, we look at H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, and discuss how this proposal differs from the long-standing Hyde Amendment. Beyond the "forcible rape" controversy, which is expected to be resolved at the next opportunity to markup the bill, H.R. 3 represents the most aggressive attempt to expand upon the Hyde Amendment since it was first enacted in 1976. That is why we chose to summarize this bill as it compares to Hyde (if you need more info about the Hyde Amendment, you can find a link to learn more at the bottom of the page).

And this week's episode comes with a bonus video! David Waldman, the Editor in Chief of Congress Matters and our own Public Affairs Director, speaks in depth about the dangerous precedent that hides in H.R. 3. You can find that video below.

Lastly, in order to properly thank our sponsor without digging into the precious 90 seconds we have to summarize complicated pieces of legislation and other policy proposals, we have added a little bumper time. But we guarantee that every bit of summary fits into 90 seconds, and we introduced a countdown clock to prove it.

What's that you say? Get on with it? Sure thing...

More below the fold...

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Season 2 Premiere: Transparency Provisions of the New House Rules

cross-posted from Main Street Insider

We’re back with the Season 2 Premiere! This season will have double the suspense, double the hilarity, and it just might move you to tears… Okay, not really. Our 90 Second Summaries will be what they always were, a clean and simple set of legislative summaries designed to help folks on Main Street keep up.

To kick off the new season, we are going to roll out a couple summaries of the more interesting provisions of the new Adopting Rules Package of the 112th Congress (then we will take a couple weeks off to evaluate new legislation before us). This week, we are looking at the transparency provisions of the new rules. These provisions are important to understand, if only because it will require pressure to ensure that they are followed properly. Without further ado, we present Season 2, Episode 1:


As always, you'll find the one-pager below the fold...

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S01E15 - The Merkley Proposal (Season Finale!)

cross-posted from Main Street Insider

Last week, in part one of our two-part series on filibuster reform, we examined the Constitutional Option to allow majority approval of rules changes. This week, in the 15th and final episode of Season 1,we look at the most prominent package of rules changes discussed to date. Roughly a month ago, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) circulated a "dear colleague" memo outlining a series of changes that are being strongly considered within current Democratic Caucus deliberations.

Enjoy this first season's finale. It's been a fun season for us and we'll be back in January with a whole slate of brand new bills and other policy proposals to summarize!

*Full disclosure: David Waldman, our Public Affairs Director, is an active advisor to the Fix the Senate Now coalition.

Senate Rules Reform and the 112th Congress
Part 2 of 2: The “Merkley Proposal”
Key Proponent: Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Released 11/16/2010
Click here to download this summary (pdf)

Status: Currently in discussion within the Senate Democratic Caucus, this proposal has emerged as the most prominent and feasible comprehensive rules reform measure. If the Democratic majority exercises the Constitutional Option on the first day of the 112th Congress, they will have an opportunity to reform the filibuster rules with simple majority support. The Democratic Caucus will have 53 members at the time, including Independent Sens. Lieberman and Sanders, so they can only afford to lose three members if no Republicans support the measure. It is currently unclear whether proponents will be able to garner majority support.

Purpose: The Senate has been traditionally known as the deliberative “cooling saucer” of the American government, where the minority right to filibuster can counteract the worst impulses of a majority. But now, in a time of great national distress, many view the filibuster as an enabler of mindless obstruction rather than a tool to promote debate and compromise. Indeed, the percentage of legislation affected by threatened or actual filibusters has risen from 8% in the 1960s to some 70% in the 110th Congress.

Introduced on November 16th in a letter to Senate colleagues, Senator Merkley's proposal is designed to accommodate those who believe the rules must be changed to limit obstruction, but do not support outright elimination of the right to filibuster.

Summary: The reform proposal contains a number of suggestions designed to decrease paralysis, increase deliberation and return the filibuster to its traditional role as conceptualized in the 1939 film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”. It includes suggestions to:

1) Eliminate the ability to filibuster the following:

• Motions to proceed to debate;
• Legislative amendments;
• Appointment of conferees;

2) Shift the burden to the filibustering senators by requiring:

• A petition signed by a “substantial” number of senators to block a majority vote;
• A specific, gradually increasing number of filibustering senators to be present on the floor to keep debate open;
• Continuous debate during a filibuster. If no senator wants to speak at a given time, regular order is immediately restored;

3) Create an similar expedited process for nominations;

4) Establish a minority right to offer legislative amendments;

5) Decrease the partisan segregation of members.

Expected Supporters: Many Senate Democrats, Fix the Senate Now coalition, dozens of constitutional scholars, etc.

• Supporters believe filibuster reform to be crucial to meeting the nation's critical economic, energy/environmental, foreign policy and national security goals. While supporters are split on eliminating the right to filibuster entirely, they all favor provisions that “make them actually filibuster” and limit procedural delay on noncontroversial items of business.

Expected Opponents: Most Senate Republicans, movement conservatives, retiring Sen. Chris Dodd

• Some opponents recoil at the calls to upend longstanding practice in a legislative body primarily defined by its adherence to tradition, believing it is better to change the culture to inspire cooperation than to change the rules for short-term gain. However, others simply wish to preserve the ability to obstruct their political opponents' agenda in the 112th Congress.

Note: For the most part, concrete support and opposition has yet to fully materialize

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S01E14: The Constitutional Option

We're nearing the end of our first season and to finish it off we are providing a couple summaries relating to changing the filibuster. Today we look at what is called the "Constitutional Option," which applies only to the first day of a new session of Congress. This is expected to come up at the beginning of the 112th session.

As always, one-pager below the fold...

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