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Harkin yes, Grassley no as Senate curtails filibusters on nominees (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Nov 21, 2013 at 13:50:00 PM CST

After years of trying, Senator Tom Harkin finally got a majority of his colleagues on board with Senate rules reform. Today 52 members of the Democratic caucus voted to curtail the minority's ability to filibuster presidential nominees. The same 52 senators then rejected Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's objection to the ruling from the chair. Just like that, Reid invoked the so-called "nuclear option," which Republicans used to call the "constitutional option" when they flirted with the same rule change in 2006. From now on, only a simple majority of 51 votes will be needed to end debate on a judicial or executive branch nomination--not the 60 votes needed for cloture before today.

A series of Republican filibusters against nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals finally pushed Reid to action. Immediately following the rules change, the Senate passed by 55 votes to 43 a cloture motion on the nomination of Patricia Millett, whom Republicans filibustered last month.

Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, vehemently objected to the rules change as a "blatant power grab," while Harkin called for more limits to filibusters that block legislation. Comments from both senators are after the jump. President Barack Obama welcomed the rules change, saying, "I realize neither party has been blameless for these tactics ... But today's pattern of obstruction just isn't normal." But McConnell warned Democrats, "You'll regret this, and you may regret this a lot sooner than you think."

UPDATE: Added more comments from both Harkin and Grassley below. Grassley warned that when his party is in the majority, they will likely remove the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees as well. For the record, Senate Democrats have never filibustered a Republican president's Supreme Court nominee.

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Harkin and Grassley on the latest Senate confirmations and filibuster deal

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 07:38:54 AM CDT

Democrats in the U.S. Senate came closer than ever this week to stopping Republicans from forcing a supermajority vote on executive branch nominees. An informal deal deterred Democrats from changing Senate rules by simple majority vote and cleared the path for a handful of President Barack Obama's nominees to go forward. However, more struggles over confirmations seem likely in the future.

Iowa's Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley could hardly be further apart on the process by which the Senate gives its "advice and consent."  

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Senate filibuster reform discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 11:10:00 AM CST

Iowa's two senators are on opposite sides as Democrats again consider whether to limit the use of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate, beginning next year.  
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Grassley, Senate Republicans block Paycheck Fairness Act

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Nov 18, 2010 at 06:30:00 AM CST

A majority of Iowa women voters backed Senator Chuck Grassley on November 2. Here's how he repaid them two weeks later:

Senate Democrats didn't muster enough votes today to overcome a Republican-led filibuster of the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would have lifted the cap on damages in pay- discrimination lawsuits and restricted how employers can fight such complaints. The legislation would also have banned employers from penalizing workers who share salary information to find pay discrepancies.

Democrats pushed the measure, which would have strengthened remedies under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 for women, early in the Obama administration as part of a pro-labor agenda. It passed the House of Representatives in January 2009, along with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. [...]

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and other business groups lobbied Republican senators to block the companion piece of legislation.

Yes, Grassley and every other Republican present (plus "Democrat" Ben Nelson of Nebraska) voted to block debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act. If you're a working woman getting paid less than your male colleagues, Grassley wants to limit your ability to find evidence of discrimination as well as your compensation if you file a claim against your employer.

Grassley's lack of concern for underpaid women is no surprise. He also voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act several times.

Add the Paycheck Fairness Act filibuster to the list of reasons Democrats should take up Tom Harkin's call for Senate reform. Yet again, 41 senators overruled 58 colleagues who supported moving a bill forward. Senators will be able to change the chamber's procedural rules in January, when the newly elected Congress begins work. Democrats would be idiots not to do so.

Speaking of corporate influence over American politics, Bloomberg News reported yesterday that America's Health Insurance Plans, a lobbying group representing health insurers, gave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce $86.2 million in 2009.

The spending on the Chamber exceeded the insurer group's entire budget from a year earlier and accounted for 40 percent of the Chamber's $214.6 million in 2009 expenditures. [...]

The $86.2 million paid for advertisements, polling and grass roots events to drum up opposition to the [health care reform] bill, said Tom Collamore, a Chamber of Commerce spokesman. The Chamber said in a statement it used the funds to "advance a market-based health-care system and advocate for fundamental reform that would improve access to quality care while lowering costs."

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Democratic leaders should be listening to Tom Harkin

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 06:48:57 AM CST

Senator Tom Harkin and Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire introduced a resolution yesterday that would change the Senate's rules on filibusters:

the first vote on a cloture motion - which ends a filibuster - would require 60 votes to proceed, the next would be two days later and require 57. This process would repeat itself until the number fell to 51, or a simple majority.

The idea is to restore the filibuster to its original use (delaying passage of a bill) as opposed to its current use by Republicans (to impose a super-majority requirement for every Senate action). The authors of the Constitution never intended to make the Senate unable to act without the consent of 60 percent of its members. But Republicans used the filibuster more times in 2009 than it was used during the entire period from 1949 to 1970.

However, an unofficial whip count shows Democrats very far from having enough votes to change the filibuster rules. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in effect took the issue off the table yesterday.

Also yesterday, Harkin advised President Obama to use recess appointments for dozens of nominees whom Republicans have been holding up. Unfortunately, the White House announced that the president will not use his recess appointment powers for now, because the Senate confirmed 27 out of more than 60 nominees Republicans are holding up. (The list of those 27 nominees is here.) Although Obama's statement reserves the right to make recess appointments in the future, he should not have taken that off the table as long as Senate Republicans continue to hold dozens of nominees in limbo.

One of the most controversial nominees is Craig Becker. A February 9 filibuster blocked his appointment to the National Labor Relations Board, because Becker is supposedly too pro-labor. President George W. Bush used recess appointments to name seven of his nine appointees to the NLRB. Of course, they were all anti-labor. It's past time to bring balance to that board.

UPDATE: Senator Dick Durbin supports Harkin's filibuster reform efforts. A "senior leadership aide" told Greg Sargent that Durbin is "in talks with a number of other Democratic senators regarding possible changes to Senate rules."

SECOND UPDATE: A new CBS/New York Times poll found 50 percent of respondents said the filibuster should not remain in place, while 44 percent said they should. I think with more education of the public about how the filibuster obstructs progress, support for changing the rules would grow.

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Shelby releases some holds, still blocking military nominees

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 07:15:00 AM CST

Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama released holds on most of the Obama administration nominees he has been blocking, the Washington Post reports, citing a statement from Shelby's office:

"The purpose of placing numerous holds was to get the White House's attention on two issues that are critical to our national security - the Air Force's aerial refueling tanker acquisition and the FBI's Terrorist Device Analytical Center (TEDAC). With that accomplished, Sen. Shelby has decided to release his holds on all but a few nominees directly related to the Air Force tanker acquisition until the new Request for Proposal is issued. The Air Force tanker acquisition is not an 'earmark' as has been reported; it is a competition to replace the Air Force's aging aerial refueling tanker fleet. Sen. Shelby is not seeking to determine the outcome of the competition; he is seeking to ensure an open, fair and transparent competition that delivers the best equipment to our men and women in uniform."

I wonder whether any of Shelby's GOP colleagues leaned on him to take this step. They may have been worried about mainstream media coverage of Shelby's grotesque hostage-taking exercise, or they may not want to push things too far in case Senate Democrats change the rules on putting "holds" on nominees.

Shelby's power play is not over yet, because he is still vowing to block nominees "directly related to the Air Force tanker acquisition." Emptywheel found out which nominees are covered by Shelby's hold:

    * Terry Yonkers, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment, and Logistics (Nominated August 4, 2009)
    * Frank Kendall, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (PDUSD) for Acquisition and Technology (Nominated August 6, 2009)
    * Erin Conaton, Under Secretary of the Air Force (Nominated November 10, 2009)

Democrats should blast Republicans for indulging Shelby while key Air Force positions remain vacant during wartime. I would encourage Roxanne Conlin's campaign not to drop its "fight the hold" effort until Republicans allow the Senate to vote on all of these nominees.

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IA-Sen: Conlin organizing against Shelby's "political extortion"

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Feb 06, 2010 at 18:46:08 PM CST

Whether you call it hostage-taking or shark-jumping, we can all agree that Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama is abusing Senate conventions. He has put a blanket hold on all Obama administration nominees until his state gets more than $40 billion in federal money.

Roxanne Conlin, one of three Iowa Democrats running against five-term incumbent Chuck Grassley, may be the first Democratic candidate in the country to organize against Shelby's power play.

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 2)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 07, 2010 at 14:56:38 PM CST

Following up on the diary I posted this morning, this post compiles links to Bleeding Heartland's coverage of national politics from July through December 2009. Health care reform was again the number one topic. I wish there had been a happy ending.
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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 07, 2010 at 07:52:32 AM CST

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland's coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama's administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn't have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can't say I wasn't warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year's political events are welcome in this thread.

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Harkin looking for allies to change filibuster rules

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Dec 26, 2009 at 15:23:07 PM CST

Senator Tom Harkin's commitment to end the abuse of the filibuster hasn't waned just because Democrats managed to find 60 votes to pass health insurance reform. Harkin discussed the current dysfunction in the Senate with Ezra Klein:

In the past, we've always had one or two or three senators who would try to block something. The most famous was Jesse Helms. He could tie people up in a conniption. But the thing is, when he went too far, his leader, Bob Dole, wouldn't put up with it. Neither would Trent Lott. And later on, even Bill Frist. You allow him to do so much, and after awhile, you say, that's enough.

Now we have more of the Jesse Helms. The Vitters and DeMint and Coburn, and maybe throw in Inhofe and a couple other newcomers, and they now run the minority. You don't have a minority leader putting them in check, saying we have to work together. Dole would never put up with what's going on over there. Neither would Trent Lott. We've had 101 objections from Republicans to proceeding. [...]

You're supposed to filibuster something that is a deep seated issue. But in September, we had an extension on unemployment insurance. We had a filibuster that lasted over three weeks. They held up everything. And in the end, the vote was 97 to one. Filibusters are no longer used to debate something, but to stop everything. [...]

The idea is to give some time for extended debate but eventually allow a majority to work its will. I do believe there's some reason to have extended debate. If a group of senators filibusters a bill, you want to take their worries seriously. Make sure you're not missing something. My proposal will do that. It says that on the first vote, you need 60. Then you have to wait two days, and on the third day, you need 57 votes. And then you need to wait two days, and on the third day, it's 54 votes. And then you'd wait another two days, and on the third day, it would be 51 votes.

Harkin told Klein he will start looking for co-sponsors for this measure next month. Freshman Senator Jeff Merkley presumably will be an ally, as he has advocated reform of Senate procedures. Unfortuantely, Harkin is likely to run up against stiff resistance, and not only from Republicans. The de facto supermajority requirement for conducting Senate business empowers corporate hacks like Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln and Evan Bayh, who caucus with Democrats but don't support most of the progressive agenda.

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Hey, DSCC: Quit whining about Republican obstruction

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 20:37:01 PM CST

I have had it with e-mail blasts like the one I got over the weekend 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.

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Harkin may try to change "abusive" filibuster

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Dec 13, 2009 at 05:56:01 AM CST

The Constitution does not contain a supermajority requirement for ordinary legislation to pass the Senate, but the filibuster has evolved into a means to kill any bill unless 60 senators support it.

The current use of the filibuster is not "traditional." This memo from December 1964 shows that no one imagined Medicare would need more than a simple majority in the Senate. There was no expectation that Lyndon Johnson's reform efforts would fail if Medicare couldn't command a filibuster-proof majority.

Senator Tom Harkin tried to change Senate rules on the filibuster in 1995, and the Burlington Hawk Eye reports that he may try again, "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."

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Chuck Grassley Abuses the Constitution by HIS definition

by: Elise

Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 22:13:30 PM CDT

(Typical Republican hypocrisy on filibusters. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

March 14, 2005 - The New Yorker publishes an article, NUKE ‘EM in which Senator Chuck Grassley is quoted, discussing the purpose of the filibuster:

“Filibusters are designed so that the minority can bring about compromise on legislation,” Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, told Toobin. “But you can’t compromise a Presidential nomination. It’s yes or no. So filibusters on nominations are an abuse of our function under the Constitution to advise and consent.

My husband called Grassley's office today - he read this quote to the aide and asked, "Does Senator Grassley stand by this statement?"
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Update on cabinet appointments and confirmations

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Feb 02, 2009 at 21:32:02 PM CST

The Senate confirmed Eric Holder as attorney general today by a vote of 75-21. Both Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley voted yes, as expected. I always thought Holder would be confirmed, but I am pleasantly surprised that he was approved by a larger majority than Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. I believe Holder will turn out to be one of President Barack Obama's better cabinet appointments.

For reasons I cannot fathom, Obama appears ready to appoint Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, a conservative Republican, as Secretary of Commerce. Chris Bowers concisely explains why this is an awful choice:

So, for some reason, in the wake of total Republican intransigence on the stimulus bill, the Obama administration will respond by putting a Republican in charge of one the federal departments overseeing the economy. Judd Gregg himself has said he will oppose the stimulus package. That is certainly an, um, interesting way for the Obama administration to incentivize Republican opposition. Oppose President Obama, and he will reward you by giving you a cabinet position.

It is worth noting what sort of ideas Judd Gregg has for the economy: a commission of center-right insiders operating in secret and circumventing Congress in order to destroy Social Security and Medicare.

Senate Republicans continue to hold up Hilda Solis's confirmation as Labor Secretary, and Obama responds by appointing Gregg to the cabinet?

Democrats won't even get a Senate seat out of the deal, because the Democratic governor of New Hampshire has promised to appoint a Republican to serve out Gregg's term. The only upside is that the appointee may be easier to beat in 2010 than longtime incumbent Gregg would have been. But that's not worth handing over control of the Commerce Department to a conservative, in my opinion.

All I can say is, Gregg better not screw around with the Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In a dispatch from bizarro world, Politico's David Rogers still isn't convinced that Obama is serious about bipartisanship, even though Gregg will become the third Republican in his cabinet and will be replaced by a Republican in the Senate:

Obama, while talking a good game about bipartisanship, is draining the Senate of the very talent he needs to achieve this goal.

If only Obama were merely "talking a good game about bipartisanship."

Speaking of Senate Republicans, Kagro X put up a good post on prospects for a filibuster of the economic stimulus bill, and Chris Bowers posted a "whip count" here, concluding that

Overall, it seems highly likely that the stimulus will pass without Republicans forcing major changes. However, given the narrow margins, this is not a guarantee.

The Senate will likely vote on the bill on Wednesday. Grassley has already spoken out against what he calls the "stimulus/porkulus bill."

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