Currently viewing the tag: "US Senate"

Non-presidential election years like 2014 can be tough for Democrats who have tended to do better in years when more voters turn out.  Will 2014 be better? A lot is at stake for Democrats on the national level with the Republicans pushing to take over the US Senate and keep control of the House. The New York Times published  a 2014 Senate Landscape Analysis on 3/2/2014 breaking down the upcoming Senate races.

Senators serve for six years.  The current makeup of the US Senate is 53 Democrats and 2 Independents who vote with them, and 45 Republicans.  Republicans need 6 more Senators to get the majority and flip the Senate. The New York Times analysis shows 34 continuing Democrats and 30 continuing Republicans.  Of the seats up for election in 2014 they count 6 solid Democratic seats and 5 leaning Democratic. They count 12 solid Republican seats and 1 leaning Republican.  And in the middle there are 12 states that could “flip” and go either way.

Here is a list of the 12 state races that the New York Times analysis says could go either way:

North Carolina  –  Democratic Senator Kay Hagan

West Virginia – open seat,  Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller retiring

Arkansas – Democratic Senator Mark Pryor

Iowa – open seat, Democratic Senator Tom Harkin retiring

Montana – open seat, Democratic Senator Max Baucus resigned to be Ambassador to China

South Dakota, Democratic Senator Tim Johnson retiring

Colorado – Democratic Senator Mark Udall

Michigan – open seat, Democratic Senator Carl Levin retiring

Louisiana – Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu

Alaska -Democratic  Senator Mark Begich

Kentucky – Republican Mitch McConnell

Georgia -  open seat, Republican Saxby Chambliss retiring

As the New York Times  notes, the Koch Brothers are already  spending lavishly to try to tip as many Senate seats to the Republicans as possible. They are spending millions in advertising in key states through their PAC, Americans for Prosperity.
The article says that Americans for Prosperity is pursuing

“…its overarching goal of convincing Americans that big government is bad government. As the group emerges as a dominant force in the 2014 midterm elections, spending up to 10 times as much as any major outside Democratic group so far, officials of the organization say their effort is not confined to hammering away at President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. They are also trying to present the law as a case study in government ineptitude to change the way voters think about the role of government for years to come.

“We have a broader cautionary tale,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity. “The president’s out there touting billions of dollars on climate change. We want Americans to think about what they promised with the last social welfare boondoggle and look at what the actual result is.”

Leaders of the effort say it has great appeal to the businessmen and businesswomen who finance the operation and who believe that excess regulation and taxation are harming their enterprises and threatening the future of the country. The Kochs, with billions in holdings in energy, transportation and manufacturing, have a significant interest in seeing that future government regulation is limited.

Democrats say their own research has shown that voters are skeptical about candidates who benefit from political spending by superrich businessmen with an antigovernment ideology.

“The notion that two billionaires are bankrolling Republican candidates because they support an agenda that is good for the Koch brothers and bad for middle-class families is very persuasive to voters,” said Matt Canter, the deputy executive director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The Koch Brothers are pushing for what is good for the Koch Brothers, not what is good for America per se. They are concerned about profits, their bottom line, whereas our democratic government is concerned with the human rights of the citizens of our country. Basic human rights are concerned with political, cultural, economic, social and civil rights. These rights include such things as the right to food, clean water and clean air, the right to have a job to support yourself, the right to an education, the right to shelter, right to security, right to physical and mental health, the right to be free and not a slave or indentured servant, the right to equal protection under the law and much more.

The Koch Brothers and the Republicans these days support the libertarian philosophy that puts the rights of corporations and making money over basic human rights. The Kochs are not talking about clean water or everyone having equal access to an education or healthcare. They are talking about the government being as small as possible and not regulating businesses but letting them do whatever they want to accumulate wealth in a free market economy. They have been very successful at this as wealth inequality has been steadily increasing in our country as middle income and lower income wages have flattened out while profits and income from our economy has been accumulating in the hands of fewer and fewer.

It is only a matter of time before the economy collapses as fewer and fewer Americans have money to buy the products and services being marketed by the corporations. The current system is unsustainable. The only question for the public is when they will wake up and see that the libertarian philosophy and economic policies are not in their interests and vote the Republicans out of office and move back to supporting the Democratic policies that emerged out of the Great Depression and the Great Society that put their priority on helping people, not corporations and the few who are hoarding the wealth of America.

Tim Kaine has sent out the following e-mail to Democrats announcing his decision to run in 2012 for US Senator in Virginia.  Jim Webb, the current US Senator, has previously announced he would not be running for re-election.


Dear DNC Members,
I am writing to let you know that I have just announced my decision to run for the U.S. Senate from the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2012. To that end, I am stepping down as DNC Chair, effective immediately.
In the coming days, I will share some thoughts on my decision to run, my appreciation for the opportunity you gave me to serve as your Chair, and what we were able to accomplish together.
In the meantime, I am sure you will be as supportive of the President’s choice to replace me as you have been of me for the past two years. There will be more information about this important transition to follow.
I will treasure the friendships I’ve made during my time at the DNC, and hope that we will maintain those friendships in the years ahead.
It is an exciting time for the DNC. It is also an exciting next chapter for my family and me, as I embark down a new path on which I hope to serve as one of Virginia’s U.S. Senators.
Thank you for your hard work and support along the way and for all that you will do in the months and years ahead.
With gratitude,
Tim Kaine

Kaine also has a video up at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=mBX1TotZYtk announcing his decision.

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President Obama and the Democrats in Congress (with the help of a few Republicans) passed another piece of major legislation. Give credit where credit is due. Despite the never ending negativity of the Republican leadership, Democrats prevailed in passing a major bill to reform financial practices in America. The legislation is a significant reversal from past  policy decisions pushed by free market Republicans to deregulate the financial industry. These policies failed as demonstrated by our current depressed economy and loss of jobs.
 By a Senate vote of 60 to 39, Democrats overcame a continuing filibuster threat by the Republican leadership intent on trying to stop Congress from passing any reform legislation and then blaming Obama for not getting anything done. Voters this November need to keep in mind that it is the Democrats who are working to clear up the messes left by the last Republican Administration and that Republicans continue to obstruct needed change.

As the New York Times notes:

The vote was the culmination of nearly two years of fierce lobbying and intense debate over the appropriate response to the financial excesses that dragged the nation into the worst recession since the Great Depression.

The result is a catalog of repairs and additions to the rusted infrastructure of a regulatory system that has failed to keep up with the expanding scope and complexity of modern finance.

The bill subjects more financial companies to federal oversight, regulates many derivatives contracts, and creates a panel to detect risks to the financial system along with a consumer protection regulator.

A more detailed analysis of some of the provisions of the legislation and comments by some NW Senators can be found on the NPI Advocate.

There’s a great column in today’s Seattle Times by Froma Harrop entitled “Don’t forget who created this mess”. I highly recommend people read it. (Unfortunately the column is not on the Seattle Times website yet).
Too much attention has been given to vocal strident anti-government protesters on the right. They are aligned with and being promoted by conservative Republicans who want back in power. As Harrop says:

But when they ask whether I want Republicans to take back Washington, I’ll respond: “Are you out of your mind? We’re still recovering from their last round of debauchery – their fiscal irresponsibility, servility toward wall Street, disrespect for science, contempt for the environment”. …
Dear readers, I’m a reasonable woman. I don’t care much about ideology.  My bottom line is what’s good for the country.  While the country is on a bad path, Republican voodoo is what put us on it.  Surely, many voters agree with me.

It seems Democrats in Congress are on the verge of passing another major bill. As reported in the New York Times today, its “a question of when – not if – according to Senate  Democrats.” With most Republicans still plugging their ears and covering their eyes and ignoring the pressing problems facing this country, every Democratic vote is critical as 60 votes are necessary to prevent a filibuster in the Senate.

Senator Maria Cantwell had previously voiced her opposition to the bill because she was concerned that not enough was being done to address the financial risk of loosely or unregulated financial instruments like derivatives which had helped to contribute to the recent financial crisis.

Now the New York Times reports that:

Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, who originally opposed the regulatory overhaul, announced that she would support the final version. The move came after she received a letter from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission about provisions relating to new regulation of derivatives, the complex financial instruments that were at the heart of the 2008 crisis. Ms. Cantwell had been concerned about potential loopholes but said she was reassured that the bill would impose a tight regulatory framework

Final passage will still depend on several Republican votes appearing and probably a temporary replacement Senator being appointed to fill West Virginia’s Senate seat held by Senator Robert Byrd who recently died.
The seat will be filled with a temporary appointment until a special election is held in November to fill the remaining two years of Byrd’s term.

One glaring omission from the bill is the lack of oversight for car dealers by the proposed Consumer Protection Agency in the bill. It is unfortunate because after buying a house, cars are one of the major expenses of US households. This would have been a popular item with consumers. .

Washington State Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell joined with Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold to oppose ending debate on the Senate’s sweeping financial reform bill.  As reported in the New York Times, they were the only two Democrats to oppose further debate and were joined by 39 Republicans. Two Republicans, Maine’s Senators Snowe and Collins voted to end debate.

Senator Cantwell strongly supports the legislation but believes it needs to be strengthened.  As the New York Times notes:

Ms. Cantwell, in a floor speech after the vote, said she was mainly fighting for a vote on an amendment to tighten proposed rules for the trading of derivatives, the complex instruments that were at the center of the economic crisis.

Her proposal would make it illegal to enter into a derivatives contract that had not been cleared through an exchange, other than contracts specifically exempt from the law. It would also empower regulators and investors to stop or undo a derivatives deal if banks knowingly violated the trading requirements. …

“If you don’t have a regime of exchange trading and clearing you will have money seeping into the continuation of a dark market,” she added.

Ms. Cantwell said she would also like a vote on another amendment she proposed, with Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, that would restore the Glass-Steagall Act, which maintained a firewall between commercial banking and investment banking from the 1930s until it was repealed by Congress in 1999. In a statement, Mr. Feingold said he favored restoring that firewall.

Republican opposition to financial reform was obvious by the subsequent action of Senate Republicans. Senator Reid blamed the Republicans, not Senator Cantwell or Feingold, for stalling the legislation.
Senator Dodd agreed and to show the opposition of the Republicans, he returned to the Senate floor and asked for unanimous consent to vote on the proposed amendment of Senator Cantwell. The motion was defeated when Republican Senator Shelby of Alabama objected.

Republicans continue their strategy of opposing Democratic action on legislation, believing this contributes to the Republicans chances of gaining seats in Congress.  They hope that the public does not see that the Republican stalling tactics are the primary reason Congress is not addressing our Nation’s problems in a timely fashion. Sooner or later the public is going to see beyond the Republican noise machine and Democrats will prevail.

Senator Cantwell is to be commended for her efforts to strengthen this legislation. She is acting in the public interest and showing leadership. Her amendments are reasonable and vital ones to address serious problems in the financial markets. Washington State can be proud of Senator Cantwell’s leadership on this issue.

Republicans in the US Senate continue to block the nominations of Barack Obama. This tactic of obstructionism needs to be ended. If Congress wonders why Americans have such a low rating of Congress, this is a prime reason. Tactics like the filibuster and secret holds on nominations contribute to a dysfunctional government.

Of course this fits the Republican Agenda of trying to stop Obama’s Agenda for Change. Repubicans hope Americans will blame the Democrats rather than them for the consequences of not getting things done because government posts and judicial seats are still unfilled almost a year and a half after Obama took office.

The New York Times in an editorial today notes that “there are 52 nominees on secret holds – all noncontroversial in committee debates.”  As the New York Times explains:

The United States Senate was supposed to have dropped its insidious tradition that let members put endless secret holds on nominations and other important matters. The abuse continues, more murky than ever.

The reform, adopted three years ago, required senators to identify themselves within six days of blocking a nominee, and to state their objection. That stricture has been routinely violated with cheesy gamesmanship. Members — mostly in the Republican minority — pass secret holds among themselves to foil the time limit.

At the end of March, Obama made his first Recess appointments to end the Republican Senatorial roadblock 15 of his appointments. But the roadblock still continues for many other nominees. The New York Times editorial noted that the Senate has confirmed only 45% of Obama’s judicial nominees to date.

Americans need to contact their Senators and urge an end to this juvenile practice. Elections have consequences and the losers needs to acknowledge this and let the winner put their choices in place to do the people’s business.

As we await the outcome in the Senate race in Massachusetts, one thing is certain.  The Democrats are failing to articulate their message to voters.  Nationally Democrats have become complacent, allowing right wing Republicans and the so called Tea Party fanatics to define what the Democrats are about. One has to wonder where is the vision, where is the voice articulating a progressive future for America.

Democrats have allowed conservative voices to dominate the airwaves with outrageous claims and make Democrats the issue  rather than the failed conservative policies that contributed to our current recession.  They have allowed the Tea Party rhetoric to switch the blame for failed conservative free market and de-regulation policies to Democrats who are struggling to clean up 8 years of failed fiscal policies under Bush.

EJ Dionne in a commentary yesterday entitled  Mass. Senate raises lessons for Obama  discusses the Democrat’s problems:

“…the success of the conservative narrative ought to trouble liberals and the Obama administration. The president has had to “own” the economic catastrophe much earlier than he should have. Most Americans understand that the mess we are in started before Obama got to the White House. Yet many, especially political independents, are upset that the government has had to spend so much and that things have not turned around as fast as they had hoped.

It’s also striking that most conservatives, through a method that might be called the audacity of audacity, have acted as if absolutely nothing went wrong with their economic theories. They speak and act as if they had nothing to do with the large deficits they now bemoan and say we will all be saved if only we return to the very policies that should already be discredited. …

…the truth that liberals and Obama must grapple with is that they have failed so far to dent the right’s narrative, especially among those moderates and independents with no strong commitments to either side in this fight.”

Just winning the election was only 1 step. It’s like scoring a touchdown and then walking off the football field before the game is over. It’s like winning the first game of the season and then not showing up for the next game. You can’t achieve change if you’re not engaged in an ongong matter. And a big part of the game in politics is getting your message out there defining who you are and what you stand for and what you intend to do for the country; it’s not by letting the fringe conservatives, with no agenda except being in power, define who you are by outshouting you.

America’s free press is disappearing and real political analysis is being lost as polls, yelling and shouting replace political dialogue and serious discussion of the issues. Money exerts an even greater influence in driving politics as an independent press ceases to function and corporate conglomerates consolidate media power. TV, where most people get their news, loves a political circus with controversy. They love car crashes and political scandals more than hard hitting investigations and analysis of policies and programs that affect peoples lives every day. Not enough drama.

Citizens need to demand more from our media and more from our elected officials to engage the public in running our country. Democrats need to wake up and work for the future they want. No one is going to just hand it to them Let’s hope the Democrat’s in power wake up to this reality before the opportunity for real change passes us by again.

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“Unabashed Liberal” Who cares that Karl Rove today said that Obama’s Supreme Court appointment is an “unabashed liberal”? Anyone to the left of Karl Rove is an unabashed liberal and the public has said good riddance to the Rove/Bush /Cheney era because it failed to live up to what America is and what it can become.

Let the Republicans add “Woman” and “Hispanic” to the list. Whatever helps to speed up their digging their own grave, so much the better. Fortunately the country is moving on faster than they are able to keep up.

Obama today nominated as many expected, US Appeals Court Judge Sonja Sotomayer to the US Supreme Court. When confirmed, as appears likely considering the current makeup of the US Senate, she will only be the third woman to sit on the US Supreme Court since its inception in 1789. She will also be the first Hispanic.

She would become the 111th member of the US Supreme Court, joining what has been for 220 years an old boy’s club. Out of the previous 110 Supreme Court Justices only two, Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg , have been women.

SCOTUS.com notes that conservatives will be fighting a losing battle opposing Sotomeyer. They believe that:

“Republicans cannot afford to find themselves in the position of implicitly opposing Judge Sotomayor. To Hispanics, the nomination would be an absolutely historic landmark. It really is impossible to overstate its significance. The achievement of a lifetime appointment at the absolute highest levels of the government is a profound event for that community, which in turn is a vital electoral group now and in the future.

Scotus.com suggests that Republicans will back off and states “with Justice Stevens’s retirement inevitable in the next few years, Republican senators are very likely to hold off conservative interest groups with promises to sharply examine President Obama’s second (potentially white male) nominee.”

This is where I hope POTUS.com is wrong. “Potentially white male” as Obama’s next choice is wrong. Obama has a chance to change the court and the country to reflect the voting public. Frankly I think Obama should appoint more women. The Supreme Court is so out of balance that its time to make a dynamic shift and right the imbalance. It would be fun watching the Republicans scream “What another woman?” as Obama appoints the fourth, fifth and sixth woman to sit on the US Supreme Court. Why not? Let’s see some audacity. Let’s see some hope for real change, not just tokenism.

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Maybe Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell are angling for the endorsement of the Seattle Times next time they’re up for election. They are certainly not working for most of the citizens in Washington State when they voted last week to raise the Federal estate tax exemption for the very wealthy.

Senators Murray and Cantwell joined forces with all 41 Republicans and 8 other Democrats in a Senate vote that would remove $91 billion over ten years from the Federal budget. As the blog Working Life said, “Ten Senate Democrats Lose Their Minds, Vote for Estate Tax Cut”

“Now, c’mon, this is entirely absurd. We already have the widest gap between rich and poor in many generations. Republicans (and some Democrats) are trying to cut the Administration’s proper and wise investments in infrastructure and wise energy efficiency programs. And, in the midst of all that, the Senate does what? Votes to cut the estate tax (which effects only the richest Americans) thanks to the votes of ten Senate Democrats. This is the definition of insanity.”

As the New York Times notes today in an editorial entitled “Guarding the Family Fortune” :

“…as the unemployment rate hit a 25-year high and nearly one in 10 Americans was receiving food stamps, 10 Democrats in the Senate joined all 41 Republican senators to cut estate taxes for the wealthiest families….With economic pain and suffering on the rise, how do the senators justify a big tax cut for multimillionaires?”

Who are the other Senators joining this Reagan/ Bush era philosophy of trickle down economics – that you can’t do enough to help the wealthy because they keep the county growing? They are Senators Lincoln Blanche (Arkansas), Max Baucus (Montana), John Tester (Montana), Evan Bayh (Indiana), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), Ben Nelson (Nebraska), Bill Nelson (Florida), and Mark Pryor (Arkansas).

As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorites states:

“This proposal is both fiscally irresponsible — it would pave the way for a significant increase in long-term deficits and debt — and unnecessary to protect small businesses and farms, nearly all of which are already exempt from the tax under the 2009 estate tax rules, which President Obama has proposed to extend. The amendment also would lead to significant reductions in charitable contributions, while benefiting only the wealthiest 0.28 percent of estates.”

As the NY Times editorial cited above states:

Under today’s estate tax, which is retained in both the House version of the budget and in President Obama’s version, 99.8 percent of estates will never owe any estate tax. That’s because the tax applies only to estates that exceed $7 million per couple or $3.5 million for individuals, and a vast majority of American families are not and never will be that wealthy. “

It seems to me that Senator Murray and Senator Cantwell are missing the larger picture. Washington State voters recently voted to retain the state estate tax to help fund schools. With the increased concentration of wealth in a very small percentage of the population, it’s time for the wealthy to give back some of the money they made thanks to benefits of the US economic system that made it possible. After all, they can’t spend it after they’re dead. But they can do whatever they want with it while they’re living.

The New York Times has an interesting opinion piece today by David E RePass. RePass is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the University of Connecticut.

RePass’s opinion piece is entitled “Make my Filibuster” and his thesis is simple. Republicans have been repeatedly threatening to filibuster legislation essentially giving a minority veto power to 40 Senators. Yet actual filibusters he says are extremely rare. He says this threat of a filibuster is preventing government from functioning effectively and is really more appropriately called a “phantom filibuster.”

RePass notes that:

“The phantom filibuster is clearly unconstitutional. The founders required a supermajority in only five situations: veto overrides and votes on treaties, constitutional amendments, convictions of impeached officials and expulsions of members of the House or Senate. The Constitution certainly does not call for a supermajority before debate on any controversial measure can begin.

And fixing the problem would not require any change in Senate rules. The phantom filibuster could be done away with overnight by the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid. All he needs to do is call the minority’s bluff by bringing a challenged measure to the floor and letting the debate begin.”

I strongly agree with DePass. He suggests that the Democrats would be politically astute if they called the Republicans bluff. Obama is enjoying much public good will, having inherited a disaster of an economy from the Republicans. The Republican mind set of a free market economy and little or no regulation and oversight brought on this current economic nightmare.

Voters clearly said it’s time to change and Republicans still don’t get it. Their answer to the problems is to continue the tried and failed Republican free market economy approach, rather than admit that they failed and brought us this mess. It is a Republican mess and if they want to filibuster Obama’s proposals to try to fix the problem, let them go ahead.

Let them get on the Senate floor and oppose health care legislation and green jobs legislation and regulation for the financial industry and unemployment compensation for the unemployed and mortgage reform and help for homeowners losing their jobs and solutions to deal with climate change. That’s what they’ve been doing for years.

But the public mood has changed. If they didn’t get the message from last November’s election of Obama and the loss of formerly Republican seats in the House and Senate, let them see how Americans feel about their trying to stop Congress and the President from working and doing their job by proposing and passing needed solutions to our current problems.

Americans are tried of naysayers and want our problems solved. Republicans botched the economy and Americans want them to get out of the way and let the President and Congress work to clean up the mess they created. They’ll soon learn that the filibuster approach to solving problems is not one that going to earn them more votes in the next election. It’s time for Reid and the Democrats in the US Senate to call the Republicans bluff on filibustering and move on to working out urgently needed solutions to our pressing problems.

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