Monday, March 1, 2010

the filibuster follies continue

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) actually voted against the jobs bill before he voted for it.

Here is a screenshot of his
Senate Web site (courtesy of Matthew Yglesias):

The HIRE Act, which he supported, and “Reid’s partisan jobs bill,” which he voted to filibuster, are exactly the same piece of legislation. Alexander voted FOR the Republican filibuster of the jobs bill last week. But when that filibuster was overcome with 62 votes, he was among many Republicans who turned around and voted FOR the same jobs bill they had just voted to filibuster. No intervening changes in the bill. And he actually boasts about both votes on his Web site (although you would never know they both involved the same bill).

Sen. John Kerry was pilloried during his 2004 presidential campaign for saying of an Iraq war funding bill, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.” But in that case, Kerry was actually talking about two different versions of the bill. The first one – the one he voted FOR – would have temporarily reversed Bush’s tax cuts for those making over $400,000 a year in order to pay for the Iraq war funding. The second bill – the one he voted AGAINST – had no funding mechanism and just added the $87 billion of Iraq war spending to the national debt. His awkward quote was used as an example of his supposed lack of principle whereas, in fact, it was an example of his holding firm to the principle that we have to pay for our spending rather than adding it to the national debt.

By contrast, Alexander (and other Republicans) voted to filibuster and subsequently to pass identical bills.

As I’ve noted a couple of times before (
here and here), this is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon among Senate Republicans. Stall and obstruct by every means possible. But if that fails, vote for the popular legislation you just tried to kill.

Another one of those Republican Senators who “voted against the jobs bill before he voted for it” was Sen. Inhofe of Oklahoma. But Inhofe threw in a nice twist. Among other things, the jobs bill will renew funding for highway projects through the end of the year. After voting to filibuster the jobs bill,
Inhofe complained that the funding provided by the bill was delayed:

Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate panel that oversees highway funding, said Congress has waited too long to provide a long-term extension of highway programs. The extension approved Wednesday lasts through the year. Because Congress has not approved a new highway bill, Inhofe said, states have been relying on short-term extensions that have been $1 billion a month less than in the previous fiscal year.

"Oklahoma and states across the nation have been forced to pay a steep price, in many cases with significant job losses and canceled highway projects, because of the failure of Democrats and Republicans in Washington to come together sooner to get the job done,” Inhofe said. "With the extension now passed, states will have the needed certainty to move forward on transportation projects, leading to more jobs in many cases.”

This goes in the “chutzpah” file (along with the kid who kills both his parents and then begs for the mercy of the court because he is an orphan). So what was preventing “Democrats and Republicans in Washington to come together sooner and get the job done”? The filibuster that Inhofe supported.

(Grist has an
interesting – and whacky – interview with the climate-science-denying Senator from Oklahoma.)

Some of this stuff would be funny if it didn’t have real consequences for real people. For example, just today,
over one million Americans are expected to lose their unemployment insurance and COBRA coverage because one Republican Senator, Jim Bunning of Kentucky (without objection from Republican leaders), is obstructing extension of those benefits. His obstruction also resulted in the Department of Transportation furloughing 2000 employees today and various transportation projects around the country being shut down temporarily. It also had the effect of immediately triggering a 21% fee reduction to doctors seeing Medicare patients.

Bunning later
complained that his one-man filibuster had caused him to miss the Kentucky – South Carolina basketball game. In response to Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley’s pleading with him to let the necessary legislation pass, Bunning said, “tough shit.” When an ABC producer tried to interview him he extended his middle finger in an impolite gesture. (But, we’re told, if Democrats use the procedural tools at their disposal to get around Republican obstructionism, it might disrupt the Senate’s “comity.” Or was that “comedy”?)

Bunning’s one-man obstruction shouldn’t be confused with Senator Shelby’s one-man “blanket hold” on all of President Obama’s appointees awaiting confirmation in the Senate. That was
last month’s out-of-control-Republican-Senator-shutting-down-the business-of-the-Senate outrage.

The AP has an article out today noting that
Republican use of the filibuster is on track to triple the previous record:

The frequency of filibusters — plus threats to use them — are measured by the number of times the upper chamber votes on cloture. Such votes test the majority's ability to hold together 60 members to break a filibuster.

Last year, the first of the 111th Congress, there were a record 112 cloture votes. In the first two months of 2010, the number already exceeds 40.

That means, with 10 months left to run in the 111th Congress, Republicans have turned to the filibuster or threatened its use at a pace that will more than triple the old record.

No wonder there are over 290 bills that have been passed by the House over the past year and that are currently languishing in the Senate (including major legislation like cap-and-trade and financial reform). The House has been extraordinarily productive over the past year. And had majority rule prevailed in the Senate, so would have the Senate. The Constitution specifies a limited category of matters (like treaties and impeachment) that require a super-majority in the Senate. For everything else, you either have majority rule or you have a system of gridlock where no one has ultimate accountability to the American people.

The Senate is broken. And if we don’t fix it, it will break the country.

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