Reforming the Filibuster, with the Progressive Congress Action Fund Fellowship Program

No one has to tell you at this point that Republican obstructionism in the Senate is probably the biggest impediment to the ability of Congressional Democrats to implement a progressive agenda. And I'm equally sure nobody has to tell you that the filibuster has been the single most frustrating weapon in the arsenal of the Republican obstructionists.

So it won't surprise you that when Congressman Barney Frank was asked recently what ought to top the progressive agenda going forward, he replied that it ought to be getting every Democratic Senator to sign on to restricting the filibuster, as you can see in the video above.

As you know, the filibuster and the need it creates to find 60 votes in the Senate is the reason we don't have a public option in the new health care bill. It's why we haven't addressed climate change. It's why a significant percentage of appointments to the Obama administration remain vacant, crippling the administration's ability to do its job.

The clamor for change-- and the American people's frustration with its pace-- is just starting to get traction inside the Capitol, where newer Senators like New Mexico's Tom Udall are pointing out that despite the Constitution clearly giving each house of Congress the right to adopt its own rules of procedure, just a handful of today's Senators have ever had the opportunity to actually vote on whether they want to continue working under the filibuster rule.

The opportunity to change that is coming, and momentum for it is growing every day. Senate precedents say that the beginning of each new Congress, the Senate has the opportunity to adopt or amend its rules by a simple majority vote, so January 2011 could be a real turning point. But organizing for such a big change needs to start now.

That's why I've been pushing for the launch of an organized campaign toward this end, and why I'm so pleased that the Progressive Caucus Action Fund has created a fellowship program to help support efforts like this one and others aimed at bringing the netroots into a working partnership in moving our the progressive agenda forward in Congress.

Over the years, I've built something of a niche expertise in unraveling the mysteries of Congressional procedure for netroots activists and the wider blog-reading audience. And lately, we've been seeing the positive effects of informing an engaged community about the ins and outs of the rules and other mechanisms that make the Hill tick. The public option, declared dead at least half a dozen times over the past year, survived as a possibility nearly up to the last minute of the health care reform debate because we identified the pressure points that kept it alive. “Citizen whip counts” driven by a new and better understanding of voting dynamics helped apply needed pressure for passage of last year's stimulus package. And when we discussed how the decision on renewing Joe Lieberman's committee gavel would go through the previously obscure Senate Democratic Steering & Outreach Committee, members heard in unprecedented numbers from thousands of you on a process normally conducted entirely behind closed doors.

We'd all agree that an informed citizenry is an empowered one. It's something we accept as an axiom when it comes to knowledge of the issues. But the same and more goes for Congressional procedure. It's something that's generally been shrouded in mystery for most people (and don't think Members of Congress don't sometimes like it that way), yet its critical not only to understanding why things on the Hill happen the way they do, but also to explaining why high-priced professional lobbyists tend to get their way so much more often than the millions of ordinary citizens who tend to want… something different. Getting what we want means understanding how to get it. Not just in terms of emails and phone calls, but in the mechanical terms of draft legislation, committee markups and floor procedure. There's a good reason why Congressman John Dingell of Michigan-- the longest-serving Member in the history of the House of Representatives-- once said, “Let me control the procedure and I'll never lose.”

So that's what this is all about. More than just the filibuster, though that's where we're starting. If you choose, we can make this a long-running project aimed at increasing our leverage in Congress over a broad range of issues. Not just with my help, but potentially with the help of many more dedicated activists who can put their time, energy and expertise to work for all of us.

What are we asking you to do? For starters, how about joining in our filibuster reform petition effort, sponsored by CREDO Action? By sigining on, you're also signing up to receive CREDO Action's alert e-mails, so you can stay on top of the latest hot topics that need your attention on the Hill and elsewhere in the government. Is it a list-building exercise? You bet it is. But the good news is that for every name we add to that list, CREDO Action makes a generous donation to the fellowship program.

And if you're in a position to do more and help us with a direct donation, we've got an ActBlue page set up for that, too. We'll try and make this as transparent as we can.

So if you felt like you were well-served with good procedural information during the health care reform debate, and want to see our ability to build that kind of knowledge continue to grow, think about pitching in with us and making it happen. I'd appreciate it, and I hope you will too!

"Live Chat " Blue America PAC endorses Connie Saltonstall, Progressive Challenger To Bart Stupak


(John Amato: Please donate to Connie at Blue America's 2010 act blue page here.)

From the 2008 Democratic Party Platform:

"The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.”

Considering that “strong and unequivocal” support it’s almost impossible to believe that a comprehensive health care reform bill passed with all Democratic votes and signed by a Democratic president would end up restricting access to abortion, isn’t it? Indeed, one would have assumed that any such bill would require coverage for abortion for all Americans. And yet, in one of the most naked acts of political opportunism we’ve seen in quite some time, a small minority of anti-choice Democrats in the congress have managed to force the pro-choice majority to make it difficult for women to obtain access to abortion coverage even if they pay for it with their own money. And no one is more responsible for this than the congressional representative from Michigan’s first district, Bart Stupak.

From the moment the administration announced that they were going ahead with health care reform this year, the anti-choice groups geared up prepared to stage a phony hissy fit the moment the details of any bill were announced. In what turns out to have been a useless compromise, pro-choice Democrats agreed to keep the status quo of the Hyde Amendment, (something that they had been fighting since its inception more than 30 years ago.) But that wasn’t good enough for Congressman Stupak who insisted on attaching his own amendment which further restricted access to abortion. With the generous help of the Republicans (who voted against the final House bill anyway) he got it passed. And that set the stage for Ben Nelson to run the same game in the Senate leading us to a ridiculous game of chicken in which Bart Stupak and his dwindling band of anti-choice zealots are what stands between America and the most ambitious plan to reform the health care system in decades. He simply doesn’t care about anything but his own narrow agenda.

One of his constituents, Connie Saltonstall, was appalled. She couldn’t believe that her congressman would actually vote against health care reform based upon the lie that the Nelson Amendment would force everyone to pay for abortions. She had personally heard him promise months ago that regardless of what happened with his amendment he would vote for health care reform, and now he said he was willing to let the bill die rather than budge from his dishonest and inexplicable position. She waited to see if anyone would step up to challenge this man and when no one did, she decided that she had no choice but to do it herself.

She says:

“Michigan and the First District are facing enormous challenges and we cannot afford to sacrifice solutions for individual agendas. Stupak is co-chair of the Pro-Life Caucus and is putting their interests above those of his district. No federal funds have been used for abortions since 1977, and that provision will stay in effect without his amendment. In my opinion, Bart Stupak has shown that he is willing to block important legislation to support his own agenda at the expense of those he was elected to represent.”

I had the opportunity to meet Ms Saltonstall last week and I was very impressed. She is a person of obvious intelligence, experience and personal charm. Just as important for Blue America, she is a stalwart progressive who knows what she believes and isn’t afraid to speak truth to power. And yes, she is a pro-choice woman who believes that everyone has a right to their religious beliefs but that no one has a right to deny the constitutional rights of others. She’s the real deal.

I asked her at some point in our chat how she could deal with the awful pressures and influences of national politics and she replied with a powerful comment. She told me that she had lost a beloved child some years back --- and once the worst has happened to you, nothing ever frightens you again.

I believed her absolutely. Those Villagers aren’t going to scare her one bit.

Blue America is proud to endorse Connie Saltonstall for the Democratic nomination in Michigan's 1st congressional district. Like the National Organization for Women and Democracy for America, which have likewise endorsed her in recent days, we believe that she represents the most important values of the Democratic party. If you'd care to donate to her campaign you can do so here.

Please help me welcome Connie Saltonstall to Blue America for her first online chat with the national netroots.

Ed Schultz Brings on Markos Moulitsas to Respond to Matthews Netroots Insult

Media error

Wow. This is unusual. Ed Schultz does something you rarely see, criticize someone from his own network. Ed brings in Markos Moulitsas to respond to Chris Matthews insult of the netroots yesterday where he said we're not real Democrats and back-seat bitchers. John offered to debate Matthews yesterday. I wonder if we'll hear anything else from him on this now that Schultz had Moulitsas on. If Matthews wants to lob insults, I'd like to see him try to debate those he was insulting to their faces. I'm not holding my breath though. Good on Ed for giving Markos a chance to respond.

Moulitsas: You know in 2003 after ah--when Bush landed his plane on the aircraft carrier, behind the--spoke in front of the banner that said "mission accomplished", Chris Matthews had an entire show based on that event where he thought Bush was fantastic and he said "everybody knows that we won the war, except for a few critics". Well I was one of those few critics. People like me and the netroots were some of those critics and it turns out that we were right and the beltway conventional wisdom was wrong. And once again we're in a situation where people like Chris Matthews don't learn from these mistakes. They're sort of trapped in this bubble and and they think that they know better. The fact is most of the editors on Daily KOS either have worked on campaigns or worked on Hill staff and of my readers, I would venture to say the vast, vast majority knocked on doors, gave money, made phone calls on behalf of campaigns. They worked and they vote and if Chris Matthews is worried about us working and if he thinks that we're not Democrats, well then he really should be worried because he's got a thing coming.


Moulitsas: You know ActBlue is an on line clearing house for contributions to Democratic party candidates. In the last four years we have raised $115 million through ActBlue... a $115 million. Now that's not a bunch of kids in the back seat donating $115 million, at an average donation of about $30. So we're talking little dollars here and there. There's a lot of us. We're engaged. We're involved and we want a party that represents the American people and a government that represents the American people, not insurance companies, not big business and clearly we're not quite there yet but we only started this battle a couple of years ago. We're still fighting.

Send A Coat Hanger To An Anti-Choice Democrat


Blue America is teaming up with Working Assets, the folks behind CREDO Mobile and CREDO Action in a project we think you'll like. We're urging you to sign a petition to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid regarding the 20 formerly pro-choice men who voted for the virulently anti-choice Stupak Amendment last Saturday. Working Assets will send one of them a coat hanger for each signature. Here's the text:

We know what happens when women are denied access to reproductive health care including abortion. And we can't go back to an era of coat hangers and back alley abortions. Reconsider your vote on the Stupak Amendment. Tell House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the final health care bill that emerges from the conference committee can't turn the clock back on women's rights.

Working Assets will also donate $1 to Blue America for each signature we gather (up to $5000) towards a fellowship to support a blogger. We got to choose who to support and we can’t think of anything more deserving than the incredible work of Mike Stark. So, please, sign the petition here.

Cross-posted at Down With Tyranny.

Blanche Lincoln can't hide under a "Little Rock"

Our new Blue America ad is running all over Arkansas and people are into it.

Roll Call featured it, so you know Blanche is not a happy camper -- and that's a good thing. She was elected as a Democratic Senator and hasn't said if she'll give the health care bill an up-or-down vote. Simply amazing.

Please join in Blue America's Campaign For Health Care Choice

Roll Call writes:

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), facing the prospect of a tough re-election bid next year, is under pressure from a liberal activist group to support a motion to proceed on health care reform legislation that is poised to hit the Senate floor next week. Lincoln has been on the fence on whether she would support a bill with a government-funded public insurance option. The Blue America political action committee is hitting statewide Arkansas cable television with a 30-second spot demanding that Lincoln “allow an up-or-down vote on the public option.” “Blanche Lincoln claims to fight for health care reform. But whose interest does she really represent?” the ad’s voiceover says as the spot opens. “Lincoln has taken thousands from PACs from Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, Aetna and United Health Group — over $2 million from the health and insurance industries combined. That’s why 56 percent of voters think these contributions hurt her judgment on health care,” the ad continues. “With one in four Arkansans uninsured, let’s save sponsorships for the race cars. Help Sen. Lincoln get back on track.”

And Digby finds this very good article about the new ad that you helped pay for.

Democratic Strategist:

BlueAmerica's latest Lincoln ad is very tough, and graphically amusing, depicting Senator Lincoln all gussied up like a NASCAR driver, only the ads pasted all over her jumpsuit are for her many health care contributors. Slide the right-side bar at the link down and view three more 'Harry and Louise' style ads depicting a couple at the kitchen table wondering why Sen. Lincoln is so concerned about health insurers, when they can hardly pay their bills. The idea here is to build constituent awareness about her foot-dragging and get them to call her and urge her to get on the side of consumers, who need a public option to have any leverage with private insurers.

Some I guess would argue that these ads may do more harm than good if they alienate Lincoln from her progressive supporters. If she is that petty, however, she would probably vote wrong anyway. So I say it's time for the full-court press. The ads are honest, both in the facts presented and in depicting the utter bewilderment many of her constituents -- especially those Democrats who voted for her -- are feeling at her reluctance to even allow a vote on a measure that would let maybe 10 percent of Americans chose government health insurance over private insurance. Will Lincoln be a corporate lackey or champion of the people? Maddow puts the campaign to win Lincoln's support in perspective right here.

Howie Klein has a great post up detailing exactly where the ads are playing and in what cities.

Blanche Lincoln seems confused, but Blue America's new ad is here to help her

Mike Stark catches up with Blanche Lincoln in Congress and asks her if she'll join the Republican filibuster. She has been virtually silent throughout the whole health care debate and Mike does a great job of getting her to say something on the record. What she said of course was nothing.

Stark: Can you see yourself filibustering or joining a filibuster?

Lincoln: I don't even know what the bill is going to be and I'm going to do what I think is most important for Arkansans and that is to look at the bill, to see if it's going to be helpful to Arkansans and the country in expanding health care...

She knows what's going on in this debate and gives a typical non-answer about supporting the public option like many have given up to this point. We at Blue America are running a brand new ad all over her state starting today so we can help her decide that filibustering health care is not in any one's best interests except the health insurance corporations that she's taken huge contributions from.

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post writes:

The squeeze is on for Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) on health care in the form of a new series of ads paid for by the liberal Blue America PAC that cast the Arkansas Democrat as bought and paid for by insurers. "Blanche Lincoln claims to fight for health care reform but whose interests does she really represent," asks the ad's narrator before noting that Lincoln has taken more than $2 million in campaign contributions from the health and insurance industries. The narrator concludes the ad by asking viewers to call Lincoln and "demand she allow an up or down vote on the public option." (This is the fourth ad paid for by Blue America targeting Lincoln this year.)

Polling shows Lincoln, who is up for re-election in 2010, holding relatively slim margins over a series of unknown Republican candidates. Lincoln's dilemma? How to walk the line between the conservative leanings of the Razorback State -- Obama took just 39 percent there in 2009 -- and the increasingly vocal and well-funded left within her own party who see the inclusion of a public option as a sine qua non for health care reform.

Her primary is the reason we targeted her originally and it's worked out very well so far.

Please help us continue running this ad and many more to come and join in on Blue America's Campaign for Health Care Choice. Donations are much appreciated.

And Digby writes:

Perhaps Lincoln should start worrying just a bit about what will happen if her Democratic base stays home. The numbers aren't looking all that good for her right now.

She's between little rock and a hard place but it seems to me that's easily solved at this point. She should vote for cloture, thus appeasing her base and then she can vote against the bill if she needs to appeal to neanderthals who want people to die quickly.

Believe me, none of her constituents will hold it against her. Most people think cloture is unpasteurized sour cream. And they like it.

Paid for by Blue America PAC,, not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.