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!



Blue America Welcomes Back Alan Grayson for a Live Chat on "Money Bomb" day

In the 2006 cycle the candidate who attracted the most support from Blue America donors was Ned Lamont, with his campaign that served notice on the Democratic Establishment that the grassroots was unwilling to just eat up whatever crap it was served up from Inside the Beltway hacks. Blue America raised over $77,000 for him in our first year in action. The following cycle, saw another inspiring progressive primary challenger, Donna Edwards, attract the most donors and the largest amount (almost $65,000). It may be too early to tell, but it looks like 2010 cycle will mark the year of Alan Grayson. It's still only 2009 but Blue America has already raised over $30,000 for him-- without having even made an official endorsement! We've been collecting contributions for him at No Means No, a page dedicated to members of Congress who voted against Obama's supplemental war budget in June, and at Getting Grayson's Back, a page dedicated to standing up for him when he got GOP noses out of joint by telling the truth about their health care obstructionism.

Today Blue America is joining a netroots money bomb effort on behalf of Grayson, urging our community to band together and answer the Inside-the-Beltway and Villager mentality that says there's no room for a plainspoken truth-teller like Grayson in Congress. Nevermind, they tell you, that he studied economics at Harvard, then worked as an economist, then studied law at Harvard and then successfully pursued war profiteers and Bush cronies in Iraq-- even before being elected to Congress in a Republican district and becoming the scourge of banksters and assorted evil-doers dragged before the House Financial Services committee. No, to the Villagers, he's all about "outlandish rhetoric;" he's "the left's Michele Bachmann;" he's "pugilistic" and a "wing nut."

Rep. Grayson joins us below in the comments section where you can see for yourself he's quickly become the favorite member of Congress of Democrats and independents from across the country. And please, help out with the money bomb today.



Blue America Welcomes Back Two Old Friends, Joe Sestak And Ned Lamont

Yesterday Arlen Specter was back at his old media home, Fox News, singing a new tune, dancing the Lieberman shuffle, calling the GOP "a party of obstructionism." Well, he's got that right; they are. And until consistent polling showed that a right-wing extremist, Club For Growth head Pat Toomey, would kick his ass from Chester to Erie and from Waynesville to Carbondale in the Republican primary, Specter was very much a part of that obstructionist machine. Staring into the eyes of political mortality, Specter cut a deal with the White House to jump the fence and "become" a Democrat. He made the purely opportunistic switch on April 28. And here he was two weeks later on Meet The Press letting Pennsylvania voters know exactly what kind of a "Democrat" he would be:

Today he was calling his old colleagues obstructionists on the exact same issue for doing precisely what he was doing, although he has also bragged about how he will also vote with Republicans against Employees Free Choice. (The only difference is that he takes even more in thinly-veiled bribes from the Medical-Industrial Complex--$4,266,393, the most of any member of Congress who didn't run for president-- and Big Insurance--$1,058,655-- than most of them do.) Oh... and there's one more difference: Admiral Joe Sestak. Joe Sestak's constant pressure on behalf of working families has pushed Specter away from his unswerving support for his corporate donors. Petrified of being defeated in the Democratic primary, Specter sounds like he's almost a Democrat.

It was in the spring of 2006 that Blue America first started following Admiral Sestak as he sought, successfully, to dislodge another corrupt Republican barnacle obstructing progress in Washington, Curt Weldon. He was one of the first candidates our PAC ever endorsed and we have been immensely impressed by something that has distinguished Rep. Sestak from almost all the other members of Congress we've worked with. He is a critical thinker who seems to relish a debate of ideas. We don't always agree on every single issue but he never gets all brittle and uptight when challenged and he is always eager for input and eager to go through the thought processes that led him to make a decision. If there's one thing I've learned since starting Blue America, it's that no one is buying a member of Congress with an endorsement and no member of Congress will agree with you on every single vote. (Barney Frank once famously said even you wouldn't agree with you on every single vote.) What we do look for is someone with a sterling character who is open-minded, courageous and with inherently progressive sympathies. That's why we've continued to support Joe Sestak and why we asked him to come over to Crooks and Liars today for a live chat. He'll be joining us this afternoon at 3pm (PT), 6pm back in Pennsylvania. And he's bringing along another ole Blue America friend, Ned Lamont.

When I spoke to Rep. Sestak on the phone last week about the health-care debate, he was very forceful. "I'm going to have a very difficult time if I'm asked to vote for a bill that doesn't have a public option," he began. "I support a public option so that individuals are no longer stuck in insurance markets with no choices and no competition to bring down costs... I want to end unfair rationing by insurance company executives, like the small business owner who came into my District office because to complain about not being able to purchase insurance for herself or her employees because she had ovarian cancer ten years ago... As vice-chairman of the small business committee, I understand the need to reduce health care costs for small businesses. Only 62% of all small firms (less than 200 employees) offer health insurance, as compared to 99% of large firms. When they do offer insurance, it costs roughly 18% more than for larger employers."

You can find the rest of Specter's real health care record at DownWithTyranny. Meanwhile, please join us in the comments section below for our chat with Joe Sestak and Ned Lamont. After you've heard them out, if you'd like to sign up as a volunteer or donate to Rep. Sestak's election fund, you can do it on his website.




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