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!



Real Democrats Standing Strong For American Working Families

One week ago we started a Netroots-wide action at Blue America, inspired by Darcy Burner's closing keynote speech at Netroots Nation, thanking the 65 stalwart progressives who have promised-- in letters to Speaker Pelosi and HHS Secretary Sebelius and to activists from Firedoglake-- to stick with the public option, even after the bribe-besoted Senate tries to kill it in the Conference Report this fall. Since then more than 6,400 donors have contributed almost $400,000.

Every member on the list has received over $3,000 from grateful donors, but some have been given way over that. People have asked me why some congressmembers-- like Barney Frank ($11,717), Lloyd Doggett ($9,173), Anthony Weiner ($9,836), Dennis Kucinich (7,622), Donna Edwards ($7,457)-- have wound up with so much more money than some of the others. After all, 60 of them signed Grijalva's letter to Sebelius clearly stating that they "stand in strong opposition to your statement that the public option is 'not the essential element' of comprehensive reform. The opportunity to improve access to healthcare is a onetime opportunity. Americans deserve reform that is real-- not smoke and mirrors. We cannot rely solely on the insurance companies' good faith efforts to provide for our constituents. A robust public option is essential, if we are to ensure that all Americans can receive healthcare that is accessible, guaranteed and of high-quality. To take the public option off the table would be a grave error; passage in the House of Representatives depends upon inclusion of it... a final proposal for the President's signature, MUST contain a public option."

Generally speaking the members with the most donations and the highest totals are the ones who have spoken out the most forcefully during the recess. Barney Frank's contributions shot to #1 after a Larry King Show YouTube went viral (over a million views) showing him answering a crazed and delusional teabagger comparing President Obama to Hitler. GOP propaganda whore Rush Limbaugh pushed Barney's donations even higher when he went off on a snide homophobic tirade the next day.

Similarly, the way Lloyd Doggett handled a disruptive mob of teabaggers at his town hall meeting early in the month won him a great deal of admiration from progressives, not just in Texas but across America. Anthony Weiner's aggressive and spirited defence of the Public Option on Morning Joe bumped him through the roof.

Donna Edwards' unimpeachable record of leadership has been an inspiration for progressives inside and outside of Congress. Last week she reiterated her commitment to real healthcare reform:

I just want to be absolutely clear-- comprehensive reform must include a robust public health insurance option. Otherwise, we're just tinkering around the edges and run the risk of giving even more power to the already too powerful insurance and pharmaceutical industries and their overpaid CEOs. I am unequivocal, unwavering, and unapologetic about my support of a robust public option-- in and outside of the Congress. Indeed I appeared on the CBS Evening News just this week urging Democrats to move forward on healthcare reform, including a robust public option, with or without Republican support since they seem more interested in the politics of taking down President Obama than healthcare for millions of Americans.

It is important that we stay focused on getting a robust public option included in the House version of the bill-- nothing watered down. As a progressive member of the House of Representatives, I can't spend time guessing or speculating about what the Senate will do. I do know that if we don't do our work to get a strong bill out of the House, we won’t be able to beg, borrow or steal a robust public option from the Senate. And, the naysayers and opponents of reform know this-- they know what's at stake. That's why they've tried to use August to kill reform. With your help, it hasn't worked and it won't work.

To accomplish our goal, we must be vigorous advocates for a public option that uses the Medicare provider network, starts immediately without triggers, and has a payment system that encourages quality patient care. We're almost there, and that's why it will take your voices outside of Congress and those of us inside to encourage our colleagues and our President to be courageous to the end. I hope you will continue to join me in this fight for comprehensive health care reform.

No more tinkering.

No more dictates by the big insurers and pharmaceutical companies.

No more deceptions and distractions.

Let's fight for a robust public option to ensure quality, affordable healthcare and lower costs for everyone and provide transparency and accountability. I know we can do this. I will keep fighting, but I need you to keep fighting with me.

Friday Steve Kornacki at PolitickerNY emphasized how powerful Jerry Nadler's message on health care has been and Nadler is assigning credit to the grassroots efforts inspired by Darcy Burner's epic speech.

“If they try to get a bill through the Senate with 60 votes without a public option, it won’t pass the House,” he said. “We will make sure it doesn’t pass the House.”

Other House progressives have been making similar threats, and Nadler admits he’s not sure how seriously the House leadership and the White House have been taking them-- until now.

He described a conference call this week for all House Democrats in which “people who you’d be surprised at” spoke up and told Pelosi they’d reject any bill without a public option. It was only a few weeks ago, after she struck her deal with the Blue Dogs, that Pelosi seemed to sneer at the threats of progressives.

But now, Nadler said, “I think she’s probably going to take that more seriously.”

“We’ve got to draw the line somewhere,” he added. “And this is where we’re drawing it. And we have to draw it here. We probably should have drawn it a little closer in.”

So what happens, I asked Nadler, if the House is ultimately presented with a bill with a cop-op provision instead of a public option-- and if the White House and House leadership then tell progressives that it was the best they could do and that if it fails, the Obama presidency might be sunk?

“They can’t allow it to come to that situation, because I’ll vote no,” he replied. “They cannot allow it to get there, and that’s what we’re telling them now. If it comes to that, enough members, I think, will vote no. And they certainly don’t want to test that.”

Strong stuff, huh? Yesterday's biggest recipient of netroots money on our page was Maxine Waters, who sent an unequivocal message to the Democratic Leadership that the line in the sand is for real. She spoke at a town hall meeting in a part of L.A. where teabaggers and nightriders don't venture and she made it crystal clear that without a public option she will oppose whatever the Insurance Industry and their congressional shills try shoving down our throats. I doubt there's much Emanuel can do to her-- except take her off the White House Christmas card list. Addressing President Obama directly, she reminded him that "[t]he people of this country elected you and gave you a Democratic majority in the House and the Senate... Yes, we know that you are a nice man, that you want to work with the opposite side of the aisle. But there comes a time when you need to drop that and move forward. We're saying to you, Mr. President, 'Be tough. Use everything that you've got. Do what you have to do. And we have your back.'" As for the corrupt members of the House of Lords... I don't think Rep. Waters will have their backs any time soon.

"Not only are we going to do everything we can to organize and put pressure on the senators-- some of whom are Neanderthals-- we're going to say to the president, 'We want you to use every weapon in your basket in order to get those senators to do what they should be doing,' " Waters said.

So... if you haven't said thanks yet, I'd recommend today would be a good day to think about Maxine Waters, Jerry Nadler, Donna Edwards, Barney Frank... and any of the other members you've heard speaking out forcefully about the public option. You can donate to one or two or as many of the 65 members of the House who have promised to stand firm as you'd like at the Blue America page.




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