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!



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.



Blue America's new Blanche Lincoln ad: Demand an Up or Down vote!

Media error

Blue America just produced a new ad that highlights the many payoffs she has received from the health Insurance industry and demands that she starts representing her constituents who unequivocally support the public option. I'm not much of a NASCAR fan, but you can see that the comparison we use in this ad matches her role well.

If you can, please help us to be able to blanket the entire state of Arkansas with this ad, because for a Democratic Senator to filibuster health-care reform is to become an active member of the teabagger/Republican party. She needs to vote for cloture and give Americans the right to an up-or-down vote and to be true to the will of the good people of Arkansas.

Howie Klein writes:

No, as we've been telling you all year, there's only one weak link worth trying to beat into submission: Arkansas' corrupt and reactionary-- don't those two terms always seem to find a way of cuddling up with each other?-- senior senator, Blanche Lincoln. Blue America has run TV spots against Lincoln all summer and fall and she's watched her re-elect numbers dwindle down to a place where if a serious opponent-- i.e., one with big bucks to buy advertising-- jumped into the race, she would lose. She may lose anyway, even though her current opponents would probably do better if they toured together as a carnival show. Yesterday the RNC started trying to push her to vote with Republicans-- as she so often does-- and against health care reform.

This week Blue America and our friends at Donkey on the Edge have a brand new ad for Arkansas voters to look at-- the fourth in our series-- and the message is very different from the Republicans'. By all means, be the first to view it-- and please consider making a contribution of our Campaign for Health Care Choice page so we can run it deep and wide.

If you live in Arkansas and contact Senator Lincoln, please let me know. Contact me at crooksandliars-AT-gmail.com. We need your help and so does America.




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