Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Aravosis: Yesterday Susan Collins blamed Harry Reid for Bunning's filibuster, today she's helping Reid break it
Yesterday, Susan Collins was blaming Harry Reid for the Republican filibuster that took unemployment benefits away from millions of Americans. Today, Susan Collins is stumbling over herself to help Harry Reid break the filibuster. Guess the pressure was a bit too much for Collins. So is she now a socialist too?
Aravosis: Obama avoided taking jab at Bunning today, didn't want to seem partisan
A few minutes ago on CNN, Ed Henry reported that he'd been tipped off by the White House that Obama was going to take "a jab" at Senator Bunning today when he got off Air Force One today in Georgia. Bunning certainly deserves the jab.

Didn't happen.

According to Henry, the White House informed him that the Bunning line was removed from the President's speech because Obama felt it would be too partisan. And, in any case, the brain trust at the White House doesn't want to involve the President in every minute detail of what the Senate does.

Bunning's filibuster has blocked benefits for hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans. It's stopped construction projects. It's not a minor thing. Time after time, Republican filibusters have put the brakes on Obama's agenda. And, why not? There are no consequences. The President sure doesn't hold them accountable. What Bunning is doing is probably one of the most egregious filibusters to date. But, he's getting a pass from Obama.

It might be a good idea for the President to engage himself in the Senate's proceedings when the consequences are so enormous. People might like to know that their President is fighting for them instead of avoiding a fight.
Marshall: Upending the Universe

Mike Kinsley once had a great line to the effect that what really irked Republicans about Bill Clinton's fundraising tactics was that he'd violated the cardinal rule of Washington which was that Democrats only get to use the latest and brassiest campaign tactics after the GOP has already been using them for several cycles.

And it seems like we've got something similar with reconciliation. What's outrageous is that Democrats have decided to avail themselves of the rules that Republicans have been using consistently for almost thirty years.

The only bizarre thing is how many reporters (though, candidly, fewer than I'd anticipated) really do think this is an immutable law of the universe.

Marshall: ClusterFail

Why am I not seeing prominent Democrats on TV, actually probably President Obama on TV, saying senate Republicans are wrong to be helping Sen. Bunning (R) create so much suffering for his own kicks and ideological predilections?

It's a mini-government shutdown but all I'm seeing on TV is "senate gridlock."

Marshall: The Filibuster That Dare Not Speak Its Name

It's become clear over the last 24 hours or so that Sen. Bunning (R-KY) isn't really alone in his filibuster that's triggering all these Medicare and Unemployment insurance cuts. He's being actively assisted or at least encouraged by a number of his Republican colleagues. But in a lot of press reports, not only are reporters unwilling to call it a filibuster, they don't even mention Bunning's name. It's just "senate gridlock."

Some of this has to do with the fact that even a few days in a lot Democrats seem bizarrely eager to keep this whole thing a secret. But it's really a press failure. Can you let me know when you see examples of the use of this phrase or other efforts to obscure what's going on here?

Booman: A Structural Advantage
I was watching MSNBC this morning and former Counselor to the President Dan Bartlett was on talking about the similarities between Bush's failed effort to privatize Social Security and Obama's current effort to pass health care reform. Bartlett said that in both instances the administrations made the mistake of focusing too much on the process of passing the legislation through Congress and not enough on winning the argument in the public square. I think I agree with that in a general sense. But it isn't exactly easy to win an argument of the merits of legislation when the other side is forcing you to constantly work on process. As Alexander Bolton ably explains in The Hill, the Republicans have been very successful in getting the American people to attribute shared blame for the gridlock in Washington.

Failure to advance must-pass legislation has added to the Democrats’ problems when Congress is suffering from its lowest approval ratings in years.

Democrats claim they can blame Republican obstruction for the gridlock, but political experts and some Democratic allies say the majority party will also suffer because it controls Congress.

This is even true in the current case of Sen. Jim Bunning denying unanimous consent to extend unemployment insurance (among other things):

Democrats decried Bunning and the GOP in a flood of press releases Monday, but those feeling the pain may not make distinctions.

“I certainly think the majority leadership understands what a catastrophe this is. They overestimated the good will of the Senate as a whole,” said Jody Conti, federal advocacy coordinator for the National Employment Law Project, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for low- and middle-income workers.

“The calls and e-mails we’re already getting are turning rapidly to, ‘Democrats have a supermajority, why can’t they move this through?’ Workers are placing the blame on both sides of the aisle,” said Conti.

Democratic strategists say their candidates will blast the GOP for obstruction. “If Republicans are stopping something as basic as helping the unemployed, they’re going to take a hit on it,” said John Anzalone, a Democratic pollster...

...But he said gridlock would also hurt the party in control. “People are seeing that their lives are being played with because of party politics, and that’s bad for everyone,” he said.

The more people hate Congress, the more that feeds into the Republicans' anti-government message. So, they have the luxury of using procedural moves to stall progress in Washington (even to the degree that it enrages a significant portion of the electorate) because the blame is spread out and hurts the party that wants to convince the people that the government can be a force for good.

There are obvious limits. The Republicans went too far in 1995 with the government shutdown and smoothed Clinton's path to reelecton. But they enjoy a basic structural advantage in that the Democrats can't really respond in kind when they are in the minority because they would catch nearly all the blame. In the case of Social Security privatization, it was a simple matter of the proposed legislation being incredibly unpopular. A less controversial bill proposed by a less unpopular president would not have been successfully stonewalled by the Democrats. It's just not in their nature.

Getting back to the point at the top, the Obama administration certainly failed to communicate their strategy for passing health care reform in a way that would have made their friends comfortable with the compromises they were making, and this led to the narrative about backroom deals and selling out to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. But the kind of sordid deals that are required to pass reforms of this size are not the kind of things that look good in the light of day. It's hard to win over a Ben Nelson to vote for your reforms if you are simultaneously telling your supporters that you cut something out of the reforms because Nelson is a whore to the insurance industry and it was the only way you could get his vote. And I don't mean to single out Ben Nelson, because there were others who told the administration 'no' on a public option as far back as January.

It's hard to be candid about the difficulties of passing reforms when you are reliant on the people who are creating those difficulties to help you in the end. And that's what the GOP forced on the Obama administration with their unified opposition. Meanwhile, their use of procedural obstruction forced the administration to keep a constant eye on the congressional maze, which used up energy they needed to argue the case for reforms in the public square.

The Republicans really have been very effective. Even though they are incredibly unpopular, they've succeeded in making their opponents very unpopular, too. And the American people are wondering why the Democrats are having such a hard time passing their agenda, and giving them a healthy share of the blame.

  • from the comments:
    I think many underestimate the level at which the media play in all this. How can Democrats talk about substance when finding a news report in DC that covers policy over politics is like finding a drop of freshwater in the ocean.
    by The BBQ Chicken Madness

Kevin Drum: Jim Bunning and the End of Outrage

What is there to say about the Jim Bunning situation? It just leaves me speechless. We have here a situation in which the Senate is being hijacked, literally, by the ravings of a single cranky old man against a bill that the entire Republican leadership had already agreed to. It's pure pique, and the Republican Party is unwilling to do anything about it.

A lot of liberals have taken lately to calling the GOP nihilistic, and I've never bought it. Opportunistic? Sure. Brutally partisan? Sure. Vacuously unwilling to address the country's most serious problems? Sure. Ideologically frozen in the past? Sure. But nihilistic? On the contrary, they seemed driven by a brute cunning that I might even approve of if it were my own side doing it.

But then along comes Bunning, ranting against a temporary extenstion to unemployment benefits just for the sake of.....well, no one quite knows. For the sake of whatever demons are running around in his head, I guess. It's the kind of situation where a non-nihilistic party would finally step up and agree to rein the guy in. But that hasn't happened. The Republican leadership has, by all accounts, done nothing, and the rest of the caucus — or enough of it, anyway — has actually rallied around Bunning. Rallied around him! They know perfectly well he's a crackpot; they know perfectly well this is a bipartisan bill designed to provide working-class relief in the middle of a massive recession. But for guys like Bob Corker and Jeff Sessions and John Kyl it's more important to demonstrate solidarity with a crackpot than it is to help a few people out. "I admire the courage of the junior senator from Kentucky," said John Cornyn, apparently speaking for many.

Nihilism is probably still the wrong word for this. But I guess it's close enough for government work. Whatever it is, it's a very deep rot in the soul of the Republican Party.

And why won't they pay a price for this? Well, partly because Democrats aren't willing to force them to. But it's also partly because of how this gets played to most of the public. One of the consequences of Bunning's objections is that Medicare payments for doctors went down 21% effective yesterday. And whose fault is this? According to the AMA, it's the fault of the "U.S. Senate." Here's their press release:

“The Senate had over a year to repeal the flawed formula that causes the annual payment cut and instead they abandoned America’s seniors, making them collateral damage to their procedural games,” said AMA President J. James Rohack, M.D. “Physicians are outraged because the cut, combined with the continued instability in the system, will force them to make difficult practice changes including limiting the number of Medicare patients they can treat.”

Not "Jim Bunning." Not "the Republican Party." It's the fault of "the Senate." This sort of thing gets played out in headlines around the country, and the result is disgust with government and disgust with Congress. But it doesn't affect Republicans any more than Democrats until the headlines change.

digby: Creating Chaos
FYI: the village, in the person of Mrs Alan Greenspan, just responded to the absurd assertion of GOP mouthpiece John Feehery that the Democrats are to blame for Jim Bunning's obstruction because the Senate should have passed this extension of unemployment benefits bill months ago by saying:
You can certainly make the argument that the whole process has broken down and that no one is running the Senate.
Right. A Republican using an obscure parliamentary procedure to hold up unemployment benefits for hundreds of thousands of Americans in a time of double digit unemployment but the villagers agree that it is really the fault of Democrats because they are in charge and should be able to "ram it through" (except when "ramming it through" would be undemocratic and destructive to the comity of the Senate and the fabric of our nation.)

Let's be clear. Bunning couldn't have done this without the help of his Republican pals who have an interest in creating misery, which is their ticket back to the majority. And they are aided and abetted by a political establishment that is simultaneously demanding that Democrats capitulate and dominate, both of which are then subject to criticism and characterization as massive failures. They are creating chaos then blaming the Democrats for allowing it to happen.

The narrative is gelling --- the Democrats are both hapless and ruthless and must be replaced by principled, conservative "grown-ups." We've been here before.

And consider what's driving these principled, conservative "grown-ups" this time:

Nearly seven months ago, President Obama nominated Judge Barbara Milano Keenan to serve on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Her record and qualifications were beyond reproach, and she enjoyed the enthusiastic support of her home-state's senators, Virginia's Jim Webb (D) and Mark Warner (D).

Her nomination was considered nearly six months ago by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved Keenan unanimously -- not single Republican raised an objection. If ever there was going to be an Obama judicial nominee who deserved to be quickly and easily confirmed, Keenan fit the bill.

And yet, the Senate Republican caucus is the Senate Republican caucus. Keenan's nomination was delayed, then, because of a GOP filibuster. Why? No one has the foggiest idea. It's apparently just habitual -- Republicans try to block judicial nominees just for the same of trying to block judicial nominees.

This morning, the Senate held a cloture vote to end the Republican filibuster on Keenan. The vote was 99 to 0. This afternoon, the Senate held a final confirmation vote, and produced the same margin. (thanks to reader G.S.)

The Senate has unanimously confirmed Virginia Supreme Court Justice Barbara Milano Keenan to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The vote Tuesday was 99-0 for Keenan, the first female judge elected in Virginia and the only woman appointed to the Virginia Court of Appeals when it was created in 1985. The Richmond-based Fourth Circuit covers Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. [...]

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., lamented that there are now some 100 vacancies among 876 federal judgeships, that the Fourth Circuit currently has four vacancies and that the seat Keenan will fill has been empty for two years.

Keenan's nomination was delayed for months by a filibuster, only to see her win unanimous confirmation. In other words, those who sought to block her nomination ultimately voted against their own obstructionism, and for the judge they tried to stop.

It's one thing to block an up-or-down vote on a judge some senators find problematic. But we have a Senate where Republicans filibuster nominees who enjoy unanimous support. We're left with a confirmation process in which it takes seven months to approve arguably the least controversial judicial nominee this administration will ever send to the Senate.

Also note, it's not just Keenan -- there are several pending judicial nominees, all of whom have been approved by the Judiciary Committee, some with unanimous support, who continue to wait for no good reason.

This is an untenable process.

Marshall: Bunning Forced to Bat?

There's a report that Democrats are going to force Sen. Bunning (R-KY) to mount an actual filibuster tonight. Senate Dems seem to be officially denying it for now.

That raises the question of, if they're forcing a real filibuster in this case, why not during health care.

The answer is actually pretty straightforward. If it's just Bunning, the Dems can keep calling for unanimous consent and Bunning has to stay there on the floor to block it. As soon as he needs to sleep or just go to the bathroom they can rush to the floor, call for unanimous consent and then that's it.

Add a few more people, though, or add two or three dozen then it gets very easy to fight off. You just have one guy take an hour shift, followed by another person, followed by another. And maybe you have two on the floor at all times to prevent any mistakes.

If you've got 40 people, it's not hard to do it in shifts and even have it be relatively painless.

And remember, you don't have to keep talking. All you have to do is sit their and be ready to object.


Sen. Jim Bunning's (R-Ky.) temper tantrum has caused quite a mess from coast to coast. Tens of thousands of unemployed workers are getting screwed, as are thousands of furloughed highway workers, small businesses, and medical professionals. Bunning's rationale isn't even coherent, but his callous crusade continues.

It's been interesting, though, to see Bunning's Republican colleagues respond to the tantrum. The underlying measure was poised to be approved unanimously -- that is, without GOP objection -- but notice that Senate Republicans haven't made any real efforts to cut Bunning's lunacy short. Granted, the GOP leadership may have limited influence over the Kentucky senator -- the borderline-unstable member is retiring later this year -- but that doesn't explain the support Republicans are offering.

Corker Defended Bunning, Said Senate Was "Stooping To A Low Level." On the Senate floor, Senator Corker defended Senator Bunning and said, "I believe we are stooping to a low level. The Senator from Kentucky and I agree on a lot and we disagree on a lot, and I am not here at this moment to debate the merits of either side. What I am saying is this is not the way the Senate functions. Everybody in the country now knows that the Senator from Kentucky has a hold on this bill. That is something that is honored. Not a hold on the bill, but he is objecting to unanimous consent, and that is something that we honor in this body." [Congressional Record, 2/25/10]

Sessions Defended Bunning, Said He's Blocking Unemployment Benefits "As A Matter Of Principle." On the Senate floor, Senator Sessions defending Senator Bunning and said, "I think the Senator from Kentucky is speaking on behalf of the conscience of a lot of Americans, a majority of Americans, if they heard this debate. He is doing it as a matter of principle. I know he has no desire to see people not receive unemployment compensation. He is willing to support that. He simply is saying that enough is enough." [Congressional Record, 2/25/10]

Sessions Again Defended Bunning, Said He Respects Bunning's "Courage." Just yesterday, Senator Sessions again defended Senator Bunning. Sessions spoke about Bunning's actions on the Senate floor and said, "I respect him for the courage he showed. [Congressional Record, 3/1/10]

Cornyn Admires Bunning's "Courage." Senator Cornyn took to the Senate floor, suggested that Senators Bunning and Corker were not afforded the procedural opportunity to explain the GOP filibuster of unemployment benefits and said, "I understand that Senator Durbin retained the floor for the most part and yielded for questions, but basically the procedure denied Senator Bunning and Senator Corker, who I know also weighed in, an opportunity to explain precisely what was going on…. I want to say I admire the courage of the junior Senator from Kentucky, Mr. Bunning." [Congressional Record, 2/26/10]

Kyl Defended Bunning, Said He "Made A Good Point." "Bunning got support from Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl, who defended his colleagues insistence of paying for the legislation with unused stimulus funds. 'You can't say that everything we do around here needs to be offset,' said Kyl, 'and then waive the pay go legislation every time you want to do it.' 'My colleague from Kentucky made a good point.'" [Politico, 3/1/10]

"Bunning's blockade" is wreaking havoc, and leading Republicans aren't denouncing him -- they're encouraging him.

This is the modern Republican Party? In an election year?

For his part, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), Bunning's fellow Kentuckian, was asked repeatedly this morning whether Bunning's tantrum was defensible. McConnell refused to answer.

No "Profile in Courage" award for you, Mitch.

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