Democrats should fight against Senate tyranny of the minority
Open microphones are an excellent source of candor. Sen. Michael Bennet demonstrated that recently when he was overheard complaining to Sen. Amy Klobuchar that party leadership failed to properly prepare them for the lame-duck session.
“It’s all rigged,” he said, “the whole conversation is rigged. The fact that we don’t get to a discussion before the break about what we’re going to do in the lame duck. It’s just rigged.”
The issue at that time was extending unemployment payments for workers whose benefits are expiring. A Republican filibuster prevented a vote on the unemployment issue, but Bennet apparently felt Democrats were poorly prepared to deal with their resistance.
Bennet is not alone in his disenchantment with the way the Senate does business. He is among several Senate “upstarts” calling for reform, according to a Washington Post story. Also included are Colorado’s Mark Udall and his New Mexico cousin, Tom Udall, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Minnesota’s Klobuchar and Mark Warner of Virginia.
Bennet may feel that it’s rigged again, after the president cut a deal Monday with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cut for the wealthiest Americans for another two years to break the stalemate in the Senate.
During the campaign, Obama was adamantly opposed to extending the Bush tax cuts for families making over $250,000 per year, cuts that expire at the end of this year. The cuts should be made permanent for families making less than $250,000, he said, but allowed to expire for families making above that. The country could not afford to borrow the $700 billion extending tax cuts for the wealthy would cost in the next decade, he said.
Obama had solid support for his position from Democratic voters. Polls showed majorities favored ending the tax cuts for the top two percent of Americans, while only about 35 percent favored extending them.
Even though a majority of Senate Democrats supported allowing the tax cuts for the wealthy to expire, Republicans used the filibuster to prevent the issue from coming to a vote. Even raising the cutoff point to $1 million failed to get their support, though Democrats again voted in favor.
House Democrats, meanwhile, did vote to end the tax breaks for families earning over $250,000, while making them permanent for the middle class. Their attempt was derided by the House Republicans as a meaningless “symbolic” vote, since they knew Senate Republicans would filibuster any similar proposal.
Despite widespread opposition to extending tax cuts for the rich, the Republican minority used Senate rules to block the legislation. They then met with President Barack Obama and made a deal to extend all the tax cuts.
They also agreed to extend unemployment benefits for 13 months, and to a 2 percent cut in payroll taxes for a year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to take up the compromise with his caucus on Tuesday. Some Democrats, however, are already questioning the agreement.
“In essence,” what it does, said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, “it borrows $700 billion from China, charges it, puts it on our children and grandchildren’s credit cards and gives it to the wealthiest two percent [of] tax payers.”
CNN announced that Vice President Joe Biden will attend the Tuesday Democratic policy lunch to defend the deal. He may have his work cut out for him.
An un-named Democrat told CNN that the Obama agreement “may be somewhat rough (to sell) in the Senate,” but that he is “betting the House Dems are worse.”
Though the hearing may be contentious, the president is likely to get his way. His prior agreement with the Republicans leaves the Senate Democrats with no bargaining power. House Democrats will have little choice but to go along.
Hopefully, this new frustration will strengthen the resolve of the “newcomer Democrats,” as the Washington Post describes the young Senate “upstarts,” to continue their challenge to the Senate rules that allow actions like filibusters. Only by breaking the tyranny of the minority in the Senate can they restore the principles of representative government on which the nation was founded.