Set a Fire Under Obama — and Abolish the Filibuster

The stimulus bill has been larded with tax cuts which will have virtually no impact on aggregate demand, and infrastructural spending which does have demonstrated immediate positive effect on aggregate demand has been trimmed back, to placate Republicans by a pusillanimous Obama administration. And despite the Obama administration’s determination to have a kumbaya moment with right-wing Republicans, not a single House Republican voted for the scaled-back stimulus package. This is a recipe for another Great Depression.

Obama supporters point out that he needs 60 votes in the Senate to avoid a Republican filibuster, and will only have 59 once Franken is seated (God alone knoweth when that will happen, and perhaps only 58 if Lieberman channels Vikdun Quisling again). Since Obama is essentially conservative, as reflected in all his economic appointments, and unlikely to challenge the status quo without substantial progressive pressure, it is incumbent on progressives to apply that pressure and to lean on Senate Democrats to smack the Republicans down hard by abolishing the anti-democratic filibuster rule.

Contrary to popular misconception, filibuster was neither a constitutional provision nor part of the original Senate rules. A simple majority could close debate from the adoption of the constitution until a rules change during the recodification of Senate rules under Vice President Aaron Burr’s supervision in 1806. There is debate among historians whether the rule allowing unlimited debate in the Senate was an unintentional error or was introduced by Burr in anticipation of conflict with President Jefferson’s administration. In any case, it overturned the original procedure used by the Senate.

The filibuster was not used until debates over the National Bank in the 1830s and its repeated use in that period culminated in an attempt by Henry Clay to restore the Senate’s ability to close debate by simple majority vote, which failed only narrowly. Republican Senate obstructionism to President Wilson’s war policies led to a threat by the Democratic majority to restore simple majority vote to close debate and this action was averted only by adoption of Rule 22, which permitted the Senate to vote cloture by a three-fifths majority. This is the rule under which the Senate currently operates.

The history of the filibuster has not been particularly distinguished, being primarily the refuge of southern racists to thwart civil rights legislation and right-wing Republicans to attack the New Deal, the Great Society, and progressive judicial appointments under Democratic Presidents.

Obama’s “bipartisanship” is nothing more than Clinton’s “triangulation” dressed up as “change we can believe in.” Progressives know very well that “bipartisanship” only ends up with Republican-crafted policies being implemented by Democrats, because it is always the Democrats who have to yield to intransigent Republicans. If FDR had tried to win a Republican majority for Social Security, there would be no Social Security today. The same goes for the Voting Rights Act and Medicare under LBJ. If LBJ had tried Obama’s nonsensical approach to dealing with right-wing Republicans, there would be no President Obama today.

Progressives need to set a fire under Obama to cease caving in to failed Republican policies. It’s time to remind him that the Republicans are the party of Hoover, Reagan and Bush — the authors of the failed policies that have twice brought us to economic collapse in a century — and that the Democrats are the party of FDR and LBJ.

And a major step forward would be to prevent further Republican obstructionism by abolishing the filibuster rule in the Senate and restoring the cloture by simple majority rule that the founders adopted.

Unless, of course, we want 20% unemployment by this time next year.

Have The Senate Democrats Finally Learned?

With the Protect America Act (aka FISA on ‘roids) set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Friday, and the Senate deadlocked on the question of immunity for telcos, the Administration once again tried to employ its favorite strategy. Rather than support any kind of extension the Bush Administration is demanding that the Senate pass telco immunity or risk a veto. The conservative chorus brays how the Democrats are outing national security at risk. And why not play chicken with a vital issue of national security? This strategy has worked for Bush time and again, with no real consequences.

Still, the script did not go quite to schedule this time. When it became clear that the President could not force through the Senate Bill he wanted and get the needed changes in the House (the House Bill does not contain immunity for telcos), the President backed down and grudgingly agreed to a 15-day extension of the existing “Protect America Act.”

The question here is whether or not the Senate Democrats have learned that the temper of the country has changed. We all care about national security. But increasingly, the American people have grown disgusted with the way this Administration plays politics with national security and whittles away at civil liberties. But many Democratic leaders remain traumatized by the 2002 elections, when voters caught up in the post-9/11 scare and the hype in preparation for the invasion of Iraq decided to overlook things like the Enron and Worldcom scandals and voted out war heroes like Max Clealand who expressed even the slightest doubt about supporting our Commander in Chief in “this time of war.” And so, despite the election of anti-war Democrats in 2006, despite the President’s abysmal approval ratings, despite the fact that the majority of Americans now consider the Iraq War an enormous mistake and want to see it ended, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the President’s media cheer leading squad continue to use the same rhetoric as if it were still 2002, and too many Democrats still tremble.

Let us be perfectly clear. The one issue delaying this bill is the question of retroactive immunity for Bush’s telco pals. While I understand why Bush would go to the wire for his buddies, why any Democrat would voluntarily so undermine the rule of law baffles me. The one conclusion I can reach is that too many of them remain mired in the belief that if the Democrats are seen as “playing politics with national security” then they will lose in ’08.

But as Chris Dodd and some other Senate Democrats understand, and as the House Democrats understood when they passed a bill without the telco immunity provision, the universe has changed since 2002. Even if political exigencies justified such an abandonment of principle as granting telcos retroactive immunity, too many Senate Democrats have the political calculation wrong. With the Democrats chosing among candidates determined to end the war and both of whom have promised to fight telco immunity, and with Republicans poised to nominate the man who has consistently defied the Administration on torture and other issues where the Administration has played the “national security” card, the message from the people should be clear: The free ride for the Administration to savage our civil liberties is over! The panic is past, and our natural distrust of a government granted unlimited power to “protect us” has returned.

I hope that the members of the Senate, particularly the Democratic members who have supported telco immunity, will take these two weeks to learn this valuable lesson. Because if you act as if it were still 2002, and give the President everything he asks for, you may indeed succeed in setting back the clock. In 2006, the American people proved we had enough of wireless wire tapping, and that enough of us were finally willing to vote out a party that supported an assault on our civil liberties. Must we prove that lesson again in 2008, by once again voting out a party that, to praphrase Benjamin Franklin, seeks to trade liberty for security only to discover it has neither?

All the rights they promise — all the wrongs they bring
Stewards of the Judgment, suffer not this king!

Stay tuned . . . .

700 MHz Appendix: A List of All My Posts on The 700 MHz Auction Proceeding

Well, it’s been a fun couple of months. I expect we will see more action on the actual implimentation of 700 MHz Auction, new developments, and so forth. But I’m rather hoping to ratchet 700 MHz back from overwhelming white-whale-type obsession to just one more spectrum item amidst the spectrum and non-spectrum stuf I cover. For example, the M2Z application has taken a serious turn for the interesting.

So, preserved for posterity, and because it makes my life easier than going through the archives, I list every TotSF 700 MHz Auction post to date.

Stay tuned . . . .

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700 MHz Auction Update — FCC Republicans Interested In Public Interest Proposals While Senate Democrats Take a Pass.

Welcome once again to the topsy-turvy land of spectrum politics. Although Republican FCC Chair Kevin Martin shattered expectations by seeking comment on the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (PISC) proposals for the 700 MHz auction, the Senate Democrats have decided to avoid having anyone from the public interest discuss the auction at next Thursday’s (June 14) hearing. In other words, despite my hope to the contrary, the Democratic Senate Commerce Committee is still playing spectrum politics under the old rules (treating this as an industry food fight and a chance to raise revenue), rather than using this as a chance to promote a robust public debate on how to ensure that wireless auctions promote competition and serve the public interest.

As a result, when the Senate Commerce Committee gathers to ask how the 700 MHz wireless auction can introduce new competitors for broadband and facilitate the open networks critical for civic engagement and innovation, they will hear from Mr. Dick Lynch of Verizon Wireless, Mr. Michael Small of Centennial Communications Corporation, and Dr. Amol R. Sarva of the Wireless Founders Coalition For Innovation. While Verizon has supported anonymous bidding, and the Wireless Founders Coalition supports open access, that hardly takes the place of having actual public interest representatives up there to press for real spectrum reform regardless of the impact on business models or bottom lines. As I say all too often (everyone repeat together) citizen movements must be citizen driven, and that includes giving us folks pushing the public interest an opportunity to speak rather than relegating us to the side-lines because corporate interests overlap with ours.

More below . . . .

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