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Fri Feb 15, 2013, 09:43 PM

Friday Talking Points (245) -- Filibusted

Can anyone tell me why, exactly, Dick Cheney is on my television screen? Was there a shortage of cranky old Republican jingoist men this week, or what? Was John McCain too busy, or something?

Sigh. The vagaries of the news media continue to astound me. I mean, some cruise ship passengers have to put up with some unsavory and unsanitary conditions for a few days, and it's the biggest story of the week? The same week as the "State Of The Union" speech, and a Republican nominee for Secretary of Defense being filibustered? Really?

I guess that's the way it goes these days. "I had to poop in a bag" beats out "Congress is taking yet another week-long vacation with only two weeks remaining before the sequester," at least in terms of relative levels of disgust. I know which one disgusts me more, but apparently this thinking does not match with news program directors across the land. Maybe "a rock fell from the sky" will edge out the returning cruise ship tonight.

I did find it humorous to hear of the emergency broadcast system getting hacked this week, to warn unsuspecting citizens of the start of the zombie apocalypse, however. While hacking our nation's emergency communications system is serious, the federal government can only blame itself for the message thus broadcast, since (as we pointed out way back in FTP 168) the Centers for Disease Control has already been spending our tax dollars to warn us of the upcoming zombie apocalypse (complete with -- you can't make this stuff up, folks -- zombie posters, a zombie blog, and even a zombie graphic novella). Pretty hard not to think "the joke's on you," when you factor that in, really. Canadian lawmakers apparently got in on the fun as well, which just added to the amusement. What will historians really think when they dig that parliamentary speech out 100 years from now, one wonders.

And because it is Valentine's week, we'll close here with two subjects for you to search for, should you want to delve into some adult-themed humor (but we're not providing links, because we consider it beneath us... and also, because we're lazy). The first thing to look up is "Chubby Checker," if you haven't heard about his lawsuit against an app maker who took the two words a little too literally. To balance things among the genders in adult news, the other thing you can look up is "Hillary Clinton panda video," where a conservative political action group showed off... um... those "family values" they're supposed to stand for? It's hard to tell, even on the best of days, what those folks are thinking.


Senator Elizabeth Warren seems to be wasting no time in getting under the skin of Wall Street bankers, which is the whole reason why she was sent to the Senate in the first place (and which makes it a joy to observe). She deserves an Honorable Mention for making them sweat into their tailor-made suits.

Barack Obama's first State Of The Union speech of his second term was billed as a "bookend" to his earlier second inauguration speech (which was much more feisty). The bulk of the speech was an attempt to shame Congress into actually doing its job, or at least that's how I heard it. Over and over again, Obama's message was: "We should be able to get this done... How can this be a partisan issue?... Who could be against this?... Do your damn jobs, people!"

It was, I thought, a utilitarian sort of speech. I wrote a column on Obama's speech and a column on Marco Rubio's Republican response already this week, if you're interested in my snap judgments in more detail (the Rubio article has an amusing headline, at least). So I'll give Obama a utilitarian sort of Honorable Mention, as I really didn't think the speech rose to the level of the coveted MIDOTW award.

OK, all this typing has raised a powerful thirst... excuse me while I reach off-screen for a swig of water... heh. Sorry, couldn't resist. I (and millions of other Americans) are gleefully waiting to see what Saturday Night Live is going to do with "The Swig" of Marco Rubio, I have to admit. To his credit (and to be fair), Rubio was out there on the morning news circuit the next day, joining in the laughter about his awkward moment. Politicians who have the ability for self-effacing humor are a rare breed, so we at least have to give Rubio points for his good-natured response to all the kidding.

Kidding aside, though, our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week was Representative Zoe Lofgren, who (with a Republican co-sponsor) this week introduced legislation to regulate the use of drones for domestic police work. Yes, police drones are coming to an airspace near you, if they aren't already there. Technology marches on. But, instead of letting the tech get way too far ahead of the law, Lofgren has proposed some meaningful restrictions on what cops will be allowed to do with their new "eye in the sky" surveillance. Restrictions like banning armed drones, for instance -- an eminently good idea on the face of it.

Far too often, technology advances are ignored by lawmakers, and there is a Wild West "make it up as we go along" aspect to its implementation in society. The proposed law isn't perfect, but no bill really is. The main thing is to start this discussion now, and to get some laws in place which can be made better later, if needed.

For getting out in front of this issue, and for proposing a legal framework for police departments across America to follow (using the federal power of the F.A.A.), Representative Zoe Lofgren is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. We encourage all congressional Democrats to support Lofgren's efforts.

{Congratulate Representative Zoe Lofgren on her House contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.}


Speaking of drones....

The military is not really a valid target for us here, being non-partisan, but we have to at least toss out there the fact that the Pentagon is now ready to award medals to drone pilots. That doesn't seem all that controversial at first glance, but the really eyebrow-raising part of it is that the new "Distinguished Warfare Medal" will be ranked higher than either the Bronze Star or the Purple Heart. So sitting in a chair thousands of miles from the battlefield and piloting a drone -- where the only possible injury to yourself might be carpal tunnel or (to quote Mark Knopfler) to "maybe get a blister on your thumb" -- will now rank as a higher honor in the military than getting wounded in battle or showing valor in battle. That is beyond disappointing. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta deserves at least a (Dis-)Honorable Mention for this decision.

Jack Lew, President Obama's nominee for Secretary of the Treasury, also deserves a (Dis-)Honorable Mention, both for his Cayman Islands financial investment and for his million-dollar bonus for helping to crater the American economy (paid for with Wall Street bailout money). I bet if Obama had nominated Paul Krugman we wouldn't be having these problems right about now. Sure, the Republicans are flaming hypocrites for complaining about such things right after they backed Mr. Cayman Islands himself, Mitt Romney, for president. And sure, pretty much anyone from Wall Street is going to have some sort of embarrassing "tax haven" or "horse-chokingly-obscene bonus" problems, but isn't that really the whole point? Maybe we could look a little farther outside Wall Street in our pool of possible nominees, perhaps?

But our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week is none other than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Three weeks ago, we awarded Harry a MDDOTW for agreeing to a "handshake" deal on reforming the filibuster. At the time, we just knew Republicans were, sooner or later, going to just laugh in Harry's face and take his lunch money on the issue (metaphorically, of course). We must admit, however, that we didn't think Harry would get "filibusted" this fast.

The spectacle of Republicans filibustering a member of their own party for Secretary of Defense while we are at war was just breathtaking. The media largely shrugged, but then what do you really expect of a story that doesn't have videos you can run of actual human feces in a bag? I leave it as an exercise for the student to connect those two sentences, in whatever way you see fit.

But the filibuster of Chuck Hagel isn't the point -- the point is Harry got snookered once again. And it blew up in his face within a period of three weeks. Now that Reid has tossed away any chance of filibuster reform until January of 2015, we're all going to have to live with the consequences until then.

So, not for anything he did this week, but for the consequences of his actions three weeks ago, we're going to award a special Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to Reid, where we're taking some red paint and writing in big letters on the award itself: "WE TOLD YOU SO, HARRY!"

For ignoring good ideas for real filibuster reform when he had the chance, and for the fact that we've all got to live with the entirely predictable result of doing so, Harry Reid has more than earned another MDDOTW to add to his ever-growing collection.

Maybe in 2015, Harry will see the error of his ways. Even better, maybe the Senate Democrats will see the error of their ways, and someone will launch a leadership fight for Senate Majority Leader. Until then, we're all going to have to live with filibusters-as-usual for the next two years. Thanks a lot, Harry.

{Contact Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.}

[center]Volume 245 (2/15/13)[/center]

Kind of a mix, this week, in our suggested talking points for Democrats to use in any upcoming media appearances (or just around the water cooler).

The last four are themes from Obama's State Of The Union speech. The first three are just bashing those in Washington who we feel are in desperate need of some bashing. Let's get right to it, then, shall we?

Hell of a way to run a country

This one just frosts my cupcake no end. If I did a historical study of all 245 of these columns I've written, I would likely find that congressional work schedules is my number-one subject for abuse (or at least in the top three). I know it'll likely never change in my lifetime, but we all do what we must to draw the public's attention to it, nonetheless.

"If you were in charge of a giant corporation and your business was in imminent danger of drastic changes to your business plan -- changes that will automatically take place in two weeks, mind you, and would have severe impacts on your company's future -- what would your response be? Would it be to announce that all your top management -- the people responsible for implementing any needed changes to your business plan -- will all be given a week-long vacation? Would you even consider wasting half the time left to fix your budgetary problems, when the clock is ticking in such a fashion? It would, quite frankly, be insane to give everybody a week off when you were facing serious upheavals that could impact your company's future in two short weeks. But that's exactly what Congress just did. They all took a whole week off for Washington's Birthday. When they return from their week in the sun, they'll have a total of four days to solve the sequester problem. That's a hell of a way to run a country."

What would Republicans have said?

This is an easy one to tee up.

"For the first time in all of United States history, a presidential nominee to head the Defense Department has been filibustered by the Senate. This is a disgrace. Can you imagine for just one short minute what Republicans would be saying if the shoe were on the other foot? Can you imagine what they would say if Democrats were playing politics instead of confirming the heads of two key national security agencies while the United States still has troops fighting in an overseas war? My guess is that the patriotism of Democrats would be called into question, for playing politics with two nominees who are going to be confirmed in a straight up-or-down vote in the full Senate. Both these men will be confirmed, and Republicans know that, but they just want to score a few political points before that happens. While they delay two national security appointees. In a time of war. Just for one minute imagine what Republicans would be saying, if the party positions were reversed."

Open warfare in Republicanland

The news media did a huge favor this week for Republicans, by completely ignoring Rand Paul's "Tea Party" response to the State Of The Union. If this story had been given more airtime, it only would have spotlighted the deep, deep chasm within the Republican Party.

"Boy, it seems like every time you turn around you see more and more evidence that the Republican Party and the Tea Party are in open warfare for control of the Republican brand. First it was Karl Rove announcing he'll be leading a group who will be attacking Tea Party candidates in Republican primaries. This week, we had the extraordinary spectacle of not just the Republican response to the State Of The Union speech, but actually two responses -- because I guess the Tea Party folks can't agree with the establishment Republicans on how to answer Obama. Just the fact that a sitting Republican senator felt the need to give a second speech because Republicans can't even agree among themselves is stunning, when you think about it. Republicans seem to be in a state of civil war these days. Maybe they should just split the party in two, and fight this battle for control out at the ballot box."

Why don't you ask someone?

Enough bashing, let's get to a few items from Obama's speech. The first one would be useful for just about any interview where the pros and cons of raising the minimum wage were debated.

"You know, there has been a lot of discussion about the merits or drawbacks of raising the minimum wage, ever since Obama's speech. But in all this pontificating I have yet to hear one single voice of a person actually earning minimum wage. I look around this panel today, and I see a lot of folks saying raising the minimum wage would be either good or bad. What I do not see is one single person who will be affected. Why is that, I wonder? Well, probably because anyone making minimum wage is working so hard they don't have time to come down to this studio and sit around and beat their gums. I'd like someone to ask a minimum wage earner: would you like to see a nine-dollar-an-hour minimum wage? Some say this might reduce jobs in your area, some say that's not true -- if you knew it was a gamble and you might even lose your job, would you still support an increase in the minimum wage, knowing that if you got fired and found a new job it would be at the new pay rate? Nobody has even bothered to ask such questions of anyone who would be affected. We all sit here in our expensive suits and theorize about what macroeconomic effects will happen, but nobody bothers to go ask a few workers what they think. Which is a shame, because their voice is certainly worth hearing in this debate."

Path to citizenship

This needs to become a mantra. A true "talking point." A bumpersticker phrase that needs to be repeated over and over again until you are blue in the face. Democrats are a long way toward winning the "framing" battle over immigration reform -- a rare victory in the "how to talk about the issue" category. But don't let up now. Hammer it home.

"The most important words President Obama used in his speech last week on the subject of immigration reform were 'a path to citizenship.' Without such a path, immigration reform simply will not be comprehensive. There are only four choices when it comes to what should be done about the eleven million people who would be affected. Number one, deport them all. That's never going to happen. Number two, the status quo. Everybody is now in agreement that we cannot let this situation go on the way it is, so this isn't really an option either. Number three, allow them to become legal, but not citizens. This deprives them of ever having a voice at the ballot box in the society they are living in, and creates second-class status forever. Number four, a path to citizenship. I support the president's plan. I support the dreams of millions of people already here. I support a path to citizenship, and would strongly urge President Obama to veto any bill which falls short of this goal. Passing immigration reform this year is not only possible, but I would even argue probable. But it's got to have a path to citizenship in it. Period."

Why is this a partisan issue?

This was the overarching theme of Obama's speech, and it bears repeating.

"What struck me most about Obama's speech was the basic question he asked over and over again -- why are things the two parties used to largely agree upon now considered partisan issues? How can anyone be against something they supported just a short time ago? Does everything need to be partisan? Really? Here are a few direct quotes from the president: 'Why would we be against that?' ... 'Act before it's too late' ... 'We can fix this' ... 'Let's get it done.' And my favorite, the president pointing out that the American people expect us to put our nation's interest ahead of party. Sure, there will be issues we can have big partisan battles over, but there are many other issues where we should be able to reach reasonable compromises and then hold up-or-down votes. The renewal of the Violence Against Women Act just passed the Senate with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote. It used to sail through both houses because it wasn't seen as a partisan issue in any way. Why are important things like this caught up in silly partisan games? We can do better than this, and I applaud the president for pointing this out to Congress and to the public."

Up or down vote

This was the emotional highlight of Obama's speech, but while "they deserve a vote" was powerful rhetoric for all the gun violence victims, it needs to be more to the point. By changing it slightly, it can be used for all sorts of issues.

"President Obama was right when he got people on their feet this week with the refrain 'they deserve a vote.' He was speaking of gun violence victims across the land, but there's a larger point in there as well. Congress needs to do the people's work. There are a whole lot of issues that deserve an up-or-down vote in both houses of Congress right now. I call upon the leadership of both parties to commit to allowing up-or-down votes on legislation that has garnered strong bipartisan support, such as the Violence Against Women Act. It deserves an up-or-down vote. The president's nominees for his cabinet deserve an up-or-down vote. The budget deserves an up-or-down vote in the Senate, for that matter. America is tired of parliamentary games. Let's vote on these things and see who supports them and who does not. Rather than not holding votes because of timidity, let's show the American people where Congress stands on important issues. Demand an up-or-down vote! The American people deserve no less."

[center]Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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