Friday, June 27, 2008

Morality Police Strike Again

Barely a week after same-sex couples in California began tying the knot, the far right is once again seeking to change the constitution to outlaw gay nuptials.

On June 25, Roger F. Wicker, a Republican senator from Mississippi, introduced the “Marriage Protection Act,” a resolution to amend the Constitution of the United States to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.

And guess who was one of his eight co-sponsors? None other than Larry Craig [R-ID], the one and only, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to a charge of disorderly conduct for attempting to engage in “lewd conduct” with another man in a bathroom at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

In a statement on the proposal Wicker charges “activist judges” with attempting to “redefine one of our nation’s most sacred institutions.”

Wicker’s amendment would state: “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.”

Wicker’s bill is the Senate companion to House legislation introduced by Rep. Paul Broun, [R-GA].

This isn’t the first time the morality police have sought to outlaw gay marriage. Right-wing conservatives in the Senate tried three times in the 108th session and once in the 109th to push through a constitutional marriage amendment but failed each time.

If the idea of changing a document as sacred as the U.S. Constitution for something as innocuous as sexual preference isn’t enough of an affront to a free democracy, consider that Wicker wasn’t even elected to his Senate seat. Instead, a former Congressman, he was appointed by Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour back in 2007 to fill the Senate seat vacated by Trent Lott (another homophobe), who retired in December.

Wicker is now running for the remainder of Lott's term in the November special election against Barbour's predecessor as governor, Ronnie Musgrove.

The other eight senators who joined Wicker in his attempt to meddle in the personal affairs of American citizens are: Sen. Wayne Allard [R-CO], Sen. Samuel Brownback [R-KS], Sen. Larry Craig [R-ID], Sen. James Inhofe [R-OK], Sen. Pat Roberts [R-KS], Sen. Richard Shelby [R-AL], Sen. John Thune [R-SD] and Sen. David Vitter [R-LA].

Wicker’s bill has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Filibuster Frenzy

The minority party in the Senate continued with its record-breaking campaign of obstruction this week, forcing the Democrats to withdraw crucial legislation and in the process subverting the will of the American electorate. Twice in the past six days Republican lawmakers in the Senate have blocked key votes -- on climate change and energy reform -- ensuring that at least for now, the proposals will never get a full Senate vote.

In both cases, the bills’ supporters were unable to garner the 60 votes needed to break a Republican-led filibuster threat and push the measures to deliberation.

For anyone who’s ever taken a Civics class, the notion that it takes 60 votes to conduct business in the Senate may come as a surprise; after all, in the Senate all that’s required to pass legislation is a simple majority, right? In theory, the answer is yes; but in practice, Senate protocol incorporates a number of procedural devices designed to give the minority some leverage; chief among these is the filibuster.

Senate Democrats complain that for the past year and a half, the Republican leadership has been waging a dedicated campaign of obstruction, using the threat of filibuster to block the bulk of the Democrat’s 2006 election initiatives. It takes 60 votes to invoke cloture and bring a filibuster to an end, and the minority has made sure that just about every piece of legislation the Dems issue is forced to meet that threshold.

Two weeks ago I spoke with Pennsylvania Democrat Sen. Bob Casey, who lamented the minority’s seeming obsession with making the Dems appear toothless before the voting public.

“I think they’ve made a concerted effort to obstruct and block and impede any progress on basic issues,” Casey told me. “So, they’ve made a concerted effort after losing the majority to say well, if we’ve lost the majority we’re going to assert ourselves by blocking the Democrats from getting anything done.”

It’s not a tactic Republicans have tried to hide. Just over one year ago, in April 2007, then-Minority Whip Trent Lott (R, Miss.) outlined the nature of the policy. “The strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail…and so far it's working for us,” said Lott, in an oft-quoted comment in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.

Of course this isn’t the first time, or last, a majority has complained about minority obstructionist tactics, but even a cursory glance at the proceedings of the 110th Senate shows something is clearly different now. Republican leaders are evoking filibusters at a torrid pace, seemingly intent on blocking nearly every piece of legislation that comes across their desks, even measures with wide Republican support.

During the Legislature’s first session, which ended in January, Senators were compelled to invoke 78 cloture votes, an average of more than one a week – the vast majority of them invoked by Majority Leader Harry Reid. And things seem to be repeating themselves in the second session, with 42 cloture motions as of June 10, for a total of 114 so far in the 110th Congress.

By contrast, the previous record was 61 cloture votes during the entire 107th Congress of 2001-2002. Republicans are on track to triple that total by the time the second session closes next year.

Sen. Casey blames this on a small nucleus of Party stalwarts who he suggests are subverting the will of even their own constituencies.

“Even large segments of the Republican electorate want progress,” said Casey. “These issues [healthcare, veterans benefits] aren’t Democratic issues they’re issues that a lot of families across the board are concerned about…This has gotten to the point where even when some Republicans are trying to make progress, the Republican leadership blows up the bridge.”

The two most recent casualties included the Climate Security Act, which would have put a cap on carbon emissions, and more recently the Consumer First Energy Act, a proposal that would have eliminated some tax breaks for major oil companies and instituted a windfall profit tax on the same firms.

With gas prices now hovering above $4 a gallon, I’d like to hear the argument against cutting tax breaks for firms that on average each made more in profits last year that the top IT firms combined so the average American can afford to drive and also eat.

Democrats hope that in November they’ll pick up the seats necessary to put an end to that strategy, giving them the first filibuster-proof majority in nearly 30 years. But analysts say that’s a long shot.

According to Larry Sabato, professor of political science at the University of Virginia, of the 35 open seats – 22 Republican, 13 Democrat – Democrats are likely to win 16, with another two, New Mexico and Louisiana, toss ups.

“It is highly unlikely that Democrats will get the 60 Senate votes necessary to shut off filibusters,” said Sabato. “My guess is that they’re going to pick up three to five [Republican] seats putting them somewhere around 54, 55, or 56, but it’s going to be awfully tough for them to get up to the 60 votes that they’ll need [to secure cloture votes]. That said it’s a long way from November, so anything is possible.”