Sit-in and recess

Some of my friends outside the US may be wondering what happened with the sit-in by the Democratic members of the House of Representatives, trying to force a vote on gun control legislation.

The sit-in continued for 24 hours. Overnight, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and the Republicans appeared on three separate occasions to call the House into session and hold votes on unrelated issues. The Democrats voted but still held the floor.

At the end of the third occasion, Speaker Ryan gaveled the House into recess for the Independence Day observance, which was not supposed to begin for another week.

The Democrats who were sitting in and their supporters, who followed the sit-in through social media because Congress’s cameras only run during session, some of whom gathered outside the Capitol building in support, had been asking that there be no recess until a vote on gun issues was held.

Instead, the Republicans chose to leave town early.

The Democrats vow that when the recess is over, they will renew their efforts to bring gun legislation to a vote. It’s possible another sit-in will be involved.

If the Senate votes for a bipartisan bill that grew out of Senator Murphy’s action there last week, there will be additional pressure on the House to vote, too.

Regardless of the next steps, the sit-in itself was a powerful stand on principle. The leadership of Rep. John Lewis, one of the few remaining national activists from the civil rights battles of the 1960’s, was inspiring, as was the witness of Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, who approached Rep. Lewis about taking action on this issue.

There were many powerful speeches from House members. Some spoke of shooting victims from their states or districts. Some related much more personal stories. Rep. Marcia Fudge spoke of losing her only brother to gun violence. Rep. Debbie Dingell spoke of enduring an abusive childhood, which involved being threatened with a gun. Part of her speech appears in the middle of this video, which itself summarizes the sit-in.

One particularly evocative moment was when the Democrats sang “We Shall Overcome” – familiar as an anthem of the civil rights era – while holding up signs bearing the names of victims of gun violence.

The representative from my district is a Republican who is retiring at the end of his term. When the recess is over, I would like him to speak on the floor of the House about the victims of the American Civic Association shooting, which occurred in his district, and to vote for the common sense gun laws that the vast majority of American voters support.

Perhaps the fact that he does not have to face re-election will give him the courage to work in a bipartisan way to pass legislation that our country desperately needs for our safety and security.

We can hope.

Bernie Sanders on what he wants

Weeks ago, I wrote about what I, as a Bernie supporter, want moving forward.

In today’s Washington Post, Sanders writes about what he – and more importantly – his supporters want.  He actually mentions the twelve million people who voted for him in primaries, but he has many more supporters than that. Some, like me, are independents who live in closed primary states. Others are people who caucused for Bernie in their states, but who are not tallied as votes for him due to the state caucus rules.

The list of issues that Senator Sanders highlights is not exhaustive, but it is expansive, emphasizing yet again that Sanders’ campaign was never one-issue, as his critics had characterized it.

I hope that the Democrats will seek to address these issues and earn the enthusiastic support of Bernie’s supporters of all political affiliations.

I take the recent energy and actions by the Congressional Democrats as a positive sign that  the party is finally putting the needs of the people above the special interests.

Bernie has been calling for a revolution, not a violent one but a political one.  Let’s use the momentum of the current moment to make it happen.

It’s what being a democratic republic is all about.

Bernie, Hillary, and the Democrats

As we are in the final days of Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, with Secretary Hillary Clinton the presumptive nominee of the Democratic party, there is a lot of talk about what the future relationship will be between the candidates, the party, and the Sanders supporters.

I am a supporter of Sanders and posted several weeks ago on some of the things that I wanted going forward.

I realize that Senator Sanders has already had a large impact on Secretary Clinton and the Democratic party. There are multiple issues, such as income inequality, campaign finance reform, and climate action, that would not have gained prominence were it not for Bernie’s leadership and strong, consistent voice.  The Democrats would be wise to heed the counsel of the Sanders supporters on the platform committee and commit to and campaign on progressive ideals. With luck, this will result in a Congress that will enact reforms and set the country back on a path where the common good is the guiding principle.

I have heard some commentators proffer that the proof of the pudding will be if Sanders can deliver his supporters to the Democratic party, but I don’t think that that is a good measure.  Yes, he needs to help convince his supporters to vote for Clinton and her running mate to avoid the catastrophic prospect of a President Trump – and to elect the most progressive Congress members possible so that new laws and budgets put the common good first – but those voters do not need to be registered as Democrats to do so.

Part of Bernie’s strength and consistency of message and values over his long political career is due to the fact that he has been an Independent. While he caucused with the Democrats, he did not have to contend directly with the party apparatus, until this run for the presidency. Because so many Americans agree with his ideas, his campaign exceeded all expectations, both in winning votes, delegates, and caucuses and generating excitement, volunteers, and individual, small-dollar donors.

I don’t think, though, that these voters necessarily need to become Democrats to continue to support Sanders’ ideas. I plan to remain an Independent, although I devoutly wish that my state will change to an open primary system so that Independents can vote for the candidate of their choice regardless of party.

My hope is that, while Sanders won’t be president, his ideals will be incorporated in the next administration, with Sanders taking a prominent role in leadership in the Senate.

I’ll still be “feeling the Bern!”

What this Sanders’ supporter wants

There is a lot of ink, pixels, and airtime being spent speculating on what Bernie Sanders wants to get from the Democratic party, now that, short of a catastrophe on Sec. Clinton’s part, it looks impossible for him to gain the nomination.

Rachel Maddow has been saying that he must want more than changes in the party platform and I agree.

Senator Sanders seldom uses the word platform; he uses the word agenda. The literal translation from Latin of agenda is “the things which ought to be done.”

Senator Sanders and his supporters don’t want talk or words on a platform that will get filed in a drawer and forgotten. We want action on several important fronts.

In no particular order, here are my thoughts, which may or may not align with Senator Sanders’ and other supporters’.  After all, this is Top of JC’s Mind, so it is my prerogative…

1.)  I want a public option added to the Affordable Care Act which is available in every state. This is especially important for people who are currently in states that did not expand Medicaid, leaving millions ineligible for Medicaid and for subsidies through the federal exchange. I share Senator Sanders’ viewpoint that a single-payer “Medicare for all”system would be best, but I think that a public option would be a step in that direction, as well as an acknowledgement that health care should be counted among our human rights. Another helpful move in the health arena is to allow all government programs to negotiate on drug pricing.

2.)  I want Citizens United overturned and big money out of politics. I think our campaigns should be publicly funded with only small donations from citizens allowed. Bernie has shown that a national campaign can be funded with small dollar donations – if you have the right message and authenticity.

3.)  I want all primaries and caucuses to be open. Voters should be able to decide on voting day which candidate they prefer, even if they are not registered to a party. Like Senator Sanders, I am a long-time independent. Because I live in New York , which is a closed state, I could not vote for him on primary day.

4.)  I want everyone in the Clinton campaign to stop this nonsense about Hillary Clinton not being part of the establishment. Seriously. You sound ridiculous every time you pretend that someone who has been immersed in partisan politics for decades is not part of the establishment.

5.)  I want the country to be more equitable economically. We need a living wage enacted.  We need programs to eliminate poverty, hunger, and homelessness.  We need family leave policies. We need recognition that unpaid work, such as caregiving and volunteering, is also valuable to society. We need a fairer tax system which is progressive and taxes capital gains, carried interest, etc. at the same rate as income. We need to eliminate the ceiling on earnings subject to Social Security tax. We need to tax stock trades, as Senator Sanders has proposed. We need companies to invest in their workforce and communities and in research again, instead of continually cutting workers and offshoring jobs and profits. We need to make sure that financial institutions and other businesses behave ethically and don’t crash the economy. I could go on, but I’m sure you have the picture…

6.)  I want urgency in the area of combatting climate change. We are already suffering the effects and they will surely intensify in coming years, but if we don’t act quickly, we are dooming billions of 22nd and 23rd century people. So, fossil fuel subsidies need to end immediately. A stiff carbon tax needs to be enacted. The funds raised from those two things can be used to cushion the financial impact on people and to ramp up renewable energy/storage and energy efficiency initiatives. All new unconventional fossil fuel extraction should end immediately, as well as all expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. It’s like building a whaling ship as whale oil was rapidly being replaced as a lighting source.

7.)  I want comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

8.)  I want to cut military spending – a lot. We have been building military hardware that the military doesn’t even want. We spend more on our military than the next ten top-spending countries combined. We need to spend our tax dollars on things that build up people and communities here and around the world, not on things that are designed to destroy.

9.)  I want to restore our infrastructure.  Our roads, bridges, public transportation, railways, water/sewer systems, airports, and energy grid are in a sorry state. While we are at it, we can also re-design these systems to address climate change and threats from stronger storms and more severe floods/droughts.

10.)  I want a progressive to be Clinton’s running mate. I don’t think that Senator Sanders is an appropriate choice, given that he is older than Sec. Clinton and can be a big help in the Senate going forward.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts would be a great choice, if she wants to run, although she is only slightly younger than Hillary.   Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon would be a good choice. He was the only progressive Senator with enough independence to endorse Bernie Sanders. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota would be a ground-breaking choice. Not only would he be the first African-American vice-president, but he would also be the first Muslim-American to rise to such a high national office.

11.)  I want pay equity for women. (I can barely believe we still have to fight for this.) I want an end to discrimination on any grounds – gender identity, marital status, race/ethnicity, health status, age, religion or lack thereof, whatever.

12.)  I want the common good to be the yardstick by which we measure progress, not profits or GDP.

Probably wise to stop at a dozen…

As I discussed in a prior post, the Democrats need to remember that it is independents who decide elections in the United States. They need the ideas, energy, support, and votes of Sanders’ supporters, both independents and Democrats, to win in November.

And it is clear that the Democratic Party nominee must win the presidency. Our well-being and standing as a world leader depend on it.

My nomination for House Speaker

So, the US Republican party is in disarray.

The current House Speaker John Boehner’s resignation goes into effect on October 30. House majority leader Kevin McCarthy has just withdrawn his name from consideration as the next Speaker, as a sizable chunk of the party would not support him.

The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be anyone that the whole Republican caucus agrees on for the post, which is incredibly important to get legislation passed into law and is also third in line for the succession of the presidency after the vice president.

My solution is that Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker and current House minority leader, should be the next Speaker, supported by the Democrats and those Republicans who actually want to govern rather than be obstructionist.

There is vital legislation for the debt ceiling and for the budget that must be passed to avert severe negative economic consequences. If the Republicans can’t get their act together to govern effectively, they don’t deserve the speakership.

Government Gridlock: Theme and Variations

Before the Nov. 4 US elections, there was a lot of speculation about whether or not the Republicans would take a majority of the Senate seats. I thought about weighing in, but didn’t because I realized it wouldn’t really matter. We would just be swapping one flavor of legislative gridlock for another.

A primer of the US system, for those who don’t live in the United States:  Legislation must be passed by the majority of both houses of Congress, The House of Representatives and the Senate. (If each houses passes a different version of a bill, a conference committee drafts a compromise version for approval.) The President can sign the legislation into law or veto it. In the case of a veto, the bill doesn’t become law unless a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress vote to override the veto. The other important word to know is filibuster. In the Senate, 60 of 100 votes are needed to move a bill forward for a vote. This was originally designed as a way for minority views to be heard and was time-limited by the length of time that Senators could speak, but has morphed into a tool to block any legislation for which there are not 60 votes in favor, even if it has majority support of 51-59 votes.

Congress has been gridlocked for most of President Obama’s time in office. There was a brief period in the beginning of his presidency with a Democratic majority in the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. This was when the stimulus bill and the Affordable Care Act were passed.  The Republicans had vowed not to support anything the President wanted, but they could not stop legislation, so there was no gridlock then, even though the Republicans were refusing to co-operate in governing.

Within months, due to the death of Senator Kennedy and a special election that went to a Republican, the Democrats lost the ability to break a filibuster in the Senate and the first flavor of gridlock began. Instead of the rare use of the filibuster that had been the case for the 200+ year history of the Senate, the Republicans began filibustering almost every piece of legislation and many nominations for judgeships and executive branch appointees. The Democratic majority House was still passing bills, but the Democratic majority Senate could not get them to the floor because the 41 Republicans kept filibustering.

Next, the Republicans, thanks largely to gerrymandering of Congressional districts within states, took the majority in the House, which began phase two of gridlock, where the House passed dozens of bills that were never going to be taken up in the Senate, like voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act fifty times, while the Senate Republicans filibustered almost everything that was proposed. When there was a rare instance of bipartisanship, such as the Senate passage of comprehensive immigration reform, the Republicans in the House wouldn’t even bring it up for a vote. Meanwhile, the filibuster in the Senate blocked nominations for key posts, so we faced the ebola situation without a surgeon general to lead and co-ordinate the efforts and the debacle with Russia and Ukraine without a US ambassador to Russia.

So, with the electorate already frustrated with gridlock and disgusted that this Congress is about to break the shameful record set by the last Congress for least number of laws passed, we held elections last week. Turnout was 36.3% of eligible voters, the lowest in seventy-two years. In many Congressional districts, including mine, an incumbent was running unopposed. The Republicans will hold a majority in both houses of Congress.

One could hope that the Republicans would now decide to co-operate with the Democrats in governing, as many past Congresses have done when one party had majorities in Congress with a sitting president from the other party.

Unfortunately, such hope is not warranted.

We are just going to move on to the next flavor of gridlock, although this one will probably have a bit more spice to it. Some legislation that the Democrats find particularly objectionable will be filibustered in the Senate. Other legislation may pass by both houses on party-line votes, get vetoed by the president, and then die because there will not be a two-thirds majority to override the veto.

The mystery lies in what happens after that political theater is over. Will the Republicans, having satisfied their base with their initial votes, actually work to craft a bipartisan solution which could pass both houses and be signed by the president?

I wish I could say yes, but recent Republican party history and current rhetoric do not give cause for hope.

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