Friday, May 12, 2006

Senate Rule 21 & unanimous consent vs. the 1995 shutdown

In Lisa Lockwood's diary about "shutting it down", there are some very good points, on both sides of the argument with respect to walking out, shutting down Congress and various alternatives regarding what the Democrats can do.

Personally, I think that walking out of Congress will not accomplish anything - rather the greedy, corrupt Republicans will ram through whatever they want to do just like they did in the middle of the night with the Terry Schiavo debacle.

Nor do I think that "shutting down the government" like the GOP did in 1995 is what we are talking about either. However, Congressional business can be tremendously impacted and slowed to a crawl by doing certain things and, if framed correctly, be a huge boost going into the November elections.

Late last year, Sen. Reid threw the Senate into a closed session by invoking Session Rule 21 for the first time in 25 years. By doing so, Reid was able to take control of the agenda and force debate, ableit for a short period of time, and had the Republicans agree to a probe about the administration's handling of pre-war intelligence. Of course, we were all happy at the time, but it was a short lived happiness as the Republicans didn't do anything in this area and we were back to the business of screwing We the People royally to the benefit of extremely wealthy and well connected cronies.

However, there is no reason why Sen. Reid can't do this every single day for any of a number of reasons. Pick one, two, or five - as long as the message is clear. Illegal NSA wiretapping, today's news of data mining, CIA leak investigation, criminal negligence with respect to Katrina, lying to Congress regarding Iraq, aluminum tubes and yellowcake uranium, even going back to "Phase 2" of the Iraq prewar intelligence probe or whatever else....Certainly there are enough crimes and violations that public opinion is on our side for.

Filibuster is another thing that can be done - clearly there are calls here to "filibuster everything". However, this may cheapen the use and while I don't subscribe to the "keeping our powder dry" meme, there are more effective things to do that I don't think the Democrats need to go down this road for each and every bill.

The other thing that can easily be done is to suspend unanimous consent. A few people have proposed doing this and I think it is a great idea. By doing so, each vote or motion would require a vote on everything and slow down the agenda. It would also be much more likely to have public approval since most of the Republican agenda is completely self serving and hurts Americans.

The easy reasoning here is to point out what "great" legislation that the "obstructionist Democrats" are opposing. Look no further than the recent $70 billion tax cut that will net people with over $1,000,000 in income nearly $43,000 in savings, while people making $100,000 or less will see savings of well under $400. Or the Enzi bill that will screw We the People regarding healthcare. Or the Medicare D(ebacle). Or bankruptcy "reform". Or the other tax cuts. Or the "Terry Schiavo bill". Or just about every other disaster that was passed by the Republican Congress and signed by Dear Leader (the only President to not ever veto a bill).

I see no downside here. But the Democrats have to have a single voice here, and the talking points have to be basic, powerful and clear. This shouldn't be too difficult since the Republican agenda is ruining the environment, making Americans less safe, lowering educational standards, leaving millions uninsured, bankrupting the country and hell bent on sending our children off to die for lies and greed.

There are some that also say that this will be death for the Democrats like it was for the Republicans in 1995-96. But this is very different. Back in 1995, the entire government was shut down due to petty political reasons in a game of chicken that Newt lost. The difference is that, back then, 800,000 federal employees were sent home on furlough (many were unpaid), all but "essential services" were stopped and there was a large effect throughout the economy. This included the following:

Health. New patients were not accepted into clinical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ceased disease surveillance (information about the spread of diseases, such as AIDS and flu, were unavailable); hotline calls to NIH concerning diseases were not answered; and toxic waste clean-up work at 609 sites stopped, resulting in 2,400 "Superfund" workers being sent home.

Law Enforcement/Public Safety. Delays occurred in the processing of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives applications by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; work on more than 3,500 bankruptcy cases was suspended; cancellation of the recruitment and testing of federal law-enforcement officials occurred, including the hiring of 400 border patrol agents; and delinquent child-support cases were suspended.

Parks/Museums/Monuments. Closure of 368 National Park Service sites (loss of 7 million visitors) occurred, with local communities near national parks losing an estimated $14.2 million per day in tourism revenues; and closure of national museums and monuments (estimated loss of 2 million visitors) occurred.

Visas/Passports. 20,000-30,000 applications by foreigners for visas went unprocessed each day; 200,000 U.S. applications for passports went unprocessed; and U.S. tourist industries and airlines sustained millions of dollars in losses.

American Indian/other Native Americans. All 13,500 Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) employees were furloughed; general assistance payments for basic needs to 53,000 BIA benefit recipients were delayed; and estimated 25,000 American Indians did not receive timely payment of oil and gas royalties.

American Veterans. Major curtailment in services, ranging from health and welfare to finance and travel was experienced.

Federal Contractors. Of $18 billion in Washington area contracts, $3.7 billion (over 20%) were managed by agencies affected by the funding lapse; the National Institute of Standards, was unable to issue a new standard for lights and lamps, scheduled to be effective January 1, 1996; and employees of federal contractors were furloughed without pay.

I think it is pretty safe to say that this is not the desired result.

So, this very may well be the tipping point that we have debated and waited for since late 2001. There certainly is enough disdain for Chimpy McDumbass, Cat Killer, MD, Fat Dennis and the rest of the Repukes in Congress. The public is outraged by another discovery nearly every day. But there is an easy and effective answer, and a counterproductive answer. Both will send a clear message to the public about the Democratic Party, what and who it stands for and what our elected officials will (or will not) do in order to try and regain some relevancy and trust from the public.

"Shut it down"? Nah. Not in the literal sense. But slowing down Senate business to a crawl, showing a clear sign that enough is enough (even though we here have been saying it for years) and that the Democrats in Congress are willing to use whatever tools are at their disposal (limited, but there are some very effective ones) in order to bring this country back from its current fascist state.

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