Dec 7, 2016 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 160

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: Flint funding and Republican strategies for attaching big policy changes to must-pass bills; moderate Republicans, state legislature defeats, gerrymandering, and more. People: Bill and Jonathan. Produced: Dec 7th, 2016.

Episode 160 (1 hour 5 min):
AFD 160

New Reading Materials (from Jonathan):

The GOP May Not Eliminate the Filibuster, But It Can Still Pass Its Reactionary Agenda. Here’s How.
Republican Cruelty, Democratic Passivity, and What the Lack of Flint Funding Can Tell Us about the Trump Years
Not Seeing the Cleared Forest for the Largest Felled Tree: Democrats & the States

Archive Materials:

State Attorneys General are ruining the Earth. Literally.
Beyond the Senate: The 2014 state losses
AFD 62 – Role of Government
posts about the 2014 CRomnibus & NDAA

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Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

The GOP May Not Eliminate the Filibuster, But It Can Still Pass Its Reactionary Agenda. Here’s How.

According to The Hill on Monday, a number of GOP senators are hesitant about, if not outright opposed to, eliminating the filibuster. The article names seven of them, more defections than a likely caucus of 52 could withstand on a vote. For anyone who doesn’t want to see them be able to ram through their anti-worker, anti-environment, anti-consumer, anti-democracy (etc.) agenda, this is great news.

But don’t get too excited. Because in addition to budget reconciliation — a tool Paul Ryan has already hinted at using, and which reduces the required Senate votes for passage to a simple majority — House Republicans have at their disposal a strategy that has succeeded quite well for them over the past few years: policy riders in must-pass bills.

Time after time, Republicans have attached a host of toxic policy riders to government spending bills (whether continuing resolutions or omnibus bills)—and Democrats still vote for them.

Take, for example, the Continuing Resolution (CR) that passed this September. As I noted earlier this week, it contained a provision blocking the SEC from developing, proposing, issuing, finalizing, or implementing a rule requiring public companies to disclose political spending to their own shareholders. Only 12 Senate Democrats and 10 House Democrats voted against it—and some of that opposition was more a result of how the CR punted on Flint funding (a punt that was condemnable in and of itself).

Last year’s end-of-year omnibus bill included a grab-bag of horrible policy riders (“a basket of deplorable” riders, if you will), including, among other things:

  • A lift of the 40-year ban on domestic oil exports
  • A ban on the SEC’s crafting a rule to require corporations to disclose political spending (a rider that re-appeared this September, as noted above)
  • An elimination of country-of-origin labeling requirements for meat and poultry
  • The “surveillance-masquerading-as-cybersecurity” bill CISA
  • Exemptions from Dodd-Frank for certain derivative swap trades
  • Changes to the “visa waiver” program derided as rank discrimination by the ACLU

But only 18 House Democrats and 9 Senate Democrats voted against it.

In 2014, the “CRomnibus,” the combination Continuing Resolution (CR) and appropriations bill (omnibus), offered a holiday feast to lobbyists with its range of policy riders:

  • A provision to weaken campaign finance regulations by increasing the amount that an individual can donate to a party committee in a year from $32,400 to $324,000
  • A provision—written by Citigroup lobbyists—to weaken regulation of credit default swaps under Dodd-Frank and allow banks like Citigroup to do more high-risk trading with taxpayer-backed money
  • A provision allowing trustees of multi-employer pension plans to cut pension benefits to current retirees
  • An override of DC’s recent vote legalizing recreational marijuana
  • A provision to extend the length of time that truckers can be required to work without breaks
  • The elimination of a bipartisan measure to end “backdoor” searches by the NSA of Americans’ private communications
  • A provision to block the EPA from regulating certain water sources
  • A reduction of nutrition standards in school lunches and the Women, Infant and Children food aid program in order to benefit potato farmers
  • A halt on the listing of several species on the Endangered Species List (in accord with the oil industry’s wishes)
  • A prohibition on the regulation of lead in hunting ammunition or fishing equipment

And that’s really only the half of it.

And how did it fare? The Senate Democratic caucus voted for it 31-22 (although if one looks at the cloture vote–the vote teeing up the vote for passage–that should be 47 to 6) House Democrats were less keen on the bill and only voted for it 57-139. As the minority party, they were not deemed responsible for providing the lion’s share of the votes. Even though she ultimately voted against the bill herself, Nancy Pelosi did, however, help make sure the bill had enough Democratic votes for passage. (It narrowly passed 219-206).

Government spending bills aren’t the only ones that serve as conduits for deregulatory riders. Take, for example, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) in 2015. Setting aside the many problems with TRIA itself, it was also used as a vehicle to pass a weakening of Dodd-Frank–never mind the fact that collateral and margin requirements for derivative trades have little to do with terrorism risk insurance. The bill passed by a whopping 93-4, with 3 out of the 4 dissenting votes coming from the Democratic caucus (Sanders, Warren, and Cantwell).

It’s important not to pretend that Republicans are the only ones who shove policy riders into unrelated bills. Congressional Democrats did, of course, use the FY 2010 National Defense Authorization Act as a vehicle to pass a hate crimes bill. But the GOP is the one pushing riders that are socially, environmentally, and economically harmful.

How many toxic riders can the GOP attach to a bill before the Democrats balk? And are Democrats willing to shut down the government over any of these disputes–despite deriding the GOP for using that as a leverage point in the past (although, of course, for harmful ends)? Over the next four years, we will be able to learn what is and is not a deal-breaker for Congressional Democrats.

Republican Cruelty, Democratic Passivity, and What the Lack of Flint Funding Can Tell Us about the Trump Years

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In just two days, it will be December, and Flint still hasn’t gotten funding from the federal government to address its water crisis.

The water crisis dates back to April 2014, and it was back in January when the cases of Legionnaires’ disease got media attention. Flint still doesn’t have clean water, an indictment of our political system—both Republican cruelty and Democratic passivity.

No story about Flint should go without recognition of the role of Republican Governor Rick Snyder (someone who seems to reach an almost cartoon-villain level of callousness) and his administration, but I want to focus on Congressional politics here.

Back in February, Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan attempted to secure $600 million for Flint, including $400 million to match state funds to repair and replace old pipes in the city (the rest going to a research and education center on lead poisoning), via the Energy Policy Modernization Act. Most of the Senate Democratic Caucus blocked the cloture votes on the bill in order to demand funding for Flint. Republicans did not oblige, and when the bill came back up two months later, Stabenow and Democrats dropped their opposition.

Flint funding came back into the spotlight in September. On September 15, the Senate passed the Water Resources Development Act, which authorized $270 million to help Flint and other cities ($220 million specifically for Flint). Republicans demanded that this expenditure be “paid for,” leading to a $300 million cut in Energy Department research on advanced vehicle technology. WRDA-authorized projects were subject to future appropriations, but the Flint funding was designed to go into effect immediately.

However, that $270 million was not in the House version of WRDA, and the Continuing Resolution that had to be passed by the end of the month in order to keep the government funded offered an immediate opportunity to secure funding for Flint.

Republicans, of course, had no problem attaching $500 million in flood relief money for Louisiana (with no offset). But Louisiana has two Republican senators, and the flood-stricken area was represented by Republicans as well. Michigan has two Democratic senators, and Flint is in a Democratic district. Funny how that works.

After initial demands that Flint funding be in the CR, Democrats agreed to concede, provided that House Republicans set up an amendment vote to the WRDA to include Flint funding–but now only $170 million.

On September 28, the Senate voted for the Flint-less CR 72-26. (Tim Kaine and Bernie Sanders were both not present because they were on the campaign trail for Clinton.)

Of the 26 NO votes, 12 were Democrats:

Cory Booker (D-NJ)
Al Franken (D-MN)
Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
Pat Leahy (D-VT)
Ed Markey (D-MA)
Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Gary Peters (D-MI)
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)

The Republicans who voted NO certainly didn’t do so out of concern for Flint. Did the Democrats? Five of them made this clear in their press releases on the vote.

Bob Menendez:

While I’m pleased that the final continuing resolution keeps our government running and provides much-needed funding to address the Zika public health crisis, I could not in good conscience vote for legislation that ignores the plight of 100,000 Americans living in Flint who were poisoned by their water supply, and also includes a measure that prohibits the government from lifting the veil on corporate political contributions.

 

Jeff Merkley:

While I’m encouraged that the House leadership has committed to providing aid to assist Flint with its lead contamination disaster, there is still no reason why that aid should not be funded immediately—just like the aid for Louisiana flood victims—rather than having to wait until after the election. Flint families have already been living with dangerously contaminated water for two years, and they should not have to wait a day longer for help. Geography, race, and partisan politics should never determine disaster assistance, and it’s wrong to help out the victims of one disaster while telling others that they must continue to wait at the back of the line.

 

Gary Peters:

“But these fully paid-for Flint resources were put on hold while disaster relief for flooding victims in Louisiana was included. I support helping people in Louisiana during their crisis, but we should not pick and choose to help some states and not others.

 

“I could not support a government spending bill that will – once again – force the citizens of Flint to wait on the help they so desperately need.

 

“It is unacceptable that the bipartisan, fully-offset Flint aid package was left out. There is no excuse for leaving the people of Flint behind.

 

“It has been a year since the first public health emergency declaration in Flint, and over eight months since a national emergency was declared. Yet almost 100,000 residents of Flint still do not have a reliable source of safe water. They are still using bottled to water to drink, to cook, and to bathe.

 

Debbie Stabenow:

Earlier this week, the House refused to take any action to help the people of Flint. After last night’s negotiations, we now have a path forward to finally pass the Water Resources Development Act with long-awaited assistance for Flint.  It is critical that the House echo the strong bipartisan support that we saw for WRDA in the Senate and that action happen as soon as possible for the people of Flint.  My position on the government funding bill remains the same: I will vote no on any CR that does not treat communities equally.  It is wrong to ask families in Flint to wait at the back of the line again.

 

Elizabeth Warren:

Is this what we have come to? Is this what politics has become? There are 100,000 people in Flint, a town where more than half the residents are African-American and nearly half live in poverty. They get nothing because voters sent two Democrats to the Senate?This is not a game. Flint is not a Democratic city or a Republican city; it is an American city. The children who have been poisoned are American children. The principle of standing up for those in need is an American principle.

 

I am a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, but I will help the Republican Senators from Louisiana. I stand shoulder to shoulder with them in their hour of need, but I am sick and tired–I am past sick and tired–of Republican Senators who come here and demand Federal funding when their communities are hit by a crisis but block help when other States need it. Their philosophy screams, “I want mine, but the rest of you are on your own.” It is ugly, un-American, and just plain wrong.

 

We must stand with the Senators from Michigan. We must stand with the children of Flint, and we must put aside ugly partisanship that is literally poisoning a town full of American families. Any Member of the House or Senate who doesn’t stand with them lacks the moral courage to serve in this Congress.

 

Merkley, Menendez, and Warren also highlighted their opposition to a Republican rider that would block the SEC from developing, proposing, issuing, finalizing, or implementing a rule requiring public companies to disclose political spending to their own shareholders. Ron Wyden highlighted the rule as his grounds for opposition as well.

Later that day, the House passed its Flint funding amendment 284-141, the amended WRDA 399 to 25, and the Flint-less CR 342 to 85.

Only 10 Democrats voted against the CR:

Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)
John Conyers (MI-13)
Pete DeFazio (OR-04)
Debbie Dingell (MI-12)
Keith Ellison (MN-05)
Dan Kildee (MI-05)
Brenda Lawrence (MI-14)
Sandy Levin (MI-09)
Jim McDermott (WA-07)
Maxine Waters (CA-43)

The Michigan delegation voted against the CR because of the lack of Flint funding. DeFazio, Ellison, McDermott, and Waters did not issue press releases about their opposition. Blumenauer opposed it because Republicans had blocked a provision of his to make it easier for veterans to acquire medical marijuana across state lines.

The WRDA, along with the Flint funding promise, is now awaiting a conference, with just over a month left in the Congressional session. And Flint still doesn’t have clean water.

This history should prove concerning as we look ahead to the years of a Trump presidency and Republican-controlled House and Senate. Democrats give up their demands quite easily and are willing to vote for Continuing Resolutions to keep the government funded despite whatever riders Republicans put into them. Republican cruelty and Democratic passivity are a toxic mix. I’ll talk more about this dynamic in another post later this week.

Not Seeing the Cleared Forest for the Largest Felled Tree: Democrats & the States

Most of the ink spilled about the election earlier this month has focused on the presidential race. With the amount of money spent on it and media attention it gained (especially with one candidate being a bigoted, reactionary carnival barker), that makes sense. There have been many post-mortems, and there will be more. And there is comfort in knowing that over two million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump, regardless of the Electoral College results.

But focusing on the top of the ticket alone obscures what was happening–and has been happening–down ballot.

Democrats hit a new low in state legislative seats. In 2017, Republicans will control 4,170 state legislative seats, with Democrats controlling only 3,129 in the 98 partisan legislative chambers. According to the AP as of last week, Republicans had a net gain of 46 seats, and Democrats a net loss of 46 seats. Some races in California and Washington, however, have yet to be called, but that will not change the overall picture.

Indeed, the losses since 2008 have been stunning. Some of this can be explained by the extreme gerrymandering of state legislatures by Republicans after the 2010 Census, but that cannot explain all of it.

demlegislativelosses_lead

Fortunately, Massachusetts was largely immune to this trend in 2016. Republicans succeeded at picking up only one open Democratic-held seat: Brian Mannal’s Second Barnstable District in the House. Republicans will now have 35 seats in the MA House, to Democrats’ 125. (The Senate will remain 34-6).

Elections in Massachusetts are rarely competitive affairs, however. This year, in 77% of seats, one major party fielded no candidates, and 88.8% of incumbents ran unopposed in their primaries.

We haven’t been so lucky in the gubernatorial realm, though. Massachusetts is one of two states with Republican governors but Democratic legislative supermajorities (the other being Maryland). Democrats will start 2017 with two fewer gubernatorial offices than they held in 2016, having lost the offices in Missouri, New Hampshire, and Vermont–and—provided NC Governor Pat McCrory (R) doesn’t succeed in stealing the election away from AG Roy Cooper (D) with trumped-up voter fraud charges—gained an office in North Carolina. This leads to a total of only 16 gubernatorial offices. It’s quite jarring to think that the majority of New England states now have Republican governors.

During the next four years of the Trump presidency (let’s pray–and organize to make sure–it’s not eight), states and cities will take on extra importance in advancing a progressive agenda. That means passing bold, progressive legislation that advances equity, inclusion, and sustainability in the state and offers a model for other states and the nation as a whole (down the road), and organizing to take back gubernatorial seats and legislatures.

Here in Massachusetts, we need to do both. With legislative supermajorities, Democrats need to be pushing for a $15 minimum wage, paid family and medical leave, criminal justice reform, free tuition at public colleges, single payer health care, automatic voter registration, and the protection and expansion of the rights of women, people of color, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community. And we also need to be working to take back the gubernatorial office in 2018 so that we have a governor who wants to play a part, or even lead, in advancing that agenda.

Nov 23, 2016 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 159

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: Where do we go from here after the 2016 election? People: Bill, Rachel, and Jonathan. Produced: Nov 21st, 2016.

Episode 159 (55 min):
AFD 159

Discussion Points:

– Trying to get the Democratic Party back on track, especially in the states
– Parties need to remember to campaign for all their core voters
– What do we need to brace for from the Trump Administration & Ryan Congress first

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Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

Nov 16, 2016 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 158

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Topics: An interview with Virginia/Scotland socialist organizer Emily Robinson (@see_em_play). Produced: Nov 13th, 2016.

Episode 158 (49 min):
AFD 158

Discussion Points:

– Dissecting the disaster of the 2016 election and what to do next.
– What was the campaign like in Virginia this year?
– Should you join Democratic Socialists of America?
– What is Scottish Labour Young Socialists working on?

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A post-mortem that is pretty much about everything except Sanders

We’re still all processing this election’s boundlessly horrible outcome, but I’m going to keep writing out my post-mortems as they come to me. This will not be a post about Bernie Sanders, except in slight passing, so you can probably save your comment pro or con about him or his supporters, as it will be off-topic by the end of the post. As you all know I was never a fanatical supporter anyway, and as my friend Jonathan Cohn always says, counterfactuals aren’t useful discussions because they are counter to fact. In this case, there are too many unknowables to be sure how that would have played out, and there is enough known information from inside the campaign and party to at least have *some* doubts. Jonathan and I both supported him tactically, without believing he ever actually had a shot at the nomination. But there *are* two big things from the nomination process immediately worth reviewing for future purposes:

First, the message Sanders represented is probably the direction we need to take the party in order to start winning elections again at all levels. I’ll get around to another post elaborating the reasoning for that, but I’ll leave it there for today. (Short version: The answer to this catastrophe definitely isn’t “Go right” nor is it “Be more racist or transphobic.” We need solidarity now more than ever, but we did leave some people behind … and they stayed home this year.)

Second, the eventual outcome of the 2016 nomination was decided long before DNC shenanigans, debate schedules, or anything like that. The nomination was decided by 2014, if not well before then, by crowding everyone else out and by party officials/electeds/activists making up their minds far too early – not just to support Clinton but that she could not possibly lose. Many of you reading this fall into one of those three categories. Nearly all of you among those decided to support Hillary Clinton this cycle by 2014, by 2009, by 2008, or by 1993. Every other possible serious candidate except Biden, O’Malley (and Sanders, it turned out) didn’t even bother to look into running because of this and the universality of major donor preference. Clinton may have been the favorite in 2007 but she was the overwhelming favorite for 2016. Almost any party figures at all levels who had backed *other* candidates in 2008 were with her this time before it even began. Then you assumed all of us were With Her, just as the campaign eventually did with entire states.

Few of you listened as people like me expressed concerns all through 2015 about the electoral competence of the Clinton senior team and the mismatch of what the national mood would be in November 2016. Two years ago, in November 2014, when Democrats got smashed in the midterms, 62% of the country said the U.S. was on the Wrong Track – and jobs were coming back but with fewer hours and lower pay than before the recession. A year ago, in November 2015, 64% of the country said we were on the Wrong Track. Last month, 65% of the country said we were on the Wrong Track. (For perspective, this is the same as the national mood the week Pres. Obama took office at the height of the recession.)

Many of you will remember that at all those points, I warned you that Clinton’s message was dangerously off-key for such a scared and angry electorate. Clinton and the DNC eventually doubled down with an “America Is Already Great” message, which is political malpractice in the face of 60+% Wrong Track numbers.

In the immortal words of my friend Sara this past February, “Don’t bring the Things-Are-Fine candidate to the Everyone is Panicking fight…” As I said at the time, based on both U.S. indicators and events playing out in Europe in parallel, “I don’t think a lot of upper middle class people & DC insiders grasp the political collapse happening right now.” Many of you explicitly defended your support for Hillary Clinton on the grounds of pragmatism and electability – that her candidacy would *not* put at risk the fragile gains so many of our vulnerable communities have made (or could make via Courts for decades to come). This contention was based on … literally nothing.

I don’t care that you didn’t listen to me, even if it’s frustrating. I care that you didn’t listen to the entire country going into a terrified panic as their life circumstances crumbled around them. That’s a recipe for either desperate vote-switching or mass abstention by staying home. (I covered the latter in a post last night.)

As noted above, I’m uncertain as to whether or not Bernie Sanders could have won, although that is a largely irrelevant question at this point. Bernie Sanders was never supposed to be an or the alternative. He just happened to be there, in the right place at the right time, with the right unusual status as having been around for a long time with reputation of being principled, honest, and on message to the national mood. I voted for him in large part because I genuinely believed he was less of a risk than Hillary Clinton in the general election.

And again, he just happened to be there and happened to be the only candidate left standing by the time we got to the caucuses and primaries. Why? Because this was wrapped up years earlier in the over-confident and presumptuous beliefs by Clinton loyalists and other longtime Democratic insiders that she was a sure thing and that it was “her turn.” (Voters don’t like that reasoning, by the way, as they have shown over and over.)

I won’t bother here to dive deeply into the unpopularity issues or any other problems that made Hillary Clinton the last woman we should have nominated to ensure the election of the first female president this year. Even if you believe none of the public’s antipathy toward her is justified, it was real and a real risk – and it had been growing for decades. That’s a massive gamble to make against literally any of the Republicans who ran this cycle, let alone Trump. If you made an electability argument for her, you helped cause this. But the messaging mismatch still overpowered any other considerations, which is also perhaps how the largest field team in history just lost to an erratic campaign with no team.

We never got to find out if there was anybody else who could have stepped up with a clean slate and surprised us (it wasn’t Warren either, for various reasons, I believe) because Hillary Clinton subordinated everyone’s aspirations to her own and pushed every other possible contender out of the field except for a protest candidate and a backup candidate.

Already there are a lot of people who are showing they are very determined to not learn any lessons from this catastrophe. They have no interest in listening to anyone – and perceive triumphalism where there is none in those of us who very much did not prefer a Trump Administration but feel we tried to raise red flags and tried to help nudge course corrections in the Clinton campaign if we weren’t going to be able to get other nominee. They are blaming everyone but themselves, even to the point of suggesting absurd things like that it’s all the fault of internet leftists who didn’t love her hard enough, as opposed to the fault of decisions like Clinton never making a single campaign trip to Wisconsin in the general election. At a certain point, folks need to take ownership for failing all of us and stop accusing everyone of failing Her.

But I’m not talking to people who won’t listen. I’m talking to people who are finally stunned enough that they’re willing to hear me – and others – out.

Now for some even tougher talk:
This defeat came from in-house within my Democratic Party. Every single person responsible at every level has to go – or admit to crashing it big time and work with sincerely us to course correct. You have failed us for the last time. You lost us the 2000 election, the 2002 election, the 2004 election, the 2010 election, the 2014 election, and the 2016 election. You also lost the 1994 election. And so on. People have died and will die because of these failures. You can be part of the solution or you can be the problem, but we’re going to go through you, not around you, if you don’t move out of the way or help us move forward. The Clinton wing took over the Democratic Party after the 1988 landslide defeat. I – and people like me from all corners of our party, of all creeds and colors and genders and orientations – are going to take it now. You don’t get to whiff with this much on the line for people’s lives. You’re done.

###

A Post-Script:
I am, additionally, sympathetic to those whose primary hope for this election was the arrival of the first female U.S. president, because I know this is devastating to many of you. I hope we nominate a woman again next time – someone who will have much broader and deeper support…