Tag Archives: The Hill

Get The Net!

Sara Jerome at The Hill:

After nearly a decade of battle, the Federal Communications Commission approved contentious net-neutrality regulations on Tuesday over the strong objections of two Republican commissioners.

The vote marks the first time the agency has created formal rules for Internet lines, fulfilling an Obama campaign promise to prevent phone and cable companies from exerting too much control over the Internet.

“As we stand here now, the freedom and openness of the Internet are unprotected … That will change once we vote to approve this strong and balanced order,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said at a commission meeting on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s vote closes a long chapter for Genachowski, after he sped out of the gates last year promising strong net-neutrality protections.

He quickly drew the wrath of the telecommunications industry and the skepticism of both parties in Congress, while frustrating consumer groups as his promises became mired in delay.

Ryan Kim at Gigaom:

The Open Internet Coalition, which includes Google, Skype and others Internet companies said the order addresses some important issues in protecting an open Internet and providing some stable rules for the Internet ecosystem. But Markham Erickson, Executive Director of OIC said the order still does not go far enough in protecting the wireless Internet, which has great potential for consumers, innovators and the economy.

“The Commission should move to apply the same rules of the road to the entire Internet moving forward,” Erickson said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor the progress under this rule and work to ensure the FCC fulfills its responsibility to protect consumers’,  small businesses’ and nonprofits’ ability to fully access and enjoy the benefits of the open Internet.”

Christopher Libertelli, Skype’s senior director of government & regulatory affairs said the Internet communications company is generally pleased with the trade-offs in the FCC’s rules.

“On balance, this decision advances the goal of keeping the Internet an open and unencumbered medium for Skype users. Specifically, we support the Commission’s decision that it will not tolerate wireless carriers who arbitrarily block Skype on mobile devices. This decision protects a consumer’s entitlement to use Skype on their mobile devices and we look forward to delivering further innovation in this area.”

Free Press, a media advocacy group, called the new rules a squandered opportunity that was heavily influenced by the Internet service providers the FCC should be regulating. Rather than protect an open Internet, the new order will enable discrimination for the first time, said Free Press Managing Director Craig Aaron.

“These rules don’t do enough to stop the phone and cable companies from dividing the Internet into fast and slow lanes, and they fail to protect wireless users from discrimination. No longer can you get to the same Internet via your mobile device as you can via your laptop. The rules pave the way for AT&T to block your access to third-party applications and to require you to use its own preferred applications.”

Mike Wendy, director of MediaFreedom, a market-oriented media organization said the new rules were unwarranted regulation of the Internet, the result of an over-reaching agency. He said the order could undermine U.S. competitiveness if not overturned in the courts or by Congress.

“If not overturned… these new regulations will harm the roll out of Internet infrastructure and services. Moreover, they will take America backwards at a time when our economy needs every advantage it can get to provide jobs for Americans, and compete globally,” Wendy said in a blog post.

Alexia Tsotsis at Tech Crunch:

What was actually voted on today has still yet to be published, but according to reports it lays out two different frameworks for fixed broadband and mobile broadband traffic. In both cases carriers like Comcast or Verizon will need to provide transparency to customers and will be prohibited from blocking competing services such Google Voice or Skype.

The discrepancy between the way the two different services are handled and the precise meaning of “reasonable network management practices” is what has the opposition in a huff. Initial reports of the regulations describe them as explicitly forbidding providers to accept pay for unreasonable traffic prioritization in the case of broadband and offering no such protections in the case of mobile broadband.

If today’s vote has succeeded in anything it is in creating debate as to whether or not the FCC has ultimate authority to regulate Internet practices. Republicans have already started to make noise about blocking the regulations when a more Republican Congress takes over in January. McDowell has also hinted at potential blocks from courts “the F.C.C. has provocatively chartered a collision course with the legislative branch.”

This is not without precedent: A federal appeals court ruling against the FCC in April quashed the FCC’s authority as it attempted to enforce net neutrality principles against Comcast for discriminating against file sharing.

Nilay Patel at Engadget

Peter Suderman at Reason:

Genachowski’s remarks portrayed the rules as a moderate middle ground between the extremes. It was a decision driven not by ideology but the desire to “protect basic Internet values.” If it’s a middle ground, it’s a legally dubious one. Earlier this year, a federal court ruled that the FCC had no Congressionally granted authority to regulate network management. Congress hasn’t updated the agency’s authority over the Net since then, but the FCC is now saying that, well, it has the authority anyway. Genachowski’s team has come up with a different legal justification, and they’re betting that this time around they can convince a judge to buy it.

Still, Genachowski’s portrayal of the order may be half right: The FCC’s move on net neutrality is not really about ideology. It’s about authority: He’s not so much protecting values as expanding the FCC’s regulatory reach. According to Genachowski’s summary remarks, the new rules call for a prohibition on “unreasonable discrimination” by Internet Service Providers—with the FCC’s regulators, natch, in charge of determining what counts as unreasonable. In theory, this avoids the pitfalls that come with strict rules. But in practice, it gives the FCC the power to unilaterally and arbitrarily decide which network management innovations and practices are acceptable—and which ones aren’t.

It’s the tech-sector bureaucrat’s equivalent of declaring, Judge Dredd style, “I am the law!” Indeed, Genachowski has said before—and reiterated today—that the rules will finally give the FCC the authority to play “cop on the beat” for the Internet.

The comparison may not be quite as comforting as he seems to think. But it is telling: Genachowski may not be eager to tell the public exactly what the Internet’s new rules of the road are, but he’s mighty eager to have his agency enforce them.

Scarecrow at Firedoglake:

’ll leave to Tim Karr and others to describe the technical features and sell outs that have allowed the Western World’s Worst internet/broadband structure to become slower, more expensive and more discriminatory than services in other countries. Senator Al Franken gave an excellent speech, worth watching on the full range of policy issues.

It may help to have an analogous framework on how to think about what corporate capture of the internet and broadband service means, not just in terms of speed and coverage but in terms of content and pricing. It’s not just that our service is slower and we face monopoly pricing, it’s that a tiny handful of corporations are seizing control of what we’ll be allowed to watch and read.

Suppose that President Eisenhower had proposed we build an interstate highway system, but we’d allow only three or four large corporations to carve up and own all the main interconnections, determine the tolls and decide who got to drive on them during which hours. The corporations could also decide where the on/off ramps were, which communities they did or didn’t serve, where the routes went, depending on which provided better tax breaks.

And suppose these same companies owned a couple of auto companies, and they could decide whether cars and trucks made by their affiliate companies got better access, more lanes, higher speeds and lower tolls than cars/trucks sold by competitors.

Then suppose the Justice Department and the FTC did not think it their job to enforce the anti-trust laws of the United States, while the federal highway regulators did not believe they should have rules requiring open access, fair pricing, and non-discrimination.

Welcome to the forthcoming US policy on broadband/internet access.

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Look, Children, It’s A Thing Spoke Of As Myth (An Actual Filibuster, Or Not)

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with the round-up.

Jordan Fabian at The Hill:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is railing against President Obama’s tax-cut package in a lengthy floor speech.

Sanders, one of the Senate’s leading liberals, is protesting Obama’s deal with Republicans, which would extend tax cuts on all income that were initially signed by President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003.

Sanders began his speech on Friday at 10:24 a.m. and was still speaking at 5:31 p.m. Friday afternoon. He has threatened to filibuster the Obama-GOP deal when it is brought to the Senate floor next week.

“You can call what i am doing today whatever you want, you it [sic] call it a filibuster, you can call it a very long speech … ,” read a message posted on Sanders’s Twitter account after he’d taken to the rostrum.

Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider:

Update: Sanders is into hour 8.

Update 2: They’re in hour 6

Update: It’s in its 5th hour, and Senator Sanders is talking again, after having handed the baton to Mary Landrieu.

Original post: The Bernie Sanders filibuster against the tax deal is now in its 4th hour, and currently Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu has joined in. They’re railing against the deal, and in general inequality in America >

Just one thought: This is a disaster for Obama.

It’s the first time we can recall that something happening on the liberal side is getting people excited — #filibernie is a hot topic on Twitter right now — and Obama isn’t part of it. In fact, he’s against it.

Allah Pundit:

You’ll be pleased to know that, in his frantic search for subject matter to keep him going, he’s already somehow detoured into chatting about Arianna Huffington. If that’s where he’s at in hour six, lord only knows where he’ll be in hour twelve. Reading aloud from “Jersey Shore” transcripts, probably.

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

Regardless of the merits of Mr. Sanders’ position on the bill, this is my favored brand of filibuster-reform: make Senators actually do it. You’d retain the Senate’s best counter-majoritarian feature but see it reserved only for the most important measures.

Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo:

It’s a filibuster as filibusters were originally intended — and, as such, makes a mockery of what the filibuster’s become: a gimmick that allows a minority of senators to quietly impose supermajority requirements on any piece of legislation.

Joined at different times by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Sanders has been decrying the Obama tax cut plan for bailing out the wealthiest people in America. “How can I get by on one house?” Sanders railed, sarcastically. “I need five houses, ten houses. I need three jet planes to take me all over the world! Sorry, American people. We’ve got the money, we’ve got the power.”

As a result of his efforts, he’s shot up to near the top Twitter trending topic chart. Filibusters like these were much more common decades ago, before the rules changed and Senators could really run out the clock by holding the floor and talking and talking without pause. Things are different today — and, whatever Sanders does, the Senate isn’t scheduled to hold any votes until Monday, so its practical effects may not amount to much.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

It’s not a filibuster. Not unless he holds the floor until at least Monday and beyond.

There’s a set vote on the tax cut bill on Monday. Nothing else has been scheduled to move today. Bernie is not really blocking anything. This puts Sanders’ speech into the Congressional record; I’m not sure there’s an additional purpose.

But that’s not to say it isn’t important. Sanders is calling attention to the massive inequality in America, which will only be stratified further by a tax cut bill that raises taxes from current law for 25 million low-income workers and gives millionaires a tax cut of about $139,000 a person. He’s explaining America’s insane trade policies, which have cut out the American manufacturing base and hollowed out the middle class. He’s taking on corporate CEO pay, and the two-income trap, and basically making the progressive critique of an economy bought and paid for by the very rich.

What’s more, he’s picked up support, not only from usual suspects by Sherrod Brown but from conservative Democrat Mary Landrieu, who acknowledged she doesn’t always agree with her colleague but said that he has “done his homework” about the tax cut deal. After slamming the deal as unfair to the poor and to minorities and giving a very cogent argument about inequality, Landrieu hilariously concluded by saying she might vote for the bill, but she’d be “loud” about it. Nevertheless, you’re seeing issues discussed on the Senate floor that almost never come up in any other context. Political theater is sadly one of the few ways to cut through the clutter in America, and that’s what Sanders is up to, I suspect.

Andrew Leonard at Salon:

His epic rant — perhaps one of the most extraordinary critiques of how the American economy has been managed over the last several decades delivered in living memory — is an endless sequence of connecting the dots from one outrage to another. Even as I wrote this paragraph, he segued effortlessly from trade policy to Wall Street.

“But it is not just a disastrous trade policy that has brought us where we are today. The immediate cause of this crisis, and it gets me just sick talking about it … is what the crooks on Wall Street have done to the American people.”

Sanders then delivers a capsule history of deregulation, blasts Alan Greenspan, notes that in the late ’90s he had predicted everything that ultimately happened, but failed to rally legislative support to stop the runaway train — “and the rest is, unfortunately, history.”

From there, a class warfare sideswipe: “Understand, that in this country when you are a CEO on Wall Street — you can do pretty much anything you want and get away it.”

“And what they did to the American people is so horrible.”

On to the bailout! His scorn is so caustic it could disintegrate an aircraft carrier: “We bailed these guys out because they were too big to fail, and now three of the four largest banks  are now even larger. ”

As Sanders’ great oration enters its seventh hour, it is, by its very nature, impossible to summarize. It is a ramble, a rant, a critique, a cry of rage, a wail of despair, and a call to action. And it is amazing. I’ve heard stories of filibusters in which senators read phone books. And I’ve watched with disgust as for years Republicans have merely threatened to filibuster, without ever actually being forced to exercise their vocal cords. But here is Bernie Sanders, seven hours in, calling for the biggest banks to be broken up, voice still hale and hearty, and looking like he could easily go another seven hours.

Give credit to the citizens of Vermont, who know how to elect someone not afraid of speaking truth to power.

David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo:

Sen. Bernie Sanders all-day speech on the Senate floor has ended after about 8 1/2 hours.

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Filed under Economics, Legislation Pending, Political Figures

Congress, Can You Hear Me? Can You Feel Me Near You?

J. Taylor Rushing at The Hill:

The Senate on Tuesday morning defeated a proposal from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to ban congressional earmarks.

In a 39-56 vote, members defeated a temporary ban on the appropriations procedure. The moratorium was offered as an amendment to a food-safety bill that is scheduled for a final vote Tuesday morning.

Senate Republicans have already passed a voluntary ban on earmarks in their caucus, but several GOP senators have objected to it. Democrats have so far declined to ban earmarks from their members.

David Rogers at Politico:

Tuesday’s vote 56-39 vote on the moratorium contrasts with one last March in the Senate defeating a similar ban by a larger margin: 68-29.

Since November’s elections, the Senate Republican Conference has embraced a two-year moratorium beginning in the next Congress. Tuesday’s amendment, offered by Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, ups the ante by including this budget year and is very much in line with the thinking of incoming House Speaker John Boehner. (See: GOP backs earmarks ban in vote)

Coburn had hoped to get to 40 and was hurt by the defections of eight Republicans, many prominent in the Appropriations Committee. But the House GOP leadership has been unyielding thus far, and with the Democratic defections, hopes to put pressure on Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to accept a temporary ban.

In a recent private meeting, Boehner warned Reid, a long time veteran of the Appropriations process, that he would not accept any earmarks in the 2011 spending bills, according to several sources familiar with that discussion.

Andrew Stiles at The Corner:

Seven Democrats backed the proposal: Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.), Michael Bennett (Colo.), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Mark Udall (Colo.), and Mark Warner (Va.). All are either freshman members, retiring/defeated members, or up for reelection in 2012.

Eight Republicans, primarily members of the Appropriations Committee, went on the record against the ban: Sens. Bob Bennett (Utah), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), James Inhofe (Okla.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Richard Lugar (Ind.), Richard Shelby (Ala.), George Voinovich (Ohio).

As Cochran and other have made clear, everyone on that list — apart from Bennett (defeated in primary) and Voinovich (retiring) — should expect a primary challenge in their next election. Only Lugar is up in 2012, though he has been especially defiant in the face of criticism from the right, earning him a place in the heart of the The New York Times.

Even without a formal ban, pork-lovers are going to have a difficult time keeping the practice alive in the 112th Congress, with House and Senate Republicans voting to do away with earmarks on their own. Expect the GOP to continue its efforts to isolate Harry Reid and Senate Democrats on the issue.

Kevin D. Williamson at The Corner:

If you can’t trust these feckless Republicans on a little thing like earmarks, you can’t trust them on a big, hard thing like balancing the budget. I hope the Tea Party guys are planning to primary these clowns

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

Harvard research shows that states that experience an increase in earmark spending suffer from decreases in corporate capital expenditures and employment. Earmarking also robs money from local government transportation priorities to pay for Senator’s vanity projects. And there is a strong correlation between high numbers of earmarks high total spending by Congress.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

The earmark ban, like the freeze on pay for federal workers, is largely symbolic, but let’s be honest: symbols matter, and the voters are looking for signs that their lawmakers “get it.” With the few exceptions noted above, it seems that Democratic senators by and large don’t understand what’s afoot in the country. They remain oblivious at their own peril.

Jay Cost at The Weekly Standard:

I hope congressional Republicans recognize the stakes for this 112th Congress. Even though there is little hope of major policy breakthroughs, they are exceedingly high. It’s not just a matter of setting the 2012 election up nicely. The reputation of the Grand Old Party is on the line here. The Republican party has long been known as the party of fiscal responsibility. You vote for them not because you want to them to save the world — that’s what the liberal Democrats are for — but because they’re the serious fellows who insist on a balanced budget. Yet over the last couple of years the Republican Party in Congress has totally obliterated this image. And now they lose 20 percent of the Senate caucus over what is little more than a symbolic gesture on spending? That does not fill one with confidence.

Jim Harper at Cato:

This morning the full Senate voted down a proposed rule that would have barred earmarks for the next two years. Part of the reason? Earmarks are transparent.

Here’s Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), quoted in a Hill article:

There is full disclosure in my office of every single request for an appropriation. We then ask those who have made the requests to have a full disclaimer of their involvement in the appropriation, so it’s there for the public record. This kind of transparency is virtually unprecedented.

Senator Durbin doesn’t know transparency. Take a look at Senator Durbin’s earmark disclosures. Yes, you can read through them, one by one. But can you make a list of recipients? Can you add up the totals? Can you search for common words in the brief explanations for each earmark? Can you make a map showing where recipients of Senator Durbin’s requests are?

No, no, no, and no.

That’s because Senator Durbin puts his request disclosure out as scanned PDFs. Someone on his staff takes a letter and puts it on a scanner, making a PDF document of the image. Then the staffer posts that image on the senator’s web site. It’s totally useless if you want to use the data for anything. Notably, Senator Durbin doesn’t even include the addresses of his earmark recipients.

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Over-Easy, Scrambled, Hard Boiled, Full Of Salmonella…

Marion Nestle at The Atlantic:

On Wednesday, the FDA announced yet another voluntary recall of eggs produced by Wright County Egg in Galt, Iowa. The first announcement on August 13 covered 228 million eggs. This one adds 152 million for a grand total of 380 million—so far.

In that first announcement, the Wright company said: “Our farm strives to provide our customers with safe, high-quality eggs—that is our responsibility and our commitment.”

That, however, is not how the New York Times sees it. According to a recent account, Wright has a long history of “run-ins with regulators over poor or unsafe working conditions, environmental violations, the harassment of workers, and the hiring of illegal immigrants.”

Okay, so where are we on safety regulation? The FDA, after many, many years of trying, finally introduced safety regulations for shell eggs. These supposedly went into effect on July 9.

I recount the history of FDA’s persistence in the chapter entitled “Eggs and the Salmonella problem” in What to Eat. Check out the table listing the key events in this history from 1980 to 2005. It’s not pretty.

Preventing Salmonella should not be difficult. The rules require producers to take precautions to prevent transmission, control pests and rodents, test for Salmonella, clean and disinfect poultry houses that test positive, divert eggs from positive-testing flocks, refrigerate the eggs right away, and keep records. These sound reasonable to me, but I care about not making people sick.

Problems with Wright County Eggs started in May before the FDA’s mandatory rules went into effect, meaning that the procedures were still voluntary. The recalls this month are after the fact. Chances are that most of the recalled eggs have already been eaten.

Julie Ryan Evans at The Stir:

More egg brands were recalled Friday, bringing the total number recalled due to salmonella concerns to more than half a billion eggs.

Hillandale Farms of Iowa is the latest producer to recall its eggs — more than 170 million that were distributed to 14  states, according to a press release from the company. The were sold under the names Hillandale Farms, Sunny Farms and Sunny Meadow and were distributed in Arkansas, California, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.

Only those with plant number P1860 and date codes ranging from 099 to 230, or plant number P1663 and date codes ranging from 137 to 230 are affected.

Ron Hogan at Popular Fidelity:

The eggs were sold under the following litany of brand names:  Lucerne, Mountain Dairy, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Albertson, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, James Farms, Glenview, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma’s, Lund, Dutch Farms, Kemps,  and Pacific Coast.  Some eggs recalled were shipped as recently as two days ago, in the early stages of the outbreak.  According to the CDC, you can tell the safety of your eggs by looking at the plant code and date stamped on the label or carton.  The dates range from 136-229, and the plant numbers are 1026, 1413, 1942, and 1946.  At least, those are the current ones.

Remember the old days, when eggs were only bad for your long-term health and not instantly dangerous?  And when giant eggs were cool oddities, not death-spheres full of double-yolked poison?

Curtis Silver at Wired:

What is the danger if I eat contaminated eggs?

This question will come from the daring and the stubborn ones. The ones who challenge the facts and want to know – what’s so bad about eating the eggs? Just throw this word at them – salmonella. I’m pretty sure they’ve heard it before, when handling raw chicken or raw eggs. It’s always a possibility, and is the most common bacterial form of food poisoning. In fact, it leads to about 30 deaths in the annual average 142,000 cases a year. Clearly that’s not a high number compared to the population, but it’s a number nonetheless. Salmonella (Kingdom, Bacteria; Class, Gamma Proteobacteria; Order, Enterobacteriales; Family, Enterobacteriaceae; Genus, Salmonella) will make you sick, and many more people get sick each year than get reported. That number goes up considerably when there is a contaminated product like this batch of eggs.

If you want to show your kids one of the worst slide shows ever to illustrate a sickness, check out this one over at CBS.com. It deftly illustrates that salmonella will cause stomach cramps, nausea, unfortunate bowel movements and so on. Basically, your abdomen wants to expel the germs as much as possible so it makes your abdomen contract over and over, which causes the cramps and stomach sickness. Basically, there is no way for your child to fake salmonella poisoning to get out of going back to school. If your child is sick, you’ll know it and so will they. If they aren’t old enough to be forced to drink, the emergency room is in your immediate future as you don’t want dehydration to set in.

Here’s the rub though, and the smart ones might figure this out: If you cook infected eggs you will kill the bacteria. Cooking eggs to the temperature of 72°Celsius/160°Fahrenheit is all you need to kill the bacteria. Of course, you still run a risk if you under cook the eggs. So really, if you have a two dollar carton of eggs in the fridge you have two choices, cook them anyway and save yourself two bucks, or throw them out. Well, three choices, you can draw targets on the fence and you and the kids can have target practice. Just sayin’.

So what came first? The Chicken or the egg?

The egg. Because dinosaurs laid eggs. And dinosaurs came before chickens. So there.

How do I know if my eggs are bad?

That’s the easy part: Check out this handy list to see if your carton number is on there. Have the kids do a little number comparison and see if they can find a pattern. Of course, the article gives away the range, but perhaps there is something deeper in the numbers. If you can figure it out, leave it in the comments. Of course, I might just be making it up – but I’m sure you’ll come up with something. You awesome geeks always do.

Alan Ng at Products Review:

As reported from CBSNews and according to the Mayo Clinic, there are nine types of Salmonella symptoms. We have the full list to give you now, which will help to determine if you have contracted the disease or not.

The first symptom is Nausea, as vomiting is one key factor associated with salmonella poisoning. Another factor may be diarrhoea. If you find yourself going to the toilet a lot lately, you may have caught salmonella without knowing it. Other symptoms include abdominal pain and fever.

You can check out the full list of salmonella symptoms here.

Julian Pecquet at The Hill:

The recall of 380 million eggs — almost 32 million dozen — due to a possible salmonella contamination is sparking calls for the quick passage of food-safety legislation after the August recess.

The recent outbreak has sickened hundreds of people across multiple states.

The Senate health panel unveiled a manager’s package last week that grants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded powers to recall tainted food, quarantine geographical areas and access food producers’ records. Similar legislation cleared the House in July 2009.

“This outbreak is just further proof of how quickly a food borne illness can multiply across states, sickening Americans and causing widespread distrust over the safety of our food system,” Senate Health Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said in a statement Thursday. “And it adds to the urgency that, for far too long, has told the story of why comprehensive food safety legislation is needed. Our 100-year-old plus food safety structure needs to be modernized.”

Harkin went on to detail how the egg contamination may have played out differently had the bill’s provisions been in effect.

UPDATE: Heather Horn at The Atlantic with a round-up

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Filed under Food, Public Health

That’s Some Professional Hippie Punching, Mr. Gibbs

Sam Youngman at The Hill:

The White House is simmering with anger at criticism from liberals who say President Obama is more concerned with deal-making than ideological purity.

During an interview with The Hill in his West Wing office, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs blasted liberal naysayers, whom he said would never regard anything the president did as good enough.

“I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested,” Gibbs said. “I mean, it’s crazy.”

The press secretary dismissed the “professional left” in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying, “They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”

Of those who complain that Obama caved to centrists on issues such as healthcare reform, Gibbs said: “They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.”

Chris Bowers at Open Left:

Oy, on many levels.

If the White House really doesn’t think it has any problems among self-identified liberals or progressives, and that all the complaints are coming from a grasstop elite, it needs to look at the data again.  From 2008 to 2010, President Obama has suffered far more erosion of support among self-identified liberals than among self-identified moderates or conservatives:

  • In 2008, according to exit polls, 89% self-identified liberals voted for President Obama.  Over the past four weeks, according to Gallup, President Obama’s approval rating among self-identified liberals has averaged 74%. That is a decline of 15 points.
  • In 2008, according to exit polls, 60% of self-identified moderates voted for President Obama.  Over the past four weeks, according to Gallup, President Obama’s approval rating among self-identified moderates has averaged 54%.  That is a decline of 6 points.
  • In 2008, according to exit polls, 20% of self-identified conservatives voted for President Obama. Over the past four weeks, according to Gallup, President Obama’s approval rating has averaged 24% among self-identified conservatives.  That is an increase of 4 points.

So, according to Gallup, disapproval among self-identified liberals accounts for the majority of President Obama’s approval rating underperformance compared to his 2008 vote share (from the perspective that the smaller decline among moderates is partially canceled out by the small gain among conservatives).  If it were not for President Obama’s decline among liberals, there would be virtually no difference between his 2010 approval rating and 2008 voter performance.
Maybe the White House knows that its problem among self-identified liberals is not confined to the grasstops.  Maybe it is “reaching out” to liberals in this insulting manner because it figures that while it has lost more support among liberals than among any other group, those liberals are still going to vote Democratic anyway.

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake:

Spiro Agnew — sorry, Robert Gibbs — says “the professional left is not representative of the progressives who organized, campaigned, raised money and ultimately voted for Obama.” Well, the Obama in the White House is not representative of the Obama who organized, campaigned, raised money and ran for office, so I guess it’s a wash.

Gibbs does the only thing you can do when trying to defend a record of corporatist capitulation: triangulate against your critics as extremists. But the fact is, the positions Obama has abandoned aren’t the exclusive territory of Dennis Kucinich. Standing up to the banks and the insurance companies, reducing the political influence of corporate money, defending Social Security and ending the wars are issues that are broadly popular with the American public. That’s why Obama campaigned on them in order to pave his way to the White House.

I don’t recall Obama making campaign promises to increase the defense budget and cut Social Security benefits, order the assassination of American citizens without due process, or cut sweetheart deals with the pharmaceutical industry in exchange for political patronage. Where was the bold, inspirational speech where he vowed to give AT&T immunity for operating their own private corporate spy network, tax people’s health insurance benefits, abandon gay rights and throw a party in the rose garden for Bart Stupak’s presidential signing statement? When did he promise to re-appoint Ben Bernanke, protect the bonuses of bailed out bankers and keep shoveling money at Wall Street?

Marshall Ganz was the field organizer responsible for Obama campaign programs that motivated those progressive volunteers. During the health care debate, when it was clear Obama was abandoning his campaign rhetoric on health care, he said “If Barack had campaigned on the politics of narrow self-interest, he never would have won the nomination, let alone the election.”

Maybe Gibbs should stop and revisit some of those campaign speeches and ask himself if the guy in the oval office looks like the guy on the campaign trail. He might figure out why people are upset, and it’s not just the “professional left.” According to Gallup, Obama’s approval ratings among Hispanics was 73% in January of 2010 and is now at 54%. That’s largely over his failure to fulfill the promises he made about immigration.

Are they the “professional left” too?

Glenn Greenwald:

So, to recap:  (1) The Professional Left are totally irrelevant losers who speak for absolutely nobody, and certainly nobody in Real America who matters; but (2) they’re ruining everything for the White House!!!  And:  if you criticize the President, it’s only because you’re such a rabid extremist that you harbor a secret desire to eliminate the Pentagon — that’s how anti-American you are!  You’re such a Far Left extremist that Dennis Kucinich isn’t far enough Left for you, you subversive, drug-using hippies!  You’re so far to the Left that you want to turn the U.S. into Canada.  As David Frum put it today:  “More proof of my longtime thesis, Repub pols fear the GOP base; Dem pols hate the Dem base.”

The Democrats have been concerned about a lack of enthusiasm on the part of their base headed into the midterm elections.  These sorts of rabid, caricatured, Fox-News-copying attacks on the Left will undoubtedly help generate more enthusiasm — more loud clapping — for the Democrats.  I know I’m eager to go canvass and clap for Democrats after reading Gibbs’ noble, inspiring vision.  If it were Gibbs’ goal to be as petulant and self-pitying as possible, what could he have done differently?

Perhaps one day the White House can work itself up to express this sort of sputtering rage against the Right, or the Wall Street thieves who destroyed the American economy, or the permanent factions that control Washington.  Until then, we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with White House explanations that the Real Culprits are not (of course) them, but the Professional Left, that is simultaneously totally irrelevant and ruining everything.  I’ll give credit to Gibbs for putting his name on this outburst:  these are usually the things they say anonymously and then deny afterward on the record that it’s what they think.

Nate Silver:

Lord knows I’ve had my share of disagreements with the “professional left”, as Press Secretary Robert Gibbs derisively referred to them in a rant to The Hill this morning. And I tend to endorse Jonathan Cohn’s view that Obama has had a reasonably accomplished first year-and-a-half in office that perhaps has been taken for granted by some liberals.

But if there is a gulf between what Obama has accomplished and the amount of credit that some liberals are willing to give him for it, it just became much wider today with Gibbs statements like “those people ought to be drug tested” and “they wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president”.

One problem that Obama is having — and not just on the left, although it might be most acute there — is the dissonance between the grand, poetic narratives of the campaign trail and the prosaic and transactional day-to-day grind of governance. To some extent, this is intrinsic to the nature of the respective activities. Still, for the 70 million who voted for Obama, there was a sense that — after a difficult eight years for a country challenged by two wars, two recessions, Hurricane Katrina, and the worst act of terrorism in history — things might finally start to be different. That change had come. That progress was happening. That politics were becoming more elevated. A black man had just received 365 electoral votes, for crying out loud!

The euphoric feeling among liberals in the days between the election and the inauguration seems so quaint now — like something that happened decades ago — but it was very tangible at the time. Conservatives, for their part, were willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, with his approval and favoability ratings sometimes soaring into the 70s: such a post-election “bounce” had once been commonplace in the days of Eisenhower and Kennedy, but had rarely been seen in the post-Watergate era.

But Obama was never really able to capitalize on that momentum. Perhaps, in the face of the headwinds of an ever-deepening jobs crisis (far worse than his advisors had anticipated) and unrepentant Republican obstructionism (a canny, even ballsy strategy in retrospect), there was no way he really could have.

Nevertheless, I suspect that for most liberals, any real sense of progress has now been lost. Yes, the left got a good-but-not-great health care bill, a good-but-not-great stimulus package, a good-but-not-great financial reform plan: these are a formidable bounty, and Obama and the Democratic Congress worked hard for them. But they now read as a basically par-for-the-course result from a time when all the stars were aligned for the Democrats — rather than anything predictive of a new direction, or of a more progressive future. In contrast, as should become emphatically clear on November 2nd, the reversion to the mean has been incredibly swift.

What liberals haven’t had, in other words, is very many opportunities to feel good about themselves, or to feel good about the future. While the White House has achieved several wins, they have never been elegant or emphatic, instead coming amidst the small-ball banality of cloture vote after cloture vote, of compromise after compromise.

Greg Sargent:

Robert Gibbs, under fire for his attack on the “professional left,” sends over a statement walking it back, conceding it was “inartful,” and clarifying that the views he expressed frustration about are not widely held:

I watch too much cable, I admit. Day after day it gets frustrating. Yesterday I watched as someone called legislation to prevent teacher layoffs a bailout — but I know that’s not a view held by many, nor were the views I was frustrated about.

So what I may have said inartfully, let me say this way — since coming to office in January 2009, this White House and Congress have worked tirelessly to put our country back on the right path. Most importantly, to dig our way out of a huge recession and build an economy that makes America more competitive and our middle class more secure. Some are frustrated that the change we want hasn’t come fast enough for many Americans. That we all understand.

But in 17 months, we have seen Wall Street reform, historic health care reform, fair pay for women, a recovery act that pulled us back from a depression and got our economy moving again, record investments in clean energy that are creating jobs, student loan reforms so families can afford college, a weapons system canceled that the Pentagon didn’t want, reset our relationship with the world and negotiated a nuclear weapons treaty that gets us closer to a world without fear of these weapons, just to name a few. And at the end of this month, 90,000 troops will have left Iraq and our combat mission will come to an end.

Even so, we will continue to work each day on the promises and commitments that the President made traveling all over this country for two years and produce the change we know is possible.

In November, America will get to choose between going back to the failed policies that got us into this mess, or moving forward with the policies that are leading us out.

So we should all, me included, stop fighting each other and arguing about our differences on certain policies, and instead work together to make sure everyone knows what is at stake because we’ve come too far to turn back now.

Atrios:

Joking aside, I know Gibbs’ hissy fit didn’t happen because he stays up late at night petrified wondering who might be the next wanker of the day. But, generally, DC Dems hate The Left even when, as below, it’s The Left that’s spending time and money to exert the pressure to pass their stated agenda.

Digby:

What with all the hoopla over Robert Gibbs’ comments today it pays to simply remember that everyone in Washington hates liberals. It’s a fact of life and until something happens to change the dynamic in which Democratic politicians are afraid to even mutter the words liberal, much less boldly and persuasively make a case for liberalism, I expect this will be the case. (The irony, of course, is that the liberals who do so have been proven right on the politics and the substance far more often than those who bet with the conservatives.)

Kevin Drum says that Democrats do this because only 20% of the country identifies as liberal so they are making a play for the center. I think he’s right that they think this way, but one could easily make the case that they’d do better by demonizing the 30% that calls themselves conservatives instead of their own voters. The center, by definition, doesn’t identify with them any more than the liberals, right?

There is also a case to be made that the Democratic establishment should be concerned about enthusiasm — that the activist base needs to be handled with a little bit more respect because they are the ones who knock on doors and make the calls. There’s something to that, of course, particularly in the mid-terms which depend so heavily on getting the base out.

But what’s dangerously myopic about going ballistic as Gibbs did in his statements is that just 10 years ago we had a little event in which only a tiny portion of the base went with a third party bid from the left — and the consequences were catastrophic. Democrats, of all people, should remember that every vote matters.

It’s embarrassing to have David Frum point out the obvious — that the Republicans fear their base and the Democrats hate theirs, but it has been so since I was a kid — a long time ago. At some point they are going to realize that their demanding activist base is the way it is and that they need to figure out a way to deal with it rather than rail against it. You cannot browbeat people into loving you and you can’t argue them into being enthusiastic. Certainly characterizing them in cartoon terms by saying “they want to eliminate the Pentagon”, they are on drugs and — worst of all — suggesting they are not part of America — isn’t going to get you there.

On the other hand, if they just want to use them as doormat as a way to appeal to “the center” then they take their chances that their activists won’t turn out to volunteer — or worse. Sometimes all it takes to lose is a quixotic third party bid, 535 disputed votes in Florida and Antonin Scalia. Why would they ask for that kind of trouble?

Ezra Klein:

I understand why the White House is frustrated by the criticism from the “professional left” and feels progressives should focus on all the progressive things the administration has done rather than all the things it hasn’t been able to do or interested in doing. What I don’t understand is why Robert Gibbs would voice that frustration to the press. His comments just turn this into a “story,” giving the very professional lefties whose criticism is rankling the White House another high-profile opportunity to criticize the White House.

Baffling. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that this is largely a Beltway phenomenon: According to Gallup, Obama is at 81 percent among self-described Democrats and 76 percent among self-described liberals. His problem is that he’s at 38 percent among self-described independents and 55 percent among self-described moderates. Now, this might tell you less than meets the eye: Maybe independents would like Obama better if he’d followed the professional left’s advice and really hammered the banks or sped up the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

UPDATE: Sam Stein at The Huffington Post

Paul Krugman

Brad DeLong

Jordan Fabian at The Hill

Naked Capitalism

UPDATE #2: Jane Hamsher and Matt Welch at Bloggingheads

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Let’s Play A Game Of MSM Musical Chairs

Elise Viebeck at The Hill:

The White House Correspondents Association voted unanimously Sunday afternoon to move Fox News to the front row of the White House briefing room.

The seating change was prompted by the resignation of veteran UPI reporter Helen Thomas.

According to Ed Henry, the senior White House correspondent for CNN and member of the WHCA board, the Associated Press will move to the front-row middle seat formerly occupied by Thomas.

Fox News will replace the AP in its former seat, also in the front row, and NPR, which lobbied for Thomas’ seat along with Fox and Bloomberg News, will take Fox’s former seat in the second row.

Michael Calderone at Yahoo:

The idea of moving the AP—which normally gets the first question at presidential press conferences—was under discussion in recent years, long before Thomas retired. Bloomberg remains in the second row, while NPR moves up from the third row to Fox’s current seat.

Several news organizations also petitioned to get regular seats in the briefing room (or keep their current seats).

The Financial Times will now get a regular seat, while U.S News & World Report—a news organization that has been scaled back in recent years—lost its seat. The foreign press pool also now gets its own seat.

In addition, Politico and American Urban Radio Networks moved up to the third row. The Washington Times, which has cut back significantly in the past year, moves from the third to fourth row.

Glynnis MacNicol at Mediaite:

Update: Fox is apparently pleased with the decision. From Bill Sammon, Vice President of News and Washington Managing Editor, FOX News: “We are pleased with the decision of the White House Correspondents’ Association and look forward to working with our colleagues in the front row and the rest of the James S. Brady briefing room.”‬‪

Update again: Major Garrett twitters: Those of us who will sit in the front owe a debt to Jim Angle, Carl Cameron, Bret Baier and network that supported them.

Ed Morrissey:

Congratulations to Garrett and Fox News.

Doug Powers at Michelle Malkin’s place:

Imagine how close Fox News would be if they weren’t an “illegitimate news organization” — they’d be sitting on Robert Gibbs’ podium. Clearly the White House Correspondents Association respects the ratings strength of Fox News — either that or the WHCA has a “racist Tea Partier” streak a mile wide.

Is it too much to hope for that Major Garrett will call in sick on Fox’s first day in front and to fill in for him they’ll hire Andrew Breitbart as a temp? I thought so.

Meanwhile, even though Helen Thomas might be out of the front row in the briefing room, money is being raised to put a statue of her in the front row of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn (pic of Helen with statue here). I keep one just like it in my attic because it seems to do a good job of scaring the bats away.

John Cole:

Who cares about these people. It isn’t like any news has ever been broken in the briefing room.

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The Saucer Remains Cool

Alexander Bolton at The Hill:

Senate Democrats do not have the votes to lower the 60-vote threshold to cut off filibusters.

The lack of support among a handful of Senate Democratic incumbents is a major blow to the effort to change the upper chamber’s rules.

Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate are pushing for filibuster reform at the start of the new Congress next year.
Five Senate Democrats have said they will not support a lowering of the 60-vote bar necessary to pass legislation.
Another four lawmakers say they are wary about such a change and would be hesitant to support it.

Doug Mataconis:

The filibuster as it exists has been in place for decades and has served very well it’s primary function of ensuring that the minority has the voice it was intended to, and to ensure that the Senate serves it’s intended function of putting a brake on the populism of the House of Representatives.This is a concept that James Madison communicated quite well when spoke of the reason why the Senate provided equal representation to the states regardless of size in Federalist No. 62:

[T]he equal vote allowed to each State is at once a constitutional recognition of the portion of sovereignty remaining in the individual States, and an instrument for preserving that residuary sovereignty. So far the equality ought to be no less acceptable to the large than to the small States; since they are not less solicitous to guard, by every possible expedient, against an improper consolidation of the States into one simple republic.

Another advantage accruing from this ingredient in the constitution of the Senate is, the additional impediment it must prove against improper acts of legislation. No law or resolution can now be passed without the concurrence, first, of a majority of the people, and then, of a majority of the States. It must be acknowledged that this complicated check on legislation may in some instances be injurious as well as beneficial; and that the peculiar defense which it involves in favor of the smaller States, would be more rational, if any interests common to them, and distinct from those of the other States, would otherwise be exposed to peculiar danger. But as the larger States will always be able, by their power over the supplies, to defeat unreasonable exertions of this prerogative of the lesser States, and as the faculty and excess of law-making seem to be the diseases to which our governments are most liable, it is not impossible that this part of the Constitution may be more convenient in practice than it appears to many in contemplation.

Thanks to the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment and other changes in American politics over the past two centuries, the “protection of the states’ purpose of the Senate has been muted somewhat, but the Senate still plays the role that Jefferson and Washington anticipated it would:

The “Senatorial saucer” conversation between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson is part of U.S. Senate legend. Jefferson had returned from France and was breakfasting with Washington. Jefferson asked Washington why he agreed to have a Senate.

“Why,” said Washington, “did you just now pour that coffee into your saucer before drinking it?”

“To cool it,” said Jefferson; “my throat is not made of brass.”

“Even so,” said Washington, “we pour our legislation into the Senatorial saucer to cool it.”

It’s unclear if this conversation ever actually took place, and it’s probable it didn’t, but it nonetheless describes quite aptly the role the Senate, and the filibuster, plays in our system. There’s no reason to change it.

Jonathan Cohn at TNR:

The nine senators wary of or opposed to abolishing the filibuster include some of the caucus’ most conservative members, including Max Baucus, Ben Nelson, and Mark Pryor. And that’s hardly surprising.

When it takes 60 senators to pass all legislation, the Democratic leadership has to rely on these people not only for their votes but also for their cache among Republicans. In other words, Democrats aren’t going to get Charles Grassley to vote for a bill if Max Baucus doesn’t vote for it, too. That’s going to matter even more next year, after the elections, if/when the Democrats lose seats and need Grassley (plus a few others) to move legislation.

Of course, the filibuster empowers individual Democrats at the expense of the party as a whole. If it’s sixty-votes-or-bust for the next few years, Democrats may be done passing major initiatives.

Jonathan Bernstein on Cohn:

One of the problems with thinking about these things is that our eyes are often fixed on the present.  With the Democrats at 59 Senators, it’s easy to focus on the threshhold of 60 votes for getting cloture, especially with Republicans using a rejectionist strategy pegged to requiring cloture to be achieved on every bill and nomination.  It’s worth stepping back and remembering that Senate majorities are usually smaller, and often much smaller.  Needing 60 has certainly made a difference in this Congress, but the filibuster may be a whole lot less important in other Congresses (as in cases of divided government).  That doesn’t mean that reform is a bad idea, but only to realize that for Democrats, this is more likely to be a 2013 problem than a 2011 problem.

That said, what I’d advise reformers to do is to concentrate their efforts on urging candidates to take strong stands on the issue.  When the time comes for action, which Democrats hope will be at the beginning of the 113th Congress in January 2013, they want as many Senators as possible to be committed to change.  The second thing I’d recommend is for reformers to prepare a package of relatively minor changes for January 2011, in order to demonstrate the point that each Senate can effect rules changes by majority vote.  Again, unless there’s a surprise Democratic sweep this November, I wouldn’t worry so much about pressing senior and marginal Democratic Senators on lowering the 60 vote needed for cloture.  Instead, I would try to find smaller streamlining procedural reforms that are relatively noncontroversial on their own (such as, perhaps, eliminating the filibuster on the motion to proceed, or changing for needing 60 for cloture to needing 41 to stop cloture) — whatever procedures, no matter how insignificant they may be substantively, that marginal and senior Dems are willing to support — and press to have a majority-rules vote on implementing them.

Megan McArdle:

I’m broadly pro-filibuster, but then I have an aversion to legislative activity, so that’s hardly surprising.  But whether or not you support it, I see little hope of changing it unless we get a long period–ten or so years–of single-party dominance.  At this point, Democrats would be crazy to do this.  They’d get a few months before they lose so many seats in the House that–even if they don’t lose entirely–they won’t have enough votes to do much.

And in exchange, they risk empowering a Republican Senate majority–if not in 2010 (which I think is very unlikely) then in 2012.  It’s absolutely true that Reagan and others had less popularity at this point in their presidency than Obama.  Unfortunately for Obama, financial crises take a long time to recover from.  The recession that ate away the popularity of Reagan was a classic monetary contraction that led to a boom as soon as Fed Chair Paul Volcker loosened his iron grip.  There’s a very good chance that in two years, Obama is still going to be trying to explain why unemployment is above 8% and GDP is kind of anemic.  If that’s the case, the Republicans will hold the house and the senate at the end of 2012.

Mind you, I’m not saying that this chance is above 50%.  But a 35% chance is a pretty big risk.  Democrats are strategically correct to focus on consolidating and defending the gains they’ve gotten, rather than risk having all of it undone in order to make a few lesser gains.  I understand that it’s hard for progressives to say that the major progressive achievements under this administration are pretty much all in the past.  But the leadership is saving them from themselves.

Matthew Yglesias on McArdle:

Megan McArdle thinks the likes of me should think twice about filibuster reform: “[Democrats] risk empowering a Republican Senate majority — if not in 2010 (which I think is very unlikely) then in 2012.”

I really wish people would stop treating this kind of consideration as a knock-down refutation of the case for reform. I really and truly think it would be better to let the Senate vote by majority rules. That’s what I thought in 2005, it’s what I think in 2010, and it’s what I’ll think in 2015.

But anyone who is holding out on reform out of fear of empowering future Republican majorities should consider that for all the reasons Democrats will have the chance to change the rules in January 2011, Republicans will be able to change the rules in 2013 or 2015 or whenever else. The only reason filibustering has been allowed for as long as it has has been because of strong norms against its over-use. But those norms have been eroding for decades. The idea that Senate majorities are going to allow this trend to continue indefinitely is silly. The way this movie goes is that the downward spiral of obstruction continues until some majority gets sick of it and changes the rules. The question is when will the rules change not will they be changed.

Ezra Klein:

If you can’t manage the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, you can’t manage the 67 votes to change the rules and end the filibuster. At least in theory.

But in practice, there’s another path open to the Senate’s growing ranks of reformers: The so-called “constitutional option,” which is being pushed particularly hard by Sen. Tom Udall, but is increasingly being seen as a viable path forward by his colleagues.

The constitutional option gets its name from Article I, Section V of the Constitution, which states that “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings.” In order to fulfill this constitutional order, the Senate must be able to, well, determine its rules. A filibuster, technically, is a way to stop the Senate from determining something by refusing to allow it to move to a vote. Because stopping the Senate from considering its own rules would be unconstitutional, the chair can rule against the filibuster, and the Senate could then move to change its rules on a majority vote.

One caveat: Many people, including Udall himself, believe this has to happen at the beginning of a new Congress. If it doesn’t happen at the beginning of a new Congress, then Congress is considered to have acquiesced to the previous Congress’s rules, and a filibuster against further rule changes wouldn’t interrupt the constitutional right to determine the rules.

This is not a radical theory, or a partisan one: Both Richard Nixon, then the vice president and thus the president of the Senate, and Robert Byrd, then majority leader and considered the greatest parliamentarian to ever walk the chamber, have argued in favor of the constitutional option.

Martin Gold recounted Nixon’s argument in a 2004 article for the Harvard Law Review: “Nixon reasoned that because no Senate could deny a future Senate the ability to exercise a constitutional right, and because Rule XXII, paragraph three [the filibuster] “in practice” prevented a majority of Senators from adopting new rules, Rule XXII, paragraph three, was unconstitutional,” at least when it came to blocking consideration of new rules. Byrd was even pithier: “This Congress is not obliged to be bound by the dead hand of the past,” he said.

But for all the theory, the constitutional option has never quite been used in practice. Instead, it’s been repeatedly, and effectively, almost used. In 1917, Senate reformers were ready to use against the filibuster. A compromise was brokered, and that’s how cloture — the ability to shut off a filibuster — was created. In 1975, reformers again were ready to wield it against the filibuster, and this time, a motion to uphold the constitutional option passed and a motion to table it failed. And again, a compromise was brokered, this time bringing the number of votes necessary to breach the filibuster down from two-thirds of the Senate to three-fifths. The option was also considered for various reasons in 1953, 1957, 1961, 1963, 1967, 1969, 1971, and 1979.

And that gets to the real role that the constitutional option could play: If Democrats lay out a clear path to changing the rules through a majority vote, and if they show enough unity to convince Republicans that they’ll really try it, you might see a hasty decision to reach some sort of bipartisan compromise on the rules. But if Democrats push this strategy only to find themselves unable to follow through on it, they may find that they’ve lost their ability to protest rules changes if Republicans decide to pursue the same strategy when they eventually retake the Senate.

Ed Morrissey:

The trick, of course, is getting the necessary 51 votes in January.   Democrats may find themselves short, if the midterms turn into a tsunami.  Even if they have 52 or 53 votes, enough Democrats have to stand for re-election in 2012 that the remaining Democrats may wish to consider whether they want to hand a filibuster-buster to a majority Republican chamber in 2013.  The 2006 election was particularly good to Democrats in the Senate, and they’ll be defending a lot more seats than the GOP — likely with an unpopular President at the top of the ticket.

Under Ezra’s scenario (which is well researched, by the way, so read it all), the incoming majority of the 113th Congress could simply adopt the filibuster-buster rule from the 112th Congress by not making any changes to it.  It’s a default at that point, and Republicans would have to act to allow Democrats to have filibuster power.  If the GOP defeats Obama in that same election, it means no more judicial filibusters, no way to stop legislation, and the elimination of the need to consult across the aisle at all.

So will they want an unfettered President Palin or President Jindal, for example, to appoint judges to the Supreme Court and lower benches?  Leave themselves with no way to stop a Republican agenda led by a President Daniels or a President Herman Cain?  If they find that palatable, then expect the much-smaller Democratic majority to sign up for that notion in January, if it exists at all.  I suspect that most Democrats have been in the Senate long enough to know how it works to be in the minority — and that the same folks on the Left who want to eliminate the filibuster will bemoan its absence shortly thereafter.

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