“Epic,” “inspirational,” and “historic” are three words that best describe what I watched transpire on the floor of the United States Senate yesterday. At 11:47am, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) began his filibuster of John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, largely due to the lack of transparency from the Obama Administration on its drone program — specifically the targeted killing of Americans inside the borders of the United States.
The reasons that this gained so much interest was because it was an actual filibuster. This wasn’t a situation where Brennan couldn’t get 60 votes for cloture. Sen. Paul performed an old school filibuster, something that has become all too rare.
There was also another point that made this filibuster unique — Sen. Paul, along with several of his colleagues, spent nearly 13 hours talking substantive policy. There was no reading from a phone book or any other manner of time-buying tricks. Sen. Paul and others spent their time relaying a very pointed message about the Constitution, limits on executive power, and civil liberties.
For nearly 13 hours, Sen. Paul gave one of the most eloquent defenses of the Constitution that I’ve ever witnessed. He was joined at various times by Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), both of whom spoke at length on the constitutional concerns over the policy.
The issue of the fiscal cliff may have taken a backseat thanks to the party conventions and the distractions that have popped up along the campaign, but it looks like President Barack Obama’s tax plan, which would raise tax rates on families making more than $250,000 may be losing some steam among Senate Democrats:
President Barack Obama has made his tax position abundantly clear: Let the tax rates for the wealthiest Americans expire at year’s end.
But on Capitol Hill, some in his own party are ready to make a deal.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois is floating a six-month extension of current rates combined with budget cuts so lawmakers have time to reach a grand bargain deal early next year. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and other Democrats are open to a temporary extension of the top individual tax rate if Republicans agree to raise revenue in other parts of the Tax Code. Some liberals, like New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell, aren’t ruling out extending the current rates if the GOP agrees to sweeteners like a patch on the alternative minimum tax or extending dozens of lapsed business tax breaks.
And Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, along with several of his colleagues, won’t take any option off the table, knowing full well that high-stakes talks over taxes could result in any number of outcomes.
“I’ll certainly consider it,” Nelson said when asked about a short-term extension of all the Bush-era rates. “But I’ll consider anything.”
There’s no way to get around it, folks, President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats are playing a dangerous game. Rather than go along with plans to extend current tax rates for all income earner, they’re apparently ready and willing for the economy fall off the “fiscal cliff.”
Recall that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) warned in May that if the tax cuts expired, the economy would dip back into a recession. More recently, Citigroup noted that the economy would see a 2.9% contraction next year if only “most” the tax cuts remained in place. James Pethokoukis warned that the Citigroup study is especially concerning because the “economy will be lucky to grow 2% next year.”
Unfortunately, these concerns seem to be falling on deaf ears. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) told CNN yesterday that the middle class could see a tax hike if Republicans don’t act on President Obama’s tax proposal. However, Republicans are willing to act provided that President Obama and Senate Democrats agree to extend all current tax rates, including those on the middle class.
Sadly, it seems that they’re more content to play political games with the economy, as evidence by the point-of-view from one Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray, (D-WV), via the Wall Street Journal:
The nanny statists are now telling the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) that they should ban members from using tobacco products during games:
The day before game one of the World Series, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and other senators are asking Major League Baseball to ban players from using tobacco products at games, especially smokeless or chewing tobacco.
“Tomorrow night, an expected 15 million viewers, including many children, will tune in to watch the first game of the series. Unfortunately, as these young fans root for their favorite team and players, they also will watch their on-field heroes use smokeless tobacco products,” wrote Durbin and other senators to MLB executive director Michael Weiner.
“During the upcoming negotiations over the bargaining agreement, we write to ask that the Major League Baseball Players Association agree to a prohibition on the use of all tobacco products at games and on camera at all Major League ballparks. This would send a strong message to young baseball fans, who look toward the players as role models, that tobacco use is not essential to the sport of baseball.”
Yesterday afternoon, President Barack Obama sent out an e-mail blast encouraging his supporters to urge Republicans to support his latest gimmick, which he calls a “jobs bill.” But in a stroke of irony, Senate Republicans were trying to bring the bill for a vote on the Senate floor only to be blocked by Harry Reid, the leading Democrat in the chamber:
Senate Democrats have admitted in recent days that the bill doesn’t have the votes for passage as it’s currently written. Many vulnerable members in the chamber facing tough re-election bids next year don’t want to come near it, so Democratic leaders acknowledge that they’ll need to change the bill or pass it in pieces.
Despite his best efforts, Senator Rand Paul was unable to tip the cart known as the Patriot Act over. The freshman senator gave it a valiant effort and developed some unlikely allies along the way. When you are mentioned as an ally of Dick Durbin on an issue, and you’re really a Tea Party favorite, then you give life to the cliche that politics makes strange bedfellows.
However, Sen. Paul may well have shown libertarians the path towards transforming the nation, despite the failure. From MSNBC.com:
Paul argued that in the rush to meet the terrorist threat in 2001 Congress enacted a Patriot Act that tramples on individual liberties. He had some backing from liberal Democrats and civil liberties groups who have long contended the law gives the government authority to spy on innocent citizens.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he voted for the act when he was a House member in 2001 “while ground zero was still burning.” But “I soon realized it gave too much power to government without enough judicial and congressional oversight.”
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said the provision on collecting business records can expose law-abiding citizens to government scrutiny. “If we cannot limit investigations to terrorism or other nefarious activities, where do they end?” he asked.
“The Patriot Act has been used improperly again and again by law enforcement to invade Americans’ privacy and violate their constitutional rights,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington legislative office.
As we’ve noted, President Barack Obama has made a deal with Republicans that would prevent a tax hike on all Americans, while at the same time getting extension of unemployment benefits and some other tax breaks his administration has pushed for (you can read the Obama Administration’s talking points here).
Obama defended his side of the deal yesterday in an afternoon press conference at the White House, though taking jabs at Republicans in the process:
With fellow Democrats balking, President Barack Obama declared Tuesday that a compromise with Republicans on tax cuts was necessary to help the economy and protect recession-weary Americans. He passionately defended his record against Democrats who complain he’s breaking campaign promises.
“Take a tally. Look at what I promised during the campaign. There’s not a single thing that I haven’t done or tried to do,” the president said.
He staunchly defended his decision to deal with the GOP in order to extend about-to-expire tax cuts for all Americans.
“There are some who would have preferred a protracted political fight,” the president said at a White House news conference a day after the compromise was announced. “And I understand the desire for a fight. I’m sympathetic to that.”
He promised a renewed fight during 2012 when the tax cuts would expire again, making the point that he still opposes the Republican position that high-income earners should get the extension, too. The agreement includes individuals making $200,000 or more a year and families making $250,000 or more.
The recommendations presented by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairs of the President’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, failed to receive enough support to force action in Congress, though it did manage to receive more than a majority:
Eleven of the 18 members of President Obama’s fiscal commission voted Friday to embrace a bipartisan commission’s controversial plan to slash deficits by nearly $4 trillion over the next decade - too few votes to command quick action in Congress, but far more than even the panel’s most ardent supporters had predicted just a few weeks ago.
Among those voting yes were all three of the Senate Republicans appointed to the panel, including Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), a rock-ribbed conservative who endorsed the package despite a sharp increase in federal tax collections.
Two Senate Democrats on the panel also voted yes, including assistant Senate Majority Leader Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), an influential liberal who sought to bridge a major partisan divide by explicitly endorsing a gradual increase in the retirement age from 67 to 69.
The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), also voted yes, and Durbin predicted that Conrad would use the commission’s report as a basis for constructing the party’s next fiscal blueprint early in 2011.