Jeff Merkley

Scenes from the floor on the second day of ENDA debate

Today's speeches have already begun, and amendment votes are also in progress. Please keep calling the Senate. There are more instructions here and here, and you can always reach both of your senators by dialing 202-224-3121. Don’t forget to sign our petition. The time is now – say yes to common sense and no to anti-gay extremists – pass ENDA!
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Senator Nelson cosponsors ENDA, leaves 3 votes to go, contact your senators now

Every vote will be critical to passage. Thank those already in support for protecting LGBT workers. Tell those who aren't yet on board to say yes to common sense and no to anti-gay extremists.
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New Report Sheds Light on Inequalities Suffered by LGBT Workers

Our society is one which remains afflicted by institutionalized discrimination. Although most Americans believe protections already exist, it is still perfectly legal to fire someone for being lesbian, gay, or bisexual in 29 states, and for being transgender in 34.

Indeed, a new report released Tuesday by the Movement Advancement Project, the Center for American Progress, the Human Rights Campaign, and others provides a comprehensive synthesis of the wealth of evidence documenting the inequalities faced by LGBT workers. Titled “A Broken Bargain: Discrimination, Fewer Benefits and More Taxes for LGBT Workers,” the report presents extensive documentation of bias in the recruitment process, of hostile work environments, of persistent wage disparities as compared to non-LGBT employees, and of dramatically reduced access to health insurance, family and medical leave, retirement benefits, and disability and survivor benefits – despite paying higher taxes due to the inability of LGBT households to file jointly.

The impact on families is devastating. According to the report, inequality when looking for jobs, inequality on the job, and inequality in benefits received from jobs combine to make LGBT parents twice as likely to live near the poverty line when compared to non-LGBT counterparts.

Left to right, seated at panel: Bill Hendrix, Nicole G. Berner, Dorian Warren,Sam Hall, Mia Macy, T.J. Maloney. Photo of release event at Center for American Progress.

While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently found that existing Title VII law covers gender identity, courts are not required to give any deference to its legal interpretations, so legislation is required. Such a bill to guarantee much-needed federal employment protections for LGBT people was recently introduced in the 113th Congress. Known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the bill has been introduced in nearly every Congressional session since 1994, and the fight for basic workplace equality continues to the present day.

Further, corporate America knows that ENDA is good for business. As Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said Tuesday morning at the release event for the report,

“When we asked employers about this, many of them said, ‘well, isn’t it already illegal’? … In our Fortune 500 companies, over 400 have policies addressing LGBT discrimination, and well over half have addressed gender identity. In the 21 state laboratories in which this has been implemented, there has been no concern over [costs to business caused by] additional lawsuits … they are a small percentage of all lawsuits to do with gender, religion, and race. This is a non-issue.”

Passing ENDA, then, would not only help alleviate discrimination faced by LGBT workers, but would also help businesses attract the best qualified employees possible. As Bill Hendrix from Dow Chemical said at the event,

“It’s hard enough already to find good people to fill jobs. Why would you begin by excluding parts of the population?”

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Senators Argue for Constitutional Amendment, DISCLOSE Act on Senate Floor

On Capitol Hill yesterday, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkely (D-OR), Tom Udall (D-NM) and others took to the floor to speak about the state of campaign finance today, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. Although the only way to completely fix the decision would be for the Supreme Court to reverse itself or to pass a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the DISCLOSE Act of 2012 (“Disclose 2.0”) is critically important legislation that would bring much-needed transparency to the political process.

Sen. Whitehouse began by analyzing the dramatic increase in unregulated, anonymous spending in our elections. “In the 2010 elections, the first after Citizens United, there was more than a four-fold increase in expenditures from Super PACS and other outside groups compared to 2006, with nearly three-fourths of political advertising coming from sources that were prohibited in 2006.” He noted that outside groups are vastly outspending the campaigns themselves – yet there is so much overlap between campaigns and PACs that their differences are hard to distinguish.

“Our campaign finance system is broken. Action is required to fix it,” Sen. Whitehouse said. “Americans are disgusted by campaigns that succeed or fail based on how many billionaires the candidates have in their pockets.”

Senator Udall made the case that amending the Constitution to ensure that elections remain about the quality of ideas instead of the quantity of dollars spent is a worthy cause: “We cannot truly fix this broken system until we undo the flawed premise that spending money on elections is the same thing as exercising free speech. That can only be achieved in two ways: the Court can overturn Buckley and subsequent decisions based on it, something the current court seems highly unlikely to do; or we can amend the Constitution to not only overturn the previous bad Court decision, but also to prevent future ones. Until then, we will fall short of the real reform that is needed.”

“I know amending the Constitution is difficult, and it should be,” continued Sen. Udall, who then quoted PFAW Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin: "'A constitutional amendment always seems impossible, until it becomes inevitable.’” Sen. Udall also noted the growing grassroots movement that has led to more than 200 state and local resolutions calling for a Constitutional amendment that have been adopted around the country.

Senator Jeff Merkley engaged in a colloquy with Senator Whitehouse, focusing on the first three words of the preamble to the Constitution, “We the People.” The senators discussed the fundamental conflict with that fundamental value posed by the Citizens United decision. Watch below:

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DeMint’s Democracy

If you needed any more proof that Congress’s “deliberative body” has officially become its “dysfunctional body,” today we have this:

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint warned Monday evening that he would block all legislation that has not been cleared by his office in the final days of the pre-election session.

Bret Bernhardt, DeMint's chief of staff, said in an e-mail to GOP and Democratic aides that his boss would place a hold on all legislation that has not been cleared by both parties by the end of the day Tuesday.

Any senator can place a hold to block legislation — and overcoming that would require the Senate to take time-consuming steps to invoke cloture, which would require 60 votes.

Even by the very, very low efficiency standards of today’s Senate GOP, DeMint’s decision to become a one-man obstructionist vigilante is taking things to a new level. Or maybe it’s not:

Now, however, a Democratic senator is coming forward to relay that DeMint's threat of grinding the consideration of bills to a halt is nothing new. It has been a formal policy of his since Obama was elected president.

"It is my understanding Jim DeMint has had a standing hold on everything throughout this two year process," Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told the Huffington Post on Tuesday. "When I have had amendments on a couple of occasions, I have been told: 'Absolutely, we in the Republican leadership are fine but you are going to have to clear it with Jim DeMint because he has a standing hold on everything.' So I'm not sure this is a real change from what he has been doing."

So, one senator in the minority party has had a stranglehold on all legislation for the past two years? Apparently, DeMint’s ideological hold on his party extends much farther than elections.
 

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Stop the 'Stupak Attack'

Today, several hundred pro-choice activists from across the country descended on Capitol Hill to tell members of Congress, “Stop Stupak,” and oppose language in the health care reform bill which would cause millions of women to lose reproductive health care insurance they already have. The Stupak amendment goes far beyond current law, the Hyde amendment enacted more than 30 years ago, which has unfairly prohibited the use of federal funds for abortion in most cases.

People For the American Way joined more than 60 groups with the Coalition to Pass Health Care Reform and Stop Stupak and dozens of members of Congress rallying to keep this anti-choice amendment out of the Senate’s health reform bill.

Among the members of Congress on hand to express their support of our efforts to stop the Stupak amendment were Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Patti Murray (D-WA), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) Diana Degette (D-CO), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Lois Capps (D-CA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Donna Edwards (D-MD), Judy Chu (D-CA), among others.

Upon passage of the Stupak amendment in the House, Rep. Diana Degette wrote a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, signed by a total of 90 Pro-Choice Members of Congress, vowing to oppose any conference report from the health care legislation that included the Stupak amendment language:

The Stupak-Pitts amendment to H.R. 3962, The Affordable Healthcare for America Act, represents an unprecedented and unacceptable restriction on women’s ability to access the full range of reproductive health services to which they are lawfully entitled. We will not vote for a conference report that contains language that restricts women’s right to choose any further than current law.

Advocates made statements with various signs including one that read “a woman is not a pre-existing condition,” “Stop the Stupak Attack,” and another that read “Don’t make me ‘unfriend’ health care reform.” Speakers called on activists to call their senators to remind them that women need health reform that covers all of their needs, including comprehensive reproductive health care. After the two hour rally, advocates dispersed through the halls of the Senate to lobby members to protect the rights of millions of women and families and take a stand against this restrictive and overly-burdensome language.

 


 

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