112th Congress

UPDATE: Online March for Trust Women Week!

PFAW has made a very strong showing among the more than 80,000 people who have already joined the Online March for Trust Women Week. If you haven’t yet, please join now!

Today, as we celebrate the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, women’s reproductive freedom and health are still under attack.

The Tea Party Congress has moved aggressively to shut down women's access to reproductive health care and deny women the basic right to choose by targeting their health insurance and key healthcare providers, most notably, Planned Parenthood. In the states, a movement is afoot to make abortions illegal by conferring the status of “personhood” on embryos, and various state legislatures have taken up bills that would erect insurmountable barriers to women exercising their right to choose.

People For the American Way is proud to be partnering with the Silver Ribbon Campaign and an extremely broad coalition of organizations to promote the Virtual March celebrating Trust Women Week.

It is imperative that we begin 2012 with a powerful event that builds solidarity and momentum for reproductive health, rights and justice.

Join the Virtual March now and send your views to Congress and other elected officials where key decisions are pending about reproductive health, rights and justice.

You'll see your actions on an online map where you can also see who else is joining you, nearby and nationwide.

Choose from messages like:
  • “I trust women and I vote”
  • “Reproductive rights are human rights”
  • “We are the 99%. Fix the economy, and stop the war on women”
  • And more.
Join the march now and then help spread the word!

You can find out more about Trust Women Week at http://oursilverribbon.org.

Thank you for standing up for women’s rights and against right-wing attacks on reproductive freedom.
PFAW

What a Difference 18 Years Makes

Sometimes it’s hard to see what it means to make change. Last week OutServe brought us a notable exception.

Not long ago, this video could not have been made. It’s because so many people worked so hard over the past 18 years to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell that this issue could be raised so openly from within the armed forces. And all of our work on It Gets Better and safe schools will be better for it.

PFAW

Stop School Bullying this GSA Day!

Following the increased media attention paid to bullying-related suicides in 2010, Senator Al Franken took a strong stand on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and those who are perceived to be LGBT. His Student Non-Discrimination Act (S. 555) protects them from school-based discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes. It recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination, and it provides both for remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Today, Senator Franken has an important video announcement for you regarding S. 555.

On the occasion of GSA Day 2012, when we celebrate the work of Gay-Straight Alliances that bringing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight allied people together to stop bullying, homophobia, transphobia and hate, PFAW has called on you to be part of the solution.

Below are some quick talking points (more detailed talking points here) you can use in your call and to help promote awareness about the bill.
  • Celebrate Gay-Straight Alliance Day by supporting and cosponsoring the Student Non-Discrimination Act.
  • Bullying and harassment are forms of discrimination, but federal civil rights statutes leave LGBT students, and those who are perceived to be LGBT, unprotected.
  • Bullying and harassment in schools is a pervasive national problem.
  • Both Americans overall and education professionals in particular recognize the problem and support congressional action.
  • When students lose their sense of safety, they lose their access to quality education.
  • As Congress works to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it should address the bullying and harassment problem.
  • This isn’t just a question of education. It’s a matter of life and death.
Please call your senators now: Capitol Switchboard - (202) 224-3121

You can let us know how your call went with our online call report form.

More than one third of the Senate already supports the Student Non-Discrimination Act. You can check for your senators on the list here and if one or both of your senators are on it, please make your call a “thank you” call.

PFAW

Join the Online March for Trust Women Week!

Yesterday, I asked you to join the Online March for Trust Women Week. PFAW supporters are among the 66,000 and counting who’ve already marched. If you haven’t yet, please join now!

Today, as we celebrate the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, women’s reproductive freedom and health are still under attack.

The Tea Party Congress has moved aggressively to shut down women's access to reproductive health care and deny women the basic right to choose by targeting their health insurance and key healthcare providers, most notably, Planned Parenthood. In the states, a movement is afoot to make abortions illegal by conferring the status of “personhood” on embryos, and various state legislatures have taken up bills that would erect insurmountable barriers to women exercising their right to choose.

People For the American Way is proud to be partnering with the Silver Ribbon Campaign and an extremely broad coalition of organizations to promote the Virtual March celebrating Trust Women Week.

It is imperative that we begin 2012 with a powerful event that builds solidarity and momentum for reproductive health, rights and justice.

Join the Virtual March now and send your views to Congress and other elected officials where key decisions are pending about reproductive health, rights and justice.

You'll see your actions on an online map where you can also see who else is joining you, nearby and nationwide.

Choose from messages like:
  • “I trust women and I vote”
  • “Reproductive rights are human rights”
  • “We are the 99%. Fix the economy, and stop the war on women”
  • And more.
Join the march now and then help spread the word!

You can find out more about Trust Women Week at http://oursilverribbon.org.

Thank you for standing up for women’s rights and against right-wing attacks on reproductive freedom.
PFAW

With Nominations, the Senate GOP Legislates by Gridlock

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

The Senate GOP under President Obama has mastered the art of proactive apathy. Not content with neglecting their own jobs, Senate Republicans have expertly used their own dysfunction to prevent other parts of government from doing theirs. These efforts have consequences far beyond bureaucratic procedure: whether it's by crippling the courts or attacking agencies that hold corporations accountable, Republicans are making it harder for individual Americans to access the rights that a functioning government protects.

This week, Senate Republicans added two new public disservices to their resume. On Tuesday, they shattered the 2005 "Gang of 14" deal that prevented filibusters of judicial nominees in all but extraordinary circumstances, setting a standard that no nominee for the D.C. Circuit will be able to meet. As President Obama said about the filibuster of Halligan's nomination, "The only extraordinary things about Ms. Halligan are her qualifications and her intellect." And then on Thursday, they blocked President Obama's nominee to head a new federal agency simply because they do not want that agency to exist -- a move that will have untold consequences on future attempts to staff the executive branch.

These political power plays by a minority of senators are far more than "inside the Beltway" procedural dust ups. They signal the emergence of a party that is so intent on tilting the playing field in favor of the powerful that they will sacrifice basic public service in order to serve the interests of a powerful few.

On Tuesday, all but one Senate Republican refused to allow an up-or-down confirmation vote on Caitlin Halligan, a D.C. Circuit Court nominee who in any other year would have been easily approved by the Senate. The GOP struggled to find a reason to oppose Halligan on her merits, ultimately settling on a handful of trumped-up charges and the ridiculous argument that the D.C. Circuit, with one third of its seats vacant, didn't need another judge. When George W. Bush was president, many of these same Republicans loudly proclaimed that filibustering judicial nominees violates the United States Constitution, ultimately agreeing to the "Gang of 14" deal that judicial nominees would only be filibustered under "extraordinary circumstances." The vote on Halligan shattered that deal, opening the door for further political abuse of the judicial confirmation process.

On Thursday, the story repeated itself when the GOP succeeded in blocking a vote to confirm Richard Cordray to lead the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray, the former attorney general of Ohio, is as non-controversial as they come. He has a history of working with banks and with consumer advocates. He's backed by a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general, including the Republican who beat him in last year's election. Republicans in the Senate don't have any problems with Cordray. But they've made it very clear that they'll do everything in their power to keep the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from performing the functions that it is required by law to carry out. They don't want anyone to lead the agency, because without a Senate-confirmed head, it cannot perform all of its legally assigned duties. This is not conjecture on the part of progressives; Republicans have brazenly admitted it.

Unfortunately, these votes are not aberrations. They are part of a clear pattern of the Senate GOP since President Obama's election. Unable to accept the results of an election they lost, and unable to get their own way on everything, they have resorted to obstruction and dysfunction. They have abused the extraordinary power the Senate minority is granted , blocking everything they get their hands on, sometimes, it seem, simply because they can. In the process, they are damaging America's system of justice and accountability and betraying the voters they were elected to serve.

Perhaps they are doing this to serve the powerful corporate special interests that do not want courts and agencies to hold them accountable, or perhaps they are doing it to score political points against a Democratic president, or some combination of those reasons. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. Either way, they are abusing their positions and throwing sand in the gears of the Senate to make it harder for ordinary Americans to get our day in court and to defend ourselves against the powerful. It's a deeply cynical strategy, and ultimately a deeply harmful one.

PFAW

Empty Talking Points, Job Creators Edition

Republicans in Congress, who are currently in the process of stalling a tax cut for the middle class because it would be paid for by a miniscule surtax on the wealthiest, are adamant that the president’s plan for a payroll tax break will hurt small businesses and the wealthy people they like to call “job creators.”

Today, an NPR reporter went looking for some of those job creators who would stop hiring once they’re hit by a 3.25 surcharge on their income taxes. The reporter did her due diligence and asked for names from Republican congressional leaders and business lobbyists. None of them were able to present her with a small business owner who would talk about being hurt by the millionaire’s surtax. Then she tried something new:


So next we put a query on Facebook. And several business owners who said they would be affected by the "millionaires surtax" responded.


"It's not in the top 20 things that we think about when we're making a business hire," said Ian Yankwitt, who owns Tortoise Investment Management.
Tortoise is a boutique investment firm in White Plains, N.Y. Yankwitt has 10 employees and in recent years has done a lot of hiring.


As a result, Yankwitt says he's had many conversations about hiring, "both with respect to specific people, with respect to whether we should hire one junior person or two, whether we should hire a senior person."


He says his ultimate marginal tax rate "didn't even make it on the agenda."
Yankwitt says deciding to bring on another employee is all about return on investment. Will adding another person to the payroll make his company more successful?


For Jason Burger, the motivation is similar.


"If my taxes go up, I have slightly less disposable income, yes," said Burger, co-owner of CSS International Holdings, a global infrastructure contractor. "But that has nothing to do with what my business does. What my business does is based on the contracts that it wins and the demand for its services."


Burger says his Michigan-based company is hiring like crazy, and he'd be perfectly willing to pay the surtax.


"It's only fair that I put back into the system that is the entire reason for my success," said Burger.


For the record, both Burger and Yankwitt have made campaign contributions to Democrats in the past, but they say their views on the surtax are about the economics of their businesses and not their politics.


And they're not alone.


"I, like any other American, especially a business owner, I want to make as much money as I can and I want to keep as much money in my pocket as I can, but I also believe in the greater good," says Deborah Schwarz, who owns LAC Group, an information management firm with offices nationwide and in London.
Surtax or no, Schwarz says she hopes to keep hiring.


"We're going to keep on writing proposals, going after contracts, hopefully winning them, and when we do we're going to continue to hire people," says Schwarz.


All of this contradicts the arguments about job creators being made by Republicans in Congress.

Republicans are stopping a tax break for the middle class because of a myth about “job creators” they they aren’t able to back up with any actual examples, while actual job creators are keeping on investing in their own futures and that of their employees.
 

PFAW

Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover’s Story Comes to ABC

Following the increased media attention paid to bullying-related suicides last fall, PFAW took a strong stand on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and those who are perceived to be LGBT. Last Friday, ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition turned its attention to the story of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover.

On April 6, 2009, 11-year-old Carl Walker took his own life after being relentlessly bullied at school. Carl's family has focused their energies on helping others. They have turned this tragic event into something positive by lobbying for new state and federal laws against bullying.

The 3rd floor of the Walker home is where Carl took his own life. As a result, the family cannot bear the sadness of being on that floor. They need a new home that would meet their current needs yet also honor Carl in a positive way. Know anyone who can help?

Ty Pennington and designers Michael Moloney, Tracy Hutson, Jillian Harris, John Littlefield and local builders N. Riley Construction, Inc., as well as community volunteers, are tasked with building a new home while the Walkers are whisked away on a dream vacation to Hollywood.

As part of the episode, ABC teamed up with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network:

GLSEN worked with the Makeover team to create Stand Together, a community of people dedicated to taking action against bullying, with Sirdeaner Walker - a leading advocate on this issue - as the driving force behind the movement. The online hub featured in the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition episode is designed to raise awareness about the overwhelming number of bullying incidents in our nation's schools. Those touched by her work of making schools safe for all students can get involved and make a pledge against bullying and harassment by visiting www.standtogether.tv.

Stand Together is a great new tool to show how diverse the fight against bullying has become. They are well over one hundred thousand strong and still growing.

PFAW will continue its own advocacy to make sure that lessons are learned from stories like Carl's. Just this week, we sent a letter to the Senate supporting the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

S. 555 protects students from school-based sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes. It recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination, and it provides both for remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Ultimately, this is about stopping abhorrent behavior that prevents victimized students from accessing quality education. All children deserve far better than that.

Senator Franken is the sponsor of the Student Non-Discrimation Act.

On a personal note, Carl's story will remain saved in my DVR as a reminder of why I – why all of us in this fight do what we do.

PFAW

An Extraordinary Vote Shatters Senate Deal on ‘Extraordinary Circumstances’

The Senate GOP has already made it more difficult than ever for qualified judicial nominees to make it through the confirmation process. Yesterday, they made it even harder.

Caitlin Halligan, President Obama’s nominee to fill the seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that Chief Justice John Roberts vacated when he was appointed to the Supreme Court six years ago, is widely regarded as well-qualified and moderate. She has the support of a large and bipartisan group of prominent attorneys and law enforcement officials. Her legal views are decidedly non-controversial and middle of the road.

Yet Halligan yesterday became another victim of the Senate GOP’s strategy to defeat the Obama administration by preventing anything at all from getting done. When Democrats tried to get her a simple up-or-down confirmation vote, all but one Republican voted to keep up the filibuster against her. Why? Because, they said, the D.C. Circuit could keep on functioning with one third of its seats empty.

Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic summed up the implications:

If it were possible to strip the political varnish from the judicial nomination process, if we reduced the dark art down to its elemental tones, what we would see is both simple and maddening. 1) Our nation doesn't have enough federal judges working on cases. 2) The result is a growing backlog in the administration of justice that impacts the lives of millions of Americans. 3) There is a limited supply of capable, honest lawyers who are willing to take a pay cut, not to mention endure the background checks, to work as life-tenured jurists. 4) The Senate is unwilling to confirm dozens of these dedicated people out of partisan spite.

The Senate GOP’s ongoing efforts to keep the judiciary from functioning properly are both a powerful deterrent to talented lawyers who are recruited for the bench, and set a dangerous precedent for future Senate confirmation battles.

In 2005, the Senate’s “Gang of 14” cut a deal agreeing to only filibuster judicial nominees under “extraordinary circumstances,” which Sen. Lindsey Graham defined as “a character problem, an ethics problem, some allegation about the qualifications of the person, not an ideological bent.” Republican senators lined up to bash judicial filibusters, some even calling them unconstitutional,  and expound on the importance of a functioning judiciary. Many of these, including Graham, have apparently changed their minds.

The filibuster of Halligan clearly shatters this deal. The desire to keep President Obama’s nominees off the bench is in itself not an “extraordinary circumstance.” The new standard for judicial filibusters the Senate GOP set yesterday is one that will hurt qualified nominees of this president and of the next president, whatever his or her party.
 

PFAW

PFAW Applauds Committee Vote on Respect For Marriage Act

Back in July, I had the privilege of attending the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act. Today brought me to another historic moment: the passage of that bill out of Committee.

Senator Feinstein, the bill’s chief sponsor, offered a perfect description of how times have changed.

“When DOMA passed 15 years ago, no state permitted same-sex marriage. Today, 6 states and the District of Columbia do: Vermont, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

So, today there are 131,000-plus legally married same-sex couples in this country.

These changes reflect a firmly-established legal principle in this country: marriage is a legal preserve of the states.

DOMA infringes on this state authority by requiring the federal government to disregard state law, and deny more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits to which all other legally married couples are entitled.”

Here are a mere few of the many highlights from the other nine Democrats on the Committee, all nine among the bill’s thirty cosponsors.

Chairman Leahy:

“The Federal Government should not deny recognition and protection to the thousands of Americans who are lawfully married under their state law. We must repeal DOMA to ensure the freedom and equality of all of our citizens.”

Senator Durbin:

“I voted for DOMA. I believe I was wrong.”

“If this is called to the floor and only the 30 cosponsors vote for it, it’s worth the effort.”

Senator Franken:

“But every year, when they fill out their federal tax return, Javen and Oby have to check the ‘single’ box. They have to sign that form—under penalty of perjury. Every year, DOMA forces Javen and Oby to lie under oath. Every year, Javen and Oby pay taxes to a government that says their marriage is a fiction, even though they are a married couple—in the eyes of the God that they worship, in the eyes of their friends and family, and in the eyes of the state of Connecticut.”

“And you know, when we do pass it, straight people aren’t suddenly going to become gay. Straight people aren’t going to stop getting married. No, we’re going to be just fine. What will happen is that millions upon millions of lesbian and gay Americans aren’t going to suffer the indignity of having their own government tell them that their marriages are no good. What will happen is that it will be easier for those people to start and protect their families.”

Senator Coons:

"This is a truly important day in our nation's journey toward equality," Senator Coons said. "We’ve made tremendous progress and I am proud of the committee's vote today. As more Americans join the cause of equality, the Senate is changing with it. Equality is never a special interest — it is a fundamental interest of this country. Whether the Respect for Marriage Act moves to the floor in this Congress or the next, we will eventually repeal DOMA. We must redouble our efforts to show that the love and commitment shared by same-sex couples is of equal value as that shared by heterosexual couples."

Please take a moment to add your name to PFAW's petition urging Congress to Dump DOMA and end this unconstitutional, discriminatory policy once and for all.

PFAW

SB 137 says Michigan bullies can hide behind religion

In 2002, upon completing eighth grade at MacDonald Middle School in East Lansing, MI, Matt Epling was the victim of a hazing assault by upperclassmen. Roughly forty days later, presumably still reeling from the aftermath of the incident, Matt committed suicide. In the years since, friends and family have honored his memory by fighting for the passage of Matt’s Safe School Law.

The latest iteration of this legislation passed the Michigan Senate on November 2. But instead of protecting students like Matt from bullying and harassment, SB 137 creates a potentially dangerous religious exemption.

This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian.

The First Amendment and the fundamental constitutional rights and principles it encompasses deserve our utmost respect and a passionate defense. But to exempt religion in this way is not the answer.

Matt’s father, [Kevin Epling], expressed his dismay in a Facebook post after the state senate vote on Wednesday. “I am ashamed that this could be Michigan’s bill on anti-bullying,” wrote Epling. “For years the line [from Republicans] has been ‘no protected classes,’ and the first thing they throw in…was a very protected class, and limited them from repercussions of their own actions.”

Senator Gretchen Whitmer:

Or as Dr. Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, once said:

This is an issue of behavior, not belief.

News reports suggest that a compromise is in the works. Please tell the House and the Education Committee to:

Fix SB 137 by removing the exemption clause, adding statewide reporting requirements, and adding enumerated protections for categories such as race, disability, and sexual orientation.
PFAW

Norton Thanks Issa for Pulling DC Bill

Yesterday we reported how eager Representative Darrell Issa was to override DC’s home rule when he introduced a bill to mandate new DC hiring practices. Just hours later, he pulled his bill off the markup schedule for his committee, where it had been fast-tracked. DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton:

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) called Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) today to thank him for pulling his bill on District of Columbia hiring practices, after D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown called and assured Issa that the city was moving forward with its own hiring reform legislation. During an affable phone conversation, Norton told Issa that she has long advised members of Congress who have concerns about local D.C. laws to speak directly with the mayor, council chair, or her regarding their concerns rather than to introduce legislation, and that she hopes that other Members will follow Issa’s example in this case of working directly with the city to address their concerns.

We must still remain vigilant in the House, because as Delegate Norton points out:

The current House Republican majority has been less open to working with the District and instead has moved aggressively on anti-home-rule legislation.

And in the Senate, remember that PFAW is still calling for a clean funding bill, and urges everyone to send the same message to the Senate.

PFAW

Letter to the New York Times: The GOP's War on the Courts

This letter to the editor from PFAW's Marge Baker was published in today's New York Times:

Re “G.O.P. Field Stoking Anger at U.S. Courts” (front page, Oct. 24):

Extreme anti-judiciary measures like those proposed by Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, as well as Mitt Romney’s choice of the ultra-conservative failed Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork to head his legal team, are chilling reminders of the stakes of the 2012 presidential election.

But these are not far-off threats. The G.O.P. has already found a simple and immediate way to wage war on the federal judiciary: by obstructing the confirmation of new judges.

There are about 100 vacancies in federal courts throughout the country, a third of which are in districts so hard pressed that they have been designated “judicial emergencies.”

In spite of this, Senate Republicans have been confirming nominees at a record sluggish pace. The Senate is currently sitting on 23 nominees, virtually all of whom have strong bipartisan support. It simply defies reason that nominees who have received absolutely no opposition from either party are sometimes forced to wait months for a simple up-or-down confirmation vote.

A functioning independent judiciary is at the foundation of our democracy. But the religious right has often been wary of the judiciary’s power to act as a bulwark against efforts to crumble the wall of separation between church and state and to deny rights to women, gay people, religious minorities, workers and consumers. Unable to pass extreme measures like the ones being proposed by presidential candidates, the right has settled instead for quietly kneecapping the courts.

MARGE BAKER
Exec. V.P. for Policy and Program
People for the American Way
Washington, Oct. 24, 2011

PFAW

GOP Cabinet Member: Republicans in Congress Don’t Care About Jobs

In an interview with the Daily Beast, transportation secretary and former GOP congressman Ray LaHood comes right out and says it: the current Republican Congress cares more about defeating President Obama than about creating jobs.


LaHood is understandably most incensed about the GOP’s unwillingness to pass a simple infrastructure bill that would help repair the nation’s crumbling roads and bridge while creating thousands of jobs:


Even in the wake of a national report declaring 200 bridges structurally deficient, including one that brings tens of thousands of commuters from Virginia into Washington each day, and one that spans the home states of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, Republicans are expected to maintain their wall of opposition to a new round of stimulus spending on infrastructure. The infrastructure bill would put thousands of people to work, says LaHood, “but because of their own personal political feelings against the president, they don’t want to hand him a victory.”


LaHood has been dropping hints for some time about his frustration, and last week he unloaded in the interview.


“The crowd that was elected the last time not only came here to do nothing, they also came to put down the president,” he says. “And the way to put him down is not to give him any kind of opportunity to be successful.”


He faults the Tea Party freshmen, but doesn’t let the GOP leadership off the hook, recalling McConnell’s remark that his No. 1 goal was to defeat Obama.
“Republicans made a decision right after the election—don’t give Obama any victories. The heck with putting people to work, because we can score points,” LaHood says.


He goes on to compare the current GOP Congress to his own freshman Republican class, the Newt Gingrich-led “Contract With America” class:
 

There were sharp edges in that GOP freshman class, but the difference is, “They didn’t come here to do nothing. They came here to vote on things, to make change for the positive…That’s not the fact with this crowd [Tea Party].”

LaHood is still a Republican. He’s clearly still proud of his role in Gingrich’s 1994 army – which certainly had plenty of faults. But he’s noticed an important and troubling shift in how his party is approaching its role in governing. It’s a shift that all of us, regardless of party, should take note of.
 

PFAW

UPDATE: PFAW to Senate GOP: Leave DC alone

Last month, PFAW strongly encouraged the Senate Appropriations Committee to approve a clean DC appropriations bill. Now the fight continues in the Senate, where this week we expect the consideration of a “minibus” appropriations package including DC.

PFAW renews its call for a clean bill, and urges everyone to once again send the same message to the Senate.

DC residents and their elected officials should be the ones who determine what is best for their city, without the meddling of a Congress in which they have no vote. For a party that claims to be focused on getting the federal government out of people’s lives, many Republicans have been astoundingly eager to override DC’s home rule.

On the House side, Representative Darrell Issa is showing how eager he is to do just that. Representative Issa has introduced a bill to mandate new DC hiring practices, and he’ll mark up that bill in his committee on Thursday morning.

Seriousness of recent DC scandals aside, Representative Issa fails to recognize that this is a DC problem, one that DC itself is already investigating through the city council, the Office of Campaign Finance, and the US Attorney. DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton:

The bill represents a significant escalation of Republicans’ relentless attacks this Congress on the District’s right to self-government . . . [It] will not pass the committee quietly, and if it makes it to the House floor, we will make it very clear that Republicans, who profess to support local control of local matters, are focused on partisan, ideological fights, not addressing Americans’ top priority: jobs.
PFAW

Imminent attack on the DC Delegate's vote in the Committee of the Whole House

Today, the DC Delegate has a vote in the Committee of the Whole House.

Tomorrow, this partial right to vote – the only direct representation DC has had on the House floor in its entire history – will likely be revoked by House Republicans as they approve the House Rules of the 112th Congress. Speaker-designate Boehner needs to hear from you that this is unacceptable. From DC Vote:

On January 5, in the first hours of the 112th Congress, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives will likely silence the DC Delegate's voice in the Committee of the Whole House.

Call the incoming Speaker of the House, Representative John Boehner (R-OH) TODAY at 202.225.6205 and ask him to retain this important piece of DC's participation in the House.

Sample Call Script:

My name is ______ and I'm calling to ask Congressman Boehner [BAY-ner] to retain the DC Delegate vote in the Committee of the Whole.

DC residents pay full federal taxes, fight in wars and serve on juries, but have no voting representative.

It's taxation without representation. The Committee of the Whole is the only voice DC has when all the members of the House meet.

Please tell Congressman Boehner to retain the DC Delegate vote.

Once you've called, please ask friends and family (especially in Ohio) to call also.

For a historical timeline of the District Delegate position, click here.

As Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) noted following last November’s elections:

The opportunity to vote in committees, now including the Committee of the Whole, is significant to the American citizens who live in the nation's capital and pay full federal taxes annually to support our federal government.

Maintaining the DC Delegate’s vote in the Committee of the Whole House is an important part of long-standing efforts to fully enfranchise our nation’s capital. Call now. 202-225-6205

PFAW

People For and Progressive Groups Urge Senate to Break Confirmation Gridlock

This week, People For and 46 other progressive groups sent a letter to the leaders of the U.S. Senate urging them to end the backlog of judicial nominees before the end of this session of Congress. Republican obstruction has prevented dozens of nominees from even receiving a vote on the Senate floor, leaving the federal court system with over 100 vacancies and the slowing down the process of bringing more diversity to the federal bench. Read the full letter:

Dear Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:

The undersigned organizations strongly urge you to end the troubling backlog of judicial nominees that exists to date in the 111th Congress. The obstruction of many of President Obama’s nominees through filibuster threats and anonymous “holds” is hindering the important work of our judicial branch, particularly in the many areas of our nation that now face judicial emergencies due to unfilled vacancies on the bench.

Throughout the 111th Congress, President Obama has worked with the Senate on a bipartisan basis to select extraordinarily well-qualified judicial nominees who could easily be confirmed by wide margins and begin serving the public, if brought to a vote before the full Senate. Yet a troubling number of these nominees, many of whom have been cleared by the Committee on the Judiciary with little or no opposition, have been blocked from up-or-down confirmation votes for reasons that defy explanation. Indeed, many of President Obama’s judicial nominees who have been confirmed, to date, have been confirmed by unanimous votes – but only after languishing for many months on the Senate floor, raising significant doubts about the legitimacy of the ongoing delays in confirmation proceedings.

Due to arcane floor procedures that allow a single member to impede the important business of the Senate, our judicial branch has reached a state of crisis. Out of 872 federal judgeships, 106 are currently vacant, with 50 of those vacancies now characterized as “judicial emergencies” in which courts are being overwhelmed by filings that cannot be considered. As a result, a growing number of Americans, from all walks of life and across all economic strata, are finding it increasingly more difficult to assert their legal rights and to have their fair day in court.

In the meantime, the Senate is badly failing in its constitutionally-mandated role of considering the nominees that President Obama has selected. Prior to entering its pro forma session, the Senate failed to confirm any of the 23 nominees who are currently pending on the Senate floor, 17 of whom advanced through the committee process with no opposition whatsoever. Moreover, 11 of the pending nominees would fill seats designated as judicial emergencies – and more than half of the pending nominees are people of color, while 10 of them are women, who would bring badly-needed and long-overdue diversity to our judicial branch.

We write to you at a time when our nation faces numerous challenges that cry out for bipartisan cooperation, including major economic challenges and continued international threats. We strongly believe that the continued obstruction of nominations will poison the political atmosphere, needlessly heighten partisan tensions, and make it far more difficult for the federal government to serve the public interest in any respect. These consequences are all but certain to continue into the 112th Congress and beyond.

For these reasons, in the remaining weeks of the 111th Congress, we strongly urge you to work together in a bipartisan fashion to proceed with confirmation votes on the two dozen judicial nominees who remain pending on the Senate floor. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

AFL-CIO

Alliance for Justice

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

American Association for Affirmative Action

American Association of People with Disabilities

American Association of University Women

American Federation of Government Employees

American Federation of Teachers

Americans for Democratic Action

Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum

Asian American Justice Center

Common Cause

Constitutional Accountability Center

Equal Justice Society

Families USA Foundation

Feminist Majority

Hispanic National Bar Association

Hispanics for a Fair Judiciary

Human Rights Campaign

Japanese American Citizens League

Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Lambda Legal

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

League of United Latin American Citizens

Legal Momentum

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

NAACP

NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.

National Asian Pacific American Bar Association

National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse

National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum

National Association of Consumer Advocates

National Association of Human Rights Workers

National Association of Social Workers

National Black Justice Coalition

National Congress of Black Women, Inc.

National Council of Jewish Women

National Disability Rights Network

National Employment Lawyers Association

National Fair Housing Alliance

National Partnership for Women & Families

National Urban League

National Women’s Law Center

OCA

People For the American Way

Secular Coalition for America

SEIU

Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund

Sikh Coalition

 

PFAW

Who’s Paying for our Elections?

People For’s President Michael Keegan has a new op-ed in the Huffington Post today examining the impact of anonymous donors on this year’s midterm elections. He looks at the difference between spending by shadowy groups like the American Future Fund and another type of big spender in elections: self-funded candidates.

Polling shows that the vast majority of Americans really don't like the idea of corporations and interest groups pouring money into elections...and also really don't like it that outside groups don't have to reveal the major sources of their money.

But not liking the idea of wealthy people or corporations or powerful special interest groups trying to buy elections isn't much help when you're seeing a convincing ad on TV from a group with a name like the "Commission on Hope, Growth, and Opportunity" -- and have no way of finding out what the money and motivations behind the ad are.

Self-financed candidates are, to a large extent, "known knowns." When a candidate is bankrolling her own campaign, voters go into the polling place knowing full well who's most invested in that candidate's success and where the money comes from. Voters knew that Carly Fiorina made her fortune by sending jobs overseas, and Linda McMahon made hers by selling misogyny. But when a candidate is backed by millions of dollars from shadowy interest groups, the equation gets more difficult. The money's there, but it's difficult if not impossible to tell where the money comes from and what exactly it's meant to buy.

The system as it is hands a huge advantage to candidates who advance pro-corporate policies, and also rewards those who avoid wearing their corporate allegiances on their sleeves.

When the 112th Congress convenes, its members will include politicians who campaigned on radical pro-corporate policies -- eliminating health care reform, privatizing Social Security, deregulating Wall Street. Corporate America and the Tea Party movement have been closely linked since former Wall Street banker Rick Santelli issued his infamous battle cry on CNBC. But the unlimited, undisclosed corporate money poured into the campaigns of Tea Party candidates has made the union complete. We may not know exactly who our new Congress is indebted to, but we do know that that debt is enormous.

Read the whole thing at the Huffington Post. Then call your senators and urge them to vote for the DISCLOSE Act.
 

PFAW