Quick Hits

Three U.S. troops died in blasts in Afghanistan, bringing the death toll for July to at least 63 and surpassing the previous month's record as the deadliest for American forces in the nearly 9-year-old war. More coverage in the Los Angeles Times.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist leads the three-way race for the U.S. Senate seat with 37 percent, followed by 32 percent for Republican Marco Rubio and 17 percent for Jeff Greene, the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

In Nevada Senate Race, the Las Vegas Review Journal reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle are locked in a dead heat. The new survey by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research shows Reid and Angle neck and neck. The Senate majority leader would win 43 percent and Angle 42 percent of support from likely Nevada voters if the election were held now. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points . A July 12-14 Mason-Dixon poll showed Reid 7 points ahead of Angle, 44-37 but Angle has countered with ads blaming the Nevada economy on Reid.

Judicial confirmation rates have nosedived in the Obama Presidency as flibusters, anonymous holds, and other obstructionary tactics have become the rule. The Center for American Progress has the story.

The financial blog Credit Writedowns has more on the report by Fed Governor James Bullard on deflation which I covered yesterday. Their post has a great summation of the situation we face:

In our view the case for deflation is a strong one as most of the classic symptoms are present in the U.S. today. Record historic debt is already in the process of deleveraging, and there is still a long way to go. Consumer demand is restrained. There is an excess of labor supply with five people available for every open job. Capacity utilization rates are historically low. Household net worth is far below peak levels. Credit is available only to the most highly qualified borrowers. Money supply has been flat or decreasing despite massive stimulus. All of this is a classic recipe for deflation. We also believe that there is little the Fed can do to avoid the outcome. Japan kept both short and long-term interest rate exceedingly low for many years and ran massive budget deficits with little to show for it, although they did prevent a complete collapse of their economic and financial system. While there is a difference between the U.S. and Japan, two major differences were in favor of Japan rather than the U.S. During most of Japan’s two-decade malaise the global economy was quite strong and Japan was able to support its economy with a substantial amount of exports. Furthermore, Japan started with a 12% household savings rate and was able to run it down, thereby providing some support for consumer spending.

Michael Whitney over at Firedoglake covers the latest madness from Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. Senator Feinstein's “Saving Kids from Dangerous Drugs Act of 2009″ (S. 258) that targets pot brownies and other marijuana edibles preferred by some medical marijuana patients passed the Senate unanimously.

Poor Blanche, Stuck in the Middle with No One

Shaila Dewan of the New York Times has opted to throw Senator Blanche Lincoln a pity party bemoaning her primary challenge from Lt. Governor Bill Halter as well as the various Republicans lining to challenge her should she win the May 18th primary.

In a state where voters are known for valuing personal relationships over ideology, Mrs. Lincoln, a moderate Democrat, is in trouble even here in her own hometown, among those who attended high school with her or went hunting with her father. And her tenuous position shows just how dangerous a place the political middle has become.

Caught in a surge of antigovernment sentiment, Mrs. Lincoln has been blasted by conservatives for allowing health care legislation to proceed, and has already attracted a slate of potential Republican challengers. At the same time, in a state with a more centrist tradition than most others in the South, she has become a target of the left for opposing a government-run public health care option, easier organizing rules for unions and regulation to fight global warming.

Not only do polls show her behind several of the Republicans, she now also faces a challenger in the May 18 Democratic primary, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who has been championed by national liberal groups that have pledged to spend millions of dollars to fight her.

“I am the rope in the tug of war, folks,” Mrs. Lincoln told supporters in Little Rock last week.

It's hard to have much sympathy for Blanche the bland. It's a sad testament to the state of the nation's politics if the definition of moderate is Blanche Lincoln. The liberal advocacy group MoveOn noted that Senator Lincoln  is “one of the worst corporate Democrats in Washington,” saying that she had taken $866,000 from insurance companies and over $1 million from Wall Street firms.

There's more...

As One Bunning Blockade Is Lifted, Others Take Hold

Having failed to cement a legacy of note during his two terms in the Senate, Senator Jim Bunning seemed this week to relish his role as the obstructionist-in-chief, a rotating post to be sure passing ignominiously between various Republican Senators determined to wreck upon the rocks of ungovernability the SS Obama. One week it's Jim DeMint of South Carolina, another week it is Richard Shelby of Alabama, only to be followed by Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma. This week the turn fell to Jim Bunning, the Senator from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, whose blockade of the ship of state set new lows in the politics of the shameless cowardice.

In a Congressional session marked by stunts including the first ever all-encompassing hold on all executive nominees, Senator Bunning's actions stood out for his utter and complete disregard for the plight of unemployed Americans. As the Lexington Herald-Leader noted, it was an act of "callous grandstanding." Indeed while the Senator grandstanded, some 2,000 contract employees of the Department of Transportation were furloughed. Another 200,000 plus were at risk of losing the only social safety net available to them in the first week alone. By May, Bunning's disregard for his fellow citizens would have deprived 4 million Americans of some modest assistance in these troubled times. 

Tonight the Senate lifted Bunning's blockade voting 78 to 19 in favor of extending unemployment benefits after Senator Bunning dropped his objections in exchange for a largely symbolic vote on paying for the aid. 

The story from Roll Call:

Under increasing pressure from Democrats and members of his own party, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) Tuesday night abandoned his one-man filibuster of a one-month extension to unemployment benefits and other programs.

In the end Bunning agreed to a deal allowing him one vote on an amendment to pay for the bill’s $10 billion cost. That proposal was offered by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last Thursday at the start of his filibuster, but Bunning rejected it because he feared his amendment would not pass.

Reid has also agreed to give Bunning two votes on amendments to a larger, one-year extension bill that is currently under consideration in the Senate.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he was pleased a deal could be reached.

“Bunning is coming back now, he has accepted our offer to have one offsetting amendment, which is an offer we made last week, and now he’s accepted it. I think it’s a new offset, we’re waiting to see. So, we’ll see where it goes,” Durbin said. “So it would give us two votes: offset amendment and final passage of the short-term [unemployment insurance].”

The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday night on the short-term bill, which also includes payments for doctors and highway spending as well as other items.

Thousands of federal highway employees who had been furloughed as a result of Bunning’s filibuster will likely be able to return to work later this week, and unemployment insurance checks will be sent to recipients after several days of delay.

To ensure the deal is enforced, Bunning has placed a hold on all the items included in the nightly “wrap up,” which normally entails a unanimous consent agreement to pass noncontroversial nominations and bills, a GOP aide said. Once the votes have taken place that hold would be lifted, the aide explained.

Like Senator Shelby before him, Senator Bunning has now placed a hold on all executive branch nominees. Senator Bunning is letting go by holding on, will the madness that reigns in the Senate ever cease?

The Senate Democrats on the "Bunning Blockade"

Members of the Democratic caucus speak out on Senator Bunning's blockade of extension of unemployment benefits and COBRA health insurance. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont called it "immoral" while Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio said the GOP's actions were "unconscionable."

Today, in an editorial in Senator Bunning's home state of Kentucky the Lexington Herald-Leader described Senator Bunning's actions as "callous grandstanding."

As long as Republicans were in charge, Sen. Jim Bunning was OK with trading a surplus for a deficit. He voted to put two wars, tax cuts and a Medicare drug benefit on the nation's credit card.

Now that Republicans are no longer in charge, Bunning is drawing the line on deficit spending. He's doing it in a way that shows callous contempt for the more than one in 10 working Kentuckians whose jobs disappeared in the economic meltdown.

We've become accustomed to bizarre, egocentric behavior from Bunning. So it wasn't all that surprising when he single-handedly blocked an unemployment benefits extension for a million people, including 119,230 in Kentucky, whose benefits run out this year. About 14,000 Kentuckians will exhaust their benefits in two weeks without the extension.

Bunning's filibuster also denies newly laid-off workers help paying for health insurance. It halts road and bridge projects around the country by furloughing 2,000 federal transportation employees, stops reimbursements to state highway programs and cuts Medicare payments to doctors.

To those who know him, it's not surprising that Bunning answered a Democratic colleague's complaint with a crude profanity. Or that he joked about missing a basketball game while pushing some unemployed Kentuckians into homelessness or bankruptcy.

The Lexington Herald-Leader also chastised Trey Grayson and Rand Paul, the leading Republicans to succeed the retiring-at-the-end-of-term Bunning, for jumping on Senator Bunning's one-man band wagon of obstructionism.

There's more...

Death by a Thousand Filibusters

Perhaps not quite a thousand but you get my drift. Our government isn't hanging itself (and us by extension) but committing us to the death of a thousand filibusters. From the New York Times:

The frequency of filibusters -- plus threats to use them -- are measured by the number of times the upper chamber votes on cloture. Such votes test the majority's ability to hold together 60 members to break a filibuster.

Last year, the first of the 111th Congress, there were a record 112 cloture votes. In the first two months of 2010, the number already exceeds 40.

That means, with 10 months left to run in the 111th Congress, Republicans have turned to the filibuster or threatened its use at a pace that will more than triple the old record. The 104th Congress in 1995-96 -- when Republicans held a 53-47 majority -- required 50 cloture votes.

The first filibuster in US Senate history began on March 5, 1841, over the issue of the firing of Senate printers, and lasted six days. Later that year, a second filibuster over a banking bill introduced by Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky lasted two weeks. Even so over the rest of 19th century fewer than two dozen filibusters were enacted. The filibuster would remain a rare legislative tactic until the Civil Rights era when Southerners turn to its use to block President Eisenhower's civil rights legislation. It's been downhill ever since.

The only way to stop one is by invoking cloture — which forces a vote to take place. Cloture, adopted in 1917, used to require two-thirds of the Senate to agree to stop the talking. But with a two-thirds vote difficult to obtain (just four out of 23 cloture movements were successful between 1919 and 1960), the Senate changed the rule in 1975 to require just three-fifths' approval, or 60 votes.

There's more...

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