After more than a week of negotiations, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) cut a deal for the filibuster reform package that sailed through the Senate on Thursday. Unfortunately for fans of real filibuster reform, who expected Reid to win at least some GOP concessions—like a proposal by Sen. Al Franken’s (D-Minn.) that would force the minority party to muster at least 41 votes to continue a filibuster, rather than force the majority to find 60 to end it—the final package looked strangely like the minority-friendly one proposed last month by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.).
The first part of the Reid-McConnell deal, Senate Resolution 15, creates a temporary “standing order” that will expire with the end of the current Congress in 2015. The second part, Senate Resolution 16, is a permanant change. Here’s a breakdown on what it accomplishes—and doesn’t.
Obstructionist GOP trying to block appointments indefinitely. It’s definitely past time for filibuster and other senate reforms.
Republicans and business groups told a federal appeals court Wednesday that President Barack Obama violated the Constitution earlier this year when he bypassed the Senate to fill vacancies in his administration.
Attorneys for the groups told a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that Obama abused his power in January when he made recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.
“I would suggest there is a huge cloud hanging over the National Labor Relations Board right now,” said Noel Francisco, attorney for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups challenging the action.
The case is an important test of presidential power and could determine whether the Senate can indefinitely block presidential appointments by refusing to adjourn. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky came to watch the hearing in a packed courtroom. McConnell and 46 other Senate Republicans filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing the appointments are invalid.
At issue: When is the Senate in session, when is it in recess and who gets to decide? Certain high-profile appointments must be confirmed by the Senate, but if lawmakers are away for the holidays or other breaks, the president can act on his own with a recess appointment.
The Senate rejected the “Buffett Rule,” which would’ve raised the tax rates for millionaires, after Republicans accused President Barack Obama of pitting Americans against each other.
Democrats argued that it was time for the tax code to treat the wealthy and the middle class fairly, but were unable to get enough votes to have the rule clear the Senate. The vote was mostly along party lines.
A day before Americans’ taxes were due at the Internal Revenue Service, the partisan clash previewed themes that will echo throughout this year’s presidential and congressional election campaigns. But while the two parties competed for the stronger message to voters, one thing was sure — Republicans had enough votes to derail the Democratic bill.
As debate began, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else had grown into a gulf.
“They shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind tax loopholes that rig the system in their favor,” Reid said.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the legislation would do virtually nothing to fix the economy or stem the federal budget’s massive deficits, and was an attempt by Obama and his fellow Democrats to mask those problems.
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“The problem is, we’ve got a president who seems more interested in pitting people against each other than he is in actually doing what it takes to face these challenges head-on and to solve them in a bipartisan manner,” McConnell said.
The “Buffett Rule” bill, sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., would have slapped a minimum 30 percent income tax on people making over $2 million yearly and phased in higher taxes for those earning at least $1 million. The measure was nicknamed for billionaire Warren Buffett, who backed higher taxes on the rich.
Democrats said the Buffett rule vote underscored their commitment to economic fairness and GOP favoritism for the rich, a prominent election theme. Hammering at it let Obama shine a spotlight on presumed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a former private equity executive who has paid an income tax rate of about 15 percent on annual earnings of $21 million,. The rate is a lower rate than many middle-class families pay.
The Buffett rule was clearly popular. An Associated Press-GfK poll in February showed that nearly 2 in 3 favored a 30 percent tax for those making $1 million annually, including most Democrats and independents and even 4 in 10 Republicans.
Yet the measure would have raised just $47 billion over a decade, a smidgen of the $7 trillion in federal deficits expected during that time.