The "DREAM Now Series: Letters to Barack Obama" is a social media campaign that launched Monday, July 19, to underscore the urgent need to pass the DREAM Act. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, S. 729, would help tens of thousands of young people, American in all but paperwork, to earn legal status, provided they graduate from U.S. high schools, have good moral character, and complete either two years of college or military service. With broader comprehensive immigration reform stuck in partisan gridlock, the time is now for the White House and Congress to step up and pass the DREAM Act!
This post will mark the completion of the first week of the DREAM Now Letters. This social media campaign has been an immediate success, which is in large part due to the historic actions of DREAMers this week.
If you haven't read about it, yet, on Tuesday, 21 DREAM Act youth were arrested on Capitol Hill. Nativists' heads are already exploding at the notion that undocumented youth could openly declare their immigration status, get arrested, and not get deported. David Bennion, my co-blogger at Citizen Orange, has the best write up of the action, by far. It's new media at it's best. He was actually there while it was happening.
Working on the swipe fee issue with Mike has helped provide me with more insight on the sausage factory behind legislation. The way disparate interests--the grassroots, lobbyists, seemingly random members of Congress, and the leadership--interact with each other, and all fight to the bitter end, is quite illuminating. If you want a piece of public policy passed into law, you can't stop until the fight is completely over.
The way a member of congress handles smaller fights--at least in terms of public attention, not necessarily impact--of this sort are also an excellent demonstration of leadership. Most of what members of Congress do will not receive significant notice, and so your ability to rack up smaller achievements is a testament to your ability to manage your colleagues. In this case, it is a test of Senator Dick Durbin's leadership skills, a test that we should all watch given that he will be vying to lead Senate Democrats in the event that Harry Reid is defeated for re-election. Does Durbin have what it takes, or not?
Here is the situation, and why it is such a useful test:
The Senate conferees have decided to shut down, and not reopen, any discussion of swipe fees. Schumer would vote for any attempt to gut the compromise on Monday if given the chance, but he is not going to propose any such amendment--or push Senate Republicans to do so, either. As far as the Senate conferees are concerned, the case is closed in swipe fees.
On the House side, conference chair Barney Frank doesn't really care about the issue, and just wishes it would go away. He is not personally spearheading in any attempt to change the swipe fee language, nor will he do so. He is concerned with the overall bill, and has other things on his mind.
The only people attempting to undo the Monday compromise are two House Democrats--Dennis Moore (KS-03) and Gary Peters (MI-09)--along with credit unions. The credit unions are threatening to oppose the whole bill (they opposed the Senate bill, because it had even stronger swipe fee regulatory language), and Moore and Peters seems to be the most receptive members to their complaints.
The bottom line is this: two members of the House--one who is retiring, and the other who is a freshman, are working with a special interest group to try and undo a compromise that Durbin forged, and publicly celebrated, back on Monday. If Durbin can't shut that small fire down, what sort of Senate leader would he be? But, if he can shut it down, then he just beat the banks--you know, the ones who Durbin famously said "frankly own the place." It would be a nice win for Durbin.
So, whether or not Durbin is able to shut this down, and get the compromise that he forged on Monday, is an excellent test of whether he would be an effective leader of Senate Democrats or not. The ball is in his court--let's all take notice of what happens.
The Wall Street Journal is absolutely right that Lindsey Graham is tossing up an embarrassing air ball. Graham's effort to get the administration to abandon legitimate federal court trials for suspected terrorists in exchange for the funding needed to close Guantanamo Bay is headed nowhere fast, predicts the Journal.
In the latest game of public option hot potato, Senator Dick Durbin says he will whip hard for a reconciliation bill that includes a public option. However, the caveat is that he will only do so if the House sends a reconciliation bill to the Senate with the public option in it. If the House sends the Senate a reconciliation bill without a public option, then Durbin will whip aggressively against adding one in the Senate. From a Durbin spokesperson:
"I want to be crystal clear: Sen. Durbin and the rest of the Senate Leadership will be aggressively whipping FOR the public option if it is included in the reconciliation bill the House sends over. Conversely, the Leaders will whip against any attempt to alter or amend the bill if the public option is not in it (or as your email says - whip against adding the public option as an amendment in the Senate.)
The reason is simple. There can be no amendments - good or bad - to the reconciliation bill once the House passes it and sends it to the Senate. The House will not do step one (passing the Senate healthcare bill in the first place) if they do not have assurances that the fixes they want (i.e., the fixes in their reconciliation bill) will be passed unchanged by the Senate."
This is the same point I argued last week: the public option must be in the reconciliation bill that the House sends to the Senate in order to have any chance. Because of the leaderships twin desires not to blow up any deals on votes once the bills reach the floor, and their desire to stop the Republican strategy of filibuster by amendment, they are not going to allow any strengthening amendments to the health reform bills to pass. This includes a public option amendment.
However, it is highly unlikely that there is a public option in the House reconciliation bill. Two weeks ago, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was off the table. So, the only way to get it in the bill is through the Budget Committee markup of the bill (which will happen next week sometime), after someone proves that there are 216 votes for a reconciliation fix that includes a public option. That isn't much time, but it also isn't entirely impossible.
That is the task ahead for the public option--find 216 votes in about five days. CREDO and the PCCC have already sent out action alerts urging people to start this last ditch effort. If you haven't already received an email from them, visit their websites, and join in.
Supporters of filibuster reform scored a big catch today, as Senate #2 Dick Durbin came out in favor of Tom Harkin's effort to reform the filibuster. Additionally, Greg Sargent reports that Senator Durbin is working with other members of the Senate Democratic caucus to reform the filibuster:
Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker confirms to me that the Senator supports the new effort, which was unveiled yesterday by Senators Tom Harkin and Jeanne Shaheen.
The Harkin proposal would officially amend the process by which a filibuster is broken, allowing a four-step process that could eventually allow it to be broken by a majority vote. The first vote would require 60 votes to break the filibuster, followed by motions requiring 57, 54, and finally, 51 votes.
The key is that Durbin is apparently playing an active role in backing the Harkin effort. A senior leadership aide tells me Durbin is "in talks with a number of other Democratic senators regarding possible changes to Senate rules."
This is significant for two main reasons:
Durbin could be Majority Leader next year. If Harry Reid is defeated for re-election in November, and Democrats retain their majority, then Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer are the two most likely candidates to replace Reid as Majority Leader. Thus, one of the three Democrats who will potentially be Majority Leader on the first day the Senate is in session in 2011 (when only 51 votes are required to change Senate rules) now supports filibuster reform. The backing of the Majority Leader is necessary for success in the filibuster reform campaign.
Public supporters of filibuster reform now outnumber public opponents of filibuster reform in the Senate Democratic caucus. According to the Filibuster Reform Whip Count we started back on Wednesday, Durbin becomes the 11th Democratic Senator in favor of reform that would ultimately allow any legislation to pass the Senate with 51 votes unless the Constitution explicitly forbids it. By comparison, only 10 members of the Democratic Senate caucus are still clearly on record opposing this plan.
Among the 51 Democratic Senators (a number that includes (Vice-President Biden) who are either not up for re-election or whom polling currently gives a 100% of return (or first entry) in 2011, there are now 11 supporters, 8 "maybes" and 8 opponents.
Filibuster Reform Whip Count 51 members of the Democratic caucus currently with a 100% chance of being in the Senate in 2011
No current statement (24): Cantwell (WA); Cardin (MD); Carper (DE); Franken (MN); Gillibrand (NY); Hagan (NC); Johnson (SD); Klobuchar (MN); Landrieu (LA); McCaskill (MO); Menendez (NJ); Nelson (NE); Nelson (FL); Reed (RI); Rockefeller (WV); Schumer (NY); Stabenow (MI); Tester (MT); Udall (CO); Warner (VA); Webb (VA); Whitehouse (RI); Wyden (OR); Sanders (VT)
Winning this campaign is going to require 51 votes, which means convincing a lot of undecided Senators, flipping some Senators who are currently "no", and also getting some incoming / endangered members on board. It is certainly a tall task, but getting Dick Durbin provides real momentum. I don't care how quixotic people think it is--this is a winnable campaign.
Cross-posted at Daily Kos, Docudharma and Firedoglake
Hat tip to Henry Porter and the other diarists who posted on the videos and photos yesterday of the repatriation of service members slain in Afghanistan.
Henry wrote of how enraged he is that war criminals of the previous administration are walking free, of the pain he felt when he encountered a young disabled veteran, and that he finds "a measure of comfort in the hope that unlike his predecessor, this president has the courage, the character , the compassion and the judgment to make his decisions based on the best possible information and advice available to him."
It is not often that we are able to see photos depicting the cost of war to our troops and their families. Few people encounter our disabled veterans. The face of war is rarely seen.
During the war in Vietnam, Walter Cronkite made sure that Mr. and Mrs. America saw plenty of the reality, during the dinner hour.
Sensitivity to the wishes of our soldiers and their families must prevail over other considerations.
And, there are some soldiers and families who have been willing to share images of their sacrifice with us.
A former Marine Corps captain with combat experience in Iraq, Hoh had also served in uniform at the Pentagon, and as a civilian in Iraq and at the State Department. By July, he was the senior U.S. civilian in Zabul province, a Taliban hotbed.
But last month, in a move that has sent ripples all the way to the White House, Hoh, 36, became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war, which he had come to believe simply fueled the insurgency.
"I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan," he wrote Sept. 10 in a four-page letter to the department's head of personnel. "I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end."
This is a live blog from the front porch at Sen. Dick Durbin's office in Springfield, Illinois. See the last paragraph for details about the location.
Posted at Daily Kos, Docudharma, and OpenLeft.
It doesn't matter whether you like or dislike the CIA. (Personally, I view the professional gathering and analysis of information about military adversaries as a crucial, non-debatable function.) But a person doesn't become a CIA station chief by some kind of dumb accident. You have to be smart, and very capable.
And here's three former station chiefs who served in Afghanistan and Pakistan who explain why our large scale military occupation in Afghan is dead wrong.
The U.S. job market may be showing signs of life, according to a report issued by the Labor Department on Friday. The unemployment rate dropped in July, something no economist expected. Under the most optimistic interpretation, the news indicates that the worst of the recession is finally behind us. But the scenario isn't really so rosy, as our government has yet to relieve the foreclosure pandemic. Even if unemployment is leveling off, there will be no economic recovery if the the foreclosure problem isn't fixed.
July's unemployment rate only fell from 9.5% to 9.4%, and even the most bullish Wall Street economists think the rate will hit double digits by the end of the year. The fact that July's tiny drop in unemployement counts for good economic news says a lot about how severely the economy has deteriorated over the past year and a half.
But when you dig a little deeper, the numbers get worse. As Tim Fernholz explains for The American Prospect, even though the unemployment rate dropped, the nation's economy actually shed 247,000 jobs in July. The rate was pushed down because 400,000 people gave up looking for a job in July; as such, they are no longer included in the statistic. So, while we "only" lost 247,000 jobs, we also lost 400,000 workers.
The government also adjusts its job loss figures for seasonal developments. When the Labor Department says we lost 247,000 jobs in July, that isn't the actual number-it's the number relative to what the Department considers a normal July. This summer has been unique for the U.S. economy, and especially in the case of the automobile industry. Auto companies usually lay off workers in the summer: The factories close while companies prepare the next year's models. So many factories were already closed earlier this year that the seasonal shutdowns haven't really happened this summer. Even though car companies laid people off in July, the government's seasonally adjusted numbers marked an increase in car manufacturing jobs.
Things get even more complicated when you include the Cash for Clunkers program, which started on July 24. The plan offers people up to $4,500 to trade in their gas guzzlers for more fuel efficient new car. Whether the program helps the environment is somewhat controversial, but there is no doubt that it has created a lot of unusual demand for new cars. As Ed Brayton notes for The Michigan Messenger, the government's plan to pump an additional $2 billion into the program has analysts predicting a big boost for manufacturers in July and August.
So we don't really know if the labor market actually improved last month, or if the report is just an exaggeration of statistical anomalies resulting from the recession itself, or even some of the government's recovery efforts. But as Steve Benen notes for The Washington Monthly, even if the numbers come with a healthy dose of uncertainty, it's still better to see them come in good than bad. "There hasn't been encouraging news on the job front in quite a while, and given the severity of the economic crisis, today's report offers at least some relief," Benen says. "The job numbers beat expectations, the overall unemployment rate declined, earnings went up, and the manufacturing sector improved."
But even if unemployment is finally slowing down, the housing market remains awful. Foreclosures are significantly outpacing the administration's efforts to help troubled borrowers. The Treasury Department released a report last week indicating that only about 9% of the borrowers eligible for relief under the government's anti-foreclosure plan have actually received any aid-and even here the numbers are juiced to make the program look better. The administration only includes borrowers who are already at least two months behind on their mortgage payments in the group of eligible borrowers, when in fact any borrower in danger of "imminent default" is supposed to be eligible. Much of the problem, as I argue in a piece for Salon, is that the plan relies on private-sector debt collectors to identify distressed homeowners and get them help, something these companies have never been very interested in doing. All in all, just 235,247 borrowers have received assistance under the Obama plan, while foreclosures increased to 1.5 million in the first six months of 2009, with 2.4 million expected for the entire year and 9 million by 2012.
Writing for Mother Jones, Andy Kroll emphasizes that a much better policy option is available than the current tack. Rather than ask the banking industry to voluntarily adopt the administration's plan without any consequences, we should put "homeowners' fate in the hands of a neutral arbiter, like a bankruptcy court judge . . . [It] would go a long way toward stemming the tide of foreclosures," Kroll writes.
Thanks to a bizarre legal loophole, mortgages cannot be modified in a bankruptcy proceeding if the owner actually lives in the house (investment properties, on the other hand, can be written off). In other words, if a predatory loan is driving you bankrupt, a judge can't do anything about it in bankruptcy court. Congress has tried to change this rule a few times over the past year, but the bank lobby has stymied those efforts. The most recent legislative push failed overcome a Senate filibuster in April, but the political momentum may be changing as foreclosures get increasingly out of hand.
As Mike Lillis notes for The Colorado Independent, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., plans to bring back the legislation if the banking industry doesn't get serious about helping borrowers fast. Many of the companies letting borrowers fall into foreclosure received billions of dollars in bailout money over the past year, and some even agreed to help borrowers as a condition for taxpayer support. But reform doesn't just depend on the banks. Peter Dreier argues in The Nation that citizens need to publicly protest for stronger economic reforms.
Foreclosures are terrible for the economy. They wreak havoc on families' lives, wipe out personal savings, lower the value of neighboring properties and put more homes on the market, further lowering home prices nationwide. If we cannot stop foreclosures, the economy cannot recover. If job losses are finally moderating, that's great news. But it would be much better to see job losses stabilize and see the banks we bailed out actually do something to avert foreclosures.
Over at Huffington Post, Professor Lawrence Lessig (whom I work with in advancing public funding of congressional elections) gives people something constuctive to do with the anger over last week's bankruptcy vote:
If you think special-interest influence in Congress perverts our public policy, last week saw an outrage that vindicates that belief entirely.
Sen. Dick Durbin offered a bill that would allow families at risk of losing their homes -- but with an ability to pay their mortgage if their monthly rates were lower and extended over more years -- to legally get that option.
The very banks that taxpayers kept alive with billions in bailouts had the audacity to spend millions lobbying Congress to oppose this bill. They also showered politicians with campaign contributions.
The bill was defeated. Senator Durbin declared that banks "frankly own the place." Will you continue to support politicians who support this corrupt system? Or will you demand that any politician you donate to support reform?
Thousands of people are telling members of Congress they won't get a dime from us unless they co-sponsor Senator Durbin's Fair Elections Now Act to overhaul congressional campaign financing. It would replace our broken system with citizen-funded elections, a hybrid of public funding and small-dollar donations.
Still unclear as to who is pushing the delay: The culprit behind the delay can still be best described as "centrist Democrats" and "the financial services industry." As of this time, there are still few other specifics. I have heard second hand rumors that the New Democrats coordinated the delay in order to "flex some muscle." This would make sense, since the New Democrats have been public about feeling left out of the state of play in the House recently, and have indicated that they are going to target financial services regulations as a means of regaining influence. However, trying to get even more specific than "New Democrats" has been difficult, as the individual names I have heard behind the delay and water down effort are contradicted by my different sources.
On Ellen Tauscher: Two days ago, I asked Open Left readers to contact Representative Ellen Tauscher's office, urging her to stop listening to the financial services industry, and start listening to threatened homeowners. Her communications director contacted me today to point out that she voted in favor of the rule on HR 1106, which implies support. Also, I was told that Tauscher has not met with one member or representative of the financial services industry on this bill, but did work closely with the Judiciary committee which sent the bill to the House floor. In the extended entry, I provide a list of ways that her office indicated she was working to "strengthen" the bill, rather than "water it down."
A more complicated relationship: This week, on a couple of occasions, I have implied a crude, quid pro quo relationship between centrist Democrats and corporate PACs. The actual relationship, of course, is a bit more complicated. In particular, many centrist Dems simply see eye to eye with the corporate lobbyists who funnel PAC money their way, and no real arm twisting is needed. The corporate PACs are simply supporting like-minded individuals, many of whom have a background in the industry (such as Representative Tauscher, who worked on Wall Street). These Representatives are rarely working at the behest of the industries in question, and are instead simply working toward shared, usually pro-corporate goals on their own.
Durbin's slip-up: Yesterday, Senator Durbin , the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, told a reporter that he was willing to water down the legislation so that it would only apply to sub-prime loans. While he might have been taken out of context, or simply been speaking in error, given the 60 vote threshold in the Senate it is likely that is what will happen to the legislation by the time it is delivered to President Obama's desk. Because of the current political climate, the goal of centrist Democrats and the banking industry is not actually to defeat the bill as they did in the past, but simply to narrow it and water it down. Depressingly, that effort is likely to succeed.
Obama administration to the rescue?: The best chance for keeping the legislation strong and applicable to as wide a range of homeowners as possible comes from the Obama administration itself. On Monday, Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan will speak to House Democrats, and make a direct appeal for not narrowing or otherwise watering down the cram-down legislation. The administration does hold a lot of sway with congressional Democrats right now, and is riding high in the polls, so this appeal might just work. Let's hope so.
This bill is another test of the Obama administration's ability to sway center-right Democrats and Republicans. Unlike the stimulus, let's hope that no concessions are made without an actual promise of votes. Also, this vote should be a great test of whether or not members are voting with corporate interests, or with the interests of their constituents.
Ten days ago, we reported on Open Left that bankruptcy "cram-down" mortgage relief would not appear in the stimulus, but would appear in a different piece of legislation later this year. Despite our reports, the fight over bankruptcy "cram-down" legislation in the stimulus did not actually end ten days ago. As recently as Thursday, House Democrats will still fighting in to include the measure in the stimulus, and Senator Dick Durbin, the leading proponent of the measure in the Senate, was denying that President Obama was opposed to including the measure in the stimulus.
Yesterday, David and I both blogged about passing mortgage related bankruptcy reform in the stimulus package (see David's post and my post). The specific legislation we are seeking to include in the stimulus is, in the House, HR 225 from Representative Brad Miller and, in the Senate, S 61 from Dick Durbin. The legislation will allow bankruptcy judges to re-write mortgages according to current home values rather than inflated "bubble" values, thus allowing hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of people to keep their homes over the next two years. It is good legislation that will help lots of real people, and start putting the country back on track toward a post-bubble economy.
Here is the state of play on this legislation:
Senator Durbin is leading the charge to have the legislation included in the stimulus package. Considering his Senate position (ranking behind only Reid) and his close relationship with President-elect Obama, and that he is reportedly taking the inclusion of this legislation in the Senate as his personal mission, there is a good chance he can succeed. However, at this time, there is no definitive word that he has succeeded.
In the House, Brad Miller is basically a one-man campaign for this bill. Representative Miller and his staff are basically the only people around and available for this campaign. He is out-resourced by the opponents of the bill, as the next bullet point discusses.
In late 2007, Miller's bill was defeated by an alliance of Blue Dogs and the banking and realtor lobbies. At the behest of the National Association of Realtors, which gives more money to congressional candidates than any other PAC in the country, and which has 28 people working on the Hill full time as either lobbyists or researchers, sixteen Blue Dogs sent a letter to the House leadership asking them to spike the bill. The end result was that the bill was delayed, severely watered down, and ultimately deemed insufficient by the bill's sponsor, Brad Miller. There is every reason to expect a similar effort will be attempted to spike the bill this time around. And, as I already noted, the realtors and their Blue Dog lackeys have a lot more resources than Dick Durbin and Brad Miller, who are operating this campaign almost entirely by themselves.
To prevent this attempt to pass mortgage related bankruptcy reform, and thus a partial repeal of the odious Bankruptcy Bill of 2005, the strategy is simple: try to get as many Representatives and Senators supporting the inclusion of this legislation in the stimulus as possible. However, recognizing the relatively small size of our activist base here on Open Left, we can't just expect readers here to call their members of Congress, and the end result to be that enough members feel sufficiently pressured from their constituents to back the inclusion of this legislation in the stimulus. Instead, we have to be more selective in our targets, and choose carefully where we target our pressure.
So, my first idea is for Open Left readers to try and get all of our Better Democrats, for whom we raised money in 2008 and who are now members of Congress, to become sponsors of the bill and support its inclusion in the stimulus. Donna Edwards (MD-04) and Alan Grayson (FL-08) are already sponsors of H.R. 225, so they are spoken for. However, there are five members of the House and Senate from the Better Democrats page that have not yet sponsored either HR 225 (if they are House members) or S 61 (if they are Senators). Here are those four, along with the phone numbers of their Washington, D.C. offices:
The idea behind targeting these five is that, even though few of us are constituents of these five members of Congress, most of us can call as donors to one or more of these five members of Congress.
So, please, politely contact one of these five, and leave a message asking for to become a co-sponsor of either HR 225 (for House members) or S 61 (for Senators). Additionally, urge them to support the inclusion of this legislation in the stimulus package. If they ask for your constituent information and you are not a constituent, indicate that you were a donor to the 2008 campaign of that member of Congress.
Don't worry about it being after hours in D.C. If no one answers, leave a message-it will still be heard. Also, remember that we are entering a new era in D.C. where pressure like this can actually work. For example, Obama shelved his stimulus business tax cut proposal today, after Senators and grassroots alike raised their voice. Hopefully, we can get a few more sponsors for these bills as a result of this action. If it works, we can more onto more targets.