Thursday, December 27, 2012

Desert Storm commander Norman Schwarzkopf dies at 78

Consolidated News Pictures / Getty Images file
Click to view scenes from the life of the retired Army general.

By M. Alex Johnson, NBC News

Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the blunt, bulldog-like commander of U.S.-led coalition forces in the first Persian Gulf War, died Thursday in Florida. He was 78.

Schwarzkopf died after a long illness at his home in Tampa, where he lived in retirement, a senior defense official told NBC News.

Schwarzkopf, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran who rose quickly through the Army's ranks during the 1970s and '80s, drew up the initial plans for the successful U.S.-led ejection of Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait, which Iraq invaded in 1990.

He then became famous for his pointed and inventive language during the almost-daily televised briefings he gave reporters as commander of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, invariably clad in desert camouflage, which he is credited with introducing.

Schwarzkopf described the key maneuver that led to the end of the ground war, a redeployment of forces into Iraq behind Iraqi lines, with a boxing metaphor: He called it a "left hook." And he memorably dismissed one report he disagreed with as "bovine scatology."

In his 1992 autobiography, "It Doesn't Take a Hero," Schwarzkopf related that he meant to send a message in those briefings.

"With those cameras grinding away, I knew I wasn't talking just to friendly audiences, but that Saddam and his bully boys were watching me on CNN in their headquarters," he wrote.

Schwarzkopf said he agreed with President George H.W. Bush's decision not to pursue Saddam all the way to Baghdad. At the February 1991 briefing during which he described the coalition's victorious operations, he made it clear that he could have done so, however, had he been given the order:

"If it had been our intention to take Iraq, if it had been our intention to destroy the country, if it had been our intention to overrun the country, we could have done it unopposed for all intents and purposes from this position at that time."
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Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, describing the defeat of Iraqin February 1991, told reporters he could have gone all the way to Baghdad had he been given the order.

Schwarzkopf emerged from the war with the nickname "Stormin' Norman" and a career in television, much of it as a military analyst for NBC News.

The decision to go to war to oust Saddam was the defining moment of Bush's presidency. In a statement from Houston, where he is being treated at Methodist Hospital for complications related to bronchitis, Bush called Schwarzkopf "one of the great military leaders of his generation."

"More than that, he was a good and decent man," Bush said.

In a statement Thursday night, President Barack Obama called Schwarzkopf "an American original."

"From his decorated service in Vietnam to the historic liberation of Kuwait and his leadership of United States Central Command, General Schwarzkopf stood tall for the country and Army he loved."

Colin Powell, who was Schwarzkopf's boss as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during Desert Storm, remembered him Thursday as "a great patriot and a great soldier."

"He was a good friend of mine, a close buddy," Powell said in a statement. " I will miss him."

Schwarzkopf, who had been based in Tampa for many years on the way to leading U.S. Central Command in 1988, was a prominent spokesman for campaigns to promote awareness of prostate cancer, with which he was diagnosed in 1993. He is survived by his wife, Brenda, and their three adult children.

Andrea Mitchell and Courtney Kube of NBC News contributed to this report.
Sen. Paul Introduces Fourth Amendment Protection Act 

Dec 27, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, Sen. Rand Paul took to the Senate floor to introduce and speak about his amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012, H.R.5949. The amendment, known as the Fourth Amendment Protection Act and co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) extends Fourth Amendment guarantees to electronic communications and requires specific warrants granted through FISA courts in order to obtain this information.

Below is a transcript and video of Sen. Paul's remarks today on his amendment.

122712 - Sen. Rand Paul Discusses FISA Amendment

Published on Dec 27, 2012


I rise today in support of the Fourth Amendment Protection Act. The Fourth Amendment guarantees the right of the people to be secure in their persons, their houses and their papers and their effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

John Adams considered the fight against general warrants, or what they called in those days 'writs of assistance,' he considered this fight to be when the child Independence was born. Our independence and the Fourth Amendment go hand in hand. They emerge together. To discount or to dilute the Fourth Amendment would be to deny really what constitutes our very republic.

But somehow along the way, we became lazy and haphazard in our vigilance. We allowed Congress and the courts to diminish our Fourth Amendment protections, particularly when we gave our papers to a third party. Once you gave information to an Internet provider or to a bank. Once we allowed our papers to be held by a third party, such as telephone companies or Internet providers, the courts determined that we no longer had a legally recognized expectation of privacy.

Now, there have been some dissents over time. Justice Marshall dissented in the California Bankers Association v. Shultz case, and he wrote these words - "the fact that one has disclosed private papers to a bank for a limited purpose within the context of a confidential customer-bank relationship does not mean that you have waived all right to the privacy of your papers."

But privacy and the Fourth Amendment have steadily lost ground over the past century. From the California Bankers Association case to Smith v. Maryland to U.S. v. Miller. The majority has ruled that your records, once they are held by a third party, don't deserve the same Fourth Amendment protections. 

Ironically, though, digital records seem to get less protection than paper records. As the National Association of Defense Attorneys has pointed out, since the 1870's, the government must get a warrant to look and read your mail, as is the case of Katz v. The United States, the government has been required to have a warrant to tap your phone. However, under current law, your e-mail, your text messages and other electronic communications do not receive the same level of protection as your phone calls do. Why is a phone call deserving of more protection than your e-mail or your text? Justice Sotomayor in U.S. v. Jones, the recent supreme court case that says the government can't put a GPS tracking device on your car without a warrant says this - "I for one doubt that people would accept without complaint the warrantless disclosure of the government to the government of a list of every website they have visited in the last week, month or year. I would not assume that all information voluntarily disclosed to some member of the public for unlimited purpose is for that reason alone disentitled to the Fourth Amendment protections.

Justices Marshall and Brennan, dissenting in Smith v. Maryland said in emphasizing the dangers in giving up Fourth Amendment protections, they wrote -- "the prospect of government monitoring will undoubtedly prove disturbing, even to those with nothing illicit to hide. Many individuals, including members of unpopular political organizations or journalists with confidential sources, may legitimately wish to avoid disclosure of their personal contacts." 

Stop FISA and Obama's Spying!

Published on Dec 19, 2012
FISA is an unprecedented extension of governmental surveillance over Americans that allows the President to grab all incoming and outgoing international communications without a warrant.

In Miller and in Smith, the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment did not protect records held by third parties. Sotomayor wrote in the jones case that it may be time to reconsider these cases, reconsider how they were decided, that their approach is, in her words, ill-suited to the digital age in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks.

Today, this amendment that I will present, the Fourth Amendment Protection Act, does precisely that. This amendment would restore the Fourth Amendment protection to third party records. This amendment would simply apply the Fourth Amendment to modern means of communications. E-mailing and text messaging would be given the same protections we currently give to telephone conversations. Some may ask well, why go to such great lengths to protect records? Isn't the government just interested in the records of bad people?

Well, to answer this question, you must imagine your Visa statement and imagine what information is on your Visa statement. From your Visa statement, the government may be able to ascertain what magazines you read, whether you drink and how much, whether you gamble and how much, whether you're a conservative, a liberal, a libertarian, whom do you contribute to, who is your preferred political party, whether you attend a church, a synagogue or a mosque, whether you see a psychiatrist, what type of medication do you take. By poring over your Visa statement, the government can pry into every aspect of your personal life. Do you really want to allow your government unfettered access to sift through millions and millions of records without first obtaining a judicial warrant? If we have people who are accused of committing a crime, we go before a judge and get a warrant. It's not that hard.

I'm not saying we won't be allowed to look through records, but I'm just saying that the mass of ordinary, innocent citizens should not have their records rifled through by a government who does not first have to ask a judge for a warrant before they look at your personal records.

We have examples in the past, in our own country, of abuses of government. During the civil rights era, the government snooped on activists. During the Vietnam era, the government snooped on antiwar protesters. In a digital age where computers can process billions of bits of information, do we want the government to have unfettered access to every detail of our lives? From your Visa statement, the government can determine what diseases you may or may not have, whether you're I impotent, manic, depressed, whether you're a gun owner, whether you buy ammunition, whether you're an animal rights activist, whether you're an environmental activist, what books you order, what blogs you read, what stores or Internet sites you look at. Do you really want your government to have free and unlimited access to everything you do on your computer?

The Fourth Amendment was written in a different time and a different age, but its necessity and its truth are timeless. The right to privacy, and for that matter, the right to private property, are not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, but the Ninth Amendment says that the rights not stated are not to be disparaged or denied. James Otis, arguably the father of the Fourth Amendment, put it best when he said one of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one's house. A man's house is his castle, and while he is quiet, he is as well-guarded as a prince in his castle. Today's castle may be your apartment, and who knows where the information is coming from. It may be paper in your apartment, but it may be bits of data stored who knows where, but there is a reason why our government should be restrained from invading a sphere of privacy that is a timeless concept. Over the past few decades, our right to privacy has been eroded. The Fourth Amendment Protection Act will go a long way to restoring this cherished and necessary right.

I hope that my colleagues will consider supporting, defending and enhancing the Fourth Amendment, bringing it into a modern age when modern electronic and computer information and communications are once again protected by the Fourth Amendment. Thank you, and I reserve the balance of my time.

The year in politics – in quotes

Editor’s note: Over the next few days, First Read will be recapping the year in politics. Yesterday, we looked at the Top 10 political events of 2012. Today: the year in politics – in quotes.  "
Mitt Romney
: “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.” (Jan. 9)
Rick Perry: “There is a real difference between a venture capitalist and a vulture capitalist.” (Jan. 10)
Gingrich: “No… [applause], but I will. I think the destructive, negative, vicious nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office, and I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.” -- Asked during a CNN debate if he’d like to respond to allegations by an ex-wife that he wanted an open marriage. (Jan. 19)
Gingrich: “By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be American.” (Jan. 25)

“I’m not concerned about the very poor.” (Feb. 1)
Romney: “There are some things that you just can’t imagine happening in your life.  Uh, this is one of them.” [Laughter] – on Donald Trump’s endorsement. (Feb. 2)
Romney: “I was a severely conservative Republican governor.” (Feb. 10)
Foster Friess (Santorum supporter): “You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.” (Feb. 16)
Romney: “It seems right here, the trees are the right height. I like seeing the lakes. I love the lakes.” (Feb. 17)
Romney: “Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs actually.” (Feb. 24)
Rick Santorum: “President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob!” (Feb. 25)
Romney: “I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners.” (Feb. 26)
Romney: “I like those fancy raincoats you bought, really sprung for the big bucks.” (Feb. 26)

“The best thing I can do for you is to tell you to shop around.” (March 5)
Romney: “I’ve got a lot of good friends — the owner of the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets — both owners are friends of mine.” (March 12)
Eric Fehrnstrom (Romney adviser): “Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.” (March 21)
Romney: "Russia, this is, without question, our number one geopolitical foe.” (March 26)
President Barack Obama:  “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.” – to Russian President Medvedev. (March 26)

Ann Romney:
“Well, you know, I guess we better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out because he is not!” – Asked by a radio host about the criticism that her husband “comes off stiff.” (April 2)
Hilary Rosen (Democratic strategist): “Guess what? His wife has actually never worked a day in her life.” (April 11)
Romney: “I’m not sure about these cookies. They don’t look like you made them. Did you make them? You didn’t, did you? They came from the local 7-11, bakery, or wherever.” (April 17)
Biden: “I promise you, the president has a big stick. I promise you.” (April 2012)

Ann Romney:
“Stiff, he’s not, he’s funny… There’s a wild and crazy man inside there.” (May 1)
Vice President Joe Biden: “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties." (May 9 on Meet the Press)
Obama: “He probably got out a little bit over his skis, but out of generosity of spirit. … Would I have preferred to have done this in my own way, in my own terms, without, I think, there being a lot of notice of everybody? Of course. But all's well that ends well." (May 10)

"I met a guy yesterday, seven feet tall. Yeah, handsome, great big guy, seven feet tall! Name is Rick Miller—Portland, Oregon. And he started a business. Of course you know it was in basketball. But it wasn't in basketball! I mean, I, figured he had to be in sport, but he wasn't in sport." (June 6)
Obama: “The private sector is doing fine.” (June 8)
Obama: “The highest Court in the land has now spoken. We will continue to implement this law. And we'll work together to improve on it where we can. But what we won’t do -- what the country can’t afford to do -- is refight the political battles of two years ago, or go back to the way things were.” – on the health-care law being upheld, 5-4, by the Supreme Court with Chief Justice Roberts being the deciding vote. (June 28)

“Lemon. Wet. Good.” -- asked how his lemonade was. (July 4)
House Speaker Boehner: “The American people probably aren’t going to fall in love with Mitt Romney.” (July 7)
Obama: “If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” (July 14)
Romney: “There are a few things that were disconcerting.” – Romney on the London Olympics security preparations. (July 26)
David Cameron: “Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic games in the middle of nowhere.” (July 26)
Romney: “Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference.” – on why the Palestinian economy is worse than Israel’s. (July 30)

“I’m not a business.” – on why he’s not releasing his taxes. (Aug. 9)
Romney: “Join me in welcoming the next president of the United States, Paul Ryan." – introducing Ryan as his vice presidential pick. Romney came back on stage: "Every now and then I'm known to make a mistake. I did not make a mistake with this guy. But I can tell you this. He's going to be the next vice president of the United States." (Aug. 11)
Paul Ryan: "I got a new bow last year. … Oh, I got a new chainsaw. It was nice. It's a Stihl." -- asked by People magazine what his last splurge was. (Aug. 12)
Biden: "They gonna put y’all back in chains." (Aug. 14)
Romney: “The fascination with taxes I paid I find to be very small minded.” – at a news conference he arranged on Medicare using a white board. (Aug. 16)
Todd Akin: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” (Aug. 19)
Ryan: “I’m a Catholic deer hunter. I am happy to be clinging to my guns and to my religion.” (Aug. 21)
Biden: “I’ve got a little bumper sticker for you: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.” (Aug. 21)
Ann Romney: “I love you womeeen!!!!” (Aug. 28)
Ann Romney: “Tonight, I want to talk to you about love.” (Aug. 28)
Chris Christie: “Tonight, we’re going to choose respect over love.” (Aug. 28)
Neil Newhouse (Romney pollster): “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” (Aug. 28)
Romney: “Four years from the excitement of the last election, for the first time, the majority of Americans now doubt that our children will have a better future. It is not what we were promised.” – Romney acceptance speech. (Aug. 30)
Clint Eastwood: “What? What do you want me to tell Romney? I can't tell him to do that. That. He can't do that to himself.” (Aug. 30)

Clinton:  “Listen to me, now. No president — no president, not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.” And: “It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.” – DNC convention speech. (Sept. 5)
Jennifer Granholm: “Well, in Romney's world, the cars get the elevator; the workers get the shaft.” (Sept. 5)
Obama: “America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won't promise that now. Yes, our path is harder, but it leads to a better place.” – convention speech (Sept. 6)
Romney: “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” (Sept. 12)
Romney: “I think the best answer is as little as possible.” -- when asked what he wears to bed at night. (Sept. 14)
Romney: “Middle income is $200… 250,000 or less.” (Sept. 14)
Romney: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” (Sept. 17 – when the video was first unveiled)
Benjamin Netanyahu: “Where should a red line be drawn? A red line should be drawn right here.” – speaking before the U.N. talking about Iran’s capability for a nuclear weapon and using a red marker to draw a red line on a diagram of a bomb. (Sept. 27) 

“And congratulations to you, Mr. President, on your anniversary. I’m sure this was the most romantic place you could imagine — here with me!” -- first presidential debate. (Oct. 3)
Romney: “Look, I’ve got five boys. I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true, but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I will believe it.” – first presidential debate. (Oct. 3)
Romney: “I like PBS, I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too.” -- to moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS in the first presidential debate. (Oct. 3)
Obama: “Well, Jim, I want to thank you, and I want to thank Governor Romney, because I think was a terrific debate.” (Oct. 3)
Biden: “With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey.” (Oct. 11)
Brad Sherman: “Do you want to get into this?” -- to fellow Democrat Howard Berman with whom he was competing for a redistricted congressional seat. (Oct. 11)
Romney: “I went to a number of women’s groups and said: ‘Can you help us find folks,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.” (Oct. 16)
Obama: “Please proceed, governor.” (Oct. 16)
Tagg Romney: “You want to jump out of your seat and rush down to the debate stage and take a swing at him.” – said of President Obama after a debate in which the two candidates exchanged verbal barbs and got in each other’s space. (Oct. 18)
Obama: “Obviously, I had an off-night.” – to Jon Stewart in reference to his first debate performance. (Oct. 19)
Obama: “Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets.” (Oct. 22)
Richard Mourdock: “Life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” (Oct. 23)
Obama: “If you say you love American cars in the debate, but you wrote an article called ‘Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,’ you might have Romnesia.” (Oct. 23)
Obama: “The second thing I'm confident we'll get done next year is immigration reform. And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.” (Oct. 24)
Romney: “The President's campaign has a slogan: it is ‘forward.’ But to the 23 million Americans struggling to find a good job, these last four years feel a lot more like ‘backward.’ We cannot afford four more years like the last four years." – Romney economic speech (Oct. 26)
Christie: “The president has been all over this and he deserves great credit” – on the response to Hurricane Sandy (Oct. 31)

“Don't boo. Vote! Voting is the best revenge.” (Nov. 4)
Romney: “I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation.” – Romney concession speech (Nov. 6-7)
Obama: “Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America the best is yet to come.” – Obama victory speech (Nov.6-7)
Romney: “The president’s campaign focused on giving targeted groups a big gift — so he made a big effort on small things. … You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity, I mean, this is huge.” (Nov. 14)
Stu Stevens: “[H]e was a charismatic African American president with a billion dollars, no primary and media that often felt morally conflicted about being critical.” (Nov. 28)

Tagg Romney
: “He [Mitt Romney] wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve met in my life. He had no desire to . . . run.” (Dec. 22)

2012: The Year in Graphs

As 2012 draws to a close, Wonkblog asked our favorite professional wonks — economists, political scientist, politicians and more — to see what graphs and charts they felt did the best job explaining the past year. Here are their nominees.

Sheila Bair — former chairperson, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC)

“There has been much discussion about income inequality, but not enough focus on its corollary: debt inequality. As real wages for the masses decline, they try to sustain consumption through borrowing from the wealthy. This economic model is, of course, unsustainable, and eventually collapses, as we discovered in 1929 and again in 2007. Unfortunately, our tepid recovery continues to rely primarily on asset inflation and cheap credit to support economic growth, even as real income for most people erodes, likely setting us up for another bust down the road.”

Jared Bernstein — senior fellow, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities; former chief economic adviser to Vice President Biden

“Here’s a simple one I keep thinking and talking about. While we’re all wound up in self-imposed fiscal madness, there’s still an economy out there that’s not working too well for a lot of people. Real hourly wages of middle-wage workers* have been drifting down for the past few years, a function of the persistently large amount slack in the job market. This figure also serves as a reminder that high unemployment doesn’t just hurt the unemployed — it hurts people with jobs, too. Finally, it’s a reminder as to why this is a lousy time to let the payroll tax cut expire. All that in one little line!”

*This is BLS hourly wage series for so-called production, non-supervisory workers (non-managers in services and blue-collar in manufacturing) deflated by the CPI.

Raj Chetty — professor of economics, Harvard; recipient, 2012 MacArthur “Genius” Grant

When a high value-added (top 5 percent) teacher enters a school, end-of-school-year test scores in the grade he or she teaches rise immediately …

… and students assigned to such high value-added teachers are more likely to go to college, earn higher incomes, and less likely to be teenage mothers. On average, having such a teacher for one year raises a child’s cumulative lifetime income by $50,000 (equivalent to $9,000 in present value at age 12 with a 5 percent interest rate).

The earnings gains from replacing a low value-added (bottom 5 percent) teacher with one of average quality grow as more data are used to estimate value-added. Discounting future earnings gains to present value, the gains are $190,000 with three years of data and eventually surpass $250,000 per class. If future earnings are not discounted, cumulative earnings gains surpass $1.4 million per class.

“Out of our own group’s research, the graphs that had the most impact on my own thinking — and, I believe the public debate — are the trio of graphs from our paper on teachers’ long term impacts. I was very surprised to see how sharp teachers’ impacts are — as soon as a good teacher enters, students immediately start to do a lot better — and how long their impacts last.”

Kent Conrad — Democratic senator from North Dakota; outgoing chair, Senate Budget Committee

This chart demonstrates that additional revenue has to be part of any deficit reduction package. It shows that the last five times the budget was in surplus (in 1969, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001), revenue was near 20 percent of GDP. Revenue is now at 15.8 percent of GDP, near its lowest level in 60 years. And under the House Republican budget plan, revenue would reach only 18.7 percent of GDP by 2022, a clearly inadequate level. Even with spending cuts and entitlement changes, given the retirement of the baby boom generation and rising health costs, it is clear we are also going to need more revenue.”

Source: Data comes from OMB historical tables and the House Republican budget proposal.

Peter Diamond — professor, MIT: 2010 Nobel laureate in economics

“Cutting Social Security benefits by changing the COLA is bad economics and bad politics. That the benefit cuts would hit a vulnerable population is shown in the graph. Keeping the politics of Social Security within the issue of Social Security, not as part of the annual budget process, is vital for good pension design. “

Chrystia Freeland — editor, Thomson Reuters Digital; author, “Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else

“This is my graph of the year — known as The Great Gatsby Curve. The Great Gatsby Curve draws on the research of Canadian economist Miles Corak and was widely popularized in a January 2012 speech by Alan Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. The Great Gatsby Curve is this year’s most important chart because it shows how social mobility declines as income inequality increases. At a time of rising income inequality, this is a hugely important finding because it suggests that the widening economic chasm imperils one of the characteristics many Americans believe is central to their society.”

Robert Greenstein — president, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

“This is our ‘parfait’ chart that shows what drives our record deficits. We’ve updated it periodically since its first release, since we think it really captures how we got here, as we debate the best ways for us to address the issue.”

“Our second selection addresses the “takers vs. makers” claim and outlines households who owed no federal income taxes in 2011.”

Michael Greenstone — professor of economics, MIT; director, Hamilton Project

“By unlocking vast new resources of natural gas in the U.S., fracking has transformed the energy landscape and dramatically reduced the price of natural gas. This graph summarizes the three types of costs associated with various sources of electricity generation: (1) the private costs of production; (2) external costs due to the release of conventional pollutants (primarily increased rates of morbidity and mortality); and (3) the external costs associated with the release of carbon dioxide and the resulting increase in climate change. When all three of these costs are considered, natural gas is the least expensive source of electricity.”

“This graph shows that children born to families on the high end of the earnings distribution have more resources available than did their counterparts in 1975, while children on the low end of the spectrum have fewer resources than low-income families in 1975. While there have been great increases in inequality over the last several decades, the figure suggests that further increases may be in store during the coming decades.”

Douglas Holtz-Eakin — president, American Action Forum

“AAF looked at 10 years of data and more than 230 regulations issued during the last 10 years to illustrate what drives regulatory spending by businesses and consumers; the bulk of the cost of regulations involves mandates to improve energy efficiency, with various environmental rules coming in second place. Together, those two categories account for roughly two-thirds of the economy-wide costs of complying with various federal regulations. Despite a pronounced regulatory slowdown before Election Day, regulators still managed to add more than $215 billion in final rules this year.”

Glenn Hubbard — dean, Columbia Business School; former economic adviser to Mitt Romney

“My all-time favorite graph is from the long-term revenue and spending graph in the CBO long-term outlook. In a holiday spirit of something different, I offer a chart from a piece earlier this week by David Wessel, illustrating that tax changes for the rich are a small part of changes in the nation’s fiscal outlook over the past decade — just as they will be going forward.”

Paul Krugman — professor, Princeton University; columnist, New York Times; 2008 Nobel laureate in economics

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
“This is the labor share in nonfarm business. I chose it because it highlights a dramatic new turn in the story of rising inequality, which hasn’t yet made it into most of our discussion. The story is no longer about a rising education premium, as it was in the ’80s and ’90s; since 2000, we’ve been looking instead at a major redistribution from labor in general to capital.”

Maya MacGuineas — president, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Source: Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget
“It is so important to put in place a sensible plan that stabilize the debt, and it is useful to have a tracking mechanism to see how various offers stack up. Let’s hope we don’t go any smaller than these.”

Bill McBride — Proprietor, Calculated Risk

“This graph shows the quarterly contribution to GDP from Residential Investment and State and Local governments for the last several years. Residential Investment is now adding to GDP growth, and it appears the drag from state and local governments is ending — two key stories going into 2013.”

Bill McKibben — environmental activist; founder,

“This shows that the fossil fuel companies have five times more carbon in their reserves than even the most conservative governments think would be safe to burn.”

Peter Orszag — vice chairman of global banking, Citigroup; former director, Office on Management and Budget

“This graph from S&P illustrates two key facts: health-care costs have decelerated over the past few years, and Medicare costs have decelerated more than other health costs. That pattern suggests at least part of the slowdown is structural (since if it were all just a reflection of economic weakness, we wouldn’t expect Medicare to slow down more than other health costs, but if it were partly structural, that’s exactly what we would expect). If this slower growth continues, the impact on our long-term fiscal gap will be much more meaningful than any plausible outcome of the fiscal cliff negotiations.”

Alice Rivlin — former director, Office of Management and Budget; co-author, Domenici-Rivlin debt plan

“Federal spending has risen since the recession, but over the long run the increases have been entirely in ‘mandatory spending programs,’ which reflect increases in the number of unemployed, low-income, disabled or retired people eligible for benefits. Discretionary spending appropriated annually by congress is heading towards its lowest percent of the economy since 1970.”

Cass Sunstein — professor, Harvard Law School; former director, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (2009-2012)

“There have been a lot of wild charges about regulation being “out of control.” True, we must control costs, but benefits matter too, and as demonstrated by this chart (produced by technical analysts in the federal government), the net benefits of final rules in the first three years of the Obama Administration exceed $91 billion. Not bad.”

Neera Tanden — president, Center for American Progress; former HHS senior adviser for health reform

“This year, Americans faced a choice between an America that works for everyone, and a top-down America that works only for the wealthy few. Voters chose an America where we create shared prosperity by strengthening the middle class. When America’s middle class thrives, America will prosper and maintain its economic edge.”

Ruy Teixeira — senior fellow, the Century Foundation and Center for American Progress; coauthor, “The Emerging Democratic Majority”

Source: Dave Troy

“In a phrase: density = Obama voters.”

Sam Wang — professor of neuroscience, Princeton; director, Princeton Election Consortium

“This XKCD speaks to most of the pundit class in 2012, even if they don’t realize it.”

Obama reaches out to congressional leaders on ‘fiscal cliff’ talks

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) accused the Republican Congressional leadership of being "radio silent" as the end-of-the-year deadline to avert the fiscal cliff approaches.

By and , Updated: Thursday, December 27, 2:54 PM

With just five days left before the year-end “fiscal cliff” and pessimism mounting that a deal to avert it can be reached, President Obama returned to Washington on Thursday in an effort to jump-start talks after placing late-night calls to Congress’s four top leaders.

Obama made calls from Hawaii late Wednesday to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said. She said Obama was seeking an update on the state of fiscal cliff talks before departing on an overnight flight back to Washington.
The White House provided no details about the conversations. The House is in recess pending action in the Senate, which convened Thursday amid a sense of gloom about chances for a deal to avert more than $500 billion in spending cuts and tax hikes set to hit in January.

McConnell “is happy to review what the president has in mind, but to date, the Senate Democrat majority has not put forward a plan,” a spokesman for the Republican leader said. “When they do, members on both sides of the aisle will review the legislation and make decisions on how best to proceed.”

Obama landed aboard Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews late Thursday morning Eastern time.

Earlier, Reid opened the Senate’s session with a scathing floor speech castigating Republican leaders in the House for not calling their members back to Washington to restart negotiations. He called the chances of going over the cliff increasingly likely.

Reid accused Boehner of putting a higher priority on keeping his job as leader of the House than on securing the nation’s economy. He said the only “escape hatch” out of the stalemate would be for Boehner to allow the House the vote on a measure adopted by the Senate over the summer to extend tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 a year.

Boehner has said the Senate must move first, and he has asked Democrats to take up a bill passed by the House in August to extend the rate cuts for Americans at all income levels. He has put the House on 48 hours notice to return to Washington but has indicated he has no plans to ask members to return without Senate action.

“Nothing can move forward in regards to our budget crisis unless Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell are willing to participate in coming up with a bipartisan plan,” Reid said. “So far, they are radio silent.”
As a result, Reid said, the nation is increasingly unlikely to forestall tax hikes on nearly every American and deep automatic spending cuts on Jan. 1 — provisions that Congress approved in 2011 as a way to force compromise on a deficit-reduction deal. “It looks like that’s where we’re headed,” the Senate Democratic leader said.

Reid said Boehner will not bring up the Senate’s bill because he knows it would pass on the votes of Democrats and a handful of Republicans. He charged that the House is now run as Boehner’s own “dictatorship.”

“If we go over the cliff, we’ll be left with the knowledge that it could have been prevented with a single vote in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives,” he said.

In response, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said: “Senator Reid should talk less and legislate more.... The House has already passed legislation to avoid the entire fiscal cliff. Senate Democrats have not.”
He referred to the bill that the House passed in August to extend tax cuts for all income levels and to a bill passed in May that would avert part of the automatic spending cuts set to hit the military next month by shifting those cuts to domestic programs.

House leaders have said the Senate bill that Reid wants the House to take up is not viable because measures that deal with revenue must, by law, originate in the House. Instead, the House leaders want the Senate to send back an amended version of the House legislation. Senate Democrats say the House leaders have the ability to waive the requirement that revenue measures originate in the House.

The House met briefly Thursday to abide by a constitutional requirement that it hold regular meetings while the Senate is in session. But no legislative business was conducted during the pro forma session, and the House adjourned until Monday at 2 p.m. EST .

If anything, hope for success appeared to have dimmed over the Christmas holiday. The House last week abdicated responsibility for resolving the crisis, leaving all eyes on the Senate. But senior aides in both parties said Wednesday Reid and McConnell had not met or even spoken since leaving town for the weekend.

After failing to persuade their fellow Republicans last week to let taxes rise on income over $1 million, GOP leaders offered no guidance on the shape of a package the House could ultimately accept. “The House will take . . . action on whatever the Senate can pass, but the Senate first must act,” the leaders said in a joint statement.

The White House, meanwhile, was working with Reid on an alternative package that would keep Obama’s vow to let taxes rise on income over $250,000. Top Senate aides said their approach also would protect millions of middle-class Americans from having to pay the costly alternative minimum tax for the first time and would keep benefits flowing to 2 million unemployed workers who otherwise would be cut off in January.
The measure also could delay deep spending cuts set to strike at the Pentagon and other federal agencies next month. But aides said the scope of the package depends on negotiations with Senate Republicans, and the talks had yet to get off the ground.

Unless the House and the Senate can agree on a way to avoid the fiscal cliff, economists fear that the more than $500 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts could spark a new recession.

Financial markets, already unsettled by the prospect of dramatic tax increases and spending reductions, may also face a new battle over the limit on federal borrowing. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner announced Wednesday that the debt will hit the $16.4 trillion cap on Dec. 31, leaving roughly two months for Congress to raise it or default on the nation’s obligations.

Paul Kane contributed to this report.

Latest 'fiscal cliff' headlines

7:19 PMObama to meet with congressional leaders Friday
3:36 PMHouse coming back on Sunday
11:25 AMBoehner spokesman: ‘Reid should talk less and legislate more’
11:19 AMObama talks with congressional leaders about ‘cliff’
10:46 AMReid accuses Boehner of running ‘dictatorship’

More fiscal cliff coverage

What the two sides agree onWhat the two sides agree on
Ezra Klein 10:32 AM ET
WONKBLOG | Republicans want to raise taxes on more people than the White House does.
Democratic ultras should note the humbling of their counterparts
Allan Sloan DEC 25
COLUMN | Republicans are paying for declining to compromise earlier. Will Democrats make the same mistake?  
The ultimate fiscal cliff FAQ
Start here for an explanation of wonky terms and key issues in the looming fiscal crisis.

Republicans rejecting their own ideas

By , Published: December 26

We know that the House of Representatives has been unable to reach a sensible deal to avoid unnecessary fiscal trouble at the first of the year because of right-wing Republicans’ aversion to tax increases.

But there is another issue on which conservatives are creating needless difficulties for themselves and the country: It’s harder and harder for politicians on the right to think straight about health care.

Conservatives once genuinely interested in finding market-based ways for the government to expand health insurance coverage have, since the rise of Obamacare, made choices that are dysfunctional, even from their own perspective.

Start with the decision of the vast majority of Republican governors to refuse to set up the state insurance exchanges required under the law. The mechanisms would allow more than 20 million Americans to buy coverage. They were originally a conservative idea for large, trustworthy marketplaces where individuals and families could buy plans of their choice.

Many liberals preferred a national exchange, in which the federal government could institute strong rules to protect consumers and offer broader options. This was the path the House took, but the final Senate-passed law went with state-level exchanges in deference to Republican sensibilities.

To ensure that governors could not just prevent their residents from having access to the new marketplaces, the bill required the federal government to run them if states defaulted. So, irony of ironies, in declining to set up state exchanges, conservative governors are undermining states’ rights and giving liberals something far closer to the national system they hoped for. As Robert Laszewski, an industry critic of Obamacare, told The Post’s N.C. Aizenman, conservative governors are engaging in “cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face” behavior.

This is one of many forms of conservative health-care unreason. The “fiscal cliff” debate has been distorted because the problems confronting federal finances are consistently misdescribed. We do not have “an entitlement problem.” We have a giant health-care cost problem.

Our major non-military fiscal challenges lie in Medicare and Medicaid. In principle, conservatives should seek to find ways of holding down health-care inflation in both the private and public sectors. In practice, they see most efforts to take on this issue system-wide as examples of big government run wild. They seem to have a vague idea that markets can yet solve a problem that markets have not been very good at solving.
The result is that conservatives would either let government get bigger, or they’d save money by throwing ever more risk onto individuals by undercutting core government guarantees.

Their most outrageous move was the big lie that the original health-care bill included “death panels.” This would have been laughable if it had not been so pernicious. The provision in question would simply have paid for consultations by terminally ill patients — if they wanted them — with their physicians on their best options for their care. Few things are more important to the future of health care than thinking straight about the costs and benefits (to patients and not just the system) of end-of-life treatments. For those of us who oppose physician-assisted suicide, it’s urgent to promote, rather than block, serious, moral and compassionate discussions of the difficult issues raised by high-tech medicine.

Or take the health-care law’s creation of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, known as IPAB. It’s a 15-member body charged with finding ways of cutting the costs of treatment under Medicare. Congress would have the final say, but through a fast-track process. Yet the ink was barely dry on Obama’s signature of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) when a group of Republican senators introduced what they called the Health Care Bureaucrats Elimination Act, to get rid of IPAB. Thus did an innovative effort to save money meet with a slap in the face. Conservatives barely acknowledge other cost-saving experiments in the ACA.
Is it any wonder that our fiscal politics are so dysfunctional? Yes, we liberals are very reluctant to cut access to various government health-insurance programs. With so many Americans still uninsured, we are wary of depriving more people of coverage. But we fully accept the need to contain government health spending.
Yet given the conservatives’ habit of walking away even from their own ideas (the exchanges, for example) and of rejecting progressive efforts to save money, is it any wonder that liberals suspect them of greater interest in dismantling programs than in making them more efficient? We won’t find genuine common ground on deficits until we resolve this dilemma.
More on this debate: E.J. Dionne Jr.: Health care’s reality vs. its parody George F. Will: Obama’s deception about IPAB

Look beyond the Capitol for the next speaker

By Norman J. Ornstein, Published: December 25

Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.”

On Jan. 3, the 113th House will fulfill its express constitutional duty to choose its speaker. The result may well be the reelection of Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). But events of the past week have cast some doubt on that.

The vote will be taken by the new House, which has 233 Republicans, 200 Democrats and two vacancies. If 17 Republicans vote for someone other than Boehner, and he falls short of an absolute majority of all the votes cast, the House will be thrown into turmoil — no elected speaker, and the prospect of additional ballots and a whole lot of intrigue before the new speaker is chosen and sworn in.

Every sentient American knows why Boehner is having a restless holiday season: His make-or-break effort to get his colleagues to vote for his Plan B — to give him leverage in his negotiation over the “fiscal cliff” with President Obama — broke, as Republicans balked at supporting their leader. With no Plan B, no alternative Plan C and a conservative base angry and frustrated, it is perhaps not surprising that a group of conservatives has reportedly hatched a plan to oust the speaker.

Boehner is a decent man, and a natural legislator, who is caught in a trap. Republican culture since Boehner’s predecessor, Dennis Hastert, has demanded that legislation brought to the House floor have the pledge of support from a majority of the majority — in other words, that House Republicans act in unison, or close to it, before there is any effort to garner Democratic votes, and that no bill go forward unless and until it has support from a substantial majority of Republicans. It has been clear from the outset of the debate over the U.S. fiscal dilemma that, given the imperative of the no-tax pledge endorsed by 90 percent of House Republicans, no compromise would be achievable without the support of at least as many House Democrats as Republicans, and probably more.

Boehner’s dilemma is worsened by the fact that 50 or more House Republicans come from districts that are homogeneous echo chambers, made that way through redistricting and the “Big Sort” that has like-minded people living in close proximity to one another. None of them is threatened in a general election; all could be unseated in a contested primary.

With the Club for Growth and others putting million-dollar bounties on the heads of apostates who vote for any taxes, and with the conservative wind machine of talk radio having its effect, these lawmakers are immune from broader public pressure, the impact of a large election outcome or persuasion by their party leaders. For Boehner, fulfilling his constitutional responsibility as speaker of the House means getting the House to work its will, even if his party does not go along — but doing so imperils his speakership.

What if Boehner doesn’t survive? Go to Article I, Section 2: The Constitution does not say that the speaker of the House has to be a member of the House. In fact, the House can choose anybody a majority wants to fill the post. Every speaker has been a representative from the majority party. But these days, the old pattern clearly is not working.

Even in a multi-ballot marathon, there is no way 17 or more Republicans in the new House would opt for Nancy Pelosi, or any other Democrat. The danger is that a fatigued GOP will settle for a take-no-prisoners firebrand or find another candidate willing to pledge fealty to the radical minority within the majority, turning the current, really bad situation into something worse.

The best way out of this mess would be to find someone from outside the House to transcend the differences and alter the dysfunctional dynamic we are all enduring. Ideally, that individual would transcend politics and party — but after David Petraeus’s stumble, we don’t have many such candidates. It would have to be a partisan Republican.

One option would be Jon Huntsman. By any reasonable standard, he is a conservative Republican: As governor of Utah, he supported smaller government, lower taxes and balanced budgets, and he opted consistently for market-based solutions. As a presidential candidate, he supported positions that were in the wheelhouse of Ronald Reagan. But a Speaker Huntsman would look beyond party and provide a different kind of leadership. He would drive a hard bargain with the president but would aim for a broad majority from the center out, not from the right fringe in. He could not force legislation onto the floor, but he would have immense moral suasion.

Another option would be Mitch Daniels, the longtime governor of Indiana and a favorite on the right. Daniels has shown a remarkable ability to work with Democrats and Republicans, and he is a genuine fiscal conservative — meaning he does not worship at the shrine of tax cuts if they deepen deficits, and he would look for the kind of balanced approach to the fiscal problem put forward by Simpson-Bowles, ­Rivlin-Domenici and the Gang of Six.

America’s political dysfunction is driven by a Republican Party that has become an insurgent outlier. Unfortunately, even last month’s decisive election has not purged or ameliorated that dysfunction. It may be time for a different kind of out-of-the-box action. Huntsman for speaker!

Read more on this issue: Ruth Marcus: A ‘B’ line to the cliff Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein: The Republicans are the problem.

2nd Marine Logistics Group

'Warriors Sustaining Warriors'

Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, NC

Quick, decisive action saves Marine’s life at Camp Lejeune

By 2nd Marine Logistics Group Public Affairs Office      December 20, 2012
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- A Marine with Combat Logistics Regiment 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group saved the life of one of his own in the pre-dawn hours here, Dec. 11.

Maj. Matthew D. Reis, the adjutant of Combat Logistics Regiment 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, speaks to the Marines and sailors of CLR-2 after an award ceremony aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., Dec. 11, 2012. Reis received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for his exceptional situational awareness and immediate action while responding to a disturbance at a nearby barracks.Maj. Matthew D. Reis, the adjutant of Combat Logistics Regiment 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, speaks to the Marines and sailors of CLR-2 after an award ceremony aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., Dec. 11, 2012. Reis received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for his exceptional situational awareness and immediate action while responding to a disturbance at a nearby barracks. (Photo by Sgt. Rachael Moore)

Maj. Matthew D. Reis, the adjutant for CLR-2, received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for his exceptional situational awareness and immediate action after saving another Marine from taking his own life.

Reis was in his office working around 2 a.m. for the unit’s pre-deployment exercise when he heard commotion outside. As he walked outside, he saw a fellow Marine hanging from the second floor of a nearby barracks. Reis called for assistance as he attempted to prop the Marine up. With the help of others, they lowered the Marine and Reis began to conduct CPR.

A crowd of Marines also working with Reis during CLR-2’s training exercise came outside, alerted by the commotion. Col. Dwayne A. Whiteside, the CLR-2 commanding officer, was among the concerned first responders.

Col. Dwayne A. Whiteside (center), the commanding officer of Combat Logistics Regiment 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, and Sgt. Maj. Lanette N. Wright (right), the sergeant major of CLR-2, stand ready to present a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal to Maj. Matthew D. Reis, the adjutant of CLR-2, during a ceremony Dec. 11, 2012, aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C. Reis received the award for his exceptional situational awareness and immediate action while responding to a disturbance at a nearby barracks. (Photo by Sgt. Rachael Moore)

“The Marine wasn’t breathing. I couldn’t feel anything with my hands on him, and his chest wasn’t rising,” said Whiteside, recalling Reis’s efforts to revive the servicemember. “The training you learn – you never know when you’re going to need it.”

The incident happened less than a week after the unit underwent “Never Leave a Marine Behind” training, which is the Marine Corps’ suicide prevention program. During that training, Marines learn the acronym R.A.C.E – Recognize the signs of distress, Ask about the signs of distress, Care about and show you care about the Marine, and Escort the Marine to help.

In addition, CLR-2 has recently gone through combat lifesaver training for their upcoming deployment.

After several minutes of resuscitative efforts, Reis successfully revived the Marine.

“Without Maj. Reis’s quick thinking and unyielding determination to care for his fellow Marine, the Marine would have been a fatality,” his award citation read.

After the award ceremony, Reis talked to the CLR-2 Marines emphasizing the importance of never leaving a Marine behind.

“We’ve got a nation that’s counting on us,” he said after the ceremony. “We’re Marines, and we’ve got to be ready to answer the call. If you’re hurting, you’ve got to reach out and get help.”

As CLR-2 prepares for deployment and the holiday season nears, stress is more common than normal. Reis encouraged the Marines to remain vigilant.

“You’ve got a purpose in life, and you have to fulfill it,” said Reis. “Now he’s got a second chance.”

Editor’s Note: This story is a story about one Marine helping another. If you or someone you know is contemplating hurting themselves, there are resources available to help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255)
DStress Hotline: 1 (877) 476-7734
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune Chaplain: (910) 451-3210

Reid must wrestle with undecided Dems to reform filibuster rules

By Alexander Bolton - 11/29/12 09:42 PM ET

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could be short on votes he needs to force changes to the Senate’s filibuster rules, as nine Democratic senators sit on the fence about the proposed reforms.

In addition, Sen.-elect Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) did not commit during the campaign to reforming the filibuster rules, which brings the total number of undecided Democrats who will vote on the issue next year to 10.
Of the nine sitting Democrats who have declined to commit to voting for the constitutional option — the controversial tactic whereby Reid could change the chamber’s rules by a simple majority vote — three indicated they could be persuaded to follow Reid’s lead.

That means Reid might be only one or two votes short of the 50 he needs to trigger the change, which Republicans call the nuclear option.

“What this tells me is that we’re very close to 51,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who has been a leading advocate of using the constitutional option to limit the powers of the minority to use dilatory tactics.

Udall noted that Democratic leaders have a month to lobby their undecided colleagues before the start of the new Congress, and that Democrats have yet to hold a caucus meeting on the subject since the election.
Democrats will control 55 seats at the start of the 113th Congress. They can afford to lose only five votes if they hope to use the constitutional option to limit filibusters.

Vice President Biden, who also serves as president of the Senate, could break a tie vote.

President Obama could be needed to step in to muster Democratic votes. His administration endorsed reform on Wednesday.

"The President has said many times that the American people are demanding action," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "They want to see progress, not partisan delay games. That hasn't changed, and the President supports Majority Leader Reid's efforts to reform the filibuster process."

The three most reluctant Democrats are Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), and Carl Levin (Mich.)

“I think that’s a mistake at this time but I’ll listen to arguments,” said Feinstein, when asked about the prospect of using the constitutional option to change filibuster rules.

Feinstein said she could support the more modest step of eliminating the ability to filibuster motions to proceed to new business. Changing the rules to make it more difficult to block votes on bills’ final passage would be bigger step.

Feinstein is not certain whether less-ambitious reforms could be accomplished under regular order, which would require 67 votes and at least 12 Republicans to sign on to reform.

Pryor voted against a package of filibuster reforms at the start of 2011. He expressed reservations about implementing them through a simple majority vote that would break from Senate tradition.

“I’m very reluctant to support it as a 51-vote threshold,” he said. “My preference would be to not change the rules and just have the internal discipline we need to conduct the nation’s business like we should.”
But he acknowledged it might not be realistic to rely on the good nature of his colleagues to solve Senate gridlock. He said he would study the issue.

Levin said he does not want to use the constitutional option, which Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) calls “breaking the rules to change the rules.”

“I am very leery about changes to rules, except by the use of the rules,” Levin told The New York Times, “and the rules require two-thirds of votes to change the rules. I prefer not to use a mechanism which I believe is dubious.”

Two other senior Democrats, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.) and Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), have yet to be persuaded.

“I’m for talking to my Democratic colleagues and the leader about it. We’ll see,” said Baucus.

“I’m going to work my way through it,” said Reed. “It’s all part of the idea of how you effect change.

“I’m looking at everything,” he said.

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the Senate’s most senior member, said he could support eliminating the filibuster on motions to proceed to bills and nominees but stopped short of endorsing the so-called talking filibuster. The talking-filibuster reform would require lawmakers to actively debate and hold the Senate floor to stall legislation.

“It is unconscionable to use a filibuster on a motion to proceed,” Inouye said in a statement. “For example, the Judiciary Committee unanimously approves judges, yet those nominations come to the floor and we have people using a filibuster. Once the filibuster is finished, we vote almost unanimously to approve the nomination. Now what kind of playground game is that?

“I am studying, very carefully, the proposals being suggested by my colleagues," he said.

Democratic lawmakers said they would discuss filibuster reform at a Democratic policy lunch next week.
Reid and Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the Senate Democrats’ chief political strategist, have been lobbying colleagues behind the scenes to support the constitutional option, lawmakers said.

Schumer, the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, will hold a hearing on filibuster reform later this month, sources said.

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who are both serving in their fifth terms, say they are undecided but are leaning toward triggering the constitutional option.

“I’ve told them that I want to check out with a couple of things with respect to it so I’m not locked in yet but I’m leaning very strongly in that direction,” Kerry said of a package of reforms sponsored by Udall and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) of Oregon.

Rockefeller said he “might” support the constitutional option.

“There’s more might than might not. We’ll see how things go. We’ve got to do something different,” he said.
Rockefeller said “nothing” much gets done in the Senate these days and “I’m for radical over nothing.”
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) panned the proposal to force rules changes by simple majority vote in an interview with The New York Times earlier in this week.

“I don’t like the nuclear option,” he said. “I reserve the right to decide later, but instinctively I don’t like it. It’s avoiding the rules.”

But Nelson said Thursday that he would ultimately follow Reid’s lead.

“My mind’s open,” he said. “I’m supporting Harry Reid.”

Udall, Merkley and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) proposed a package of reforms two years ago that would have eliminated filibusters on motions to proceed to new business. It would have also required senators wanting to hold up legislation or nominees to hold the floor and debate, and shortened to two hours the time that must elapse after a filibuster on a nominee had been cut off. It failed by a vote of 44 to 51 after Baucus, Pryor and Reed voted no. Feinstein, Kerry and Inouye did not vote.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley battles to limit rampant 'abuse of the filibuster'

Charles Pope, The Oregonian

By Charles Pope, The OregonianThe Oregonian

on December 25, 2012 at 12:00 PM,
updated December 25, 2012 at 9:59 PM

I saw Merkeley interviewed on MSNBC and he has 48 Dem. Senators on-board to pass this with 51 needed to pass it. 

The 7 Democrats on the fence are :

Baucus, Boxer, Feinstein, Leahy, Levin, Pryor, and Jack Reed.

They say they are for the "social contract" or "gentlemen's agreement" to eliminate the huge # of filibusters which was agreed to 2 years ago.... but Merkeley says the number of filibusters has only increased since then! If one of these 7 is your congressperson, it is time to contact them and tell them there is no 'gentlemen's agreement' when it comes to Republicans.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, with Sen. Ron Wyden on the right.Olivia Bucks/The Oregonian

WASHINGTON – Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and what critics call "a cohort of short-sighted Senate sophomores," are in an intensifying battle to change the Senate's hidebound ways and its most powerful tool – the filibuster.

Senators' use of filibusters has exploded in recent years, bringing the chamber to a screeching halt with regularity.

"The abuse of the filibuster has become rampant over the last few years," Merkley says. "When Lyndon Johnson was majority leader, he only had to deal with one filibuster. But in the last six years, Harry Reid has faced 386 filibusters as majority leader. Frankly, it's amazing that any legislation actually passes the Senate."

Not much does.

"The current Senate passed a record-low 2.8 percent of bills introduced in that chamber, a 66 percent decrease from 2005-2006, and a 90 percent decrease from the high in 1955-1956," reported a study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

That's because of filibusters, the procedural move in the Senate that stops a bill from being considered. In the past, it was sometimes called talking a bill to death because a senator would claim the floor and keep talking to stop a bill from being considered.

These days, filibusters are easy. Talking is not required.

Stopping the filibuster requires a cloture vote -- a 60-vote majority before business can proceed.
It's time to change, Merkley says.

Merkley, a Democrat elected in 2008, says his answer is simple and preserves the right of every senator to block legislation.

The solution he offers will surprise anyone whose understanding of a filibuster is based on the old James Stewart movie, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." It's a requirement that a senator actually stand on the Senate floor and speak.

The minority still has the power to stop a bill, Merkley said in an interview. "But if there's a talking filibuster they'd have to do it in public."

That's not how the Senate works now. Today, "a senator can simply call in an objection and go off to dinner or even fly off to vacation," Merkley says. Yet once transmitted, everything stops until 60 votes can be found to break the embargo.

Filibusters are powerful because the Senate is designed to operate by "unanimous consent." That means a vow to stand fast by filibustering until demands are met or egos are satisfied is a powerful weapon.

The timing has changed, too. Unlike earlier eras when filibusters were used to stop amendments and legislation during debate, filibusters today are used routinely to block legislation from even reaching the Senate floor.

Here's a quick parliamentary lesson: Before a bill can come to the full Senate for consideration, the Senate must agree to consider it. Approving the "motion to proceed" does that. It's a minor step that historically was waved through by voice vote.

No longer. From 2007 through 2012, silent objections to the motion to proceed have been raised 130 times. Each one requires 60 votes to erase. By comparison, the number between 1971 and 1982 was 18.

Republicans argue they're forced to block legislation because Majority Leader Harry Reid routinely "abuses his power" by "filling the amendment tree," which means Republicans are blocked from offering changes if the bill comes to the floor.

"The only way we can get amendments is to hold the bill up until we get some amendments. And then (Reid) demands to know which amendments," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah said in an interview. "And then finally, he decides that only these certain amendments can be up. That's not the way the Senate should run. And it's irritating both sides."

Around it goes, with each side increasing the volume.

Merkley dismisses Republican complaints. He and a group of roughly 10 mostly new and low-seniority senators will offer a package of rules changes early next year that they say will streamline the use of filibusters and make the Senate more efficient. Reid has signaled that he's likely to support some changes.

That's not the universal view.

"There's a real good reason why we have these filibuster rules," Hatch said. "You start playing with those rules and the next thing you know they'll be in the minority and they'll realize how terrible the rules change was that they wanted."

-- Charles Pope