THE RETIREMENT CRISIS AND SOCIAL SECURITY

ABSTRACT: There is a retirement crisis in America. Both current and soon-to-be retirees are more dependent on Social Security than ever, yet some politicians and corporate executives are arguing that Social Security should be cut. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts recently gave a speech in the Senate where (in only five and a half minutes) she did an excellent job of summarizing the retirement crisis and making the case for strengthening Social Security (http://ourfuture.org/20131118/elizabeth-warren-on-social-security-its-values-not-math).

Retirees’ reliance on Social Security is only going to increase because the other two legs of the three-legged retirement security stool, pension plans and personal savings, have been weakened. With Social Security as the only strong leg of retirement security, this is not the time to be reducing its benefits.

Given that 70% of Americans indicate in polls that they oppose Social Security cuts and 65% support increasing benefits, who is pushing for these cuts? Many Republicans are ideologically opposed to social welfare programs and cuts to Social Security are in the Republican budget. President Obama and some Democrats have signed on to the idea of the cuts as a compromise in pursuit of a “Grand Bargain” to resolve the federal budget’s deficit.

Prominently promoting the cuts in Social Security benefits have been two groups of corporate executives: the Business Roundtable and Fix the Debt. There’s great irony here from two perspectives. First, the corporate executives on the Business Roundtable have retirement accounts worth $14.5 million on average. Second, if the current Social Security tax cap were eliminated, corporate executives with $10 million in income, for example, would pay $1.24 million into Social Security instead of $14,000 and Social Security’s future funding problem would disappear.

Bills have been introduced in Congress to strengthen Social Security and its benefits. I encourage you to contact your Senators and Representative to ask them where they stand on Social Security cuts and these bills.

FULL POST: There is a retirement crisis in America. Both current and soon-to-be retirees are more dependent on Social Security than ever, yet some politicians and corporate executives are arguing that Social Security should be cut. This makes no sense from a budget perspective or a retirement policy perspective. There are bills currently in Congress to strengthen Social Security, by improving both its finances and its benefits, without any impact on the federal budget or the deficit. [1]

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts recently gave a speech in the Senate where (in only five and a half minutes) she did an excellent job of summarizing the retirement crisis and making the case for strengthening Social Security. I encourage you to listen to her speech at http://ourfuture.org/20131118/elizabeth-warren-on-social-security-its-values-not-math.

Although the average recipient gets less than $15,000 a year from Social Security, many seniors are highly dependent on it. For 36% of seniors, Social Security is 90% of their income and for two-thirds of seniors, Social Security is more than half of their income. The current poverty measure indicates that 9% of seniors live in poverty, but an updated measure that most experts consider more accurate puts that figure at almost 15%. [2] Cutting Social Security benefits would clearly increase poverty among seniors.

Retirees’ reliance on Social Security is only going to increase because the other two legs of the three-legged retirement security stool, pension plans and personal savings, have been weakened. Only 18% of private sector workers have pensions (which pay a guaranteed monthly benefit for life as Social Security does). In 1975, 50% of workers had pensions. A combination of factors including expanded foreign trade and competition, along with weakened unions (which had made pensions a standard part of workers’ benefits) contributed to this dramatic decline in pensions.

Personal retirement savings are relatively small and have been hurt by the economic collapse, which cut the value of homes (where the middle class had most of its savings) and the value of investments. Some employers have replaced pension plans with personal savings accounts such as 401ks. However, only half of workers have such accounts and 80% of those accounts have less than $67,000 in them. [3]

With Social Security as the only strong leg of the three-legged stool of retirement security, this is not the time to be reducing its benefits. Given the current state of affairs, 53% of workers are at risk for having a lower standard of living in retirement than they had while working. And this percentage is up from 38% in 2001.

Given that 70% of Americans indicate in polls that they oppose Social Security cuts and 65% support increasing benefits, [4] why is there a push to cut Social Security benefits? The only reason that seems to make any sense is that those pushing a cut are ideologically opposed to Social Security – and often to social welfare programs in general.

So specifically who is pushing for these cuts? As mentioned above, it is in the Republican budget and reflects many Republicans’ ideological opposition to social welfare programs. President Obama and some Democrats have signed on to the idea of the cuts as a compromise in pursuit of a “Grand Bargain” to resolve the federal budget’s deficit.

Prominently promoting the cuts in Social Security benefits have been two groups of corporate executives: the Business Roundtable and Fix the Debt (a project of The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget). These groups have been spending tens of millions of dollars on campaigns to build support for cutting Social Security (and Medicare, our health insurance program for seniors). There’s great irony here from two perspectives. First, the corporate executives on the Business Roundtable have retirement accounts worth $14.5 million on average. That would generate a monthly retirement check of over $86,000 compared to the typically monthly Social Security check of $1,237. [5] Second, the current Social Security tax (Social Security’s dedicated and only funding source) is only paid on the first $113,700 of earnings. Amounts above that are untaxed. If this Social Security tax cap were eliminated, corporate executives with $10 million in income, for example, would pay $1.24 million into Social Security instead of $14,000 and Social Security’s future funding problem would disappear.

Bills have been introduced in Congress to strengthen Social Security and its benefits. The Keeping Our Social Security Promises Act has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Sanders (S.1558) and in the House by Representative DeFazio. The Strengthening Social Security Act has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Harkin (S.567) and in the House by Representative Sanchez (H.R.3118). I encourage you to contact your Senators and Representative to ask them where they stand on Social Security cuts and these bills. [6]


[1]       Sargent, G., 11/5/13, “Liberal push to expand Social Security gains steam,” The Washington Post

[2]       Krugman, P., 11/21/13, “Expanding Social Security,” The New York Times

[3]       Democracy for America, 11/24/13, “Expand Social Security,” http://act.democracyforamerica.com/sign/social_security_infographic/?source=ptnr.ssw_ssinfo.20131105 (You can get more information and sign their petition to support expanding Social Security here.)

[4]       Alman, A., 11/19/13, “Voters in key states really don’t want Social Security cut,” The Huffington Post

[5]       Anderson, S., 11/21/13, “CEOs against grandmas,” Daily Times Chronicle

[6]       You can find contact information for your US Representative at http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ and for your US Senators at http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.

CHARITY ISN’T THE ANSWER

ABSTRACT: Some people advocate for reducing government spending on social welfare programs by arguing that private charity should and could address social needs. However, when people’s needs are essential and time sensitive, charity is insufficient and undependable. For example, charities won’t be able to fill the $5 billion hole left by the recent cuts to the $78 billion federal Food Stamps program. This amount is equal to the total amount of annual contributions to all food banks in the country.

Charity or philanthropy can also serve as a smoke screen for activities that do far more harm than the benefits of the charitable giving. An example is the recent $20 million gift by the billionaire corporate executive, David Koch, to provide child care for 126 children at MIT. He spent easily ten times this amount on political activism in the last federal elections, supporting politicians who have been leaders in cutting the federal budget. Such cuts have meant that 57,000 poor children have been denied Head Start child care services, and, in addition, in Massachusetts alone, there are over 30,000 low income children on the waiting list for largely federally-funded child care subsidies. As Joan Vennochi wrote in her column in the Boston Globe about Koch’s gift, “The generosity of individuals is a blessing, but it’s no substitute for national policy.”

There are many examples of philanthropy, similar to this Koch case, where the givers, both individuals and corporations, have much greater negative impacts on society than the positive effects of their charity. In the case of McDonald’s, history indicates that from the start the goal of its philanthropy has been positive public relations for the corporation, not helping those in need. Its aggressive marketing of unhealthy food to children does far more harm than the good its very modest philanthropy does.

FULL POST: Some people advocate for reducing government spending on social welfare programs by arguing that private charity should and could address social needs. While charity or philanthropy plays an important role in our communities and country, when people’s needs are essential and time sensitive, charity is not dependable enough to be relied on. Charity can meet some people’s needs some of the time but it doesn’t – and can’t – meet all people’s needs, even their critical needs, all the time. The public sector must serve as the resource of last resort and ensure that critical needs are met in a timely fashion.

Charity is insufficient and lacks the consistency necessary to meet critical needs on a regular and timely basis. For example, access to sufficient and nutritious food is essential to well-being for adults and especially for children. However, charities won’t be able to fill the $5 billion hole left by the November 1 cuts to the $78 billion federal Food Stamps program. This reduction in food assistance from the federal government is equal to the total amount of annual contributions to all food banks in the country, according to a study by the Washington-based anti-hunger advocate Bread for the World. [1] Therefore, charitable donations for food would need to double instantaneously to fill this gap. Furthermore, Congress is likely to cut federal funding for food assistance even further in the next budget. (See my post Starving America on 11/11/13 for more detail at http://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2013/11/11/starving-america/.)

Clearly, there is no way that private charity can make up for the recent lost funding let alone for future cuts. Therefore, these cuts mean that nutrition will suffer and hunger will increase. For some young children, this may well have long lasting effects on their developing brains.

Charity or philanthropy can also serve as a smoke screen for activities that do far more harm than the benefits of the charitable giving. An example is the recent $20 million gift by the billionaire corporate executive, David Koch, to provide child care for 126 children at MIT. [2] Child care is essential for working parents and quality early education and care is critical for young children due to the foundational brain development that occurs in the first five years of life.

Koch is a generous philanthropist, but he is better known for his political activism. He spent easily ten times this $20 million on his political activism in the last federal elections. The politicians he supports have been leaders in cutting the federal budget. The cuts in March, 2013, known as the sequester, meant that 57,000 poor children nationwide have been denied Head Start child care services. In addition, in Massachusetts alone, there are over 30,000 low income children on the waiting list for child care subsidies, which are largely federally funded. This number has grown significantly due to cuts in federal funding. So, while Koch’s philanthropy got him a very positive story on the front page of the Boston Globe, its impact is far, far outweighed by the negative effects on national child care policies of his political activism.

There are two lessons to be learned from this example. First, charity is not and will not be sufficient to ensure affordable, quality early care and education for every child of working parents. Substantially increased spending by state and federal governments is needed to meet this critically important need. As Joan Vennochi wrote in her column in the Boston Globe about Koch’s gift, “The generosity of individuals is a blessing, but it’s no substitute for national policy.” [3]

The second lesson to be learned from this example is that it is often important to look at the context of charity and the overall impact of the giver. There are many examples of philanthropy, similar to this Koch case, where the givers, both individuals and corporations (or other organizations), have much greater negative impacts on society than the positive effects of their charity. Walmart and McDonald’s are two classic examples from the corporate world. In some cases, the charitable activities are a relatively blatant attempt at public relations; an effort to get favorable stories in the media and divert attention from the negative effects of other activities. (See my post Lack of Good Jobs is Our Most Urgent Problem on 10/29/13 for more information on how low pay and part-time jobs at Walmart, McDonald’s, and other large corporations are costing taxpayers billions of dollars in public assistance for their employees. http://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2013/10/29/lack-of-good-jobs-is-our-most-urgent-problem/)

In the case of McDonald’s, history indicates that from the start the goal of its philanthropy has been positive public relations for the corporation, not helping those in need. Its philanthropy is less that 0.5% of its profits and it spends 25 times as much on advertising. Its aggressive marketing of unhealthy food to children does far more harm than the good its very modest philanthropy does. It also spends far more lobbying for favorable public policies than it spends on philanthropy. [4]

This is the first of a couple of posts on charity or philanthropy (terms I use interchangeably). There are a number of other issues about charity that I plan to discuss, including:

  • Decisions about charitable or philanthropic spending are made by private individuals or organizations. They may not reflect public priorities and often lack public input and accountability.
  • Charity can exacerbate inequality. Richer communities generally have greater capacity to raise money than poorer communities, so communities where the need is the greatest, both rural and urban, often have less capacity for charitable activity.
  • Philanthropic activity can affect public policies and programs. It may undermine the democratic decision-making process and community involvement.

[1]       Wallbank, D., & Bjerga, A., “Wal-Mart to widows will feel U.S. Food Stamp cuts,” Bloomberg

[2]       Johnson, C.Y., 10/4/13, “Scientists at MIT get prized gift of day care,” The Boston Globe, front page

[3]       Vennochi, J., 10/10/13, The two David Kochs,” The Boston Globe

[4]       Simon, M., 10/29/13, “Clowning around with charity,” Corporate Accountability International and Small Planet Fund (http://www.eatdrinkpolitics.com/2013/10/29/clowning-around-with-charity-how-mcdonalds-exploits-philanthropy-and-targets-children/)

STARVING AMERICA

ABSTRACT: On November 1, federal food assistance to poor Americans was cut by $5 billion. The $78 billion Food Stamps program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), currently serves 48 million low income Americans, including 21 million children. This reduction in food assistance from the federal government is equal to the amount donated to churches, synagogues, and private food banks.

A family of four receiving the maximum amount will have their benefit fall from $668 to $632 per month. It is estimated that the typical SNAP beneficiary will receive $1.40 per meal. The Institute of Medicine found that the SNAP allotment, which is critically important for nutrition and health for both adults and children, was inadequate even before this cut.

The number of Americans receiving SNAP benefits has increased mainly due to the large number of people who lost jobs during the Great Recession. In addition, many Americans in low wage and / or part-time jobs qualify for Food Stamps.

Food, obviously, is a necessity and SNAP’s food stamps are a vital support for poor families with children, low income seniors, some people with disabilities, and some unemployed workers. Nonetheless, Congress actually wants to cut food assistance even more! This cut and the additional cuts being discussed will cause real harm to recipients by reducing a meager but essential support. There are many better and fairer ways to cut spending or increase revenue so these cuts to SNAP can be avoided.

FULL POST: On November 1, federal food assistance to poor Americans was cut by $5 billion. The $78 billion Food Stamps program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), currently serves 48 million low income Americans, including 21 million children. The cut is caused by the expiration of supplemental funding from the 2009 stimulus package. Although many politicians had pledged to extend this funding if it was still needed, that has not happened. On top of the hardships of the Great Recession and a weak recovery, this is another blow to people who are already among the most vulnerable citizens in our nation. [1]

Despite its significant impact on households that struggle to put food on the table, this event received scant attention in the mainstream, corporate media. This reduction in food assistance from the federal government is equal to the amount donated to churches, synagogues, and private food banks, according to a study by the Washington-based anti-hunger advocate Bread for the World. [2]

SNAP benefits will be cut by about 5.5%. A family of four receiving the maximum amount will have their benefit fall from $668 to $632 per month. It is estimated that the typical SNAP beneficiary will receive $1.40 per meal. [3] The Institute of Medicine found that the SNAP allotment, which is critically important for nutrition and health for both adults and children, was inadequate even before this cut. The cut means that nutrition will suffer and more families will run out of food by the end of the month. And more families will be in poverty because in 2012 SNAP lifted 4 million people above the poverty line ($18,300 for a family of 3, which often is a single mother with 2 children), making it one of the most effective anti-poverty programs we have. [4]

The $5 billion SNAP cut will have an effect on the overall economy. It is projected to slightly reduce our slow economic growth (from 2.0% to 1.9%) and has retail food stores and other consumer outlets worried about reduced sales. It is estimated that every $1 of Food Stamp benefits generates $1.74 of economic activity. [5]

The number of Americans receiving SNAP benefits has increased to roughly 48 million from about 26 million in 2007. This growth is mainly due to the large number of people who lost jobs during Great Recession, and especially those who either didn’t qualify for unemployment benefits or whose benefits have run out due to long-term unemployment. (Fewer than half of unemployed workers are currently receiving unemployment benefits.) In addition, many Americans in low wage and / or part-time jobs qualify for Food Stamps, including many workers at our large fast food corporations and at Walmart. (See my post of 10/30/13, Lack of Good Jobs is our Most Urgent Problem, for more information: http://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2013/10/29/lack-of-good-jobs-is-our-most-urgent-problem/.)

SNAP is a Department of Agriculture program and historically has been part of the Farm Bill. Renewal of the Farm Bill is currently stalled in Congress, in part over differences in how much more to cut SNAP. (That’s not a typo; Congress actually wants to cut food assistance even more!) House Republicans are proposing additional cuts of about $4 billion a year that would remove about 3 million people from the program, while Senate Democrats would cut one tenth of that, or $400 million a year. The Farm Bill also includes subsidies to multi-billion dollar agricultural corporations, billionaire investors in farms, and 14 members of Congress. However, these subsidies apparently won’t be cut; they will continue or increase. [6][7]

Food, obviously, is a necessity and SNAP’s food stamps are a vital support for poor families with children, low income seniors, some people with disabilities, and some unemployed workers. This cut that went into effect on November 1 and the additional cuts being discussed as part of the Farm Bill are tiny amounts in terms of the overall federal budget but will cause real harm to recipients by reducing a meager but essential support. There are many better and fairer ways to cut spending or increase revenue so these cuts to SNAP can be avoided. [8]

 

[1]       Kaufmann, G., 10/28/13, “This Week in Poverty: No Time to Wait on a Movement,” The Nation

[2]       Wallbank, D., & Bjerga, A., “Wal-Mart to widows will feel U.S. Food Stamp cuts,” Bloomberg

[3]       Dayen, D., 11/6/13, “The Democrats’ original Food-Stamp sin,” The American Prospect

[4]       Kaufmann, G., 10/28/13, see above

[5]       Rampell, C., 10/31/13, “As cuts to Food Stamps take effect, more trims to benefits are expected,” The New York Times

[6]       Alman, A., 7/23/13, “George Miller Criticizes House Republicans Over Farm Subsidies,” The Huffington Post

[7]       Nixon, R., 11/7/13, “Billionaires Received U.S. Farm Subsidies, Report Finds,” The New York Times

[8]       Weinstein, D., 11/6/13, “Time to tell the truth about Food Stamps,” The Huffington Post

US CAPITALISM IS OUT OF CONTROL

ABSTRACT: Of all the developed countries, the United States has the most unequal distribution of income and wealth. 1928 and 2007 were the peak years for income and wealth inequality in the US. In the periods leading up to these two peaks, the wealthy invested and speculated in financial markets. Speculative bubbles were created. The middle class saw their incomes stagnate. This led to economic instability, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the Great Recession of 2008.

So where should we look for an example of greater economic stability and equality? The answer is the United States after World War II from 1946 to 1978. So what do we need to do to return to greater economic stability and equality? We need to keep and encourage the creation of jobs that pay middle class wages and have benefits.

We need to change the rules of our economy so the gains of economic growth are more widely shared. Capitalism needs rules, otherwise it runs out of control. A well-functioning democracy can create and enforce appropriate rules (laws and regulations). But if the democratic process of electing officials and making laws and regulations is corrupted by money and lobbying from wealthy capitalists and their corporations, the appropriate rules won’t be in place and capitalism can run out of control.

Currently, the huge amounts of money being spent by wealthy capitalists and their corporations on elections and lobbying are determining the rules of our economy. Americans are losing faith in our democracy, which is our most precious gift and our most important legacy for future generations. What the powerful moneyed interests would like, is for us all to get so cynical about politics and government that we basically give up. But if we’re mobilized, if we’re energized, if we take citizenship to mean not simply voting, paying taxes, and showing up for jury duty, but actually participating actively and knowledgeably, we can make our democracy – and capitalism – work.

FULL POST: Of all the developed countries, the United States has the most unequal distribution of income and wealth. 1928 and 2007 were the peak years for income and wealth inequality in the US. [1] What happened a year after 1928? The Great Crash. And what happened a year after 2007? Another financial system crash. The parallels are breathtaking if you look at them carefully. [2]

In the periods leading up to these two peaks, the wealthy invested and speculated in financial markets. Both times, speculative bubbles were created. In both periods, the middle class saw their incomes stagnate, so they went deeper and deeper into debt to maintain their living standard, creating a debt bubble. These bubbles and the undermining of the middle class led to economic instability, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the Great Recession of 2008.

Today, many in the middle class are one crisis away from being poor. If they lose a job, have a health crisis, or have a serious accident, they can find themselves suddenly in need of public assistance, which may be unemployment benefits, food stamps or food pantries, or subsidized health insurance from Medicaid. They may find themselves deep in debt and at risk of losing their home.

We seem to be close to the point where the middle class doesn’t have the purchasing power to keep the economy going and where the majority of people feel like the economic and political systems are rigged against them. There may be a tipping point, where the degree of inequality and economic insecurity actually threaten our economy, our society, and our democracy.

So where should we look for an example of greater economic stability and equality? The answer is the United States in the decades after World War II. From 1946 to 1978, the economy doubled in size, everybody’s income doubled, and inequality was low. Although the top income tax rate was as high as 91% and was never below 70%, we had greater annual economic growth than we’ve had since. With today’s top tax rate under 40%, anybody who says that we have to reduce taxes to foster economic growth, simply doesn’t know our own history.

So what do we need to do to return to greater economic stability and equality? We need to keep and encourage the creation of jobs that pay middle class wages and have benefits. We need to increase the minimum wage and we need to include labor standards in our trade treaties. We need to give workers and the middle class the voice and power to stand up to the wealthy and ensure that our economy works for all people, not just for the 1% at the top. We need to change the rules of our economy so the gains of economic growth are more widely shared. (For more detail see my post of 10/29/13 at http://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2013/10/29/lack-of-good-jobs-is-our-most-urgent-problem/. )

The rules of our economy are largely set by the federal government. Capitalism needs rules, otherwise it runs out of control, resulting in financial collapses; air and water that are harmful; cars that are unsafe; drugs and food are tainted; industrial accidents where oil wells blow out, chemical plants explode, and trains crash and burn; and so forth.

A well-functioning democracy can create and enforce appropriate rules (laws and regulations) that balance public safety (including environmental safety) and corporate profitability. But if the democratic process of electing officials and making laws and regulations is corrupted by money and lobbying from wealthy capitalists and their corporations, the appropriate rules won’t be in place and capitalism can run out of control.

Currently, the huge amounts of money being spent by wealthy capitalists and their corporations on elections and lobbying are determining the rules of our economy. They are using their economic power to gain political power. They are using this political power to entrench and enrich themselves economically and politically by obtaining laws and regulations that are tilted to benefit their self-interest. This is not a matter of partisan politics; both Democratic and Republican politicians and policy makers receive the money and do the bidding of these powerful economic elites.

Examples of laws and regulations that are tilted to favor capitalist interests include individual and corporate tax laws; bankruptcy laws; antitrust laws and enforcement; intellectual property laws on copyrights, patents, and trademarks; health and safety laws; campaign finance laws; laws and regulations for the financial industry; and priorities for government spending.

Americans are losing faith in our democracy, which is our most precious gift and our most important legacy for future generations. We are losing faith in equal opportunity and upward mobility as practical realities, and we’re feeling real anxiety over our lack of economic security.

Americans need to understand what’s at stake and push good people in government to do the right thing. If we don’t, eventually the moneyed interests will win because they are persistent and there won’t be anybody who can speak loudly enough to be heard over the bullhorn of their money.

What the powerful moneyed interests would like, is for us all to get so cynical about politics and government that we basically give up and say, “Okay, you want our democracy? Take it.” Then they win everything. But if we’re mobilized, if we’re energized, if we take citizenship to mean not simply voting, paying taxes, and showing up for jury duty, but actually participating actively and knowledgeably, we can make our democracy – and capitalism – work.

We can do it if we understand the nature of the problem. Time and again, in the early 1900s and again in the 1930s, for example, we have saved capitalism from its own excesses. We made sure that rules were in place to make capitalism work as it should: as an engine of prosperity for everyone and with a brake on the excesses of greed and power, as well as on the money that can otherwise corrupt our democratic process.

I encourage you to watch, listen to, or read the transcript of Bill Moyers’ show with Bob Reich (http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-inequality-for-all/). And I encourage you to go see Bob Reich’s movie, Inequality for All. It’s entertaining and informative. You can see the trailer for the movie, get lots more information, and find opportunities to take action at http://inequalityforall.com/.


[1]       The latest data appear to show that inequality was even greater in 2012 than 2007 as the great majority of the benefits of our weak economic recovery are going to the richest people. For more detail, see my post of 9/27/13 at http://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2013/09/27/whats-up-with-the-economic-recovery/.

[2]       Moyers, B., with Reich, R., 9/20/13, “Inequality for all,” http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-inequality-for-all/ (This post is a summary of this Bill Moyers show. You can view, listen to, or read the transcript of it at the link provided.)

REPUBLICANS OBSTRUCTING NOMINEES AGAIN

ABSTRACT: The Republicans are back to blocking the President’s nominees for judgeships and executive branch positions by filibustering. Currently, there are roughly 90 vacancies for judgeships. In terms of Executive Branch nominees, the Chair of the Federal Reserve and the Secretary of Homeland Security are among those waiting for Senate confirmation.

Senate Democrats are again talking about changing the filibuster rule. One Senator called this obstructionism “a government shutdown by another tactic.” I encourage you to contact your Senators and let them know that this obstructionism should stop because we need our judicial and executive branches of government to function and perform the work that we have charged them to do.

FULL POST: The Republicans are back to blocking the President’s nominees for judgeships and executive branch positions by filibustering. [1] In July, Senate Republicans agreed to approve 7 Presidential nominations, but only after Senate Democrats threatened to change the Senate’s filibuster rule to stop the on-going and pervasive obstruction of nominees. (See post of 7/25/13 for more detail.) But on Thursday, the Republicans were back to filibustering nominees, blocking a judicial nominee who had 56 votes in favor and an appointee for a housing regulatory agency who had 57 votes in favor. [2]

Furthermore, Republican Senator Graham has threatened to hold up all nominations until further hearings are held on the attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, a year ago. Linking approval of nominees to a totally unrelated issue is certainly unusual, if not unprecedented. Furthermore, 13 Congressional hearings and 40 staff briefings on this issue have already occurred along with the delivery to Congress of 25,000 pages of related documents. [3]

Currently, there are roughly 90 vacancies for judgeships, many of which are considered judicial emergencies. These vacancies are having a negative impact on the functioning of the federal courts and their ability to deliver justice for the American people in a timely manner. (See post of 7/21/13 for more detail.) Several nominees have been approved by the lengthy and detailed vetting of the Judiciary Committee but have not been confirmed by the full Senate.

In terms of Executive Branch nominees, the Chair of the Federal Reserve and the Secretary of Homeland Security are among those waiting for Senate confirmation. (See post of 7/16/13 for more on the blocking of executive branch nominees).

As a result of this resurgence of Republican obstructionism of nominees by filibustering, Senate Democrats are again talking about changing the filibuster rule. One Senator called this obstructionism “a government shutdown by another tactic.” [4]

I encourage you to contact your Senators and let them know that this obstructionism should stop because we need our judicial and executive branches of government to function and perform the work that we have charged them to do.


[1]       A filibuster occurs when one or more Senators refuse to end debate on a piece of legislation or other matter. It then requires a super-majority of 60 votes from the 100 Senators to close off debate (cloture) and allow a vote on the bill or other matter.

[2]       Fram, A., 11/1/13, “GOP blocks Obama picks for US court, housing agency,” The Boston Globe (from the Associated Press)

[3]       Associated Press, 11/2/13, “GOP Senator vows to block nominees,” The Boston Globe

[4]       Fram, A., 11/1/13, see above