If you have recently found yourself more frustrated and more disillusioned with Congress’s inability to get things done lately, you’re not alone. Today nearly 100 organizations, including the BlueGreen Alliance, delivered a message to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that enough is enough.
In January, Senate leaders had the chance to reform the Senate rules and end the abuse of the filibuster. Instead, they agreed on a weak compromise.
As a result, it is business as usual. A determined, radical, obstructionist minority is abusing the rules, requiring a 60 vote supermajority for nearly every piece of legislation and nearly every nomination.
It can’t continue this way.
Sign the petition to tell Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell that it is time to end the obstruction.
Our federal court system is in crisis because agencies that safeguard workers’ rights, ensure the safety of our air and water and protect worker’s safety cannot function effectively because key leaders can’t be confirmed. The inability of the Senate to confirm judicial and executive branch nominees hurts our democracy every day.
The full text of the letter signed by the BlueGreen Alliance and over 45 organizations appears below.
To Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:
Our nation faces critical problems that require that all aspects of the federal government function at the highest possible level. The cabinet departments and regulatory agencies must have a full complement of leadership. Likewise, the federal courts must be fully staffed in order to fulfill their constitutional obligation to provide justice to the American people. In order to ensure that these vital positions are promptly filled, the United States Senate must have in place a process that allows it to expeditiously and fairly fulfill its role of providing advice and consent to the President’s nominees, as the Constitution mandates, particularly when a majority of the Senate is willing to act.
Regrettably, the Senate’s constitutional role in confirming executive and judicial nominations has broken down. We are now faced with the unprecedented procedural hurdle of requiring 60 votes for virtually every nominee submitted by the President. The result has been the debilitation of vital federal courts and many important regulatory bodies. The use of the silent filibuster by the minority, based on their requirement of 60 votes to consider an issue, has evolved into a weapon of partisan obstruction and delay. The process no longer provides unfettered debate that allows the minority to be sure that its voice is heard. In effect, it has granted a minority of 40 senators a veto power over nominees to the judicial branch and independent agencies – nominees that are imperative to the functioning of government and access to justice.
The price for this unparalleled dysfunction is not paid just by those seeking justice in the courts or important administrative decisions, but by the institution of the Senate itself, which is now held in the lowest level of esteem in its history and has lost the respect and trust of the American people.
This crisis of confidence grows as the roster of institutional failure expands:
There now is no ability to enforce labor law in the United States of America. The National Labor Relations Board remains severely impaired by the failure of the senate to confirm a full five member board and general counsel. Three Democratic and two Republican nominees, along with the general counsel, must receive confirmation votes to ensure this agency can meet its statutory obligations to safeguard workplace protections for 80 million Americans and monitor the collective bargaining process.
The judicial crisis in our courts is growing worse. Over 10 percent of all federal judgeships are vacant, creating a crisis in the courts and denying justice to thousands of Americans whose cases are interminably delayed, if they are ever heard at all. There are over 30 more vacancies now than when President Obama took office, dozens of which are classified as “judicial emergencies.” Filibusters have been applied to large numbers of district court nominees for the first time in history, and circuit court nominees face record-breaking delays and are routinely filibustered, including nominees for the D.C. Circuit, which has four openings, including the seat vacated by now-Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005.
Opponents of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are trying to block the CFPB's ability to move forward with its mandate. The Bureau was established by Congress only two years ago because the public demanded reform and transparency of the activity within our financial system that brought about a fiscal collapse in this country. Yet the Senate refuses to allow an up-or-down vote on a director in a transparent attempt to subvert the statute by blocking the agency’s leader from taking office.
The Senate minority has threatened to enact their anti-environment agenda by denying a confirmation vote on leadership positions critical to the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Interior. If these positions go unfilled these federal agencies cannot carry out their charge of protecting the health and safety of Americans by limiting dangerous pollution in our air and water and will be stymied in supporting our wild places which are important to our national legacy and our economy.
Similarly, the Senate minority refused to allow a confirmation vote on the leadership of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services which oversees Medicare and Medicaid programs covering 100 million people and together accounting for 23% of the Federal budget. The threat of the silent filibuster denied leadership to the programs enacted by the majority in Congress.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC), an independent body tasked with enforcing our nation’s campaign finance laws remains one of Washington’s most dysfunctional agencies at a time when oversight is sorely needed. It can only act with the agreement of at least 4 of its 6 commissioners. However, 5 of the 6 seats are currently vacant or held by lame-ducks still sitting on expired terms (as they are entitled to do until a replacement is confirmed). The sixth and final seat expires in April. Once the President acts and nominates new commissioners, it is the Senate’s responsibility to grant them an up or down vote.
The abuse of the filibuster to undermine policies that the minority cannot defeat through normal legislative channels represents a subversion of core democratic principles and Senate traditions, and should not continue.
The Founders gave to the Senate the responsibility to provide “advice and consent” to the president’s nominees by majority vote. No one doubts that the Senate should take this vital task seriously and carefully consider nominations to important positions within our government. But they never envisioned that the Senate would abuse its advice and consent role by employing rules and procedures that would deliberately undermine the full and efficient functioning of the American government or deny a vote to those who have been appointed to positions that Congress itself established. The willful misuse of the Senate’s rules must end.
We call on you, and all the members of the Senate, to restore fairness and honor to the nomination and confirmation process for executive and judicial nominations, and use the rules of the Senate in a constructive way that fulfills both your constitutional responsibilities and the needs of the American people in these challenging times. Or to reform those rules if a determined minority remains adamant in maintaining a veto over everything that conflicts with their radical philosophy.
Alliance for a Just Society
Alliance for Justice
Alliance for Retired Americans
American Association for Justice -Formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America
American Association of University Professors
Americans for Financial Reform
The American Federation of Government Employees
American Federation of Teachers
American Postal Workers Union
American Sustainable Business Council
Blue Green Alliance
Campaign for America’s Future
Center for Biological Diversity
Center for Effective Government
Center for Science in Public Interest
The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch
The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles
Clean Water Action
Defending Dissent Foundation
DREAM Action Coalition
Equal Justice Society
Friends of the Earth
Gamaliel Transportation Equity Network
Healthcare for America Now
Jobs with Justice/American Rights at Work
Leadership Center for the Common Good
National Association of Letter Carriers
National Coalition on Black Civic Participation
National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy
National Consumers League
National Education Association