Stand Up to Bullies

Republicans appear dead set to throw out two centuries of Senate rules in order to seat some of George Bush's most right-wing nominees on federal appeals courts.

When Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid on April 25 proposed a compromise whereby Democrats would allow approval of several of Bush's objectionable court nominees in exchange for the GOP withdrawing some other more objectionable choices, some progressives sputtered.

They needn't have worried. Majority Leader Bill Frist on April 26 ruled out any deal that fails to ensure Senate confirmation of all seven of Bush's controversial nominees.

Reid apparently picked up some of the finer points of poker in his native Nevada. Polls show the public opposes the GOP "nuclear option" to do away with filibusters, which require bipartisan consensus on lifetime judicial appointments. Reid comes across as reasonable while Frist is a hard-liner in thrall to fundamentalist Christians who demand more godly judges.

If the Republican majority goes ahead with the power grab, Reid said Democrats will not shut the Senate down, but they will "stop giving deference" to the majority's agenda. They will move forward with a Democratic agenda that addresses the concerns of regular Americans. Invoking the little-known Senate Rule XIV, the Democrats put nine bills on the Senate calendar. They plan to bypass committee hearings and move the bills directly to the Senate floor.

"If Republicans proceed to pull the trigger on the nuclear option," Reid said, "Democrats will respond by employing existing Senate rules to push forward our agenda for America."

The bills include:

• Women's Health Care, "The Prevention First Act of 2005," which would reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions by increasing funding for family planning and ending health insurance discrimination against women;

• Veterans' Benefits, "The Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2005," which would assist disabled veterans who, under current law, must choose to either receive their retirement pay or disability compensation;

• Fiscal Responsibility, a move to restore fiscal discipline to government spending and extend the pay-as-you-go requirement;

• Relief at the Pump, which would halt the diversion of oil from markets to the strategic petroleum reserve;

• Education, a bill that would strengthen Head Start and child care programs, improve elementary and secondary education, provide a roadmap for first generation and low-income college students, provide college tuition relief for students and their families, address the need for math, science and special education teachers, and make college affordable for all students;

• Jobs, guaranteeing overtime pay for workers and a fair minimum wage;

• Energy Markets, to prevent Enron-style market manipulation of electricity;

• Corporate Taxation, making sure companies pay their fair share of taxes to the US government instead of keeping profits overseas;

• Standing with Our Troops, supporting GIs and their families.

"Abusing power is not what the American people sent us to Washington to do. We need to address real priorities instead -- fight for relief at the gas pump, stronger schools and lower health care costs for America's families," Reid said.

With 44 votes (plus Jim Jeffords, who often votes with them), the Democrats can't pass those bills, of course, but at least they can put Republican senators on the record in opposition to some popular initiatives. And they can still shut the Senate down, since Republicans don't want to do away with the filibuster on legislation. After all, special interests who really set the agenda on Capitol Hill like to be able to bottle up real reform bills with 41 votes when push comes to shove.

It's about time Senate Dems got some backbone. Reid appears to be the guy who can give it to them. They got rolled by the financial industry when they let the bankruptcy bill through but they're standing up to Bush's Social Security privatization scam, the public is behind them and they're finding that when they stick together they can beat the bastards.

We have mixed emotions about the filibuster. It has prevented a lot of bad bills from being enacted, but it also has been the bane of a lot of good reform bills. However, if requiring a supermajority has any value, it is when it comes to reviewing court nominees. The Democrats have approved 205 Bush nominees and have drawn the line at 10. Bush picked a fight when he resubmitted those partisan hacks. If the GOP can't get five Democrats to break a filibuster, it's a pretty clear signal that the nominees don't represent the qualities that deserve a lifetime appointment to the bench.

But if Republicans corral the votes and do away with the filibuster for judicial nominations, Democrats should make it clear that they will do away with the filibuster on all legislation.

Who's Your Papa?

Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is a conservative in church doctrinal matters; possibly less so on social and economic issues. At 78 years of age, expect him to continue and consolidate John Paul II's policies, which he played a large role in formulating.

If Cardinal Ratzinger, as John Paul II's enforcer, upheld the right of bishops to withhold communion from politicians who support abortion rights, as was widely reported, he also instructed US Catholic bishops last year that American Catholics could vote for pro-abortion candidates as long as they supported the politician for other reasons.

Contrary to widespread reports, Ratzinger apparently did not order Catholic bishops to deny communion to abortion-rights supporters, including presidential candidate John Kerry. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., in June 2004, in his reflections on the Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians, wrote:

"It is important to note that Cardinal Ratzinger makes a clear distinction between public officials and voters, explaining that a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil only if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion. However, when a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted if there are proportionate reasons.

"Therefore, based on the traditional practice of the Church and our consultation with members of our conference, other episcopal conferences, distinguished canonists and theologians, our Task Force does not advocate the denial of Communion for Catholic politicians or Catholic voters in these circumstances."

The Church also supports "policies that create jobs for all who can work with decent working conditions and adequate pay that reflects a living wage ..." and other social justice issues such as the right to equal pay and employment for women, the right of workers to organize and join unions and bargain collectively without reprisal. The bishops also have expressed concern over the concentration of media control by "irresponsible owners primarily seeking a profit," among other things. (See the Bishops' "Statement on Faithful Citizenship: Moral Priorities for Public Life" at www.usccb.org.)

Ratzinger might not be the Pope we would have chosen, but we retain hope that Benedict might surprise the right-wingers who believe that the right to life ends at birth. -- JMC

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