When the Senate returns to work next week, pending nominations to the cabinet, the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are going to be at the fore. As is Majority Leader Harry Reid's promised showdown over filibuster reform.
At Netroots Nation in San Jose, I spoke with Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, who has been a leading voice and organizer for real filibuster reform.
On this [Senate Democrats] can do it all. The Constitution is really clear: the Senate makes its rules. They've narrowed it down now to looking at a rule change on nominations. There was a much broader rules fight in January, where they ended up backing away and leaving it alone. They said "oh, it'll be different this time." Yeah, it is different this time. It's even worse. But they're now preparing a rules change just on nominations, saying that after reasonable debate there will be an up or down vote on the president's nominees. That's going to come to ahead after the Fourth of July recess. [...] So what we're doing is mobilizing across the country, not just CWA but the whole Fix the Senate coalition—labor, green, civil rights, women's groups, students—the whole of progressive America with progressive media and there should be a vote on it. To have a vote on it, it's only going to be a vote if Harry Reid has 51 Democrats, so it's not just about Harry Reid and his leadership, it's about getting 51 Democratic senators to say "yes, we'll support that." [...] We think we have 51 Democrats, but we have no margin of error.Two worthwhile targets of progressive lobbying, Cohen says, are Sens. Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Max Baucus (D-MT). Pryor is running for reelection in 2014, and needs to hear from the people who would be his base of support in the state. Baucus is retiring, and has the opportunity to leave on a high note by voting to make the Senate work again. But if you have a Democratic senator or senators, let them hear from you. I asked Cohen what our strongest message is. His reply:
I think the strongest message is that any fifth grader gets a civics class that doesn't teach this at all, that actually pretends that we have a democracy, that uses the Constitution. That's not happening. I think the strongest message really is that no matter who is in the majority, there should be an opportunity for the majority to make decisions. We believe that deeply, on the record. This is not about "oh, now we're for this, later not." Ironically, there are people who say "well, if you do this now, Republicans will be able to do it when they're in control." Well, guess what—it's what they should do. That's how you get people engaged in a democracy. That's how you teach people it's worth being involved, that we're not afraid of that. [...] Listen, that kind of inside-the-beltway stuff is not working for people who call themselves progressive. We can't work out of fear, we have to work out of confidence. [...] We're not going to transform our country if we don't stand up for democracy. [...]You know the drill. Help us get those 51 votes and keep the pressure on. Send an email to your Democratic senators telling them to make the Senate function again.