The importance of a functioning, more progressive U.S. Senate has been starkly demonstrated over the last three-and-a-half years. While significant progressive victories have been achieved during President Obama's first term, far too often progressive goals on job creation, health care reform, Wall Street reform, climate change, etc. were stymied or watered down in a U.S. Senate that is clearly broken.
The problem in the Senate is two-fold. First, Senate Republicans have carried out a strategy of historically unprecedented obstructionism involving filibustering or threatening to filibuster virtually every major piece of legislation and most nominees (for example even President Obama's non-controversial appellate judge nominees were held up by Senate Republicans by an average of 227 days). Contrary to common misconceptions, the Democrats had a filibuster proof majority for only 72 days during President Obama's first term. As such, virtually all legislation had to be crafted in ways that they would gain the support of all Democratic Senators and one or more Republicans which, of course, limited how progressive legislative proposals could be.
If the Democrats hold the Senate this November, the obstructionism problem can be largely addressed by reforming the filibuster rules. Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has committed to filibuster reform in the new Senate, admitting that it was a mistake for him not to pursue such reform last time around. As we've explained previously, filibuster reform should involve shifting the burden of maintaining the filibuster to the 40 Senators who are filibustering, speeding up the time in which a filibuster can be challenged, and ending filibusters of Presidential nominees.
A second problem with the Senate over the past three-and-a-half years is that a number of the Senators that made up the Democratic majority were far from progressive. Basically any legislation that was proposed had to get the votes of Senators Joe Lieberman, Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, Mark Pryor, and Blanche Lincoln, none of whom could be considered progressive.
The good news is that we have a great opportunity at a far more progressive Democratic Senate caucus in 2013, with five races that should be of critical importance to progressives throughout the country. The key to achieving that result, however, is for all of us progressives to get involved in making sure we win these races. Below are links for getting involved by volunteering, contributing to their campaigns, and writing letters to the editor in support of these progressive candidates.
Tammy Baldwin - Wisconsin
In Wisconsin, we have the opportunity to elect a strong progressive and the first openly-lesbian member of the U.S. Senate. Rep. Baldwin is vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and has compiled a strongly progressive voting record in her seven terms in the House. Rep. Baldwin voted against the Iraq War, opposed repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, is the lead House sponsor of the Buffett Rule to require millionaires and billionaires to pay more of their fair share, is a strong supporter of marriage equality and was lead sponsor of legislation ending Don't Ask Don't Tell, is a strong supporter of single payer health insurance and of including a public option in health care reform, and voted against the NDAA. Rep. Baldwin would replace Sen. Herb Kohl who, while a decent Democrat, had a more moderate voting record than Rep. Baldwin does.
Sherrod Brown - Ohio
The only incumbent on our list, Senator Sherrod Brown has long been known as an economic populist and tireless advocate for middle class Americans. Elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving in the House since 1993, Senator Brown has compiled a voting record that most any progressive should be proud of. He is a strong advocate for protecting Social Security and Medicare, strengthening labor unions, and returning manufacturing jobs to the US. Senator Brown voted against the Iraq War and was one of only 65 House members to oppose the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. He is leading the charge in the Senate to overturn Citizens United and has voted numerous times to preserve the estate tax and to end the capital gains tax loophole. Re-electing Senator Brown can help show that a progressive economic populism presents a promising future for Democrats in the Midwest and elsewhere.
Mazie Hirono – Hawaii
The Democratic candidate for US Senate in Hawaii is Mazie Hirono, who is currently a Congresswoman and member of the House Congressional Progressive Caucus. Rep. Hirono was born in Fukushima, Japan and came to Hawaii at the age of five when her mother escaped an abusive marriage. After attending the University of Hawaii and Georgetown University Law School, she served as a state representative from 1980 to 1994, and then as Lieutenant Governor from 1994 to 2002. In 2006, Rep. Hirono was elected to Congress, where, according to the website Progressive Punch, she has the fourth most progressive voting record of any current representative. Rep. Hirono supports single payer health insurance, the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, opposed the Iraq War from the very beginning, and has been a vocal advocate for “Pre-K” legislation that would provide federal financing and support for improving and expanding early childhood education.
Chris Murphy - Connecticut
Perhaps the biggest improvement in the U.S. Senate can come in Connecticut, where Senator Joseph Lieberman is, thankfully, retiring, and can be replaced by Rep. Chris Murphy. A self-described progressive, Rep. Murphy summarized his views as follows:
I am a progressive when it comes to my views on the war and when it comes to my views on the environment and health care. I believe in universal health care. I believe in a strong environment. I believe in a fair tax code that ends up with higher rates for the affluent. I believe we should get out of Afghanistan and Iraq. And I believe that I should argue very strongly for those things.
While in the House, Rep. Murphy supported public financing of campaigns, marriage equality, and climate legislation, was a leading voice in favor of including a public option in the health care reform law, and voted no on the NDAA,
Elizabeth Warren – U.S. Senate – Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, we have the opportunity not only to pick up a seat from the Republicans, but also to elect to the U.S. Senate one of the strongest advocates middle and working class Americans have had in decades. A law school professor, Ms. Warren has spent her career focusing on how financial interests are causing untold harm to the economic vibrancy of our middle class and on how we can fix that problem. Perhaps her biggest achievement to date is the establishment of a strong and independent Consumer Financial Protect Bureau ("CFPB"), which is charged with helping curb economic abuses by enforcing a wide array of consumer protections, including the new credit card industry reforms signed by President Obama, and consolidating enforcement of consumer protections that are currently handled by seven different agencies. The CFPB’s goal is to make the pricing and risks of financial products offered by these entities much clearer and fairer to the American public so that payday lenders, etc. are no longer able to prey on the most financially vulnerable among us. Now we need Ms. Warren in the Senate so that she can defend the CFPB against GOP attacks and fight for a fairer economy.