As we've discussed previously, one of the big victories from the 2012 Elections is that Democrats will have a larger, more progressive Senate majority in the 113th Congress. In order to turn that majority into progressive accomplishments over the next two years, we will need to do a few key things. For example, reforming the filibuster is absolutely critical, as we will discuss in a future post. Making sure the Obama Administration steps up its judicial appointments while Democrats control the Senate is very important. And, of course, continuing to support our Senators when they do right and pressuring them when they need to do better is key.
Another important element in making sure the Democrat's Senate majority will be productive will be decided over the next few weeks as the Senate Democratic leadership hands out committee assignments. Senate committees are important because they serve as filters of what issues do and do not make it onto the Senate agenda, and because they have oversight and investigative powers, including the power to hold hearings and issue subpoenas. While most Committee members will stay the same in the new Senate, new Senators will get assignments, retiring Senators will need to be replaced, and there will some changes in Committee leaders. These changes opens up the opportunity for one very important assignment and is expected to lead to other positive changes.
Warren to the Senate Banking Committee?
Short of re-electing President Obama, perhaps the most exciting victory for progressives in the 2012 elections was Elizabeth Warren winning a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts by defeating GOP Sen. Scott Brown. Senator-elect Warren, of course, is the Harvard law professor who has spent much of her career fighting for the types of banking, financial, and bankruptcy law reforms that are critical to strengthening our economy and our middle class. Perhaps most notably, Ms. Warren was the driving force behind the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is charged with cracking down on unscrupulous financial services companies by enforcing a wide array of consumer protections.
It would be wonderful to have Senator Warren bring her expertise, experience, and passion for fighting for progressive values to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, which has jurisdiction over, among other things, banks and other financial institutions, deposit insurance, federal monetary policy, and money and credit. Just imagine having Senator Warren helping to craft legislation regulating Wall Street, having oversight powers over agencies charged with regulating banks, and getting to question witnesses at Committee hearings.
There will be two seats open on the Banking Committee in the new Congress, and Ms. Warren appears likely to get one of them. Leading Democrats on the Committee, such as Jack Reed (D-RI) and Tim Johnson (D-SD) have made statements supportive of Senator Warren joining them, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has announced that she does not intend to seek a seat on that Committee. Wall Street and big banks, however, are lobbying furiously behind the scenes to try to keep Warren off the Committee.
To help get Senator Warren on the Banking Committee, sign this petition and call Senator Harry Reid - 202-224-3542 - and urge him to give the seat to this well-qualified, progressive advocate for the middle class and sensible financial reform.
Patty Murray (D-WA) to head Senate Budget Committee
In another piece of good Senate news, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) will be taking the helm of the Senate Budget Committee, as the current chair, centrist Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) is retiring. Senator Murray has long been a progressive supporter of protecting Social Security and Medicare from conservative attempts at privatization. Perhaps even more importantly, Senator Murray has significant experience over the past few years of dealing with, and refusing to accede to unreasonable demands of, Republicans in the endless loop of budget deficit negotiations that have taken place over the past two years. For example, as the Washington Post recently reported:
Her perspective is born in part from the last tough task Reid handed her, chairing last year’s bipartisan “supercommittee,” a 12-member panel that tried, but ultimately failed, to come up with a major deficit reduction package acceptable to both parties.
Murray spent long hours behind closed doors with House and Senate Republicans and emerged convinced the GOP was offering only damaging proposals to cut health, education and environmental programs without agreeing to ask the wealthy to pay more in taxes.
. . . .
In the crunch of final negotiations over a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling last summer, it was Murray who nixed the idea of exposing veterans benefits to automatic domestic and military spending cuts that would result if Congress does not reach a more targeted deficit-reduction deal by the end of this month.
. . . .
It was Murray, too, who had counseled Democrats in April 2011 to reject a last-minute demand by House Republicans to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood in a spending bill designed to avoid a government shutdown.
More recently, Ms. Murray has been urging Democrats for months to be willing to go over the so-called "fiscal cliff" rather than to give in to unreasonable Republican proposals. We're hopeful that, as Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, Senator Murray will be able to continue to play a key role in ensuring that any budget deals focus on funding critical needs, protecting earned benefit programs like Medicare and Social Security, increasing revenue, and cutting spending in a balanced manner.
Tom Carper (D-DE) likely to head Homeland Security Committee
A third piece of good Senate Committee news it that with Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) finally getting out of the Senate, the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which oversees what has been a gradual undermining of civil liberties over the past decade, will be chaired by the more reasonable Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.). While Senator Carper is not exactly known for being a staunch advocate for civil liberties, he has compiled a far better record than Senator Lieberman's in recent years. For example, the ACLU's 2009-2010 legislator ratings were 93% for Carper, and only 57% for Lieberman. Similarly, in a 2007 vote to give habeas corpus rights to people detained by the US - Carper voted yes, Lieberman voted no. And in the December 2011 votes on the National Defense Authorization Act, which included some disturbing provisions regarding the indefinite detention of individuals under the guise of the "war on terror," Senator Carper voted to remove requirement of military detention of Al-Qaeda suspects and associated forces, prohibit military detention without trial of US citizens, and prohibit military detention without trial of individuals captured in the US, and voted against a proposal to allow for further military detention even if an individual had received a trial. Senator Lieberman took the opposite position on all four of those votes. So, here's hoping that the Senate Homeland Security Committee will be more interested in securing, rather than trampling, our civil liberties in 2013.
Bernie Sanders likely to head Senate Veteran's Committee
With Senator Murray taking the helm at the Budget Committee, her seat as Chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee will be open. And it is expected to be filled by Senator Bernie Sanders, who has long been a strong advocate on veteran's issues. As an article in the Marine Corp Times explains:
Sanders, who refers to himself as a socialist, has been among the lawmakers pushing the hardest to expand the reach of veterans’ programs, especially health care. He also has strongly opposed budget-cutting initiatives to trim or cap military benefits. For example, he opposes a proposal to save money by changing how cost-of-living adjustments are calculated for Social Security, military retirement and veterans’ disability benefits, because it would slightly reduce annual increases.
Sanders, who never served in the military, also has been a strong advocate for providing better help and benefits for National Guard and reserve members returning from mobilization. He has proposed a big expansion, with the federal government fully making up for any income lost during deployments because of differences between military and private-sector salaries.