Tag Archives: Change Congress

Fix Congress First

23 Mar

In the healthcare debate, I think there is at least one thing we all can agree upon, Congress is broken.

The tedious procedural sausage making, complicated by special interest money from industry and interest group lobbies nearly killed the bill. It certainly shaped the final legislation in many ways that left the progressive caucus wanting more and the conservative caucus complaining about the big black man’s socialist package being crammed down their throats.

Can we ever get to the point where legislation is primarily debated on the merits rather than on the vig?


If you’ve been reading this website long enough, I think you know where I stand. Support the Fair Elections Now Act

The bipartisan Fair Elections Now Act was offered this year by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (D-PA), and Reps. John Larson (D-CT) and Walter Jones (R-NC). With senior leaders in the Senate and House taking the lead, and 135 co-sponsors in the House alone, the bill has strong champions in both houses of Congress.

Under this legislation, congressional candidates who raise a threshold number of small-dollar donations would qualify for a chunk of funding—several hundred thousand dollars for House, millions for many Senate races. If they accept this funding, they can’t raise big-dollar donations. But they can raise contributions up to $100, which would be matched four to one by a central fund. Reduced fees for TV airtime is also an element of this bill, creating an incentive for politicians to opt into this system and run people-powered campaigns.

This legislation is supported by Rep. Louise Slaughter and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Rep. Brian Higgins, Rep. Chris Lee and Sen. Chuck Schumer have not stated their position to Fix Congress First. They might support it, they just are not on the record with this organization. Take action and let them know you support the legislation.

Final Push For Reform

11 Mar


I’ve negotiated with my inner Kucinich and made peace with the health insurance reform bill.  It’s time to finish the job.

By the way, a couple of points on the status of the bill and the reporting I’ve seen/read on the remainder of the process. It’s important to note that we’re not “passing” healthcare reform through reconciliation. The bill(s) already “passed” with the required votes in both houses, a majority in the House and 60 votes in the Senate. Now, the House will pass the Senate bill and changes which affect the budget will be applied through reconciliation, a valid and well used procedure. That’s it. The big commie muslim socialist black man will not be (c)ramming his big black reform plan down anyone’s throat. Language matters. I digress…

The bill is not perfect and it is not what I wanted it to be when the process began and it is a product of a very flawed system.  However, it is the first step toward real, long-term reform in our healthcare system.  Incrementalism is the reality in our corporate political world until the bright shining day arrives when money is taken out of politics.


We’ve listened to what FreedomWorks, AHIP, PhRMA, and the rabid teabaggers had to say.  The bill has been watered down to the point where progressives barely recognize it anymore. The Democrats adopted 161 of 201 proposed GOP amendments to the Healthcare bill and did not receive one single affirmative GOP vote as a reward for their compromises.

The final Senate bill includes all four planks of the GOP’s proposed alternative plan, including buying insurance across state lines, tougher medicaid/medicare fraud prevention strategies, empowerment for states to implement the plan in different ways, tort reform and purchasing pools for small business. It’s all in the bill.

In fact, one could say that this bill combines the best parts of the GOP plan and the worst of the Democratic plan. Primarily, it lacks a public option, single payer provisions and is entirely based on regulating the private market.  It is possible that a public option could be brought back into the bill through reconciliation with 41 Senators now signed on to support that effort (including Schumer and Gillibrand), but I won’t hold my breath.

Since the Democrats would not receive one single, solitary vote no matter what bill they put forward, I thought they should have simply pushed forward a bill with a robust public option and the regulations needed to make an immediate impact on the system.  However, the will was lacking in the Democratic Party as many of the legislators are just as indentured to the insurance and medical lobby as their counterparts on the right.

So, the bill we have is the one the system is willing to give us at this point.  With a minority party more interested in opposing then governing, this is what happens.  When Democratic Senators are operating as lobbyists for Wellpoint, UHC and Aetna, this is what we get.  As is often said nowadays, it is what it is.  My hope is that once this bill is put in place, further reforms will be enacted, market protections will increase, coverage will be expanded and we’ll eventually end up with a more perfect healthcare system.  Perhaps the Democrats might embrace a simple four page bill that should have been the starting point for this reform process.  To stop now simply guarantees that nothing will be done.

I chose the “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” video from the Obama campaign because it was a seminal moment in a historic campaign.  Whatever you thought of Obama then or whatever you think of him now, he speaks truth in that clip.  Change and reform are only possible if we advocate for it, fight for it, demand it.  If we push our legislators to demand better, more and faster.  Perhaps the grassroots on the left was disenfranchised from the start and were drowned out by the astroturf millions on the right during the formative portions of this process.  Perhaps the monied interests have a bigger ownership stake in our legislators than we do, but we have what we have.

The time is now for the grassroots to demand that something be done.  To remind them that we voted for this President and gave a sweeping mandate to the Democratic Party to enact this legislation, as imperfect as it is.

Change Congress Now

22 Jan

Yesterday, in a 5-4 decision (Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission), the US Supreme Court eliminated restrictions on corporate spending that went into effect with the McCain-Feingold legislation passed in 2002.


There is a lot of teeth gnashing and worry floating in the country about what this decision means not just for our elections, but for our republic. It is a sea change in the way we elect our leaders, but there is an effort underway to fundamentally change that process. It’s simply a new wrinkle to an old problem.

Corporate money and influence clouds our government at a very fundamental level. Politicians, regardless of party, are recipients of campaign finance largesse courtesy of the lobbying organizations organized to influence those politicians and in turn, the legislation they create. It is an economy of opportunity that lobbying groups have created which distracts from intelligent and reasoned discussion about policy which effects us all.

It is exceptionally clear to me that our legislative system is fundamentally broken. Our Representatives and Senators are not able to properly and logically address significant problems facing our nation due to the influence of money in politics. Until we can trust that our representatives are making the right decisions, for the right reasons, sensible legislation is impossible and the public trust compromised.

It’s time to publicly fund state and federal elections. Eliminating the dependence on lobbying money and focusing our legislators on the tasks at hand is a necessity if this country is to prosper. It was an idea first proposed by Teddy Roosevelt nearly 100 years ago and it’s time that it be considered once again.


Limiting campaign donations to an amount between $100-$250 with built in increases (tied to inflation) over time and allowing for access to public funding once a certain level of electable credibility is achieved through petition signatures and measured support is where we begin.

It will not be an easy job to build a new system, but it is the only way in which we can return sanity to our government. We will also need to address and perhaps limit the power of incumbency to avoid franking abuses and influence gained through seniority. We now have professional legislators who are simply waiting for the opportunity to become professional lobbyists and trade on the influence accrued while in office. At the state level, we have hangers-on like Steve Pigeon who can bring to bear the financial resources of one man to essentially throw an entire city, county or state into gridlock. Is this the way we want to be governed?

It should be clear to all, right or left, that the system is fundamentally handicapped. Monetary influence from unions, corporations, industry associations, PAC’s and other niche lobbies are crippling our ability to tackle the most significant economic downturn since the Great Depression. Corporate donations and industry authored legislation inhibits the proper measurement of costs and consequences when we attempt to address long term deficits, military largesse, foreign policy, climate change, infrastructure, urban planning or skyrocketing healthcare costs. Considering yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling, the problem has never been so obvious.

This video is about the economy of influence and the trust gap between Americans and Congress. It’s worth the time, please watch it.


Finally, this is Lessig’s response to the Citizens United decision. He’ll have more detail to come, but this message does highlight the need to act now, while the momentum is behind the idea.


Do you agree with this idea to change the system? If so, head over to Change Congress and voice your support.

You should also call your Representative and Senator to let them know you support the Fair Elections Now Act which would establish citizen funded elections.

In WNY, Reps. Slaughter, Massa and Maffei are co-sponsors of H.R.1826 and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, S. 752. Rep. Higgins has voiced support for the bill in previous interviews and I will call his office tomorrow to confirm his support, the same goes for Sen. Schumer. Rep. Lee has not signed on nor has he voiced support for the bill.