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Cohen's Challenge: Look Beyond Reforming the Senate and Save Democracy Itself

Eight months after the U.S. Senate changed its rules to enable more executive and judicial nominations to go forward, a new dysfunctional trick that has marooned over a hundred other nominations is the latest bar to progress.

Eight months after the U.S. Senate changed its rules to enable more executive and judicial nominations to go forward, a new dysfunctional trick that has marooned over a hundred other nominations is the latest bar to progress.

CWA President Larry Cohen electrified participants at a Senate Rules forum this week with a challenge to look beyond the immediate gridlock and work to reform our entire democratic system. Cohen told experts gathered at the National Press Club forum on the Senate Rules that this discussion was a much needed call to action. Participating in the forum were Nan Aron, President, Alliance for Justice; Brennan Center for Justice counsel Alicia Bannon; Democracy Initiative Executive Director Marissa Brown; American Enterprise Institute Resident Scholar Norman Ornstein; and Common Cause President Miles Rapoport, whose group organized the event.

 

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CWA President Larry Cohen speaking at the National Press Club about the refusal of Senate Republicans to do the people's work in an effort to thwart the Obama presidency. Workers' rights, climate change and economic inequality are among the important issues that don't get addressed.

 

"We need a mass movement for democracy in this country," Cohen said. "We need to look at what happened in this country in the last five years, look at those 400 bills that Speaker Pelosi passed but were not considered by the U.S. Senate even for one minute and consider what it would have meant to the overwhelming majority of this country."

The event, "The 'New Nullification' At Work in a Broken Senate: Nominations, Confirmations and the Politics of Obstruction," marked a formal release of the group's report on the problem. That report details how more than 120 nominees to executive branch and independent agencies still languish in the Senate, subject to new Republican tactics to run out the clock.

In the last two months, the minority forced the Senate into 236 hours of post-cloture debate time on routine nominations but, incredibly, very little debating actually occurred. Senators have only been on the floor and debated nominees for a total of 5 hours. Not one Republican came to the floor to discuss the merits of a nominee. With key positions in the Administration vacant for so long – in some cases, for years – government becomes less responsive to the challenges facing its citizens.

A quick, short-term fix, Cohen said, is for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to adopt a new Senate rule: Use It, or Lose It.

"It's simple to remember: if you're not going to speak on these nominations, where now a majority vote would carry them forward, you lose the time," he said. "You're going to have to show up, imagine that...and talk. We didn't say no filibuster. We say talking filibuster. We say use it or lose it."

Go to fixthesenatenow.org/useitorloseit to send a message to your Senators or text UseIt to 69866 to get a link to a petition.

Cohen's challenge is rooted in his belief that Senate dysfunction impedes important work that needs to be done.

"The senate rules, money in politics, the destruction of voting rights, as well as immigration actually prevent us from ever getting to the workers' rights problem, the climate change problem and economic inequality. The Senate Rules, in many ways the dullest of those subjects, is the frontline," he said.

CWA founded with other progressive groups the Democracy Initiative to get big money out of politics, strengthen voting rights and reform the broken Senate rules. The 45 endorsing organizations represent 35 million members. Each of these groups must make reforming our democracy the second most important issue that they tackle.

"People will raise several hundreds of millions of dollars from progressives alone, over a billion dollars, for this election this year, but this Democracy Movement needs more resources, not just money. It needs our hearts and minds...We do know what Democracy looks like. The question is will we stand up and fight back," he challenged.