18 April 2013

Obstructionism kills background checks & The gun bill failed because the Senate is wildly undemocratic 17&18APR13

THE Daily Kos has a call to action for the American people to contact their Senators telling them to reopen filibuster reform in the Senate in the wake of the shameful defeat of sane, responsible gun control legislation yesterday. A majority of the Senate voted for the background check legislation but it was defeated. The control of legislation in the Senate by manipulation of the filibuster has to stop. Click the link to participate. Ezra Klein's Wonkbook column in the Washington Post offers various articles on yesterdays Senate votes and the filibuster issue....

By a vote of 54-46, the Senate just filibustered a bill that would have required background checks for firearm sales at gun shows and on the internet.

This was the most meaningful part of the gun safety reform bill that had a chance to pass. Even though a majority of senators were in favor of it, the United States Senate doesn't work that way.

It's time to change that. Please, click here to send an email to your Democratic U.S. senator or senators, telling them to re-open the process of filibuster reform.

Keep fighting,
Chris Bowers, Daily Kos

Wonkbook: The gun bill failed because the Senate is wildly undemocratic

The gun vote didn’t fail because a couple of red-state Democrats bolted, or even because too many senators are afraid of the National Rifle Association, or even because Sen. Pat Toomey couldn’t bring along more Republicans.
Those factors help explain why the gun vote didn’t clear the extraordinary bar set for it to succeed. But they’re not the main reason it failed.
The gun vote failed because of the way the Senate is designed. It failed because the Senate wildly overrepresents small, rural states and, on top of that, requires a 60-vote supermajority to pass most pieces of legislation.
The Manchin-Toomey bill received 54 aye votes and 46 nay votes. That is to say, a solid majority of senators voted for it. In most legislative bodies around the world, that would have been enough. But it wasn’t a sufficient supermajority for the U.S. Senate.
Of the senators from the 25 largest states, the Manchin-Toomey legislation received 33 aye votes and 17 nay votes — a more than 2:1 margin, putting it well beyond the 3/5ths threshold required to break a filibuster. But of the senators from the 25 smallest states, it received only 21 aye votes and 29 nay votes.
It’s typical to say that this is how the Senate’s always been. It’s also wrong. The filibuster didn’t emerge until decades after the first congress, and its constant use is a thoroughly modern development.
As for the small state bias, that, too, has changed over time. During the first Congress, Virginia, the largest state, was roughly 12 times the size of Delaware, which was, at the time, the smallest state. Today, California is 66 times the size of Wyoming. That makes the Senate five times less proportionate today than it was at the founding.
It’s easy to question the strategies of the gun bill’s architects, but the truth is they compromised repeatedly, sought support widely and openly, worked hard to address criticisms and allay concerns, and did everything in their power to marshal public opinion on their behalf. They did what they were supposed to do.
But then the Senate did what it is built to do. It took a bill supported by most Americans and killed it because it was intensely opposed by a minority who disproportionately live in small, rural states.
Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 54. That, of course, is the number of votes the Manchin-Toomey compromise on background checks received in the Senate. It needed 60 to clear the filibuster. It didn’t get them, along with six other proposed changes to federal regulation of firearms.

1) Top story: The downfall of gun control
Gun-control overhaul is defeated in Senate. “President Obama's ambitious effort to overhaul the nation's gun laws in response to December's school massacre in Connecticut suffered a resounding defeat Wednesday, when every major proposal he championed fell apart on the Senate floor. It was a stunning collapse for gun control advocates just four months after the deaths of 20 children and six adults in Newtown led the president and many others to believe that the political climate on guns had been altered in their favor.” Ed O’Keefe and Philip Rucker in The Washington Post.
Senate bill to extend background checks killed by filibuster. “So much for significant new gun-control legislation. The bipartisan Manchin-Toomey bill to extend background checks to gun shows and Internet sales has died in the Senate. It got 54 votes, but that wasn't enough to overcome what was essentially a Republican filibuster. The Manchin-Toomey compromise bill was a scaled-back version of earlier proposals to extend background checks to unregulated private gun sales. Many gun experts argued that the slimmed-down proposal would have only marginal effects on gun violence. But even that small step couldn't get through the Senate.”Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.
@justinwolfers: It’s astonishing that the anger, sorrow and momentum for change formed in the wake of Sandy Hook led to no substantive changes in gun laws.
How did the vote split, exactly? “The bill, which was expected to come up short, lost the support of four Democrats on Wednesday: Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.). All four face difficult reelections in 2014 in rural states with strong gun cultures. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) voted against the amendment for procedural reasons. Four Republicans voted in favor of the bill: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Mark Kirk (Ill.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Toomey.” Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.
Explainer: Here are the Senate’s 9, mostly-ill-fated, gun control amendments. Brad Plumer inThe Washington Post.
What happened with the gun amendments: Everything failed. Let’s look at this amendment by amendment. “The Senate voted on seven out of nine pieces of gun legislation Wednesday afternoon. All the amendments required 60 votes to survive Senate procedural moves and ensure final passage, because of the way Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) chose to structure the vote. All seven failed.” Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post.
@RonBrownstein: Obama + victim family sharp post-vote remarks on #guncontrol show big change from earlier gun losses: Dems will likely keep the issue alive.
Why, also, did all of the gun amendments need 60 votes to pass? “The answer is a combination of Senate procedure and the complex politics of guns…[A]nother route [besides cloture] is to require a 60-vote threshold on the final vote for each individual amendment rather than to end debate on each measure. Instead of drawing the process out over days or weeks, the votes then can be taken in quick succession…So, why didn't Reid try to get the unanimous consent agreement to set all amendment votes at a 51-vote threshold? Because to do that would have opened the bill up to the very likely possibility that amendments favored by gun rights advocates would be added to it.” Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.
@samsteinhp: I’m more curious about how Bloomberg, gun control groups will help Landrieu, Tester and Hagan than how they’ll punish Baucus, Pryor, Begich
How Obama reacted to the Senate votes. “Flanked by family members of the Newtown, Conn., shooting victims and former Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, President Obama decried a Senate vote defeating gun control legislation, saying a minority of senators "blocked common-sense gun reforms even while these families looked on from the Senate gallery." "All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington," Mr. Obama said.” Michael D. Shear and Mark Landler in The New York Times.
Watch: Obama’s remarks from the Rose GardenSteve Benen in MSNBC.
…And why this is a huge loss for Obama. “Never before had President Barack Obama put the moral force and political muscle of his presidency behind an issue quite this big -- and lost quite this badly…It was a bitter defeat for a president accustomed to winning…More than anything, it was an emotional blow to Obama.” Glenn Thrush and Reid J. Epstein in Politico.
More reactions: Comment from individual senators in the aftermath of gun controlGinger Gibson in Politico.
Did gun control ever have a chance? “In the nearly 10 years since the expiration of the assault weapons ban, even modest gun safety legislation has proved impossible to advance on Capitol Hill, where the momentum has been in the other direction, with lawmakers pushing various expansions of gun rights…They were no match for the reason Democrats have avoided gun control fights for years: a combination of the political anxiety of vulnerable Democrats from conservative states, deep-seated Republican resistance and the enduring clout of the National Rifle Association.” Jennifer Steinhauer in The New York Times.
@markknoller: The Senate vote was a major legislative defeat for Pres Obama, who made 13 speeches on gun violence proposals since Sandy Hook shootings.
All of this happened despite public opinion running the other way. “As the weeks and months have passed since the Newtown tragedy, the public's resolve to enact stricter gun laws has softened, which may also explain what is happening on Capitol Hill. An AP/GfK poll conducted in the last week found that support for enacting stricter gun laws is now at 49 percent, down from 58 percent in January…Nearly 9 in 10 Americans, including majorities across party lines, support background checks for gun purchases at gun shows and online.”Megan Thee-Brenan in The New York Times.
Is the political fight over guns over? Or just beginning? “The inability of what happened in Newtown to move the gun debate in Congress forward in any meaningful way -- the biggest "victory" for gun control advocates was that the bill got the requisite votes to be debated and amended on the Senate floor -- suggests that there are no external events or tragedies that will fundamentally alter the political calculus of members of Congress when it comes to gun laws. What Obama seemed to suggest in his remarks was that the next round of the fight as he sees it is the 2014 election where those who stood in the way of his package of gun control proposals would face the wrath of voters.” Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.
@jbarro: Very big gun control would matter and was never on the table. Small-bore gun control would matter only a little and apparently also failed.
GIFFORDS: A Senate in the grip of the gun lobby. “These senators have heard from their constituents -- who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them…Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I'm furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe.” Gabrielle Giffords in The New York Times.
BALZ: Gun vote shows gulf between Washington, nation. “If there were ever a moment that symbolized the difference between the power of public opinion and the strength of a concerted minority, it came Wednesday when the Senate defeated a bipartisan measure to expand background checks on gun purchases…"If you ever wanted a textbook example of intensity trumping preference, this is it," said Ross K. Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University. "You could have 100 percent of those polled saying they wanted universal background checks and it would still be defeated. You can't translate poll results into public policy."” Dan Balz in The Washington Post.
@ReformedBroker: If we’re not preventing mental patients and felons from buying guns, then gun ownership should be mandatory. Let’s just shoot it out now.
MILBANK: Courage in short supply. “There were moments of courage on the Senate floor Wednesday. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), seriously ill with cancer, had traveled to Washington to cast his vote. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gave an uncharacteristically moving speech explaining why he was reversing his position and would vote for a ban on military-style assault rifles (the proposal failed, 40 to 60). Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) defied most in his party to speak, and vote, in favor of the background-check measure. Bravest of all were Manchin and Toomey, both risking their "A" ratings from the NRA to follow their consciences.” Dana Milbank in The Washington Post.
DICKERSON: Why Newtown wasn’t enough. “The tragedy last December at Sandy Hook Elementary was supposed to tip conventional wisdom, which held that supporters of gun rights were more passionate and likely to hold their lawmakers accountable than supporters of gun control. In the end, the conventional wisdom held. Now gun control advocates like Michael Bloomberg will have a chance to make good on their threats to hold these legislators accountable in the next election. It may be even more difficult than getting a bill passed.” John Dickerson in Slate.