Today, President Obama met with top African-American leaders at the White House to discuss the economic crisis in minority communities and upcoming jobs legislation. Attendees included Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, Benjamin Jealous, President of the NAACP, and Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League. Later, they joined reporters on a conference call to discuss the meeting, and they delivered a clear message – obstruction in the Senate is to blame for the sluggish recovery, and Democrats holding a majority needed to act, through the budget reconciliation process if necessary, to overcome it.
While Sharpton believed that the President was not getting the respect he deserved for leading the country out of a deep recession that he inherited, he said that clearly more needed to be done. Asked if Congress was doing enough to bring the country back, Sharpton said, “The quick answer is no. The question is how we push to get as much as possible.”
And clearly, from the comments on the call, the path to pushing for what’s possible goes through the United States Senate, and particularly opening up the process issues. The NAACP’s Ben Jealous described Republicans who are “seeking a super-majority for everything coming out of the Senate” as their primary target, saying that they have habitually obstructed or watered down recovery efforts, many of which are not reaching the African-American community. Morial, of the Urban League, noted that the first stimulus package was cut by Republican Senators whose votes were needed to pass the bill, and as a result became less effective. While both of these leaders expected a “series of steps” to get unemployment down to a sustainably low rate, and no magic jobs bill out there, they expressed great concern at the obstructionism in the Senate.
Jealous said while he was frustrated with Republicans consumed with saying “No” for political reasons, he was just as frustrated with Democrats who have other options to get their agenda through. “They should be trying to do more in the reconciliation process,” Jealous said. He talked about the 200 bills that have been held up through the filibuster, and 63 Presidential nominations held up as well.
Morial, himself a former Mayor of New Orleans, called the use of the filibuster and the hold process, which he called “the blue-slip process,” an abuse of the system. “Whether you agree with the filibuster or not, it was desgined as an extraordinary measure. And now the blue-slip process is being used to hold up appointment of federal marshals, security posts. The public needs to have a greater understanding that it does not take 60 votes to pass anything. It takes 60 votes to end debate.”
Asked by FDL News how to explain Senate process to a public which has little understanding of it, Jealous said, “It’s going to require all of us giving basic civics lessons to our constituents. People are mystified. They don’t understand why a majority can’t get anything done. The subverting of democracy has to stop.”
Asked later today on Hardball whether there should be majority rule in this country, Jealous replied, “Absolutely.” Sharpton said this goes further than the filibusters on civil rights legislation by Dixiecrats in the 1950s and 1960s. “The problem then was on race and civil rights,” Sharpton said. “These people are blocking everything. What they’re blocking hurts everybody. They’re not just hurting blacks, this is not, they’re not just blocking civil rights legislation, they’re blocking jobs, health care, they’re blocking things that hurt their own constituents… because they just want to obstruct anything this President says.” He said that Republicans have gotten away with this because of a lack of significant pushback from civil rights, labor and progressive communities to highlight the obstructionism.
With civil rights leaders pushing process arguments, seemingly this is coming away from an academic exercise and toward something that may truly educate the public as to what is happening in Washington.