Get to Sixty!

Getting to 60 in the Senate
and what YOU can do to help

The Senate requires 60 votes to pass most legislation - the recent tax bill was passed with 51 votes under a process called reconciliation which imposes stringent limits on what can be passed.

The Senate should have started over on the tax bill and worked to get at least 30 Republican and 30 Democratic votes. Too late for that now, but what's next for the period Jan 3 - Nov 6 2018? Here are some suggestions:

Continuing resolutions are required to keep the government running when Congress can't agree on a Federal budget, which is most of the time. The next continuing resolution is due January 19. No good purpose is served by unpredictable temporary shutdowns and restarts of government services. As a general principle of good government, continuing resolutions should not address any other matters. Republicans and Democrats alike are fond of using continuing resolutions as leverage for other matters, but it's bad government when the Republicans do it and bad government when the Democrats do it. So don't do it.

Less frequently, resolutions are required to raise the Federal debt limit. The next one is due in mid-March. No good purpose is served by veering toward default on US Government obligations. As a general principle of good government, debt ceiling resolutions should not address any other matters. Republicans and Democrats alike are fond of using debt ceiling resolutions as leverage for other matters, but it's bad government when the Republicans do it and bad government when the Democrats do it. So don't do it.

So for these two categories, Democrats and Republicans alike should vote for clean resolutions and against those bundled with other issues. Voting against clean continuing resolutions and clean debt ceiling raising is not a vote against political opponents; it's a vote against the whole country, friend and foe alike, if not the stability of the western world. But what about everything else that the Senate votes on?

The Democratic Senate caucus should strive toward bipartisan solutions by declining to contribute any Democratic votes for any legislative initiatives that have less than 30 Democratic votes. Trump's idea of "bipartisanship" is to use threats or bribes - earmarks - to pick off the nine Democratic Senate votes needed to get to sixty - and the Republicans may need more than nine, if one or two Republicans hold out for a better deal as usual. Don't let the Republicans do it that way! Mitch McConnell has started talking about bipartisan initiatives, but his sincerity remains to be demonstrated. It remains to be seen whether he can deliver his Republican caucus in the Senate, much less the other caucus in the House, where simple majorities rule and the ideological fringes are even less disposed to compromise. Future progress depends not only on being bipartisan, but bicameral.

We don't have a reliable partner at the White House to negotiate with
-- Lindsey Graham, R-SC

So ignore the President and White House and those Senators of both parties that just want score ideological points rather than solve problems. Let the Republicans who want to solve problems find common ground with the Democrats that want to solve problems. The following stories all came out on the same day:

In particular, the Republicans now own tax law and Obamacare. It's up to them to come up with solutions that appeal to 30 Democrats when they need them. Interestingly, the Republicans might not try to pass a budget this year, and so might not be able to pass anything with just 50 votes by reconciliation.

What YOU can do

What power do individuals have? They can call, write, or email their Senators and Representative, and ask them to start over and take enough time to do a few things well instead of many things poorly. This is especially important if your Senators and Representative are Republicans, but if your representation is Democratic, it doesn't hurt to let them know your support.

I favor asking them to find a way to 30 Republican and 30 Democratic Senate votes on major legislation. 60 votes mean the arcane requirements of reconciliation don't come in to play and the Senate Parliamentarian doesn't need to weigh in. Even better: 67 votes to avoid a presidential veto: 34 Democrats + 34 Republicans. Trump is unlikely to veto anything that passes Congress; he's much more motivated to sign anything and claim a win. But once he vetoes any bill passed by Congress, the price of Democratic cooperation rises to 34.

Bipartisan means compromise: both sides give on something less important in order to get something more important. The point is to get both parties to take ownership of the result and defend it in the next primary season from no-compromise extremists from their own parties.

In the House, the corresponding number is 109 Democrats + 109 Republicans to (barely) pass legislation; 131 + 131 to get a 60% margin like the Senate's; 145+145 to prevail against a presidential veto.

Name your two or three greatest legislative priorities. For instance, what about bipartisan solutions for

How should we contact our legislators? Legislators do want to hear from voters in their districts - and major donors - but don't have much time for anybody else. So write to your own legislators, from your address in their district. Legislators want to hear individual opinions, unless you are actually conveying the formal opinion of some politically significant organization. What they don't want is form letters or emails from bots or aimless rants. Although most would like to individually answer every letter they get, it's just not possible, so their staff must quickly determine

So letters should be short and to the point about just one issue, polite and in your own words; though the staff must read your letter quickly, take enough time to write effectively. You might not get a response, particularly if there are thousands of letters on a topic. But it's pretty likely that somebody is keeping score of what you and other constituents said.

Paper letters are more effective than email. Telephone contacts might be more effective than paper letters and might lead to an opportunity to meet with a staff member.

What should we say? Ask Senators to find a way to 30 Republican and 30 Democratic Senate votes for major legislation. Ask Representatives to find a way to 109 Republican and 109 Democratic votes in the House.

For anywhere in the country, here's how to contact Federal elected officials.


Here's a sample to a Democratic Senator; surely you can do better. Adjust as necessary for a Republican.


Senator ...
United States Senate
... Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510 Dear Senator ...:

Many important issues have to be decided early in 2018. I urge you to support efforts for good government and bipartisanship to produce thoughtful legislation that all members of Congress can be proud of in years to come... unlike the tax bill passed in December.

For good government, vote YES on continuing resolutions on the budget and debt ceiling increases that have no additional provisions, and NO on continuing resolution and debt ceiling increases that have additional provisions. Keeping the government open and paying already-incurred debts are what you would expect of any responsible organization. Threatening shutdowns or defaults is bad government when Republicans do it and bad government when Democrats do it.

For everything else... surely there are 30 Republican and 30 Democratic Senate votes for sensible bipartisan problem-solving legislation. 60 votes mean the arcane requirements of reconciliation don't come into play and the Senate Parliamentarian doesn't need to weigh in. Bipartisan means compromise: both sides give on something less important in order to get something more important. The goal is to get both parties to take ownership of the result and defend it in the next primary season from no-compromise extremists in both parties.

So on major legislation, the Democratic caucus should adopt the attitude of 30 or none: if the Republicans can't attract 30 votes from the Democratic caucus for a proposal, then no member of the Democratic caucus should vote for it. The President and White House are usually problems rather than solutions, but if they propose a good idea, Democrats should evaluate it on its merits rather than its source. Generally, though, problem-solving Democratic senators should negotiate directly with problem-solving Republican senators. And because the simple-majority dynamic in the House is different from the Senate, major legislation negotiation really has to be bicameral as well as bipartisan from the outset, in order to have any hope of success.

That could include revenue-neutral bipartisan measures for

and many more.

Here's a sample to a Democratic Representative.



Congressmember ...
... Cannon Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515 Dear Congressmember ...:

Many important issues have to be decided early in 2018. I urge you to support efforts for good government and bipartisanship to produce thoughtful legislation that all members of Congress can be proud of in years to come... unlike the tax bill passed in December.

For good government, vote YES on continuing resolutions on the budget and debt ceiling increases that have no additional provisions, and NO on continuing resolution and debt ceiling increases that have additional provisions. Keeping the government open and paying already-incurred debts are what you would expect of any responsible organization. Threatening shutdowns or defaults is bad government when Republicans do it and bad government when Democrats do it.

For everything else... surely there are enough votes for sensible bipartisan problem-solving legislation. Bipartisan means substantive compromise: both sides give on something less important in order to get something more important. The goal is to get both parties to take ownership of the result and defend it in the next primary season from no-compromise extremists in both parties.

So on major legislation, the Democratic caucus should adopt the attitude of 109 or none: if the Republicans can't attract 109 votes from the Democratic caucus for a proposal, then no member of the Democratic caucus should vote for it. The President and White House are usually problems rather than solutions, but if they propose a good idea, Democrats should evaluate it on its merits rather than its source. Generally, though, problem-solving Democratic representatives should negotiate directly with problem-solving Republican representatives. And because the simple-majority dynamic in the House is different from the Senate, major legislation negotiation really has to be bicameral as well as bipartisan from the outset, in order to have any hope of success.

That could include revenue-neutral bipartisan measures for

and many more.

Links to elected officials and bipartisan advocacy:

PAYGO: Republican Congressional leadership planned for Trump to sign the tax bill early in January, rather than late in December, to avoid triggering something called PAYGO in 2018 before elections, rather than afterward in 2019. But Trump had promised to sign a tax bill before Christmas, so he did. Congressional Democrats apparently went along with a continuing resolution that waived PAYGO with respect to the tax bill. Trump signed the continuing resolution the same day as the tax bill. I wonder if the Democrats threw away a potential point of leverage there. Don't vote for continuing resolutions with other matters tacked on!

What's PAYGO?


The Big Picture

Why is the United States Congress paralyzed by partisanship? Several factors are important:


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