A spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk said the state's junior senator is still undecided
on a potential vote to repeal the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
policy, and that he opposes calling a vote on the bill before a federal
spending bill is approved. The House voted yesterday to pass a stand-alone repeal, which now awaits action in the Senate. Last week, Kirk joined Republicans in filibustering
a defense authorization bill that contained a repeal of the policy.
Republican Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Scott Brown (MA), Olumpia Snow
(ME), and Lisa Murkowski (AK) have vowed to support the stand-alone measure.
Former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias talked
frequently about the importance of reforming the rules of the U.S.
Senate to rein in the increasing and ahistorical use of the
filibuster threat. It's too bad he's not serving in the world's most
deliberative body this month.
The Hill is reporting
that some Democrats are planning to make a push in the coming days to alter procedures in the upper chamber that would effectively lower the
60-vote bar necessary to end debate on legislation. They are being
buoyed by a coalition of progressive groups (including SEIU, whose
Illinois State Council sponsors this website), which outlined eight principles that would "[put] an end to the needless obstruction that threatens the vibrancy of our democracy."
The odds of reform are still long. The best (and perhaps only) shot advocates have is to invoke what's known as the "Constitutional Option" on the first day of the new Congress. (This would only require 51 votes for passage.) U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is on board. Newly-elected U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk? Not so much.
The Thomson Correctional Center in rural Northwest Illinois is back in the news.
those who haven't followed this story, here's a brief recap. Late last
year, the White House announced that the near-empty 1,600 bed facility
was a potential candidate to house terrorism suspects from the
Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba. This caused a collective
freak-out among local Republicans, who unleashed a barrage of unhinged
attacks on Gov. Pat Quinn and the White House for even considering
moving "Jihadists" onto our soil. (Few were much interested in the due
process rights of those detainees.)
The Obama administration's Justice
Department changed course this past March, alerting the state of its
intent to purchase Thomson, regardless of whether Congress decided to
allow the transfer of Gitmo inmates. (Since then, lawmakers explicitly
barred the feds from doing so.) Earlier this week, the state made clear
it was putting the prison up for auction on December 21. Although the
state can't legally sell Thomson for under $219.9 million, the U.S.
House only appropriated $95 million in next year's budget to cover the cost. The White House wants its bid figure increased in the U.S. Senate.
AFSCME Council 31, which represents Illinois prison guards, says the low-ball is another indication that Illinois should keep hold of its asset and use the space to relieve prison crowding in its penitentiary system. The governor, according to the Sun-Times,
has "ruled out making use of the prison for state inmates." While
short-term fixes like the option AFSCME offers are logical, we'd like to see the
state pursue forward-thinking criminal justice reforms that will reduce
Illinois' surging prison population once and for all. Re-instituting the "Meritorious Good Time" early release program is a good place to start.
When U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk was sworn into the U.S. Senate last month,
he promised his new constituents that he would support common-sense
bipartisan legislation in Washington. He's not off to a very good start.
As some anticipated, U.S. House Democrats are balking at a proposed
tax cut deal negotiated by the White House and Republicans on the Hill.
This morning, some members of the Democratic caucus blocked a vote
on the package, which would extend temporarily emergency unemployment
insurance and the Bush-era tax cuts for all earners, among other
House Dems are frustrated with how well the nation's rich make out under the current accord. They are particularly angry
with changes to the estate tax law, which they consider far too
generous for the wealthiest households in America (and they are right).
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky is one progressive who is working hard to make
the deal better for average people. On PBS' Charlie Rose last night, she reminded viewers that income inequality is a "threat to our democracy" and that this deal exacerbates that problem. Watch it: (Here's the full appearance):
Still, there's a lot of urgency to get some type of deal passed. The tax cuts will expire on
December 31 for everyone along the income scale unless Congress approves an extension. Unemployment insurance, as we know, already lapsed. By
February, some 241,000 workers in Illinois are scheduled to exhaust
their benefits if no additional relief is provided. And the bill, as
ugly as it is, would provide some fiscal stimulus to an economy that's not chugging along at full strength.
Tim Fernholz outlined four ways the party could improve the package here.
With polls showing the American people want the Bush-era tax cuts for the richest Americans to expire, progressives around the country are bemoaning President Obama's "compromise" with congressional Republicans to extend the breaks for the rich for two years. Illinois Democrats have joined the chorus of disappointed liberals.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), who is becoming a leading progressive voice on budget issues, cautioned on MSNBC that "I think there is still some negotiating to be done and still get it done by the end of this lame-duck session." Watch the interview here:
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (IL-7) said he would vote no on the plan as is because he doesn't "think it does enough for the poor" or "the middle class." And U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL-4), who is currently fighting to get the DREAM Act passed, spoke to WLS' Don Wade and Roma about the tax plan this morning: "I think if you really begin to look at it, you've got to ask yourself, 'Why is it that early on in this process, we are saying to the country and the legislative body, that we're going to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax write-offs to 2 percent of our wage earners -- and just so we're clear, 80 percent of whom make over $1 million -- while we have two wars going on?'" Listen to his comments here.
The president's plan garnered slightly more support from Democratic leaders downstate. A spokesperson for recently defeated U.S. Rep. Phil Hare (IL-17) said the importance of extending unemployment insurance for 13 months means he will have to give the deal "serious consideration." And some progressive writers and economists have said that while the deal is imperfect, it "is not the end of the world either." Still, if he expects the current plan to pass, Obama is going to have to quickly shift from luring Republican support to simply keeping his party by his side.
The economy is still scuffling along, according to the latest jobs report released
today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Absent additional stimulus from Congress, the national unemployment rate crept back up to
9.8 percent last month. When part-time employees and folks who have
given up looking for a job are included in that total, the rate is more
like 17 percent. And the United States is now registering some of the highest levels of long-term unemployment in its history.
downtown Chicago today, allies of Chicago Jobs With Justice rallied for
more federal action to boost job growth and protect unemployed workers. Roberta Wood, who works at a community center here, called Congress' inaction "unconscionable." Watch:
Encouragingly, the White House is jumping
into the debate over insurance. President Obama’s Council of Economic
Advisers released a report yesterday that estimated the economy would
lose 600,000 jobs (because of a drop in consumption) if emergency
benefits weren't extended through 2011. The president then said that any
deal to extend tax cuts to the richest Americans must include
funding for additional unemployment assistance. By the end of the year,
roughly 127,000 Illinoisans will hit their unemployment benefit limit.
Yesterday's deadline to extend emergency unemployment benefits for jobless Americans has come and gone. When U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) blocked consideration of a one-year reauthorization in Washington yesterday, it marked the first time ever that Congress failed to provide short-term federal relief to workers while unemployment was above 7 percent. By the end of December, an estimated 127,000 people in Illinois and 2 million nationwide will exhaust their insurance. (Progress Illinois' Micah Maidenberg went on WGN Radio this morning to discuss the politics of unemployment. Listen to the whole interview here.)
But as the Associated Pressreported, it's not just the millions of unemployed who lose out when the benefits aren't extended. The AP noted that without an extension, economic growth would slow, more people would lose their jobs, and hundreds of thousands would fall into poverty. Indeed, a recent study from the Department of Labor found that unemployment insurance averted 1.8 million job
losses at the height of the Great Recession.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security says the effects are already being felt in the Prairie State. According to the department, there are almost 390,000 people in the state collecting benefits -- an average of $313 a week. With the weakest economy in decades and so many looking for help, it's hard to understand the logic of cutting this necessary safety net.