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I served in the US Navy from 2002-08; four of those years were as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier. I engage in political activism in various Democratic circles when I am able to. I have a cat, and I am an uncle.

All opinions that I express are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

AND THERE IS THE PROBLEM





As I pointed out in a previous post, the Senate passed the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) by a 64-32 vote on Thursday. The entire Democratic caucus present in the Senate voted in favor along with 10 Republicans.

The 10 Republicans that voted in favor: Kelly Ayotte (NH), Susan Collins (ME), Jeff Flake (AZ), Orrin Hatch (UT), Dean Heller (NV), Mark Kirk (IL), John McCain (AZ), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), and Pat Toomey (PA).

Yes, both Senators from Arizona voted in favor of passing ENDA. This ENDA vote ALMOST makes up for John McCain's no vote on repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Key word is ALMOST.

Orrin Hatch from Utah voted in favor of ENDA. So did Mark Kirk and Pat Toomey who were elected as part of the Tea Party wave in 2010.

To no one's surprise, Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz from Texas voted no. Remember folks, Cornyn is up for re-election in November 2014. Cruz is up for election in November 2018, but might have presidential aspirations for the-election-we're-not-allowed-to-discuss-yet 2016. I am looking forward to voting against my senators who do not represent the shared interests of my friends, family members, and me.

But to the topic at hand: ENDA and the larger picture.

ENDA's roots start as far back as the 1970s when Rep. Bella Abzug (D, NY) introduced the Equality Act of 1974 which banned discrimination against lesbians, gay men, unmarried persons, and women in housing, employments, and public accommodations. A year later in 1975, Abzug introduced the Civil Rights Amendment of 1975 which would have added "affectional or sexual preference" to existing civil rights legislation. Prior to being mayor of New York City and a judge on The People's Court, Ed Koch was a congress member and in 1977 took the helm on pushing for a federal nondiscrimination ordinance.

The 1990s saw the modern formation of what we know as ENDA. As pointed out by the TransGriot's Ms. Monica Roberts, the transgender community began to heavily lobby Congress in this time period to include their interests in this legislation. In 1996, ENDA received consideration by the US Senate which was controlled by Republicans. The vote failed.


42 Democrats and 7 Republicans voted in favor of the legislation. 46 Republicans and 4 Democrats voted against the legislation.

One of those senators not voting was Arkansas Democrat David Pryor. He was back in The Natural State attending to his son who was undergoing cancer surgery. That son, Mark Pryor, is an Arkansas Senator from the same party as his father and voted in favor of the 2013 edition of ENDA. It is one of those instances where situations have a way of working itself out in the end.

If the Senate was split 50-50, it might have passed with Vice-President Al Gore casting the tie-breaking vote in his role as President of the Senate.

Since then ENDA has been introduced to every congress with the exception of the 109th Congress which was controlled by the Republicans in both chambers during the first half of President George W. Bush's second term as president of the United States.

In November 2006, Democrats regained control of both chambers of Congress primarily on the unpopularity of the Iraq War and President Bush's mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts in the city state of Louisiana 14 months earlier. With the Democrats in control of the 110th Congress, it was looking like ENDA could have a chance of passing both chambers.

What followed was political gamesmanship in Washington, DC over the next 4 congresses and two Presidential administrations covering the last half of George W. Bush's second term and throughout the Barack Obama presidency .

Starting with the 110th in the House, Then-Representative Barney Frank (D, MA) proposed an ENDA without transgender inclusive language on the argument that the bill couldn't pass Congress with such language and proposed a separate bill addressing gender identity. Frank received backlash for this strategy when in October 2007 the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force drafted a letter signed by 282 various organizations across the country stating that ENDA must include the language protecting transgender workers thus referring it as the Untied ENDA.

Then-Representative Tammy Baldwin (D, WI) proposed restoring the gender identity protections to the original language after the bill passed committee but withdrew the amendment. In November 2007, Frank's version of ENDA passed the House 235-184. Even though the Senate was in Democratic control due to the two Independent Senators caucusing with them resulting in a 51-49 advantage, it was likely that it would not pass because President George W. Bush signified that he would veto ENDA if it appeared on his desk.

Even though Barack Obama was elected president in November 2008 along with a Democratic House and the Democrats increasing their majority in the Senate and despite ENDA legislation receiving the same level of support as it did in the 110th Congress, it stalled in part due to the worsening economic conditions caused by the previous administration and the Obama White House pursing health care reform.

Also, Republicans in the Senate pursued a strategy to "filibuster" anything proposed by the Obama administration. Yes, Democrats did hold a filibuster proof Senate during the 111th Congress, but at best it was a time period that lasted from 7 July 2009 to 25 August 2009 and then from 25 September 2009 to 4 February 2010.

Then came the 2010 elections and Republicans regaining control of the House after the midterm shellacking of Democrats.

ENDA still received support in congress with Then-Rep. Barney Frank (D, MA) and Senator Jeff Merkley (D, OR) as the lead sponsors in each chamber but died in committees in the 112th Congress.

The 2012 election kept the status quo intact: President Obama was re-elected, Democrats controlled the Senate, and Republicans were still in the majority in the House. This time the mantel of ENDA in the House was taken up Rep. Jared Polis (D, CO-2) with the retirement of Barney Frank. Both the House and Senate versions in the 113th Congress contain the gender identity language.

In July 2013, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions successfully passed ENDA 15-7 to move it to the Senate floor. All Democrats on the committee and three Republicans (Murkowski, Kirk, and Hatch) voted in favor of moving it out of committee. Then came the historic vote on Thursday afternoon.

So... will ENDA FINALLY get passed after nearly 40 years of legislative limbo and the political stars unable to line up for this legislation to pass?

Probably not.

And it is because of one man.


Through a spokesperson, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R, OH-8) says he is not in favor of ENDA and it will not see a vote on the House floor in this congress.

In this interview on MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports, Senator Tammy Baldwin calls for the House Speaker to put it up for a vote.

The Senate is giving the Republican-led House an opportunity to show that Republicans are willing to moderate on their social positions and give them a chance to remain competitive in future elections. The ENDA vote in the Senate only needed 51 votes because it passed cloture. It received 64 votes, the same number of votes it had for cloture. Of the 10 Republicans voting in favor of the legislation, three have stated their support for equal marriage (Murkowski, Portman, and Kirk). Senators Kirk and Portman represent states than went for Obama in the 2012 Presidential Election, Illinois and Ohio respectfully. Of these three, Senator Murkowski represents a state that supported Romney with 54.8% of the vote in 2012 and with an Alaskan on the ticket in 2008, voted for McCain with nearly 60% of the vote.

In 2010, Murkowski lost the primary election for her Senate race to Palin-backed candidate Joe Miller. The response was to launch a write-in campaign to keep her seat. She won re-election by over 10,000 votes and became the first write-in candidate since Strom Thurmond did in 1954. Since that election, Murkowski appears to be more moderate than her Senate colleagues. Last June, Senator Murkowski authored this piece to the Alaska Dispatch stating her support for equal marriage stating: "If there is one belief that unifies most Alaskans – our true north – it is less government and more freedom.  We don’t want the government in our pockets or our bedrooms; we certainly don’t need it in our families."

These three Republican senators recognize that if they are to have job security (meaning: getting re-elected in 2016 which is important for Portman and Kirk coming from Blue States) they need to stop fighting the culture wars of the past or face impending doom in future elections. Murkowski might be facing a different battle from the right flank of her party, but she survived one in 2010.

Even though 10 Republicans supported passing ENDA in the Senate, the rest of the party appears to be unmoved in getting it passed in the House.

It is not just ENDA that faces this hurdle. Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), a jobs bill, or any kind of bill required for a functioning government has to get through the Republican-controlled House and since taking control in January 2011, they have had three goals:

1. Sabotage the economy so that Barack Obama is denied a second term.
2. Vote to repeal ObamaCare
3. Shutdown the government

Well... goal number 1 failed spectacularly one year ago. And so far the House has voted to repeal ObamaCare over 40 times. And then there was the government shutdown of October 2013 which the voting public places the blame squarely on Republicans.

We are in the third year of the House being controlled by Republicans and so far it has resulted in the least amount of legislation being signed into law. The famous "Do-Nothing" 80th Congress got more done in their two year period than the 112th and 113th Congresses combined.

I think the American people are finally getting wise to what Republicans are up to. If they were interested in governing, they would at least cooperate with the Senate in order to get something done. Instead, Speaker Boehner is refusing to get things done. He is already a weak speaker when he allowed the Tea Party to walk over him which led to the government shutdown last month.

As I have alluded to in other writings (such as in "Night And Day", "It's All For Show Folks", and "On The Verge") , ENDA and CIR are life preservers for the Republican Party. So far Democrats have passed bills from the Senate with some Republican support. Instead the House is refusing them and will be drowned in electoral defeat because of demographic shifts when it comes to LGBT issues and stances on immigration reform.

While I am pleased that the Senate made history with passing ENDA for the first time ever, it is important to know that there is a problem with how our government is functioning.

The solution to the problem?

This person needs to be Speaker of The House in January 2015.

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