November 22, 2013

Manchin breaks with party on Fed, filibuster votes | Charleston Gazette

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin broke ranks with Democrats on two high-profile bills Thursday, voting to preserve the minority party’s ability to filibuster presidential nominees in the Senate and voting against Janet Yellen, President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the Federal Reserve.

Both votes were in vain, as Yellen advanced through the Senate Banking Committee, 148, and the Senate voted 52-48 to end the use of filibusters on all presidential appointments, oth­
er than nominees to the Supreme Court.

Manchin was the only Democrat on the Banking Committee to vote against Yellen. Three Republicans voted for her nomination. Yellen is likely to be confirmed by the full Senate.

In a statement, Manchin said that he could not vote for Yellen because of her support of quantitative easing — the Fed’s program of buying large amounts of Treasury securities to lower real interest rates and, hopefully, increase lending. “Since 2010, the Fed has pumped tens of billions of dollars into the economy every single month,” Manchin said in a written statement. “Unfortunately, during my conversation with Dr. Yellen and during her testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, Dr. Yellen never mentioned a limit nor a desire to back off these policies.”

The Federal Reserve’s normal mechanism for boosting the economy is to cut interest rates, but the interest rates it directly controls have been at zero since December 2008.

Since unemployment is still high and inflation is below the Fed’s stated target rate of 2 percent, the Fed has used quantitative easing as one of its strategies to stimulate the economy.

Manchin also said that current Fed policy will allow Congress to increase debt and deficits.

In her confirmation hearing on Nov. 14, Yellen said that recent near-term reductions in federal spending— the federal deficit for fiscal 2013 was less than half of what it was in 2009 — had “detracted from the momentum of the economy and demand.”

She said that deficit reduction should “focus on achieving gains in the medium-term horizon while not subtracting from the impetus that we need to keep a fragile recovery moving forward.”

Also Thursday, Manchin was one of three Democratic senators who voted with every Republican to preserve Senate filibusters on federal judges and other executive appointments, including cabinet secretaries.

Because they failed, nominees will now be approved with a simple majority vote.

In the past few weeks, Republicans have repeatedly used the filibuster to block Obama’s three nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Despite that court’s three openings, Republicans have said that they would not allow Obama to make any appointments to it, saying the court did not have a heavy enough caseload to warrant its full slate of 11 judges.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is often called the second most important court in the country. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas all previously served on that court.

In past years both parties have threatened to do away with filibusters on presidential nominees, but have backed down when compromises were struck at the last minute.

In 2005, when majority Republican senators threatened to end the filibuster, a compromise was struck which led to five of President George W. Bush’s judicial appointments being confirmed.

Manchin said that he proposed creating two standards for nominees, but was rejected by Democratic leadership. He would have done away with the filibuster for cabinet secretaries and other nominees whose terms expire with the president, but kept the filibuster for judicial nominees who have lifetime appointments, including those for the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Manchin said that doing away with the filibuster on presidential nominees, the so-called “nuclear option,” went too far.

“I was willing to support modest changes to make the system more efficient, but my proposal was rejected,” he said in a written statement. “I voted against the rules changes today because they simply went too far. I firmly believe that the filibuster is a vital protection of the minority views.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller voted with all but three Democrats to end the filibusters, because he said Republicans were blocking nominees purely for political reasons.

“While I have no issue with a senator opposing a nominee on substantive grounds, it is when a senator votes again and again against a qualified nominee — or nominees — purely for political reasons that we must change,” Rockefeller said in a written statement. “The Senate has been stuck in this escalating pattern of obstruction for too long, holding back presidential appointments for months and in some cases years.”

Immediately after the filibuster vote, the Senate voted 55-43 to end debate on the judicial nomination of Patricia Millett, a Washington lawyer who has worked for both Democrats and Republicans. Manchin and Rockefeller both voted to move forward Millett’s nomination, which had previously been blocked by a Republican filibuster.

By:  David Gutman