Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Problem with the Senate

There are 435 Representatives in the House of Representatives. Each represents a district rather than a whole state as do Senators. Representatives, if not retiring, must run for reelection every two years. When elected, Senators serve six-year terms. So some of the dynamics and pressures that Senators react to are different than their House colleagues. They have more time to think about things without worry about fund raising non-stop. The Senate is called the "deliberative body". In the abstract, they have more time to ponder. However, in reality they must absorb and deal with everything the 435 Representatives cover. There are only 100 Senators, about 1/4 the person power the House has. That creates three problems for the likes of us.

First, Senators focus on what they think it is important to them and only WHEN they think it is important. Second, staff guard Senators' time as if it were the gold in Fort Knox. So you only get to a Senator if the Senator wants to see you. Third, staff have tremendous power because they influence what a Senators sees and does. The net effect of these parameters is that any issue, any constituency, is lucky if it has one champion for its cause. Senators as a practical matter divide things up. They just don't have the time to be well-versed and champions of too many causes or experts on too many issues.

So here we are with little time left. Senator Harkin is our champion and he's retiring. If we want a vote on the CRPD, he's the one expected to convince Majority Leader Reid to schedule a floor vote without unrealistic conditions (i.e., a guarantee of 67 votes if a floor vote were scheduled). That's a heavy load. But, other Senators think it's Senator Harkin's job. They have their own priorities.

Well, at this point I think the only way Senator Reid will schedule a floor vote without conditions would be if tons of Senators, who support ratification of the CRPD, ask Reid for a floor vote. Making that happen is EVERY Senator's business, not just Harkin's. They all have a vested interest in disability rights, the U.S. standing and credibility in international circles, and what a major, diverse, constituency block has been advocating for, for a long time.

So, over the next 10 days ask every Senator to talk to Reid. If you do we may be able to do what needs to be done -- join the 150 nations that have ratified the CRPD.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Friday, October 24, 2014

CRPD: Whoever Heard of a Guaranteed Vote?

When the CRPD came up for a vote on December 4, 2012, Majority Leader Harry Reid thought he had the votes. Former Majority Leader Bob Dole was on the floor of the Senate, using a wheelchair, and had received assurances from several of his friends that they would vote for the treaty. The vote was 61 to 38. Those for the treaty fell short by six.

All people who have talk to Senator Reid or his staff have said that he will not bring the treaty up again for a vote until he has a guarantee of 67 votes for it. That's the number you need at a minimum to pass an international treaty.

A vote is sacred. Especially on polarized issues on which the feelings are strong. With such issues elected officials tend to keep the way they plan to vote between the themselves and God and even then they could change their minds. That's the way it is. In all honesty there was no way we can guarantee Senator Reid 67 votes even if we wanted to.

There are probably some Senators in both parties that wish a vote on the CRPD would just go away. They don't want it. They don't need it. Senator Reid is doing them a favor by setting the bar for a vote so high.

Well, whether the Democrats retain or lose control of the Senate on November 4, 2014 we need a vote on the CRPD sometime between November 12th and when the Congress closes down for Christmas. We need to know how each Senator feels about the CRPD, and what he/she has to say about it. For us a vote on the CRPD is a special vote. What Senators say about the CRPD before the vote is important to us. When Senator Harkin retires from the Senate this year we will be looking for new members to partner with us and champion disability issues that come before the Senate in the future.

However the vote on the CRPD would go, I think political strategists on all sides will be able to find a spin to suit a particular agenda. Their agenda Is not our agenda. Our agenda is to strengthen the position of the U.S. in the area of disability rights around the world and identify potential partners on disability issues in the Senate.

In a little over a week we will be voting. In the meantime gets some FaceTime with your Senators.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

CRPD: Don't Miss an Opportunity to Connect "Live" with Senators

There are 14 days until election day on November 4, 2014. Anyone who's tried to schedule a meeting directly with a Senator realizes that it's no easy task. Meetings with many interest groups are relegated to staff only. The circumstances are different if you're a big supporter, a close friend, a witness in a hearing, or a donor at a fund raiser. Granted, a Senator's time is precious, more valuable than gold, therefore, they have to have effective gatekeepers and be good delegators. So how do you get to them? The answer is as plain as the nose on your face. You get to them back home at a public event. At these events you can ask them questions, tell them what's on your mind, and ask them for their support for something. Gatekeepers have only partial control and everyone hears and sees how they respond to you.The situation is perfect. So folks it's time to get off our derrières, find those guys, and talk to them before they return to Washington D.C.

Now we have real leverage and access before we vote. If each of us would just make one attempt to say something to a senator between now and election day, think about the impact that would have!

Last night Senator Bob Dole was on the News Hour with Judy Woodruff (CRPD discussion begins at 4:00 minutes She asked him at one point if he thought the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) would be voted on by the Senate. He said that it could come up for a vote when the Senate returns on November 12th and before it leaves for Christmas, which will be the end of the current Congress. If the CRPD does not pass by then, we have to start over. In addition, the pundits project that Republicans will take control of the Senate in January 2015. If that happens our task will be even more challenging.

If you have been reading this blog or have visited, you know what to say to a Senator when you encounter him at a public event within the next two weeks. Those of you who live in states where the Senate races are very, very tight have incredible leverage. In these races the margin of error is around three points. In these races the differences in polling numbers between candidates are often under three points. That means that the race could go either way. That means one conversation with you about the CRPD could be a deciding factor in who returns to the Senate or who enters the Senate for the first time. Think about it. Then, if you really care about disability rights, find a Senator and talk to him. If two people do this it looks pitiful. If we each do it, it projects real power. A choice like this should be a no-brainer.

Common Grounder