Friday, February 19, 2010

Call It What You Want, But Kill It

Old school Senators might call it Rule 22. More recently it's been referred to as the the need for a 'Supermajority'. However it's more common name is the Filibuster. Put simply, the Filibuster is a Senate procedural rule whereby the minority can use various procedures to draw out, delay and obstruct a piece of legislation, ideally to the point of stopping it.  There is a good article on it on Wikipedia, it's a bit dry, but interesting.

Initially this rule required the opposition to basically takeover the floor of the Senate with speeches and whatnot in a constant stream of noise, thus preventing any other legislation from being discussed, functionally shutting down the Senate until either they ran out of steam or the other side caved. Then in the 1960s a Two Track system was devised that, with unanimous consent or agreement between the Majority and Minority leaders, a Filibustered bill could be set aside to deal with other pressing matters, so the Senate would not be completely stopped, though that particular bill would be in stasis. This didn't prevent the 1964 Civil Rights Act from being Filibustered for 75 hours, including a 14 hr 13 min address by Senator Robert Byrd. At least this type of process requires everyone to stay on the job and it became an endurance test to see if the minority could hold the floor 24/7. But it's been simplified recently to allow the minority leader to simply tell the majority leader that they intend to Filibuster and all discussion stops until or unless the majority can find 60 votes to override it. A questionable change, to be sure.

Now I can see how this option is a useful tool for the minority when they feel a specific piece of legislation is a really bad idea and therefore they have to take extraordinary steps in an attempt to stop it or at least delay as long as possible to try and change a few key votes. By and large this is how the Filibuster was used for much of its history. Until recently anyway. Use of the Filibuster began to rise throughout the 20th century, but it wasn't till the 1990's that it began to edge into the sphere of abuse. Yet it didn't reach the current level of pathetic stupidity till the Republicans began losing control of Congress in 2006. The current session of Congress has already more than doubled the use of this Senate rule . . . and this session is not over yet!

What it all boils down to is that the Republican party was scared silly after the 2008 elections. They were terrified that Obama and the Democrats, who were voted into power by a comfortable margin, might actually accomplish something and continue to gain popularity. So they took a rule designed for special use and began applying it in virtually every single debate. Even going to the extreme of using it to stop legislation from simply coming to the floor for discussion! It's hard for me to imagine many instances for legitimately obstructing the mere discussion of a proposal. Yet this is where we find ourselves today. A forty one vote minority in the Senate , forty until last month, has decided that it is politically vital that no Obama supported proposals pass. Period. Call me a radical, but that is not a good enough reason to bring the Senate, and by extension Congress as a whole, to a complete halt. It is not an exaggeration to say that this has never happened in the history of the Senate. Individual bills here and there, yes. Throwing roadblocks up for just about every major bill for over a year and still counting? Never.

If you were reading carefully you will have noted the use of the word 'Rule'. That's because the Filibuster is not a Constitutional Senatorial structure, but rather a rule created by the Senate itself. Therefore it can be changed by the Senate and indeed has been modified a number of times throughout its history. Now is another one of those times. The Filibuster was never meant to allow the minority to bring Congress to a halt each time a bill was introduced. It was a special use option, not a standard procedure. The only thing that makes it even possible now is the absolute, lock-step voting block that is the GOP. The Senate Republicans have managed to lock up every single GOP vote, for almost every single piece of legislation. And they vote 'No' with that block on anything that President Obama supports. It is unheard of for a single party to hold together like this on vote after vote and issue after issue. It is stupid and it is illogical. Are we to believe that every single piece of legislation that Obama supports is bad? Really? Even under Bush, some Dems voted for Republican bills and vice versa. It is not believable that ALL Republican Senators agree on every single issue. It is obviously political gamesmanship of the most dishonorable sort. This has become more obvious as Senator after Senator is being caught vocally shouting down ideas that they, themselves supported only a short time before. One of my favorites is the so called 'PayGo' legislation. It declares that Congress cannot enact legislation without also including a way to pay for it. It's an idea that will shock many. Not because of the bill itself, but from the realization that this isn't standard procedure! Guess that would explain the ballooning deficit since this practice was stopped during G.W. Bush's tenure. In fact, this was a major part of what gave us budget surpluses during the tail end of the Clinton administration. PayGo is the kind of idea that should send a sensual thrill through anyone who calls themselves a Fiscal Conservative. In fact, many Republicans have spoken out in support the idea in the recent past. Or they did before Obama lent it his support. Shortly thereafter, GOP support vanished like a lobbyist at a press conference.

It can only be assumed that the GOP feels the success of their party in the 2010 mid-term elections is far more important than minor things like uninsured Americans or debt reduction. Oh, they talk about these things, incessantly, But they just don't do anything about them. If they did, they would have to engage the Dems and the Administration in actual . . . (gulp) dialog. Then they would be open to attack from the ignorantly conservatives out there who have convinced themselves that if Obama likes it, then it must be (gasp!) Socialism!!! The GOP made this particular bed with meticulously crafted hospital corners and now they can't get out of bed at all. If they do their jobs and work with the Administration, they anger their base, hence the perpetual Senate Fillibuster. So we are left with a significant, though still minority portion, of our legislature that has taken to misusing the tools at its disposal for transparently political reasons. Much like a child using a jackhammer to hang a picture. And like that child, it's past time to take that tool away from them before they cause any more damage. They've abused it beyond any rational point, so it's time to revoke it and move on. Someone has to govern in a time of war and economic hardship and if the GOP is unwilling to do so, then Obama and the Democrats will have to do it without them. To do that, the Filibuster MUST DIE.

Write your Senators and let them know how you feel. Tell the Republicans that it's time to do the job they were hired for and tell the Democrats to stop wasting time and remove the one tool Republicans have continually used to jam the machinery of government.

1 comment:

  1. After being super-attentive and activated (by my disgust with Cheney(Bush) and their distructive, incurious, and arragant regime) in the run-up to the '08 election, I distanced myself from politics. I saw the guy I mostly agreed with elected, and I gladly decided I wasn't going to follow every policy discussion--just let them do what they said they'd do was my attitude, and I'll check in occasionally. This attitude grew from my sense that we'd turned a corner and that most Americans genuinely wanted some things like a reformed health care. Not so, apparently. People merely wanted the former bastards out. And now after a year, they want the current bastards out, so that the new "reformers" can take over and cut taxes, send home the pork, and rant about those dirty immigrants. All a cycle of inaction and selfishness. I'm finding it hard to stomach any of what goes on in Washington -- on both sides. Obama is a good man who really never even meant to be revolutionary. At least I'm not ashamed of him. And I still agree with most of what he wants to do (but probably can't). The fillibuster ensures nothing revolutionary passes, because we can't have frequent chaos as a rule. It also ensures the inevitability of the status quo. Best Obama can hope for is to point to the healing economy (when it heals) and turn the country over to the next smiling figurehead. I'm glad you're on the job--keep up the passion and eloquence.


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