Saturday, January 9, 2010

Democrats Look to Scrap Filibuster in Senate

As they say: "It's come to this"?

From Janet Hook, at the Los Angeles Times, "
Some Democrats Want to Modify Filibuster Rules":
The Senate filibuster has emerged as the bane of President Obama's legislative agenda, igniting anger among liberals over a tactic that is now hogtying Congress even on noncontroversial bills.

The threat of filibusters has become so common that congressional leaders take it for granted that any bill of consequence will not pass the 100-member Senate with a simple majority of 51. Instead, 60 votes -- the number needed to cut off the interminable speeches of a filibuster -- has become the minimum required.

Frustration has intensified in the wake of Senate Republicans' no-holds-barred effort to block the healthcare bill, which forced Democrats to scrounge for 60 votes at every legislative turn to prevent a filibuster.

Now, facing the prospect of losing seats in this fall's midterm elections, some Democrats are seeking to change the rules.

While Democrats have large majorities in the House and Senate, the 60-vote threshold for action in the Senate has become a powerful curb on the scope of the Obama agenda. To prevail over united Republicans, all 58 Democrats, including a small but influential faction of conservatives, have to stick together, along with the Senate's two independents.

The Democrats' vulnerability will be even greater given the announcements of Sens. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) that they will not run for reelection this year.

The demands of hitting that 60-vote bar have dashed liberal hopes of including in the healthcare bill a new government insurance option to compete with private companies. Earlier last year, filibuster threats from Republicans and conservative Democrats effectively forced Obama to accept a smaller economic stimulus bill than many Democrats wanted. Obama's Senate allies have been hard-pressed to round up 60 votes for a major initiative to address global warming.

It is the Senate's own rules, not the Constitution, that set 60 votes as the benchmark for cutting off debate. Sen. Tom Harkin (D- Iowa), chairman of the Senate health committee, argues that current rules have made it too hard for Democrats to exercise the mandate they received from the voters in 2008.

"Elections should have consequences," Harkin said in a recent letter to his colleagues urging a change in filibuster rules. "Even when a party loses, it too easily can prevent the majority elected to govern from legislating."
Classic.

If you don't have electoral and popular support for your policies, obfuscate, obstruct, obscure, overrule, override, and re-organize. Dems know that 2010's going to be a bitch, so they'll ram home their ObamaCare monstrosity any which way, and damn the people.

And Hook's absolutely right about the party's "liberal" base, well, all except that they're socialist, not "liberal." Folks like Ezra Klein and Matthew Yglesias have been beating the drums on the filibuster for months. Much of their commentary has been among the more outrageous things I've ever seen on domestic policy: That Joe Lieberman wanted
hundreds of thousands to die rather than pass the public option? Or that Republican resistance to Democratic socialism was tantamount to murder? I mean seriously.

At one point I wrote, "
Keep the Filibuster; or, Matthew Yglesias Needs to Respect Minority Rights" (with a scholarly take on protecting against majority tyranny). And when Ezra Klein interviewed congressional expert Barbara Sinclair of UCLA on the filibuster, he found a sympathetic voice for changing the rules. As quoted below, Sinclair, who has written books on the U.S. Senate, responds to two questions on the rise of the filibuster, and prospects for "reform":
So part of it is polarization, but part of it, you're saying, was a strategic realization that the American people do not reward the majority if it fails to deliver on its promises, and the minority recognized it had the power to keep the majority from delivering on its promises.

That's right, and we're seeing the result. It seems pretty clear that at some point early in this Congress, the Republicans really did decide their best approach was to bring Obama and the Democrats down. It is hard to make yourself popular, but to make the other guys look incompetent is not that difficult, and it worked for the Republicans in the first Clinton Congress, and the Republicans would argue the Democrats used these techniques as well.
What about filibuster reform? What's your assessment of the chances for that sort of project?

This goes way, way back. During all those years that the Southern Democrats were blocking civil rights legislation, every Congress began with liberal Democrats trying to change the filibuster rule and not getting anywhere. You do get a change in 1975, but part of why that was possible was the big Civil Rights stuff was off the table.

Technically, the rules made cutting off debate easier, because now it only required 60 votes rather than 67. But in reality, you had to do it more often. There was less restraint. The underlying cause is that the Senate -- our whole political system, really -- changed, and opened up in many ways. There were all kinds of ways that you could become a really big player through being partially outer-directed -- aiming yourself at the media and interest groups and the like. It was less necessary to simply be on really good terms with the most senior members of the Senate.
I followed up on this with an e-mail query to Professor Sinclair on December 26th:
I just read your interview with Ezra Klein at Washington Post. Some liberals like Klein want to abolish the filibuster. It sounds as if you endorse the notion at the interview. Yet, in my seminars with Eric R.A.N. Smith at UCSB, I was always taught that the filibuster was a valuable tool to protect minority rights.

Which view is correct? A vehicle to thwart the will of the majority or a tool to frustrate needed progress by a determined faction?
Professor Sinclair responded on December 29th. I'm just quoting briefly, since I did not request a formal interview. First of all, she did not reject my suggestion that she "endorsed" reform of the filibuster (and for radicals like Klein and Yglesias, that means abolition). Second, support for reform was "a matter of perspective." Demands to eliminate the filibuster depend on who's in the majority. But structurally, when the rules protecting the minority are combined with hyper-polarization, "the effect on the Senate's ability to legislate is huge."

In other words, a determined minority can shut the place down, and in this case it's the GOP, so that's bad. To be honest, I was a little disappointed that Professor Sinclair didn't offer a more robust defense of the Senate's procedural safeguards.

In any case, back at the
Los Angeles Times, Hook notes that:

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) has launched a petition drive urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to push for cutting from 60 to 55 the number of votes needed to cut off a filibuster.

"Why should launching wars and cutting taxes for the rich require only 50 votes, while saving lives requires 60?" asked Grayson, who cited a number of major bills that were passed by the Senate with less than 60 votes while President George W. Bush was in office.

Democrats used the filibuster against Republicans when the GOP was in the majority, most recently in 2001 to 2006. Back then, Democrats were great defenders of the right to filibuster Bush's judicial nominations. At one point in 2003, Reid spent more than eight hours on the Senate floor protesting the fact that Republicans spent so much time on four disputed judges instead of on joblessness. Reid read six chapters from a book he'd written about his tiny hometown of Searchlight, Nev.

Today, Reid is the Senate majority leader and complains bitterly about GOP delaying tactics.

To make it easier to end a filibuster, Harkin has proposed gradually reducing the number of votes needed to cut off debate -- from 60 votes on the first attempt, to 57 votes if another vote was held two days later, and eventually to 51 votes if the debate dragged on long enough.

"Under this proposal, a determined minority could slow any bill down," Harkin said in his recent letter to colleagues. "A minority of members, however, could not stymie the majority by grinding the Senate to a halt, as sadly too regularly happens today."

But few senators show much inclination to tamper with a tool that gives enormous leverage to either party when it finds itself in the minority.
Well, thank goodness for that.

6 comments:

Philippe Öhlund said...

Hi Donald! :-)

I heard about the powerful earthquake in California.

I hope you and your family are safe.

Have a wonderful day!

Laura Lee - Grace Explosion said...

Oh... so they care about a majority and a minority - when it's a majority of liberal to the point of communist Dems in Congress. Did they care that the majority of American citizens didn't want health care reform?? No. The majority of the American people don't matter. These people are corrupt - and they are pushing for dissolution of the USA by rule of the few for the benefit of a few fascist big business wealthy elite oligarchs.

I'm just taking it all with a grain of salt - because they're basically creating the dynamic tension in their far left pendulum swing against the will of the people - that will bring Washington DC down and result in the breakup of the nation - and the birth of a new better one.

Viva la new nation!

Cargosquid said...

If Senators want to restrict the filibuster, they just need to return to the old ways. Every time a filibuster is threatened, tell them to start talking........

The Senators threatening filibuster are not being held to account either.

Dan Collins said...

Considering that Reid's Manager's Amendment contains language attempting to make certain provisions of the Health Care Monstrosity active by majority, but only rescindable by supermajority, this is outrageous. But the same august body that swore in Owens before the vote tally was certified in NY23 has no issue with deliberately delaying the swearing in of Scott Brown, should he win, so it should come as no surprise.

Maurice said...

A bigger bunch of hypocrites and liars...we've seen, when exactly? There is no rule of law with these folks, the Constitution is meaningless, procedures in place since near the beginning of the Republic are discarded like so much toilet paper...it's all an attempt at a massive power grab; it's simply tyranny and a desire for totalitarianism.

dave in boca said...

all except that they're socialist, not "liberal." Or even totalitarian communist, not "socialist."

The filibuster used to need 67 votes to override and that was diminished to 60. Since "tyranny of the majority" is the goal of the totalitarian communist, it will soon be a simple majority, before our two legislatures turn into PRC or NORK or Cuban-style rubber-stamp morons and ditzes, like many of the Dumb-ocrat Party in Pelosi's House already are.

Trent Lott loses his Senate position for racial insensitivity, but SuperLobbyist Whoreson Dingy Harry cruises unscathed even though his party was the party of Jim Crow laws and the KKK until FDR---when it went socialist/commie in the North and remained nightriders in the South.