Position Briefs

Friday, March 5, 2010

Filibuster reform

Although I’m initially pleased by the idea of Senator Bennet (D-CO) introducing Filibuster Reform, I also share some of Senator Byrd’s (D-WV) concern. There’s no doubt that the Republicans have abused the process, to bring the government to a stand still, screwing over the country in an infantile attempt to make sure the Government looks as incompetent as possible on the Democrats watch, and then trying to blame it all on the Democrats. How the voting public doesn’t recognize this as anything other than TRAITOUROIUS SABOLTAGE is beyond me.


It reminds a little of watching Jurassic Park and hearing Ian Malcolm talk about “Chaos” and “Entropy” and then ride into the sunset at the end with a smug sense of satisfaction, thinking he was right. Except that Jurassic Park wasn’t brought down by “Chaos,” or because “Life found a way.” It was SABOTAGED by a fat guy with a bad credit rating. In the Senate, the part of Newman Dennis Nedry, is being played legislatively by the Republicans, most recently by Senator Bunning (R-KY). So yeah, I’d say that some changes are needed.

My concern comes with the following examples, one from the Republicans, and one from the Democrats, in mind:

1) The “nuclear option.” If you don’t listen to Fox, you may remember that this was what Trent Lott (R-MS) called the Republican proposal at the time to do away with the filibuster for Judicial Nomination and Political Appointees, back when the Minority Democrats were trying to stop some of the more Jack-Booted Right Wingers that Bush was pushing from acquiring lifetime appointments to the bench. Basically, it would have eliminated the “Hold” procedure and force an up-or-down vote. Now I didn’t like this at the time, and I still don’t, but consider how weak the Republicans would be right now if the could put holds on every Obama appointee? They have shot themselves right in the foot! Whatever you propose, you’ve got to accept that one day the tables would be turned.

2) In 2004, when John Kerry may have vacated his Senate Seat, had he won the election and become President, the Massachusetts legislature TOOK AWAY the power of then Governor Mitt Romney (R) to appoint Senate replacements, instead insisting on holding a special election. But then, come 2009 and the death of Senator Kennedy, that same legislature, fearing a Republican victory, tried to give that power BACK to Governor Duval Patrick (D). This failed, in part because people recognized the bullshit game they were playing, and Scott Brown (R-MA) won the special.

Situations like these are why I hold, as one of my stated and most sacred principles, the following maxim:


Never assume a power you won’t grant your opponent. Never place a limitation on your opponent that you wouldn’t have placed upon yourself.

Apart from just being principled as well as both the right and decent way to behave, long term it is simply in your best interests to do so! Despite what the Republicans think, the “Golden Rule” is not, “He, who has the gold, makes the rules.”

So while I applaud Senator Bennet ’s efforts, I would caution him, and all Senators who want to meddle in these things, to consider that above maxim, and remember that the balance of power will shift, and the rules may one day end up stymieing their own ability to stop some truly egregious excesses in the future. After all: if the Republicans had won on the “Nuclear Option” Obama’s administration would be in much better shape right now, and if Massachusetts had just taken their chances with Romney’s potential Senate appointment in 2004, we’d have 60 votes in the Senate today.

Be VERY, VERY careful what you wish for.

4 comments:

  1. The reason the proposed Republican "nuclear option," during the Bush administration, was so heinous wasn't because it would have limited the filibuster against judicial nominees--it was because they were proposing changing the rules of the Senate on a majority vote. The rules of the Senate can only be changed by a 2/3 majority or more. The idea is to make basic rules with which pretty much everyone agrees. Republicans were proposing to simply ignore that. Tom Harkin, who has tried to essentially repeal the filibuster for at least 15 years, even came out strongly against this, correctly noting the potentially horrendous damage that could be caused if the bodies' basic rules could be changed at any time by majority vote. The situation with the Massachusetts legislature is a rough example of the sort of things that could happen.

    Harkin's initial roll-back of the filibuster died a bloody death back in 1995--as I recall, it only got something like 13 votes. He drags out the bill every so often. It has never gone anywhere.

    I've been in favor of eliminating the procedure for even longer than that. No one else is, and for the reasons you outline--they all imagine themselves in the minority faction in the future. It's a shortsighted and stupid Machiavellian way of looking at it. The general direction of the country, for better or worse, is, properly, a matter for the ballot box. As the past year has vividly demonstrated, those elections are completely meaningless if the minority party--a minority reduced to one of its lowest levels in decades by the last election--can simply stop everything the majority tries to do. A MOST noxiously reactionary breed of Republican ran the country for 8 years, people threw the bums out, and, over a year later, they're still running everything. The Bush years also demonstrated the inverse: the pointlessness of having something like the Senate filibuster, without an opposition with any semblance of a spine. Bush and the Republicans steamrolled everything they wanted through congress anyway; it didn't put a stop to a single major piece of Bush-proposed legislation. There was no oversight of what was happening in the executive branch. The filibuster was useless. It needs to be stopped. I don't know the details of Bennet's proposal, but if it gets rid of the filibuster, more power to him. He's going to need some moral support, because that's the only kind of support he's going to get.

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  2. You make a good point, but I still say, "Be careful what you wish for." I don't think we disagree that the Republicans have abused it, and that the Democrats have no spine. I do not see either of those as reasons to completely do away with it, however. And Sen. Bennett’s does not do that. In fact I'd be willing to bet that you'd find the bill "useless" as well. Personally? You're damned right I fear a "tyranny of the majority." And thus I disagree completely that "it's a matter for the ballot box."

    Are Supreme Court issues, "Matters for the ballot box?" If you say "yes" you sound a lot like a Conservative. If you say "No" then you've undermined a good chunk of your argument.

    Also - it's been shown, beyond all doubt, that the American electorate can be duped. Put simply? Most voters are ignorant. They believe what Fox (or even the "liberal media") tells them without even stopping to think if it even MAKES SENSE. And the voters have been on the wrong side of so many issues it's not even funny. I do away completely with ballot initiatives LONG before I'd do away with the filibuster. Voters are largely dumb and easily bought and easily confused. So I say: Leave governing and legislating to the experts. Also, the majority of the Senate, when it's Republican, is dominated by Mountain State delegations that represent very few actual people. So even in the Majority, it's still a Tyranny of the MINORITY.

    So even though the Democrats never have the balls to USE it, I still say it's and important tool to have. And what REALLY needs to be dome is that these "Just Say No" Republicans need to be called out as obstructionists, just as the Democrats were, back in the day. (Even though they really weren't obstructing mush at all and ultimately caved anyway!)

    I like Bennett’s bill because the reforms he's proposed, at least in his HuffPo summary - I'll admit that I haven't read the whole bill - reforms it, holds people accountable, and puts it back (or at least closer) to it proper context, without taking away the tools at their disposal. And thus there's less reason to oppose Bennett’s proposal than Harkin's.

    Thanks for you comment.

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  3. This became interesting enough that, instead of writing my reply here, I put it (and my own earlier reply) over on my own blog:
    http://lefthooktheblog.blogspot.com/

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