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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fill It Up With Nuclear, Buster

BooMan does a good job describing what a filibuster is and isn't.  I'd just add that the Senate is peculiar by design, and it's generally a good thing.  As I've noted before, I actually appreciate its anti-democratic structure for a lot of reasons.  

While we don't have our legislatures choose Senators any more, equal suffrage does still invest states more directly in the Federal system than if Congress were completely proportional in representation.  I think that's still a critical part of the balance and competing jealousies (as Madison called it) that ostensibly limits overreach by the general government.  

Two-year staggered elections allow for moderated change without enabling a "throw the bums out" sweep that could put us at the mercy of momentary passions and create significant instability (2010 could've been much worse without that democratic circuit breaker).  The chamber's relatively small size does have the potential to allow more debate and greater preservation of minority party rights.

That last part is pretty valuable from where I sit.  Not that I want the GOP to filibuster Hagel and continue its obstruction, but it's not a bad idea to actually act like that apocryphal saucer and slow things down a bit on important issues.  Would that more time had been spent on the USA PATRIOT Act or the AUMF or the NDAA.  Whether it's holds or quorum calls or other parliamentarian "tricks", they're all components in the Senate's ability to foster discussion, both on the floor and behind the scenes.

Delay affords Senators an opportunity to make their case publicly to the People, as well as to have private discussions that can break log jams (think of something like debt assumption and the location of DC).  Making government work means making space for deliberation and dealmaking.  That's especially important when the chamber is structured so it doesn't necessarily reflect the current political leanings of the electorate overall (like the House today).

Unfortunately, those mechanisms do assume a certain amount of good faith.  Madison was right that none of us, especially wealthy Senators, are angels, but there was a time when this stuff worked more or less.  Dixiecrats filibustered civil rights legislation as much as they could, for example, but ultimately the majority still prevailed after giving the minority its chance to protest and exact concessions.  The rise of the "60-vote requirement" is anathema to how the Senate is supposed to function.

I understand that Reid and his cohort of older Senators might fear tinkering with the rules.  They remember being in the minority and know it's likely that their party will be parked there once again.  But we elect them to operate in the current political environment and to actually get something done now, not to worry about their party's status in some indeterminate future.  A good way to make it more likely they'll end up holding the short end of the stick is to maintain the status quo.

So it's more than a little disappointing that Reid flirted with reform-minded Senators, then cut a deal for milquetoast rule changes that clearly did nothing to fix a broken process.  I guess you go to nuclear war with the Senate you have...


February 14, 2013 in Constitution, Schmonstitution | Permalink


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Good points, all.

I think the main problem is that filibusters need to exact a price on those who are doing them, so that they are done when strongly-held beliefs are at stake, not just for minor tactical advantage.

Posted by: Snarki, child of Loki | Feb 14, 2013 9:49:23 AM

Afuckingmen. Obstructionists want to act as though there is such a thing as a free lunch, but every maneuver has its cost. Imagine if a single voter could object to a Senator's election, secretly, with no justification and no down side...

Posted by: NTodd Pritsky | Feb 14, 2013 10:34:31 PM

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