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Posts Tagged ‘filibuster’

After watching the number of filibusters, or more accurately filibuster threats, skyrocket in recent years, I can recommend some changes.

As aggravating as it has been to see it so mis-used this year, I’m not one to advocate eliminating that procedural measure.  It was designed to serve a purpose — that of minimizing the tyranny of the majority so that it cannot simply jam through legislation without regard to alternative views.  As the political winds change over time, today’s majority may become tomorrow’s minority.  But the filibuster shouldn’t be used as a weapon to provide tyranny of the minority, either.  Let’s face it.  The role of the minority party is to provide alternative solutions that may result in compromise, not simply to stomp their feet and say no to everything the majority attempts.

Neither am I in favor of reducing to a bare majority the number of votes needed to invoke cloture and cut off debate.  That would short-circuit its intended purpose.

Here’s what I propose:

  • If a party or a person decides to filibuster, they should be required to conduct an actual filibuster, not simply threaten one. I can’t help but think that the burden of conducting an actual filibuster would reduce their number closer to their historical averages.
  • The 60 vote threshold could be reduced to 55.  That would still give the minority party the ability to slow the process, but it would limit the effectiveness of abusing the tactic.
  • A third mechanism merits further discussion to identify any unintended negative consequences.  The current system puts the onus on the majority to invoke cloture and end debate.  Bruce Bartlett, who served in both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, has proposed that for every bill, a specified number of hours of debate, say 40 hours, would be guaranteed.  Should any member request, an additional 10 hours would be granted by unanimous consent or by a vote of 40 senators.  The agreement to additional hours could be repeated as many times as senators could muster 40 votes or unanimous consent.  That reverses the burden and places it on the minority in order to keep debate open while still preserving their right to slow the process.  It might also prevent the majority from having to be beholden to a small number of senators to invoke cloture, thus limiting their ability to shape a bill to the needs or desires of a particular state.

What do you think?  Would this preserve the ability of the minority to slow legislation?  Would it reduce the number of filibusters and filibuster threats?  Would it help to remove the gridlock that currently exists while reducing the power of individual senators in the majority party to extract concessions or to shape legislation to suit their particular needs while ignoring or subverting the will of the rest of the body?

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Sen. Arlen Specter has switched parties. Yes, that presumably brings the Senate one closer to having the magic 60 votes and a filibuster-proof majority.  That awaits only the seating of Al Franken.  The assumption that 58 Democratic Senators plus two Independents who caucus with them will always stick together to vote for cloture misses an important aspect of the Democratic Party.   It is not monolithic.

The response from remaining members of the Republican Party is emblematic of the party’s inherent problem.  Some have taken a “good riddance” approach.  Russ Limbaugh suggests that Sen. McCain should also consider leaving.  Michael Steele has pronounced Specter’s decision as a self-serving one that simply reflects the political realities in Pennsylvania — a bruising and probably futile primary fight against a hard-core conservative opponent, someone even to the right of former Senator Rick Santorum.  While that may be true, it misses an important fact.  During the 2008 election cycle, several hundred thousand Pennsylvania Republicans had already left the party, leaving the remaining Keystone State Republicans even more conservative than before and Democrats with a 1.2 million registration advantage.  Pennsylvania has been described as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, with Alabama in between.  Other wags have nicknamed the south and central parts of the state Pennsyltucky.  That may be an exaggeration, but let’s not forget the spectacle of some of its faithful at McCain-Palin rallies.  It’s hard to imagine anyone to the right of Rick Santorum, but that is clearly the direction the party is moving.

The two remaining GOP Senators from the northeast — Collins and Snowe of Maine — now find themselves in an increasingly isolated position.  Sen. Snowe describes Specter’s move as “devastating” for the GOP.  There is no room in today’s Republican Party for moderates.

And therein lies the other aspect to Specter’s switch — and one that will almost certainly be ignored by the party faithful.  Specter isn’t the first person to decide that the party no longer represents their ideals, their values, their view of America and the role of government.  Arlen Spector is one of millions of former Republicans who have come to believe that the Republican party left them, giving them no choice but to leave.  Only 21% of the nation’s electorate identify themselves as Republicans.   You can’t win national elections, or even most state-wide elections, representing only 21% of voters.

During last year’s campaign, many voices representing the more moderate portions of the GOP decried the tone of some of the McCain-Palin rallies.  Republican stalwarts — at least stalwarts of what many of us remember as the Republican Party — publically endorsed Sen. Obama’s candidacy.  And many of those who did worried aloud at the prospect of the Republican Party moving ever more to the right, and thus into a position that would result in it becoming irrelevant.

Today’s Republican Party is anti-tax, anti-government, anti-choice, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-science, anti-public education, anti-diversity, anti-dissent.  It defends torture, defends pre-emptive war, defends corruption at the highest levels of government.  It wraps itself in the flag and the Bible, all the while espousing positions that are both anti-American and anti-Christian.  It continues to alienate thinking conservatives.  Should it continue down that path, its extinction is as inevitable as the Whigs and the No-Nothings.   It’s only a matter of time.

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There is plenty to write about, including wondering about the real motives of those Southern Republican Senators who killed the auto industry bailout and the spine of the Democratic Senate leadership who, once again, caved in to the threat of a filibuster.  I don’t understand why they don’t call the Republicans’ bluff more often.  It seems that once again the Senate, and the rest of us, are being held captive.  Mitch McConnell’s new moniker is Senator No.  The filibuster was supposed to prevent the tyranny of the majority, but in recent years it has served more to extract concessions for special interests, in this case union-busting.

In the meantime, I’m waiting to see if the White House decides to scare up some of the massive bailout to throw towards the auto industry.  Left-eyed Jack posted a most interesting map yesterday showing where the largest concentrations of poverty are in this country.  Well, guess what?  That map, and the post-election map showing where the voters are growing even more conservative are just about the same!  And you could pretty much lay a map showing where people are the least healthy and find a close correlation.  Folks, this is not a coincidence.   Despite what the Republicans would like us to believe, the facts prove that we’re all better off, including the stock market, when Democrats are in power.

But more on that another day. There’s a pretty exciting and significant even occurring in my life today — a wedding.  Not a big splashy one, just a small, civil ceremony.  In and out in a matter of 15 minutes.  But it’s an important event, and my personal calendar is rather crowded.  A gal has to look her best, you know.  After all, there will be photos to commemorate the occasion.  So, fee free to comment, to read back through previous posts, and even to make suggestions on possible topics.  I welcome the discussion, and your concerns and topics are as important as mine are.

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