Saturday, March 6, 2010

Democracy & The Filibuster, Part 1

This post began as an exchange with Nice Guy Eddie over at "In My Humble Opinion." Any movie buff remembers Nice Guy Eddie Cabot, the lovable gangster boy with the impeccable fashion sense from RESERVOIR DOGS. Eddie appeared to have been shot to death at the end of that opus but his apparent death became one of the great mysteries of cinema because, in that grand showdown that finished off the cast, no one was pointing a gun at Eddie when the bullets started flying. And, as it turns out, Eddie didn't die at all. Instead, he started a blog. He's mellowed a lot in the intervening years--his opinions often do seem humble. Yesterday, he jotted out some thoughts on "Filibuster Reform," and I thought I'd add my two cents (to note the obvious, my reply, recorded below, will probably make a lot more sense if one reads the post to which it is a response):

The reason the Republicans' proposed "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 have generally agreed-upon basic rules by which the institution operates. Republicans were proposing to simply ignore that. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), 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 shenanigans that could become commonplace.

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 [Edit: 19, actually--it died on a vote of 76-19]. 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 Sen. Bennett'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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