Friday, February 12, 2010

A Dysfunctional Institution: The U.S. Senate

"In the 71 years since Hollywood filmed 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington', the aim of the filibuster has been turned completely upside down." - Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)

The haggling over possible Senate rules changes has begun and understandably so. I'm as annoyed as any other observer, but let's not shoot ourselves in the foot either. The rules of the filibuster certainly need to be amended, but I don’t think it should be abolished. Can you imagine what would happen the next time Republicans have all three branches of government if they couldn't be kept in check? Unquestionably, the stall in the senate over the past year by the Republicans is unprecedented and it needs to stop. They have filibustered 139 bills to date! There are over 200 bills that have passed "the House" that are residing in senate-no-man's-land because Republicans want the public to interpret that Democrats can not govern. 14 months ago, voters wanted change. Now, those same voters are disenchanted with Democrats for not fulfilling promises when in fairness, they really haven’t been given full opportunity. Don't worry, I'm not forgetting the Blue Dogs who are just Republicans in disguise. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has authored a bill that would change the rules of the filibuster. The Harkin bill would require a series of staged votes to cut off a filibuster: the first motion known as cloture would take sixty votes, then fifty-seven, then fifty-four and finally a simple majority--so if a bill survives debate, it can become law. According to Harkin, "At issue is a fundamental principle basic to our democracy -- rule of the majority as a legislative body, [] "Elections should have consequences. Yet the Senate's current rules allow for a minority as small as one to make elections meaningless." He’s right and something must be done. In my opinion and as I’ve written before, they should also bring back the rules in which the party/senators blocking a bill has to stand on the floor and actually explain their position. That'll be another step in putting a stop to this nonsense. Just the threat of the filibuster is where it ends currently. This system is irrevocably broken!

I don’t know all the inner workings or possibilities in D.C., but if Harkin’s idea’s are upsetting to some on “The Hill”, why not try something like this: Only allow "x" amount of filibuster uses in each congressional session. That way regardless of which party is in power, the minority will have to think about which battles are really worth fighting and not just obstruct every single bill for sport. It's ridiculous to watch this process and listen to Republicans say Democrats can't get anything done. They've already more than doubled the amount of 'threatened' filibusters ever used in any one given session, it's ridiculous.

"The Senate is just a pain in the ass to everybody in the world as far as I can tell." - Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY)

I rarely disagree with Rachel Maddow, but in this segment, she and Howard Dean discuss the possibility of terminating the filibuster. As I wrote previously, I completely understand why. However, just this week Republicans once again announced they want to privatize social security and end Medicare, replacing it with vouchers so seniors will have to shop for their coverage through private insurance companies. If not for the filibuster, George W. Bush would've privatized social security in 2005 just before the crash. Imagine where we'd be now? Good ol' Republicans, make sure people get less than they deserve at a higher cost so their stock portfolios can keep rising. As for the Democrats? Like Howard Dean says in this video, "We're not tough enough. [] We need a spinal transplant in the Democratic party to play hardball." I like this guy more and more, he tells it like it is. I wonder if he'll give running for President another shot at some point. Sadly, Rachel actually needs to update her chart. The 112 is now 139...and counting.

For anyone who thinks my only point is that Republicans suck, it isn’t…although they do. Just to prove a point that 41 is the real majority, Republicans have filibustered legislation to provide low-income energy assistance; efforts to strengthen the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ensure children are not exposed to unsafe toys; and efforts to ensure that women are guaranteed equal pay for equal work. Last year Republicans forced cloture votes on a bill to extend unemployment benefits, then ultimately agreed to approve the bill on a 98-0 vote. Really? 98-0 vote after a filibuster. No, no political gamesmanship there. Gee, maybe the fact that Republicans suck was my only point!

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