Friday, January 22, 2010

Save Democracy! Kill the filibuster!

Matthew Yglesias makes a good point about the filibuster's negative effect on the whole legislative process:

A minority of 40 or fewer Senators can, by engaging in filibustering both a motion to proceed and the bill itself can cause it to take about a week between when the majority rounds up its 60 votes and when the bill actually passes. First you need to file cloture on the motion to proceed. Then it takes about a day for cloture to “ripen.” Then there’s the cloture vote. Then a 30 hour waiting period. Then the vote on the motion to proceed. Then, even if there’s nothing left to debate, you need to do the whole thing over again. File for cloture. Take a day for cloture to ripen. Then the cloture vote. Then 30 hours. Then you vote.

One consequence of this is that if you have 100 small ways to improve the health care system, each of which piss off some small interest group, you can’t do the sensible thing and just bring each small idea to the floor separately and pass it. The sheer amount of time it takes to overcome some random bloc of Senators’ opposition makes it not worthwhile for most members. To get an idea enacted into law over determined opposition, you not only need at least 60 Senators to agree with it, you need them to be enthusiastic enough to let your pet plan eat up all this time.

Consequently, if you want to do something, the smart way to do it is to fold it into some larger endeavor. And that’s why you get things like a 2,000 page health care bill or a monster omnibus or weird things attached to appropriations bills.

This is crazy. It is absolutely nuts. These Senate rules have got to be changed. First, you should only be allowed to filibuster actual legislation, not a bunch of procedural motions, so that they can't force half a dozen votes requiring a supermajority each time for one single bill. You get ONE cloture vote and that is it. End of story.

Furthermore, the filibuster was never supposed to be about killing legislation. It was about extending time to allow for more debate. So Sen. Tom Harken's proposed rule changes make perfect sense. If the minority wants to have more time to debate, then they filibuster and the first effort at cloture needs 60 votes. But then one week later the threshold drops to 57 and then one week later down to 54 and finally, one-week later the bill could be passed on a majority vote of 51. By that time the minority would have had plenty of time to make their case and get their views expressed, but they would not be able to hold things up indefinitely and thus thwart the will of the majority which is intrinsically undemocratic.

The Harken bill would require 67 votes to pass and I don't see that happening because Republicans are more concerned about regaining power by any means necessary than they are with fixing a dysfunctional legislative system that is unable to govern. Republicans are essentially anti-government radicals today, so they don't care if the government can't function.

But at the start of the next legislative session, after the mid-term elections, if the Democrats are still in the majority they will have one last chance to change the rules to something more like what the Founding Fathers intended and do it by a majority vote.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A very sad day

This has been an absolutely horrible, sad, depressing day. First, House Leaders announce that they don't have the votes (with a 40-seat majority) to pass the Senate version of Health Care reform. If it goes back to the Senate with any House chanages, it will face yet another Republican filibuster and will be dependent on a Republican defection to pass.
Why is it that the Democrats can have control of the White House and huge majorities in the House and Senate and still be unable to accomplish their agenda?

Steve Benen sums it up well...

If a majority of the House and a majority of the Senate could approve legislation -- if, in other words, Congress could function the way it used to and the way it was designed to -- Democrats would have finished an ambitious heath care reform bill months ago. The stimulus would have been bigger and more effective. The prospects for a climate bill and reform of Wall Street would be excellent. The progressive productivity of this Congress would rival that of the New Deal and Great Society eras.

But that's not the legislative dynamic we're dealing with. Instead we have unprecedented obstructionism from a right-wing minority, which tries to block voting on literally every bill of any significance -- a situation that has never existed before in American history -- and a small handful of Senate Democrats -- including Mary Landrieu and her "wing" -- willing to help them.

The principal hurdle, in other words, standing in the way of the party delivering on its agenda is a dysfunctional system that empowers a small congressional minority to kill the majority's agenda -- and creates an electoral incentive for the minority to do just that.

And then, as if all of this wasn't bad enough, the Supreme Court comes down with its decision to cede our elections to the corporate interests for the next several generations.

And Conan O'Brien's last show is tonight.

And, to top it off, I just learned that Air America (which wasn't broadcasting in San Antonio anyway) is going bankrupt and ceasing broadcasting today.

The Supreme Court decision will haunt us for years to come, but I think the most discouraging thing right now is what is happening in the House. I just can't watch as they screw this up. It's like watching a Spurs game when they are playing horribly. I just have to turn off the TV and quit watching. It is less painful just to read the score in the next day's paper.

Worst Supreme Court Decision Ever

Or at least one of the worst.

By a 5-4 vote, the Reagan/Bush wing of the Court has very likely screwed our democracy for a generation or more. As if we didn't already have enough corporate special interest money in politics, they have now opened up the floodgates to unlimited spending on election campaigns by allowing unlimited corporate spending on campaigns.
What this means is that within the next 10 or 12 years, every politician in Washington will either be wholly owned and paid for by the corporate interests, or will be subservient to them for fear that they might dump money into their district in opposition.
Oh, so what else is new, you say?
Trust me, it can and will get worse.
They may not always win every election, but they will be able to set the terms of the debate.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dumber than Rocks

This poll of Massachusetts voters is very interesting in that it shows that a lot of the people who voted for Brown or who chose not to vote said they did so to protest Democrats not being hard enough on Wall Street.
Also, while some said they opposed health care reform, many others said they voted the way they did because they thought Democrats didn't go far enough with reform and another big chunk said they don't even know why they are opposed.

So, essentially, we have a lot of voters who are dumber than rocks. That is the problem with democracies I guess. Lots of poorly informed, ignorant and, in some cases, downright stupid, people marching off to the polls and voting contrary to their interests.

And that is the secret to Fox News' success. They have learned how to manipulate and take advantage of these people and use their stupidity and ignorance to advance a rightwing agenda.


From Political Wire:

A memo from Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), head of the Senate Republican campaign effort, says of yesterday's election result that "voters realize that there is only one party who bailed out the automakers and insurance companies..."

It's interesting how soon Republicans have forgotten that it was actually President Bush who orchestrated the bailouts of both AIG and the automakers at the end of his term.

Oh, please! Cornyn didn't forget! Give the man some credit. He's not stupid. He is simply LYING.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Can't win 'em all

I knew Democrats (or any party for that matter) would not be able to hang on to a 60-vote supermajority for long. That is why it is imperative to reform Senate rules and end this recent abuse of the filibuster where the Republicans are using it to require a supermajority for nearly every single vote.

But I did not expect that it would be Massachussetts that would take the 60th vote away. It is sad and depressing to see the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's lifelong struggle to pass health care reform suddenly imperiled by his own untimely death. Just another Kennedy family tragedy, I guess.

But, of course, health reform is not really imperiled. It has already passed in the Senate and there is no reason for it to go back there again if the House will accept the bill as is. That now seems like their only option since the incoming Sen. Brown will be a committed 'No' vote even though his state already has universal health coverage far more liberal than the bill under consideration in Congress.

The House should pass the Senate Bill as is and send it to Obama for his signature in advance of the State of the Union address next week. Then they can push the things they wanted to change and improve in the bill through on a reconciliation vote which cannot be filibustered under Senate rules. And I would hope that the Democrats will start doing a lot of things under reconciliation rules from now on.

This whole idea that Obama's agenda is stymied now because he ONLY has a 59-vote majority in the Senate is absolutely ridiculous. Ronald Reagan had a Republican Senate during the first six years of his presidency, but never more than 54. And he had a Democratic House to contend with at the same time. Yet he was able to get most of what he wanted during those years because Democrats did not abuse the filibuster rule then like Republicans are doing today.

Imagine if Democrats had treated Reagan back then the way Republicans today are treating Obama. He would not have been able to put any of his policies in place. Most of his nominees would have been easily rejected. But it would not have been right then just as it is not right now.

But back to Massachussetts for a minute. A lot of Democrats are blaming Coakley for her defeat. One site pointed out that she only had 19 public events between the primary and the election while Brown had 66 during the same period. The conclusion - she took the election for granted while he worked his butt off. There is something to be said about that. But there was also a lot of other factors at work as well. Any other year and those 19 events would have been more than adequate.

You kind of have to feel sorry for Coakley too. A few weeks ago it was assumed she would be the next U.S. Senator and now her political career is in shambles. The Bill Buckner of politics, they are calling her. Ouch! But that is really neither here nor there.

Democrats still have large majorities in the House and Senate. Obama will be president for the next three years at a minimum and probably seven. Because I believe the economy will continue to improve and by the time the next election rolls around it will be "Morning Time in America" again. A lot of people have been pointing out recently how closely Obama is tracking Reagan in the popularity polls. Reagan slowly lost favor as the economy soured during his first term, but it turned around just in time for him to win a humongous landslide re-election victory. And that is what I see in Obama's future as well. And that will be good for the long-term health of our nation.