Friday, January 22, 2010

If They Cared....

And, as they don't, it's purely hypothetical.

If the Senate cared about passing relatively progressive bills, or advancing President Obama's agenda, there's a pretty obvious way to break through the Republican Party's childish obstructionism. Give them a choice of two bills:
  1. A reasonable bill addressing the issue; and

  2. A compromise bill that, should the other bill not pass, will be passed into law through reconciliation.

For example, in the context of healthcare reform, they could propose a reconciliation bill that simply expands Medicaid coverage for lower wage earners, and provides for a Medicare buy-in for anybody over 50 who wants or needs to do so. They won't even have to pander to Joe Lieberman or bribe Ben Nelson to get 51 votes for the reconciliation bill. If the Republicans don't play ball, the Dems can pass what will be a very understandable and ultimately popular reform - and it's really hard to imagine either party letting a Medicare buy-in expire given the demographic involved.

The problem is, that won't get them the pork they want. And how do you get fifty-one votes for a progressive bill if the trough is empty?

Similarly, the Dems could pull the same sort of ploy the Republicans used in relation to the filibuster - "Join us in doing X or we'll exercise 'the nuclear option'" - Doing X in this case could be as simple as "join us in a debate over filibuster reform that will end gridlock - or, via the (your) nuclear option, we'll just do away with the entire thing."

That's an even bigger problem. The powers that be - the Senate leaders - are able to insert huge amounts of pork into bills in the name of 'getting sixty votes', and with that supermajority requirement a Senator like Lieberman can assure himself of millions of dollars by insisting that progressive elements (supported by 59 of his colleages) be stripped, and a senator like Ben Nelson can similarly block a bill unless he is granted a windfall for his state.

Doing away with the filibuster would mean that much less pork, and so many fewer special interest dollars flowing directly and indirectly into their pockets. Unthinkable!


  1. I still think that the filibuster is a valuable and valid legislative device. The problem is that we've made it way to easy to use.

    Keep it, but go back to the old system where a Senator had to hold the floor and stop all other business of the Senate to do so. Using the filibuster that way means that if you care enough about the issue to sacrafice everything (because you sure aren't winning friends in the Senate or back home when you shut down the legislative process) then use it . . . but be aware that you (and potentially your whole party) will pay the cost.


  2. The 'historic' filibuster's benefits are largely theoretical - In fiction, it works well in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; in reality it's more likely to be used to, say, block civil rights legislation. Which is not to say that theory might not one day meet practice.

    But, particularly given that the Dems want a filibuster to remain in effect, I was simply pointing out a path by which the Dems could arm-twist the Republicans into agreeing to modify the rules (67 votes needed) in order to avoid having the Dems simply pass legislation by majority vote. (You know, those "up and down" votes the Republicans demand, except when the Dems have the majority.)

    As far as I can see, the reasons we're "sticking with the current rule" are entirely bad. For us, that is. It's great for Senators.


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