Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Call the Filibuster Bluff

"By requiring actual 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' filibustering, as was for nearly a century the long-established tradition, you can be sure senators would think long and hard before exposing their obstructionist tactics to the gaze of all of America."
Lots and lots of folk are weighing in on what last night's Massachusetts special election means, including us. As many or more already have moved on to wonder what, if anything, the Obama administration can do after losing its supposed filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate. After all, we can't allow deliberate obstructionism to paralyze our government for the next three years.

First, it needs to be acknowledged that Democrats never had a filibuster-proof 60 vote majority. They had 58 nominal Democrats. Now they have 57.

The other two senators, Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders, officially are "independents" who merely caucus with Democrats. One (Sanders) votes like a Democrat much of the time. The other (Lieberman) votes like a Republican, at best, and even more reliably like a member of the Likud Party.

Second, let's not forget that the 58-40-2 high-water mark for Democrats in the Senate has existed for only eight months. It first occurred last April when Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched parties. And, now it's back to where it was after the 2008 presidential election: 57-41-2.

There is emerging, too, some evidence that yesterday's Massachusetts victory of a Republican candidate for Senate was less due to Svott Brown's party affiliation than to a coalescence of local and idiosyncratic factors. These include Brown's consistent refusal to identify himself as a Republican on the campaign trail and in TV ads. As an astonished London Telegraph reporter puts it, "Senator-elect Brown won without uttering the word Republican."

It also includes a post-election survey by Research 2000 that suggests Brown's victory was assured by an appreciable number of liberal Democratic voters who either stayed home or voted for Brown because they want Obama to be "bolder," they wanted a "public option" in the health care bill, and they think the Senate's compromise bill "doesn't go far enough."

So, what should the Obama administration do? Retreating like so many Blue Dogs is what the MSM and Republicans expect. And, that is just the opposite of what needs to be done.

As veteran political reporter William Greider writes today, Obama should be charging ahead. But to do that, he "has to change himself:"
First, he has to clear out the cobwebs of his hopeful aspirations and take on the fight. To do so, he also has to clear away a lot of the people around him. If Rahm Emmauel was the chief strategist, the guy who made the private deals and told the senators what they could accept, he failed big-time and should be replaced. Find a new manager whose thinking was not shaped by cynical triangulation in the Clinton era.
Second, he needs to re-make his economic team, starting with Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner:
Both speak for the administration on the economy. Can you imagine finding anyone less convincing? Both are active advocates of the Wall Street status quo, neither has any feel for what's happening in the country. The bean counters led the president into the trap he now faces. Permissive bailouts created flush financial giants that sit on their profits and ignore the public need for lending. Dump the bean counters now.
After that, Grider proposed, "Obama can promise to govern nose-to-nose against the political forces blocking everything he attempts. He may not prevail, he concedes. But he is going to throw himself at them and he asks the people to join him in the fight."

Greider offers a few other suggestions that meet the current challenges facing the administration, but the one that most intrigues us is perhaps the simplest proposal of all. It's eminently do-able. It would aid good government and transparency. It will redound, over time, to the benefit of both parties, equally. And, it also well may be the most effective political tactic for present-day Democrats.

Greider's proposals is: "If Republicans want to filibuster, make them filibuster." [emphasis added]

Whatever one may think about spiraling health care costs, Wall Street banker greed, the economy, jobs, Afghanistan, etc. etc. the 'gentleman's agreement' reached by senators of both parties over the last two decades -- to the effect that a mere threat to filibuster is enough to scuttle legislative proposals and presidential appointments unless 60 Senators vote to override it -- must stop now. It's undemocratic, subject to frequent abuse as we have seen in the last year, and leads to sclerotic government at all levels.
The solution to the present conundrum is to go back to the old procedures. Force those filibustering senators to pay the price of their filibuster. It would require the Senator who initiates the filibuster to have the commitment of other Senators to take and hold the floor—to endure for whatever time they can. There will no longer be a free filibuster that the modern system allows.
The only people who would be inconvenienced by a return to traditional Senate filibuster rules are the senators, themselves. They'd rather be out raising money for themselves. Makes you want to weep for them, doesn't it?

By requiring actual "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" filibustering, as was for nearly a century the long-established tradition, you can be sure senators would think long and hard before exposing their obstructionist tactics to the gaze of all of America.

Moreover, as Lewis Eigen points out, if Republicans still insisted on filibustering as part of their current "Just say No" strategy, "at least citizens would see their Senators fighting for their principles and legislation instead of their campaign donations."

1 comment:

Deanie said...

The filibuster is against the constitution because it robs big and small states of the one man one vote rule when one senator can block a majority of senators from voting.