Thursday, January 21, 2010

Democrats should support Filibuster rule

It is very tempting with 59 votes in the Senate Democratic Caucus to support some type of rule change that would mandate that legislation be approved or rejected on a majority vote basis.

But it would be wrong for Democrats and wrong for America.

The fact is we should fear the damage that can be done by Congress more than dreaming about the good that can be acheived by a majority.

If you are right, on balance, it will get acheived sooner or later.

I say this as a person very frustrated with the necessity of Democrats to compromise every piece of legislation with "moderates". This inevitably makes the new laws less effective. What's more galling is that Republicans attack us as though we've done exactly what we wanted. For example, those who claim the Stimulus bill hasn't done enough ignore the fact that the original Democratic plan would have been much bigger and done much more. But now we have to "own" a compromised bill as though it was our dream.

With healthcare the process is the same. Democrats getting blamed for a "takeover of 1/6 of the American economy" while every negotiation to get "cloture" makes it weaker and weaker.

that said,

The filibuster should remain because were the Congress to operate with a simple majority rule it would increase the chance that fleeting majorities could do lasting harm.

Some things can't be "undone" by the American people in the next election. Sometimes the process matters.

Imagine if President Bush had gotten to partially privatize Social Security?
He had 50 votes but not 60 to stop a filibuster threat.

The plan would have been a disaster. It's possible that we wouldn't have been able to save our current system from a Depression because so many people in the Social Security system would have "chosen" to purchase "conservative investments" that ultimately collapsed.

Right now, our economy has so much exposure to risk because millions of people are invested in mutual funds and retirement plans that they thought (and still think) are sure bets. Before they thought the market would never really drop if they invested wisely; now they know they can demand Washington "fix" it, and vote accordingly. It would have been even worse had Republicans not been stopped by a filibuster threat.

The difference between 50 and 60 votes almost assures that the majority party either has to work with the opposition or the most polarized members of their caucus. On certain issues that is a bridge to far and it prevents something really bad from happening.

I'm not saying it's perfect, but it's better than not.

Another example is the Environment. I personally don't care whether we drill in the Anwar area of Alaska. But let's just say, we really shouldn't.

Once we start, you can't take it back. You can't undo some things.
Now as it happens, President Bush tried to used a procedure called "reconcillation" for drilling in Anwar where he only needed 50 votes , but lost a majority anway. It's possible he lost it because some senators didn't believe it was right to skirt the rules that way. But once you start drilling, the pristine land is gone. Republicans lost Congress a few years later. Sure you could stop the drills, but you can't go back and make the land whole again.

So there's a balance. Minorities should have rights. It empowers voters to stay engaged even if their side loses. At some point though , we need a Congress able to function and implement an agenda. So the 60 vote rule on most items makes sense.

Remember just a few years ago, I and others thought Republicans would have a permanent majority for a generation because Democrats were too out of touch. I thought it would be near impossible for Democrats to win a presidential race because we were ceding too many electoral votes away. Republicans thought so much of themselves, they tried to end some of the filibuster rules.

Don't fall for the same hubris.

Our political system, our media, and human nature is designed for balance. Especially in our internet age, it will be impossible for one party to dominate for a long time. There are too many "flexible" candidates and political party operatives who will figure out what issue formula will win a certain district or state. During bad times, the party in power gets blamed, and the minority can criticize without making much sense. Eventually that totals up to a takeover.

Then all you have left is a filibuster.

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