Friday, December 10, 2010

Reform Number One

There is a great deal of angst among many voters who object to the administration’s tax cut for unemployment compromise with Republicans as well as voters who accept such action. Stick to your guns, shouts one side! Kick him while he’s down, bellows the other side!

Democrats find it aggravating that our legislative process is being held hostage by Republicans. Deploying a political maneuver that promised to hold up all legislation pending passage of an extension of the Bush era failed tax policy, the Republicans set up a “who will blink first” situation.

It matters little who blinked if the result is capitulation and not compromise or if the result is ineffectual compromise and not constructive consensus.

We have witnessed a legislative power shift in Washington over the last several decades that concentrated raw power into fewer and fewer hands. Congress is not representative of her citizenry as a consequence yet that seems of little concern. Power shifted from majorities building coalitions in both congressional bodies to a new ultimate seat of power, the House-Senate conference committee on any legislation. And it has shifted again to the new ultimate current power structure, denial of legislative service, by a filibustering minority in the least representative body.

The United States has a new method of negative legislating – a parliament dominated by lords of the minority.

Every issue now requires 60 votes in the Senate to even proceed for deliberation, the very reason we elect representatives. Instead every issue is now reported in terms of a crass procedure, cloture, rather that of proposal, substance, merit, reflection, debate, and action. In a party split of less than solid 60/40, all attention focuses on the personal whims of a few shifting votes that may or may not be in the center. We are drowning in tactics and not swimming in substance.

Today with the Republican signed pledge of 42 votes to hold up deliberation by the majority 58 as well as some of the 42 who might be inclined in temperament toward legislating, we have moved decidedly toward parliamentary block voting. A president elected by a solid majority and a house elected along more proportional representative lines in 2008 did not seem to matter to the Senate minority lords. Indeed, it can be contended that the damage done by block voting and the frustrating of a popular legislative majority and administration through dramatically weakening health care, successfully diluting financial reform, and stalling addressing environmental climate concerns is precisely one of the prime assisting agents that created, distorted, and capitalized on voters’ economically rooted fears to produce the conservative 2010 Republican electoral gains. It’s a case of creative destruction for further destroying creations.

In parliaments, governments can fall if ruling blocks fail on a key vote. In our system, the government will not fall on a key vote but a determined block minority can make it fail to serve its citizens time and time again until that minority can make it fall at a term’s end.

Changing the Senate rules at present may well not yet have the votes, there is an absence of a directly spoken mandate for reform, and there appears continued resignation to the current practice of obstruction. And again and again, the media focuses on scoring stances not probing circumstances. The filibuster is a toxic deficit in our democracy and is not a mere issue among others for it profoundly affects the others. Ending its potency, deployed by either party, ought to be reform number one.

Further reading:
Filibuster Abuse [PDF] by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
The Silenced Majority [The Atlantic] by Matthew Yglesias

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