Category Archives: Filibuster

Harry Reid Busted the Filibuster

On Thursday night Majority Leader Harry Reid showed how big his bolas are, by using a rare parliamentary move that stopped Republicans from filibustering a bill that hopes to force China to raise its currency. Republicans were threatening to filibuster the final vote, even though a bipartisan group of Senators already voted to have the final vote.

The small group of Republicans that were going to use the filibuster was not even on the final vote but the votes on the amendments before it. It would have been another example of Washington not able to get things done because of politics. The Republicans who wanted to use the filibuster here should be thanking Reid for saving them from looking like fools. Senators from both sides would have been on TV saying how much they want to stick it to China while those Republicans on the Senate floor would be talking nonsense. But there are plenty of examples that can be used of Democrats in the minority doing the same thing. This action should be used to start a process that gets rid of the filibuster altogether.

Politico reported that “While the rules change may not seriously affect the substance of pending legislation, the process employed by Democrats could be replicated in the future to overhaul bedrock rules like the filibuster. For that reason, both parties have tried to avoid employing such tactics to change the rules over the last several congressional sessions, including in a fierce 2005 battle that nearly limited the use of the filibuster.” But with the frustrations that are pouring themselves in front of Wall Street, the Capitol, and across the country, it is about time something changes in Washington.

Sometimes the filibuster has been used by the minority to appeal to their base, where in case Americans who do not want to see the legislation passed are happy to see the filibuster take place. But this is still always a small constituency. This allows Senators to debate things they know has no chance of passing. So why have the debate? Because it appeals to their base and is something the Senator can say they did when they ask for their constituencies vote in the next election. When George W. Bush wanted to pass immigration reform, the Senate debated for hours on what to do but could only agree that English should be the official language of the country. But both sides liked the debate so leaders let it happen. If the filibuster did not exist though, more votes would have been taken putting members on the record, which is something they did not want to do. If the filibuster was not part of Senate rules members would have been forced to take a vote.

It is also fair to argue that without the filibuster more Americans would pay attention to what their Senators are up to. Since Senators are up for reelection every six years, they can usually take controversial votes without having to worry as much about political consequences because voters get their frustration out during the election the vote took place in. The Senate though does not always have to take these votes because someone usually filibusters it. But if there are large amounts of legislation that come to the floor and controversial votes pile up, more news would be written about it and Americans would pay attention. If the Senate decided to vote on privatizing Social Security, and there wasn’t a filibuster for someone to stop it, think about all the calls and letters that would fill their offices.

Maybe more importantly, better legislation would actually be voted on in the Senate. Getting rid of the filibuster would not make politicians want to take controversial votes, so theoretically, there would be less of them. That means less politics and more compromise. No Child Left Behind was a controversial bill that not everyone was in favor of, but it had a large amount of representatives on both sides who voted for it. That makes it a lot harder for it to have been a issue for a competitor to bring up in the next election.
It is true that the founding fathers wanted the Senate to be a place where cool heads would prevail. That is why they set it up so Senators were not even elected but instead appointed by state legislatures. That changed of course when the legislatures could not decide on who to send to Washington. The filibuster is not even in the constitution, it is just a Senate rule. Politics are inherent in any government, and that’s OK, sometimes it is even a good thing. But when it is time for things need to get done, more times than not the filibuster has been used to protect a small minorities interest rather than deciding what is good for the country as a whole.

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No More Filibuster?

There are some very legitimate questions being asking right now, but the one that has me stunned is, how has the Senate managed to get so much done after an election cycle where the party in power received a shellacking? I guess we forgot that mache eventually dries.

First, there was the infamous tax cuts. When President Obama made a deal with the Republicans three things were said 1) Obama gave up again 2) Obama won the political battle and 3) the tax cuts amounted to another stimulus. The first argument was made by the left who were upset that the people who earned the most will have their taxes further reduced. That money could have been used to subsidize the cost from the Social Security cut that was also made in the deal.

Pundits believe Obama won the political battle because he appeased the middle. The tax cuts were not a left, or right issue. Opinion polls repeatedly showed that the vast majority of people wanted to see the cuts go through, and because it was an issue the White House pushed, Obama won.

Now, everyone knows what I think about the stimulus argument. The short answer is that they will help, for the short term (but barely), but a lot more could have been done.

What made the extensions even more surprising was that it didn’t look like they would pass. The White House did not want to extend those cuts for the rich. But the Republicans insisted on it, and would not have voted for the bill otherwise. The area that put the victory in Obama’s corner though was the deficit. After all the talk about reigning in government spending and the wind at their backs, the GOP did not insist on one policy that would reduce the deficit, in fact, they only insisted on increasing it.

More importantly, Obama owned the issue. Maybe it was because he gave Bill Clinton the mic. But in the past Obama has always been trying to explain and level with people on why he made his decision. This time, he blamed the Republicans of holding the middle class hostage in favor of the rich. All the democrats were saying this, every time, they went on television. And it worked.

I wasn’t going to say anything, and you have to promise not to tell anyone, but another victory also came when the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law was repealed. Those who have been pushing for the repeal were wondering what happened to the guy who said he would repeal the law. After all the challenges in the courts, those hard core Obama supporters were wondering why they had to do so much more work after the 2008 election. For the people on the left that were upset about the tax deal, this may have made up for it. Two years from now Obama can go straight to his base and say he got this done. Unlike the tax cuts, which may or may not help the economy, the repeal of don’t ask don’t tell is a substantial change that a lot of people wanted out of him.

Also now thanks to the Senate, we can eat meat without fear of mad cow disease. In a late night sessions the Food Safety and Modernization Act was passed. You would think after we had so many close calls with food imports the last couple of years this is something that would have been done. But this is the first time food safety regulations has been improved in almost one-hundred years.

One of the bigger items which looks like it will be passed this week is the START Treaty. A post Cold War agreement between the U.S. and Russia that every Secretary of State (Republican and Democrat), says needs to be passed, and Senator Kyle is holding it up. This was the wrong issue to try and score political points with. This treaty has always had bipartisan support and has reduced the number of nuclear weapons around the world. The situation has become so bad that Russia is weighing in on the Senate. This did not have to be a political victory for Obama, it will only become one because some members of the GOP were so outspoken against it.

One piece of legislation that did fail was the Dream Act. It is a shame because it made the process for immigrants to come into this country easier and they would have had less of an excuse to try and sneak in. It’s also a way to reduce the deficit. The new immigrants coming in could have been taxed, and there were provisions making it easier for current illegal immigrants to get green cards. Now billions of dollars will be sent back to countries of immigrant families. Just more proof no one really cares about the deficit.

And it looks like the federal government will shut down this year! After the House passed a short extension for the start of the new year, Senator Reid announced the Senate will do the same. I’m OK with this, I loved the 90’s.

What has helped get these pieces of legislation passed is the election being over. There is a full two years before the next election, and most public officials figure what they do now won’t hurt them down the road. Especially if you are a Senator who only runs every six years. The rest of the time you are looking out for your state and helping your colleagues when you can.

Most of the legislation being passed this week was held up because the Republicans were filibustering it. When you hold up one piece of legislation it takes a longer time for others to come up and dealt with, especially in the Senate. But with a divided Congress next year it is hard to tell if compromises will be made.

It is a good sign that legislation is finally moving through. We just learned today that one of every seven Americans is now on food stamps. Needless to say, people need government to work. But as soon as the new year starts, the next election cycle will begin, making it important to pick battles carefully.

 

 

 

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Filed under Don't Ask Don't Tell, Filibuster, President Obama, Senate, START Treaty, tax cuts