Thursday, January 21, 2010
#198 Bring On the Filibuster
Tuesday's election of Republican Playgirl-centerfold Scott Something-or-other to the late and sorely lamented Edward Kennedy's Senate seat subtracts by one vote the so-called "super majority" that the Democrats have held in the American House of Lords. So what?! Did it help them at all when they had it for well-nigh a whole %$@ $#@% legislative YEAR? No ... not to mention that they still have the largest majorities in Congress since Jimmy Carter. And along with moderate Republicans, these majorities--reflecting about 75% of the Electorate--want to do the right thing and pass laws insuring that EVERY American has access to adequate health care. Which is the number one Domestic Issue of our time, and one so embarrassingly far behind the times when compared with what other civilized peoples of the Earth have done.
So what has happened? For one thing, Democrats are WIMPS. Or must be, since they can't translate their superior numbers in Congress into laws of the land. That's their JOB, after all. Constitutionally. And they're not doing it. I think this is what the voters in Massachusetts had in mind when they angrily cut-off their normally progressive nose--they have a form of universal health-care--and spited their face with a wing-nut Republican. Who, ironically, promised in his campaign to vote against Reform--thus invoking that ever-menacing monster by the dreaded name of Filibuster.
Second, Obama is a WIMP. Or must be, since the President can't translate the will of the people who elected him and his future-tense Platform of Hope--by a more-than-convincing majority--into some sort of Congressional action. Surely, Obama meant more by "Change You Can Believe In" than the sheets in the Lincoln bedroom. He made a monstrous mistake in effectively handing over primary leadership on health-care reform to the Grafters and Grifters on key Congressional committees. Shouldn't he have known, for instance, that Sen. Max Baucus was a "made" man, by Big-Med?
Third, the U.S. Senate is a WIMPERAGE, to coin a word. Or must be, since it seems powerless to pass laws, or even to advise and consent effectively. I'll leave it in the personified collective singular because as a legislative entity its wimpery is systemic. Built into its current Rules of Order are procedures guaranteed to preserve the the status quo ante, to discourage changing laws and to obstruct making new ones. MAJORITY doesn't quite rule in our Upper House. Funny part is ... it can and should, according to ancient Constitutional principles, backed up by a Supreme Court dictum over a hundred years old.
The elephant in the room is the current Cloture Rule. This allows a Senator to extend deliberation on a bill indefinitely, to presumably "filibuster it to death" unless debate is stopped by a vote of SIXTY of his/her fellows. (A colorful and apt borrowing is "filibuster," first popularized by southern Senators of the the early 19C and meaning essentially "pirate"--descended from Dutch vrijbuiter = "freebooter" and passed through Spanish and French as filibustero and filibustier, respectively, and finally to the folk-etymologized form we have in English today--accidentally appropriate for its "bill-BUSTing" connotations--though I'm sure the original "booty-for-all" implications are not lost on the smarter Grafters in the Senate, who would cut a bill's throat for money. You know the ones, by now). However, just to illustrate just how congenitally LAZY is that Body in every way, the Lords don't even have to bother debating debate. If a poll shows that FORTY-ONE Senators would vote against closing debate, the bill is busted. Hi-jacked, as if by some Somali pirate. Republican Sen. What's-his-name supposedly represents that forty-first vote.
Well, in reality, these aren't magic numbers at all. It's a pernicious meme indeed, bruited even by those politicos who should know better, that the Cloture Rule is somehow sacrosanct. It's not. True, currently it takes SIXTY Senators to close debate, and that's coupled with a seemingly impossible SIXTY-SEVEN to change the rule for closing debate. The latter number is, however, fundamentally unconstitutional, and the minority Republicans in the Senate know it deep down and dirty. For when they were in the majority during the last administration's tenure, and when they were threatened upon occasion with a Democratic filibuster over certain abominations otherwise known as Bush/Cheney appointments, these Republicans in turn threatened to go "nuclear" and revoke the Cloture Rule by simple majority vote--thus making any business before the body subject to simple majority vote, including closing debate. How soon they forget, when the situation is reversed. Oops ... I forgot. They're politicians. (more)