Friday, December 10, 2010

On "process" (III)

Here's Jon Stewart on the Senate failing to invoke cloture on a bill providing health care to 9/11 responders.

Then there's Ezra Klein on the Senate's failure to end debate on DADT:

I don't care who's right. And nor should anyone else. The diffusion of responsibility that comes from deciding law through complex parliamentary gamesmanship rather than simple majority-rules votes is the problem. What happened today is that a majority of the Senate voted for a bill that the majority of Americans support. The bill did not pass. Neither Harry Reid nor Susan Collins are ultimately responsible for that. The rules of the Senate are.

And here's the NYTimes:

On one of the most shameful days in the modern history of the Senate, the Republican minority on Thursday prevented a vote to allow gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly in the military of the United States. They chose to filibuster a vital defense bill because it also banned discrimination in the military ranks. And in an unrelated but no less callous move, they blocked consideration of help for tens of thousands of emergency workers and volunteers who became ill from the ground zero cleanup after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The senators who stood in the way of these measures must answer to the thousands of gay and lesbian soldiers who must live a lie in order to serve, or drop out. They must answer to the civilians who will not serve their country when some Americans are banned from doing so for an absurd reason, and to the military leaders who all but pleaded with them to end this unjust policy. They must answer to the workers who thought they were aiding their country by cleaning up ground zero.
The Senate is broken.


  1. I disagree about the filibuster, as opposed to the merits of DADT, etc.

    The filibuster makes it harder to get things done. If you prefer moderated outcomes, requiring some degree of bipartisanship, the filibuster is good. Without the filibuster, you would have more extreme swings in terms of government policy whenever one party captured both the White House and Congress.

    Were you opposed to the filibuster from 2002 to 2006? How does D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers sound to you? Or D.C. Circuit (maybe Supreme Court Justice) Miguel Estrada sound to you? I actually think it was quite shameful that the Democrats blocked Estrada, but I suppose Gordon Liu is tasting payback right now.

    If you oppose the filibuster, you have to be willing to accept whatever it is that the Republicans would have done from 2002 to 2006. I'm quite glad that neither party has been able to have it so easy, as they have both shown themselves to be disasters.

  2. I understand the libertarian impulse to take joy in watching the filibuster muck up the works and cause gridlock. However, that's not all there is to it. As congress becomes less and less able to do anything, power gets concentrated in the executive. Why do you think Obama has appointed so many "czars"? Or put differently, instead of having a duly legislated effort to address the problem of carbon emissions in this country, we now have the EPA, an unelected body, creating rules and regulations outside of the legislative process. These rules are less democratic, less effective, and concentrate yet more power beyond the reach of voters.

    On another topic, it's not just the fact that it takes 60 votes to pass legislation, it's that filibusters take up precious legislative time. There's a roll call vote to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed (yes, you can filibuster the ability to debate a bill), then there's a roll call vote to invoke cloture to end debate, then a roll call vote to actually pass the bill. Also involved in there are rules about a 30 hour ripening period. This has to be done on every bill, nomination, and proclamation, not if 41 senators disagree, but if just one objects to the request for unanimous consent. One of the biggest reasons DADT could fail to pass this session is because the Senate will run out of time. Think back to Jim Bunning holding up extension of unemployment benefits all by himself, which would later pass 98-0, or close to it. There's more to the issue that just a 60 vote requirement.

    On that topic, bipartisanship is an age of ideological cohesion. When there were southern democrats and northeastern republicans, it was possible to forge bipartisan agreements. Right now, there are vanishingly few moderates, and those that exist suck (larger point here that I don't feel like getting into, but in short, moderates have used there leverage for stupid shit and not substantive improvements to legislation). In the current session, Republicans promised to filibuster everything until tax breaks were passed. That included Scott Brown and Olympia Snowe voting against cloture on DADT despite supporting repeal. The rules are not being used simply as a supermajority requirement, but for parliamentary gamesmanship. The incentives are completely screwed. The minority party has the incentive to make the majority fail for electoral reasons, and the ability to do just that. Short of a new class of highly principled politicians (thanks, I'll be here all week), that will prove irresistable.

    First, I was like 16 in 2002, so I did not have a fully formed opinion on the filibuster. But to answer your question: yes, I would take what would have happened in 2002-2006 without a filibuster. The filibuster did not factor into Bush's major legislative clustertastrophes: the Iraq war and 2 rounds of tax cuts. One had bipartisan support and the other two were passed via reconciliation. Medicare part D was an entitlement expansion that also had bipartisan support, despite being unpaid for.

    What's more, the filibuster aids the status quo bias already in existence in the political system. So instead of problems being solved, the only things that have bipartisan support are tax cuts and unpaid-for spending. And defense. Always defense. In the UK, there is no supermajority requirement, and they're going through a rather radical austerity program via majority rule. There's absolutely no chance of something like that ever garnering supermajority support in today's senate.

    I think you're willfully deluding yourself if you think that efficient policy can come out of the current system, and certainly if you think painful cuts to entitlements will ever materialize. Remember, the party of small government just won an election railing against cuts to Medicare. Despite superficially seeming attractive to libertarians, I think the filibuster in practice does nothing to further the cause of streamlining government.