Friday, October 31, 2008

The US Senate: Go Nuclear

Years ago, the Republicans threatened to undo the ancient filibuster rules in the Senate. Back then, less informed and more traditional, such a notion seemed absurd to this blogger. How could the US government exist without balance? Turns out, years later, the question should be reversed. How can the United States continue to exist with the filibuster?

People may be scared that dangerous bills could pass. I won't lie, a few of them could - but it's not as bad as it sounds. Currently, because of our twisted and "balanced" form of government, it's hard to pass anything. In order to get 'bipartisan' support, we get ham-handed measures that don't truly accomplish anything, or bad bills passed through pork - the spoon full of sugar to make the medicine (or, better yet, poison) go down. The filibuster kills ideas, innovation, responsiveness and change. We get what we don't want or need and almost never get what we want - and the American people rarely know who to blame.

In fact, that's the best reason to undo the filibuster and other aspects of our government meant to instill 'balance.' Increased, unobstructed partisanship will lead to accountability. In the UK or Canada, if a government coalition passes atrocious bills, it's going to face atrocious consequences. That's why the most popular measures - which would be things like Social Security and S-CHIP in the United States - are universally supported by all parties in other countries. With party control and party unity, people know who to blame and who to reward. America, on the other hand, makes the system less transparent, more confusing and more inside baseball. The confusion leads to special interests controlling the agenda, often at both sides of the table.

Furthermore, the filibuster is the biggest thing separating us from true reform. The American people want results; they want to see parties step up and do something. If parties don't do anything with their control, they'll lose power to the party that wants to continue to press for change. Once there's real results, those results can then be judged. If, for example, Washington passed national health care that provided universal access, better care and did so at a big cost savings, the American people will rejoice. They'll vote for that party for years to come, until it becomes politically unacceptable to undo medicare for all - until it became something universally supported. Say goodbye to special interests having overwhelming control, because politicians will be forced to be more responsive to the general public due to the increased accountability and demands on their singular leadership.

Undoing the filibuster handcuff may be the best bet, over the long run, to keep social security safe, combat global warming at a national level and improve this country's infrastructure. It may be the best bet to make sure our military is strong and our budget is balanced. It would also be the best measure to make sure no one party went too far or became too corrupt, because there'd be no where to hide. Becoming a more partisan country would be a dramatic political shift, but one that favors people and ideas. Going nuclear in the Senate, gutting the filibuster, is the first, easiest and best step this country should take if we're going to be serious about wanting change.


Anonymous said...

So, if we take back the senate and house in the future, are we going to see a post from you about how we need the filibuster back?

Ryan said...


First off, unified government from the presidency to the house to the senate is very rare, so it's not likely to happen for a very long time.

Furthermore, if it were to happen again, and the Republicans gained complete control, if they passed something supremely stupid (like repealing medicare or social security), they would be voted out en masse. Why? It would be transparent; the American people would see who made the decisions and abused the power and vote accordingly.

Finally, because of the way that the Republicans did abuse their power, I don't think we're going to see the same sort of extremist Republican majority come to power in each house and in the oval office again. There's going to be a GOP civil war and whatever emerges is going to be very different - and quite hopefully much better or a much smaller.

Ryan said...

Just an FYI

Here's the current hoops bills have to go through to pass:

In the House:

The bill must be filed, with co-sponsors. It usually takes many co-sponsors to get a bill to pass.

The bill must get through committee; the vast majority of bills never do.

The bill then has to get through the entire House.

The Senate:

A bill must be filed; co-sponsored. It usually takes many co-sponsors to get a bill to gain steam.

The bill must get through committee.

Then it must get a filibuster proof majority (with the exception of the budget).

Then it must pass.

But we're not done yet!

House and Senate:

Now the two similar bills must go through and pass conference committees. This in and of itself can be a very difficult process, because there's often very different versions of these bills, with people wanting very different results. Let's assume it passes conference committee.

Now the unified bill must be passed through the House and Senate again - and these bills are often radically different than the original bills passed, so again, this is no easy process.

Now, we're *still* not done. The bill must survive the veto pen. If it does not, to pass the bill there must be a veto-proof majority (2/3rds, I believe).

And we're STILL not done. Now that the bill is law, it must pass constitutional muster. If the bill is radically far out there, it very well may not.

So under normal and even no-where-near normal circumstances, it's very hard to pass obscene bills.

Do we really need a filibuster, with all those other safety measures? NO!

About Ryan's Take