Tuesday, March 02, 2010

still broken

Even though Harry Reid found a way to appease Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Metamucil) that he will stop hurting millions of Americans, my contemplated piece on the Senate's "rules" is still worthwhile.

There are some good reasons for having anti-majoritarian parts to the government and slow things down. For example, in the wake of 9/11, the Department of Justice (which includes the FBI) cobbled together their wish list of powers they had lying around for decades into a bill and named it the PATRIOT Act. Only one senator voted against it, and he didn't pull a Bunning either. There are some things that deserve more thought and should require a much larger percentage of grumpy old men and women who call themselves senators to agree.

Here's another example: Judicial Appointments. Once a Article III judge is placed on the bench, they are on there for life (or they have to retire or be impeached). That's why you see Supreme Court Justices being appointed in their 50s these days, so a president can shape the court for decades. I for one think that judges should get lots of scrutiny before they get their life time appointment. Not the did you cheat on your biology exam in high school kind of scrutiny, but what articles have you written, what opinions have you written, what briefs have you filed in court? Is this a judge that wants to find any old excuse to have the result match their ideology, ala Roberts, or are they willing to rule against their fellow travelers for the sake of a high legal principal?

But enough throat clearing, let's get to the bad stuff:
  • Unanimous Consent: this is where Bunning got the undeserved power to keep seniors from getting medical care, furloughed construction workers, eliminated health insurance and unemployment benefits. Normally, all 100 senators have to agree to how a bill is going to come to the floor of the senate. Most times, it is no big deal, but senators can use this in really bad ways (see holds below) True, not every senator is a big a jerk as Bunning. But what's to stop them, comity? These days, Senators are betting at raising money, giving red meat speeches, and showing up on the TV than they are at talking to their fellow senators. This is especially true with those outside their caucus. We may wish for a bygone era where Senators treated each other with respect and collegiality. But people also forget during that time we had segregation and husbands could beat their wives with impunity. So take off those rose colored glasses, things weren't all that great in the 1950s.
  • (Anonymous) holds: Sen. Shelby from Alabama did this recently with 70 plus appointees waiting senate confirmation. When everyone gasped, he reduced it to 3 semi-relevant appointee. His beef? Airbus, a European Union subsidized airplane maker, lost a bid for some Air Force taker to Boeing, an American company. But Airbus decided it would put its factory in Alabama, so that Shelby could be a dick. Others like my Senator Bob Bennett placed a hold on a 2nd or 3rd tier level guy at the Department of Interior so that he could get some concession from the Obama Administration about public lands. Others just place holds to get attention for their pet issue, which has nothing to do with the individual who's life is placed in limbo. These Senators do it through the unanimous consent provision, which also applies to nominees. Worse still, some are too chicksh!t to reveal who they are, so they hide behind their party leader who stands up and says he objects on behalf of someone in his caucus. Grow a pair and say why you are obstructing. Even better get rid of the whole 100 senators need to agree thing. I say 55 votes if people won't agree.
  • Filibuster/Cloture: many others have beat this one to death so I won't go into that much detail. But suffice it to say that this Congress has turned an obscure procedure in a commonplace event. The rate of filibuster is up six times the previous record. Worse still, senators don't need to actually stand there and read the phonebook anymore, it is just a time wasting device that cripples the Senate from considering anything else while time ticks away. I liked the idea of having the number slowly go down (60->55->51) so that the spirit of the idea--to force Senators to think long and hard about bill X before they vote on it--remains while not preventing a vote on the actual bill itself forever. The other reform I like is having it go away in X years such that Senators won't know which party will have majority at that time and will think about merits rather than political expediency.
  • Quorum/Roll Call Another annoying stall tactic is for some random senator to "suggest the absence of a quorum" meaning that there are not 51 Senators (assuming there are no unfilled seats due to death, resignation, impeachment, or resignation) on the floor at the moment. However, the room could be filled with those pompous windbags and the chair still has to do a roll call and wait the requisite amount of time. And as far as I know, there is no real limit on how many suggestions one can make. Now I can see the tactical advantage this could provide to the majority to twist arms of recalcitrant senators or to wheel some half-dead senator onto the floor. [By the way, LBJ passed the Civil Rights Act by getting a Senator who had just had a stroke wheeled in and point to his eyeball to indicate that he was voting "Aye" on the bill] But the opposition could use it to stall, to be jerks, or to twist arms of endangered Senators to vote with the minority party to save their own hides. But really, I just can't stand hearing that same classical music and the tape of some clerk saying all 100 names any more. It's bad enough already to watch C-SPAN.

Those are my top procedural nightmares that still plague the Senate and the country. If these were reformed/eliminated, a lot more great bills could see the light of day.


Paul_NJ said...

Your stuff is great. Would you provide a link to my blog? I'll list you among mine as well. Paul Roth http://truthanddemocracy.blogspot.com

Paul_NJ said...

Also, can you tell me how you provide links to other blogs directly on your page? I want to do it but can't figure it out. Thanks.

Unknown said...


Thanks. use the email link or call link on the blog to contact me directly so I can walk you through it. It is pretty easy to link.