Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On Filibusters

Once again, I delve into the random processes of my brain. Consider yourself warned.

Senate Filibusters - One of my favorite websites back in the day was Rotten.com - not for the disgusting pictures, but rather for their very interesting take on various things. Sort of like a wikipedia for cynics. Anyway, I mention this because through this website I learned that the term "filibuster" comes from a group of guys who tookover random countries in Central America during the 19th Century. Seriously, there was an American who just decided one day to take over Nicaragua, got a bunch of his friends together, and actually did it.

In the legislative sense, the filibuster is a way of the minority to kill bills in the Senate. As of right now, it takes 60 votes to kill a filibuster (that is, cut off debate so that people can actually vote on the bill), which means that virtually nothing can pass the Senate. As a result, a lot of good legislation ends up getting killed because the party in charge doesn't have the votes. In the past year, we have been stuck with a too-small stimulus package and a health care reform bill that isn't all that. Its as if the Democrats weren't in charge.

So, on one hand, the filibuster sucks. On the other hand, if I was a Republican right now, I'd be all in favor of filibusters. And that's the basic problem. So, in terms of resolving this conundrum, allow me to suggest the following: no filibusters for legislation (or drop the cloture threshold to 55) but keep it with judicial nominations.

Here's why - people want legislatures to do stuff. They want legislation to flow and change with the times. But because of the arcane rules of the Senate (mostly) almost no legislation is passed. And that's a shame because a well-functioning legislature can be a good thing. Moreover, if the legislation is bad, removing the filibuster makes repealing bad legislation easier too.

At the same time, judges are a different story. A Federal Judge receiving confirmation gets a lifetime appointment, and has the power to nullify legislation and can even order the President of the United States to act - the power is enormous. So, in this instance, forcing a supermajority to confirm a judge is a good thing.

By the way, calling me a hypocrite for this position is perfectly fair - I am essentially changing my earlier position with regards to legislation. At the same time, something has to be done to fix Congress and make it more responsive to the people. Yes, I know that Madison wanted a Congress that was less inclined to follow the whims of the public, but we're in ridiculous territory here.

1 comment:

  1. Madison had it right...the thought that the Senate should be less deliberate is short sighted. No offense to you intended.

    Let the House be quick and "responsive"...let the more senior "Senate" be deliberate.

    The whims of the people change regularly and rarely take a long term view...that is the problem with populism. You need to remember that there are long term consequences and sometimes the party in power forgets that.