Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dysfunctional Government

(Picture of the failed filibuster is from Ezra Klein's article here.)

The Senate used to work. Really. It actually passed bills, confirmed nominations and moved the gears of government.

Not any more.

Republican tactics of using the filibuster (See here.) have made 60 votes a requirement for passing legislation. When was the last time any party could pull that up without defectors? Answer: never.

James Fallows has a very good analysis of it here, here and here.

He points out that the media is an enabler of this process by not calling a spade a spade. In a mistaken concept of objectivity they blame both parties when, really, only one is doing this at the moment. You can make the argument that if the Democrats were the minority they'd do the same. Except they didn't. Of course, now that the Republicans have paved the way there is no reason that the Dems not do the same next time around.

There's another point that I'd also like to bring up. The media has been touted as left wing by the right for a long time. Forgetting for the moment there's no evidence of this. Forgetting for the moment with the propaganda mills such as Limbaugh and Hannity and Faux News I suspect media that doesn't have a right wing tilt to be in the minority. I argue that with this false equivalence problem, the media is actually aiding and abetting the Republicans.

Not that this surprise me. Follow the money. I don't think that the corporate control of news is explicitly tilting the news-- with the exception of Faux News. But I think that any news that explicitly burns the hand that feeds it is going to have a higher bar than news that doesn't. And this false even handedness is an easy way out.

The weird bicameral hypocrisy of the modern Republican filibuster approach is strange. After all, the filibuster is not enshrined in the Constitution. The two thirds majority (which would be 67, not 60 votes) is narrowly defined: impeachment, member expulsion, overcoming a veto, treaties and amending the Constitution. Don't take my word for it. Go look.

This means that all of the Senatorial rules-- including the filibuster-- are, in effect, laws the Senate has placed upon itself. One could make the argument they fly in the face of the Constitution itself but nowhere in the Constitution is there any reference to the rules by which the houses of government operate.

Which have now changed.

Before the current Republican use of the rules it took a simple majority to pass laws. The filibuster was used in only extraordinary circumstances. Now, it takes a supermajority to pass anything but the most bland and timid of legislation.

Consider this allusion: the ship of state has two teams, both of which are required to man the oars and move forward. It's hard to move forward if one team has decided to burn down the ship to the waterline if it doesn't get its way.

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