Monday, July 16, 2007

Liberal media, my tailfeathers (filibuster edition) (updated below)

Kevin Drum, here, discusses the fact that Republicans are, in essence, "filibustering" every piece of legislature they can, so they can then accuse the Democrats of running a "do-nothing Congress":

Republicans are basically filibustering everything they can get their hands on but aren't paying a price for it because filibusters are no longer filibusters. Thanks to a gentleman's agreement reached several decades ago, you no longer have to actually take to the Senate floor and talk until you drop. You just announce your intent to filibuster, the majority leader takes you at your word, and shortly thereafter schedules a cloture vote. No muss, no fuss. All you have to do is write a note and the bill in question suddenly requires 60 votes to pass, not 51. As a result, if the minority party feels like it, they can pretty easily force every bill to require 60 votes.

But this isn't a law, and if the majority leader wants to require actual filibusters, he can do so.

Two things strike me. One, remember the enormous fuss, back when the Repubs were in charge of the Congress, over the notion that Democrats might filibuster a few judicial nominees? The press made a big deal of the "controversy" surrounding whether or not this was appropriate behavior. Now, of course, the Republican minority is basically filibustering everything, and I imagine the average person has no idea, they just see that the Democrats are failing to get anything done.

But, because of this decades-old agreement, reached so that actual filibusters (which could go on for days) would not shut down other Senate business, Republicans basically just have to say "we're going to filibuster this" and all that happens is the bill suddenly needs 60 votes instead of 51 to pass, and since the Democrats don't have 60 votes, nothing ever passes.

The Republicans are clearly abusing this agreement, and, as political starategy and as political theater, I'm all in favor of the Dems actually forcing the Republicans to read the phone book into the Senate record and so forth.

I mean, via Digby, consider some of the stuff they've blocked using this method, this year:

1. January 17, Reid Amendment to Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007: a bill to provide greater transparency in the legislative process.
2. January 24, Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007: a bill to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide for an increase in the Federal minimum wage.
3. February 5, A bill to express the sense of Congress on Iraq: disapproving of the troop escalation in Iraq.
4. February 17, A bill to express the sense of Congress on Iraq: disapproving of the troop escalation in Iraq (again).
5. April 17, Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007: an original bill to authorize appropriations for fiscal year 2007 for the intelligence and intelligence-related activities of the United States Government, the Intelligence Community Management Account, and the Central Intelligence Agency Retirement and Disability System, and for other purposes.
6. April 18, Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2007: a bill to amend part D of title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide for fair prescription drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries.
7. June 11, No confidence vote on Alberto Gonzales: a joint resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales no longer holds the confidence of the Senate and of the American people.
8. June 21, Baucus Amendment to CLEAN Energy Act of 2007: To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for energy advancement and investment, and for other purposes.
9. June 26, Employee Free Choice Act of 2007: A bill to amend the National Labor Relations Act to establish an efficient system to enable employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts, and for other purposes.
10. July 11, Webb Amendment to the national defense authorization act for fiscal year 2008: to specify minimum periods between deployment of units and members of the Armed Forces for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Harry Reid has the ability to start forcing the Republicans to actually shut the Senate down for days at a time to block what is, as you can see, some remarkably popular stuff. And, I'm sure genuine, Mr. Smith-style filibusters would get a lot of media attention--it'd be great TV. Are they actually willing to do that? It's time we found that out. Bring on the windbaggery.

EDIT: Apparently, almost at the moment I was writing this, Harry Reid pretty much did what I was calling for him to do. I like it when that happens. I get to pretend I have power! Grrrr.

Hosted by KEENSPOT: Privacy Policy