November 24, 2013

Another Word for Filibuster

Filibuster (noun): Tactic of delaying action on a bill by talking long enough to wear down the majority in order to win concessions or force withdrawal of the bill. The tactic is normally employed by a group that cannot muster enough votes to defeat a bill by vote. Filibustering is possible in the U.S. Senate because Senate rules allow unlimited debate on a bill. A filibuster may be carried out by a group or a single member, and the speech need not be related to the bill under discussion. Calling for a vote to limit debate (cloture)—which requires 60 votes, the votes of three-fifths of the entire membership, in the U.S. Senate—or holding around-the-clock sessions to tire the speakers are measures used to defeat filibusters.
Let's be honest: filibusters happen regardless of what party is in the minority and which president is in office. They happen for personal reasons, political reasons, and sometimes even to try and make a point that needs making.  Both parties have used it to block nominations and legislation, and both profess to want to use it as the last option.  But even Republicans (when they are in the majority) believe that a President is entitled to his nominees.

The current Senate has basically been paralyzed on most things, not just on judicial nominations, which was the straw that broke poor Harry Reid's back last week and caused him to use the 'nuclear option' and change the rules of the Senate and the filibuster. 

Now, I'm not going to talk about  how many filibusters there were in the Dubya administration compared to how many there have been in the Obama administration. Contrary to some (OK, many), I don't get my jollies complaining about past administrations or whose fault our mess is, I want the mess fixed and equal credit for that is fine with me, as is equal blame.

But I think more than others this Senate has allowed the mere threat of a filibuster to prevent anything from getting done -- the majority Dems don't even make the Republicans work for it. They refuse to even bring votes to the floor because they assume (or are confident) they don't have 60 votes to shut down a filibuster, and instead keep their tails firmly between their legs, hunker down in their caucus and try to figure out what not to vote on next. 

Meanwhile, all the Republicans (other than  Ted Cruz, the Texas Canadian, and Rand Paul, the "I say I'm certified, you say I'm not, let's call the whole thing off"' Kentucky eye doctor) sit back smugly on their side of the aisle and count their blessings that they don't even have to shout Aye or Nay, much less get out of their chairs and actually stand for something,

You know what the problem is, right?  It's not the filibuster, or the changes to it. It's the lack of leadership.

We have a huge leadership gap in the White House, a point I made the other day, talking about how badly Barack Obama had botched the Affordable Care Act -- not the website, the entire program - because he failed to lead. 

We have the same leadership gap in the both houses of Congress too, clearly. That was made obvious by the Republican  reaction to Reid's move. While some are apoplectic about Harry Reid's audacity, more are giddy with excitement at the thought of what they can do if by some miracle they regain the majority.

And the leadership gap has been made obvious by the government shutdown. And the fiscal cliff. And 40 some-odd votes to repeal the ACA, except the parts that people like.We'll see it again and again, on the next pressing fiscal deadline in January, and on immigration, and on environmental issues, and energy policy, and foreign policy, and tax reform, and Second Amendment issues, and pretty much anything of importance.

We don't have problems naming post offices, but boy, don't even try to make a dent on anything of consequence.

And sadly we have a similar leadership gap at the State level, where gerrymandering to achieve or maintain party majorities rather than honor natural constituencies, changes in voting laws designed specifically to limit our most important right, not encourage it, and middle of the night votes on controversial issues are the norm, not the exception.

The filibuster is a symptom, not a cause. The answer to most leadership crises is not to change the rules, it's people finding backbones to do things that are unpleasant, or getting those who are self-interested out of the way to make room for people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work we need.

A perfect summation of  what we face today, and have been facing throughout the Obama administration (and before) was included in the recommendation of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles gang (officially the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform). Their recommendations were ignored (surprise, surprise), but in my opinion, one of the most important statements included in their 2010 report was not a recommendation, it was this plea for sanity:
In the weeks and months to come, countless advocacy groups and special interests will try mightily through expensive, dramatic, and heart-wrenching media assaults to exempt themselves from shared sacrifice and common purpose.  The national interest, not special interests, must prevail.  We urge leaders and citizens with principled concerns about any of our recommendations to follow what we call the Becerra Rule: Don't shoot down an idea without offering a better idea in its place.
Advocacy groups. Special interests. Media assaults. Sadly, we're all very familiar with those.  Wouldn't it be great if we could have the same familiarity with leadership? Compromise? Shared sacrifice?

Campaign finance reform, term limits, and people actually caring enough to vote will be our salvation.

The rest of it, well it's just a bunch of politicians full-of-bluster.

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