Saturday, May 26, 2012

Want Your Gov't Back? Bring Back the Original Filibuster!

Let's see: A bill to curb CO2 emissions quashed in the Senate though it had more than 50 votes, the appointment of Elizabeth Warren as Head of the First Consumer Protection Division, quashed in the Senate though the pro-votes excceded 50, the original Dodd -Frank bill which demanded an exchange for risky derivatives, again over 50 votes but no passage, and finally, a 2009 credit card oversight bill that would have easily passed with just over 50 votes - having to have an insane "rider" attached (allowing people to carry guns into National Parks) in order to make the filibuster-free threshold.

What gives? Well, what gives is a paralyzed government that's now been perverted from the intent of the framers of the Constitution-  who viewed the filibuster only as an extreme measure to disrupt or impede the passage of legislation.  And to ensure that it would only be used sparingly, they demanded the Senator(s) who would prevent legislation actually stand on the Senate floor and occupy time by reading from some extensive source. For a fictional portrayal, see the Jimmy Stewart movie, 'Mr. Smith Goes To Washington'- wherein Stewart's character had to speechify until literally blue in the face to attempt to halt a vote.

Now? The requirement that an objecting Senator "hold the floor" has gone the way of coonskin caps and muskets. Today, in these times, an ojecting Senator need only place a cell call from his jacuzzi in the Senate gym and make clear his "intent to filibuster".  The expedient and efficient has overtaken Constitutional principle and the result? Gridlock!

Because the filibuster has ceased to be a real manifestation of a Senator actually holding the floor, we have seen the spectacle of a 60-vote majority now regularly needed to pass nearly all legislation. In another words, our government's law making processed has been monkey-wrenched.

Fortunately, last week, a challenge to the pseudo-filibuster was filed in federal court. The lawsuit argues (correctly, in my humble opinion) that the framers who wrote the Constitution, insisted only on specific and rare instances when a supermajority would be needed and hence the current version of the filibuster ignores the principle of majority rule - thereby requiring 60 votes for even trivial legislation.

My prediction is that this challenge will likely lose, on account of Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution allowing each chamber of congress to create its own rules.

My own suggestion then, is for the Senate itself to man-up and take the nation's business (rather than party affiliation) to heart, and change the filibuster rule to what it was in the 1950s, 60s. That is, allow it, but mandate the objectors have to do what the old time Senators did and get their butts out on the Senate floor and read, and read, and read.

In other words, no more filibusters on the cheap! The result will return the device to how it was originally envisaged: a rare tool employed when all else fails to block legislation viewed as pernicious. At least if that is done. we may get back to some semblance of a government that works.

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