Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Curtains for You 'Buster

Health care reform passed a major milestone on Saturday. After much pressure, arm twisting, and some outright bribery, the Senate voted 60-39 to allow themselves start debating health care reform. Isn't that great?

Of course, it's not great. It's pathetic.

We hear a lot about the need for 60 votes, and cloture, and filibuster threats. What happened to passing a vote via will of the majority? The talk of "60 votes" is so persistent you might think the filibuster is some sacred institution, enshrined in the Constitution. It's not. It's a gimmick. The filibuster and its ilk the last refuge of those philosophically committed to government inaction. It's time for them to go away.

The authors of the U.S. Constitution were deeply concerned about they tyranny of the majority, and the separation of powers. The system they devised, with three branches of government, and two legislative houses was designed to be inefficient. It was not designed to encourage paralysis. It was not designed to allow a minority to dictate terms to the majority. It was not the founders intent that any action in the Senate would require 60 votes.

The Constitution does specify times when a super-majority is required. If the Senate wants to convict the President of impeachment or remove one of their own members from office then more than 51 votes are required. There are other extreme circumstances where the Constitution requires more than a simple majority. Motions to start or end debate are not among them.

The Constitution does state that the legislative houses get to set their own rules. And that is where the trouble started. The idea that 3/5th of the members should agree to consider an issue or cease debate is predicated on a base level of civility and common sense. The Senate rules were conceived to insure sufficient debate on important issues. Now the rules are routinely abused to insure debate never takes place and that bills are never voted on at all.

Our legislative process is already deliberately inefficient. On top of that, we have entrenched interests willing to spend a lot of money to insure that status quo. We have a political minority that puts party ahead of principles, and considers any compromise to anathema. We have mobs and media outlets dedicated to spreading misinformation and discontent. We also have a lot of problems. Our country faces a multitude of challenges. We need to find a way forward if we're going to confront them. We need to end the gridlock.

Most of our problems aren't going away anytime soon. But there's a way to get rid of the unnecessary filibusters and friends. The Senate created these barriers for itself. It has the power, the right, and the obligation to take them away.

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