Saturday, July 31, 2010

How to Restore American Democracy on January 3, 2011

Last Tuesday the Republicans in the Senate blocked passage of the DISCLOSE act. The vote “failed” with 57 votes in favor and 41 votes against.

The DISCLOSE act is a response the recent Supreme Court decision regarding campaign finance reform. The US Supreme Court ruled that corporations have right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influencing elections. The DISCLOSE act would require that these corporations do us citizens the kindness of identifying themselves. The corporations could still spend all the money they want to buy elections, they would just have to tell us who was doing it.

Apparently, this is something the GOP now opposes.

Voting against the measure was each and every Republican senator - including New Hampshire’s Senator Gregg. Including the New England “moderates” of Brown, Snowe, and Collins. And including senator John McCain, the author and one-time champion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

Adding to the absurdity is the fact that the bill is supported by 59 senators and opposed by only 41. Thanks to the insane rules of the US Senate, they need to 60 votes to break the filibuster. Why would the Republicans unite to filibuster this particular piece of legislation? That is what they do. They filibuster everything.

The 60 votes-to-break-filibuster business was a hot topic during the health care reform debate. During that debate is was suggested that the senate rules are not absurd, and that the filibuster is there to insure that the voice of the minority is heard on important topics. But that’s not how it works and that is not how the filibuster is used.

Republicans have employed the filibuster more than 105 times during this congress. They filibustered health care reform, financial regulation reform, economic stimulus, extending unemployment benefits, judicial nominations, federal appointments, cutting taxes for small businesses, and now, corporate campaign disclosure rules. They filibustered everything.

No matter what the topic, the Republicans are opposed. Not only will the vote against, but they are opposed to even letting the vote happen at all. During the Obama presidency use of the filibuster has jumped dramatically. Its use has gone from the extraordinary to the routine.

The perpetual filibuster votes requirement has, amidst turmoil and a vast array problems that require action, turned the legislative process to a slow slog. Important laws have been distorted, delayed, water-down, or killed by a super-majority requirement for each item of business.

This is not your father’s filibuster. They do not involve a Mr. Smithian stand or principle. They do not involve feats of endurance or endless inspirations speeches. The modern Senate filibuster is a parliamentary gimmick where the speech itself is not required and can not be compelled.

The GOP found a loophole in the rules. They broke the game.

It is frustrating to watch a duly-elected legislative majority try to confront our nations problems only to be thwarted by the minority. It is tragic to see our problems fester from abuse of protocol and cruel political calculation.

This can change.

The US Constitution makes clear that the Senate can establish its own procedures. At the start of a new congress, a simple majority can establish a new set of rules. The 112th Congress will be seated on January 3rd, 2011. On that day, they can break the filibuster once and for all.