Cleavage on Senate Reform

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Because of inclement weather I did not get the liberal talking points yesterday. If the following comments are not in step with current liberal doctrine I will profusely apologize, delete this post (replacing it with a hagiographic review of Joe Biden’s Vice-Presidency), and report to the nearest re-education camp with only my Streisand CDs, little red book of Paul Krugman’s sayings, and  my ragged biodegradable burlap bag of Arugula (and other green plant like material).

Many progressives are distraught Harry Reid bailed on real filibuster reform this week. The Senate will only make modest changes agreeable to the Republicans. In other words, it will be business as usual in the upper chamber of Congress for the next two years.

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Is the lack of real Senate reform a bad thing? Maybe, but I’m not so sure…

The Senate is – has always been – resistant to majority rule; it was crafted to be that way. North and South Dakota, Alaska,Wyoming, and Vermont – with a combined population of only 3.5 million, have the same combined representation – power – as New York, Illinois, Florida, Texas and California with a total of 115 million. Again, it was planned that way (the Constitution would surely never have been adopted otherwise). Senators representing a score plus one of lightly populated states can (and often have) thwart the legislative goals of those representing a vast majority of the population. The power of individual senators and the rules of the body also limit a majority’s ability to get its way, or at least get its way in anything like a hurry.

Of course, a Senate with “correct representation” and run like the House where a bare majority can do basically whatever it wants, might be a good thing; it would make America a parliamentary system. On an abstract level I support such a reform. State sovereignty is an anachronism. Any proposal to radically alter, or abolish, the Senate has no chance of happening. It would require a Constitutional amendment to make changes and none of the smaller states would ever agree.

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But, but, but… The sword cuts both ways. Better the devil you know. Look before you leap. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. 

Tampering with the Senate filibuster rules is a dangerous business for Democrats. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. This year the Republicans are frustrating the Democratic majority. In four years, however, there may be a Republican president, House of Representatives and Senate. Without the filibuster (and other nondemocratic measures (think holds), Democrats would then be powerless to prevent a disciplined conservative majority, even if it were only by a single vote, reforming erasing almost every progressive program.

If Democrats were to employ the nuclear option now and end the filibuster in whole or in serious part, should the Republicans capture the Senate they would surely retaliate in kind. In 2015 or 2017 Republicans, citing the reform of this year as justification, could strip power from minority Democrats. 

The Filibuster may limit saintly Democrats from enacting noble legislation, but it also prevents wicked Republicans from enacting devilish laws, too.

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There is one area, however, where reform would be all for the good – confirmation of presidential appointments, and particularly judicial appointments. For the past decade or so each party has attempted to torpedo the judicial nominees of a president of the opposite party. This has resulted in a depleted federal judiciary and a reluctance of potential nominees to undergo the prolonged and rocky road to confirmation. It’s worst, of course, with Supreme Court nominees. Presidents increasingly name young  “stealth” candidates with little or no legal record to attack or bland middle oft the road lower judges with only their good confirmation prospects to commend them. Nominees have grown skillful at dodging questions about controversial legal matters.

Increasingly executive branch nominees are resisted by the opposing party simply because they share the President’s political views or are deemed too partisan (and, of course, Congress keeps expanding the number of executive branch officials subject to Senate confirmation). Carried to its logical extreme, this practice would literally prevent a President from controlling the highest level of government.

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All original photos by JACREWS7 and subject to this creative commons license (all photos adapted)

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