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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Majority rules

It's one of the basic lessons of civics -- majority rules. Somehow it has been twisted in the "World's Greatest Deliberative Body" so that it takes an uber-majority to get things done, a legislative rule that lies at the heart of why it's impossible to get things done in amid partisan bickering and deal making.

And with Sen. Joseph Lieberman I-Insurance Industry, doing his best to gum up the works by protecting his home state's largest industry in Senate heath care talks, it's time to take his power away.

Bob at Blue Mass Group
reminds us that the Senate has a process, called reconciliation, that allows for simple majority votes, the process favored by the Constitution. It stems from 1974 and has a number of "victories" under its belt - particularly the Republican Congress passing Bush tax cuts that eliminated the Clinton budget surplus and are the foundation of our current deficit nightmare.

Senate leaders have always held reconciliation is abeyance in the hope they could attract Republican support and create at least the cover of "bipartisan" support for health care. With the exception of Olympia Snowe's massively hedged committee "yea," those have been in serious shortage.

We're now also seeing the impact from swing state conservative Democrats like Nebraska's Ben Nelson and the ego-driven Lieberman, who wants to hold his erstwhile party up for ransom to exact some measure of revenge for his rejection by Connecticut primary voters.

Except of course Senate leaders have already handed Lieberman a plum committee chairmanship and other goodies to keep him the 60-vote fold.

In any other sphere, what Lieberman and other Blue Dog Democrats are doing would be seen as extortion. In the genteel Senate, it's "negotiation." But the time for negotiation is past.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid needs to develop some steel and make it very clear that reconciliation -- a 50-plus one majority the way the Constitution intended -- is a very real option.

Reconciliation has been described as a "nuclear" option because it will destroy any sense of collegiality. Well, you already have to look pretty hard to find civility and collegiality (and Republican votes for anything originated by the majority party).

If Reid has 51 votes, dropping the bomb will end the partisan bickering. And send the bill back over the House for some majority decision-making on a long overdue piece of legislation.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

For years, people have complained, as do you here, that the Senate process concerning unlimited debate is somehow in conflict with the principles of the Constitution. That is just not so. If you read Robert Caro's Master of the Senate, you come to understand that it is, in fact, perfectly consistent with the idea that the Senate is designed to slow things down and to ensure that there is sufficient support for legislation that it will not be the result of short-term, inflamed public passions.

Admittedly, over the years,the rules have stifled innovation and progress, but they have also stifled really bad ideas.

The current health care topics before the Senate are not slam-dunks. There are things to be said pro and con on almost every provision. The difficulty in getting 60 votes is indicative of that complexity.

December 14, 2009 5:52 AM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

Thanks Paul. I won't dispute there are valid reasons for slowing debate. But when it become apparent one side or the other is offering no alternative -- and is on the record as hoping for the other's "Waterloo" -- then there needs to be a mechanism to allow for action.

There has been ample time for consideration and actual debate. True, most of it has been to cover the backroom dealing that is the real legislative process. At some point, there needs to be some accountability -- either put up or shut up, as it were.

And at the very least, the Republican minority ought to actually have to stand up and filibuster in the old sense of droning on endlessly by reading telephone books. This process is way too antiseptic and doesn't make foes pay a price for the roadblocks they throw up.

December 14, 2009 7:28 PM  

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