Friday, December 24, 2010

The Long Promised Filibuster Post

It seems a little anticlimactic now. The tax compromise passed, despite Bernie Sanders' best efforts. The repeal of DADT and the START ratification process have kind of overshadowed the whole thing since. However, filibuster reform is getting serious attention right now, so I guess it's worthwhile for me to have an opinion...because you know, all of democracy hinges on what I think.

I'm probably for filibuster reform. In a country where the seat share of the two political parties consistently hangs out between 40 and 60 (it might be different if our partisan shifts were more volatile), and party line voting is becoming more and more the norm, a 60 vote supermajority requirement to pass anything is just ridiculous. At the same time though, I am not one of those people whose ideal scenario is that the U.S. would switch to a unicameral, simple majority, strong party legislature and just finally give in and try to be more like Europe. I think the reforms that the Udalls* are proposing are probably pretty decent...subtle tricks like requiring that 40 senators must vote to block a bill rather than 60 to unblock it. But in an ideal world, I'd like to see more attention to the party line voting part of the problem. This is a big makes sense for the senator from Vermont to be kind of an iconoclast, railing against a compromise made between a guy from Chicago and a guy from Kentucky. What doesn't make sense is when a Republican from Massachusetts is virtually indistinguishable from one from Utah. Part of the reason that the filibuster has been able to exist in all it's flawed glory for so long is because under old Senate seniority rules, party leaders had almost no way to discipline members that didn't vote with the party. You wouldn't want to see the strict seniority system come back...rule by octogenarians has plenty of problems too...but it seems like you could do something to undermine party discipline. (Interestingly, the Democrats still mostly use the seniority system, while the Republicans don't....this is one major reason why Olympia Snowe is on a much shorter leash than Ben Nelson).

I've been playing around in my head with some kind of system by which the state legislatures get to pick which committees they want for their senators on a rotating basis....mostly just because it'd be hilarious to see John McCain forced to worry about things that are actually relevant to Arizona, and Rand Paul answerable to the legislature of Kentucky which has actual poor people to think about. Then again, we do need foreign policy experts in the Senate, and what state is going to prioritize that? I also don't know the senate rules well enough to know if it's even feasible to try to control the way a party organizes itself, I'm sure the low hanging fruit is the tweaks in vote counting methods that are already being proposed. Ultimately though, I think it's better to not just concentrate on lowering the bar to get legislation passed, but on making sure the system complements the country that we have. To me, that means nationwide parties but occasional regional alliances, so long as they aren't about white supremacy. Right now, I think party discipline is undermining both of those things.

*also, I love the fact that our Senate currently has "the Udalls," but that's probably another post. Which would also be about hypocrisy, because political dynasties are bad...unless they involve Senators I like and a part of the country I consider cool.

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