Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Monday, December 21st, 2009.


Next: Senate Reform?

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Congress

Apparently the Senate took some sort of procedural vote on health care reform in the middle of the night, and it passed. The bill itself didn’t pass, mind you; the vote was a procedural vote that clears the way for another procedural vote. They’ve got at least two more of these procedural votes to go before they get to the real vote, which is expected to happen on Christmas Eve.

At the New York Times, Paul Krugman asks if Congress is capable of making hard choices and acting responsibly. He argues in particular that the Senate must change its parliamentary rules — which are not spelled out in the Constitution, rightie hysteria to the contrary — so that a year like this one in the Senate cannot happen again.

The Senate rules as they are assume that most senators are not crazy. The Senate has always struggled with some level of corruption and incompetence, but when the nation faced a crisis most senators were capable of responding responsibly and rationally. That is not to say that these responsible and rational people always made the best choices, but you could see they had responsible and rational reasons for choosing as they did.

But now the body politic is infested with some sort of social pathology called “movement conservatism,” which is neither responsible nor rational and exists, like a virus, merely to replicate itself. Although there are many vested interests pulling its strings, ultimately movement conservatism is a brainless organism that is killing its host.

The vested interests themselves are not working in their own long-term best interests, since an impoverished and backward America is not conducive to profits. Nor is a dead planet. So one could question whether there is any intelligence at all directing the Right.

That said, Krugman explains the differences in the parties —

Some conservatives argue that the Senate’s rules didn’t stop former President George W. Bush from getting things done. But this is misleading, on two levels.

First, Bush-era Democrats weren’t nearly as determined to frustrate the majority party, at any cost, as Obama-era Republicans. Certainly, Democrats never did anything like what Republicans did last week: G.O.P. senators held up spending for the Defense Department — which was on the verge of running out of money — in an attempt to delay action on health care.

More important, however, Mr. Bush was a buy-now-pay-later president. He pushed through big tax cuts, but never tried to pass spending cuts to make up for the revenue loss. He rushed the nation into war, but never asked Congress to pay for it. He added an expensive drug benefit to Medicare, but left it completely unfunded. Yes, he had legislative victories; but he didn’t show that Congress can make hard choices and act responsibly, because he never asked it to.

Righties have no interest in governing, in the same way that small children have no interest in nutrition, and if you put them in charge of government they behave like the proverbial children in a candy store. Thus, the whole country is being Californiaized.

Once upon a time — the 1960s, to be precise — threatened or actual filibusters affected only 8 percent of major Senate legislation. After the Dem takeover in 2006 this figure soared to 70 percent. I suspect this year it has been higher. Like I said, the Right exists only to sicken its host. (Of course, in the same period of time the number of registered lobbyists in Washington has grown from 50 to 23,000, I’m told.)

And the filibuster is not the only procedural trick the Right has used to screw up the Senate. It appears that using procedure to stop the proceedings is about all they do.

Krugman makes some suggestions for amending the filibuster without abolishing it outright.

For a more radical proposal that I do not necessarily endorse — and which would require a constitutional overhaul — Charles Lemos decries the way in which people in rural parts of the country are overrepresented in the Senate. So often, the senators who stand in the way of progress, both parties, are from states with very low populations. Lemos argues that these low-population senators are the ones most under the influence of lobbyists and do the most damage. Lemos acknowledges that changing the way states are represented in the Senate isn’t going to happen without tearing the country apart.

Even so, there’s an argument to be made that Senate reform must become a priority, because without it nothing else can be a priority. Even if it’s killing us.

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