Monday, January 11, 2010

Rule 22

Someone, Thomas Geoghegan, finally explained just why Senate Rule 22 which requires 60 votes for cloture is not only a bad rule, it probably is unconstitutional. In his New York Times opinion piece he traces the history of the rule, which allows him to pinpoint just why the rule is contrary to the Constitution and the intentions of the founders, and then suggests several ways to roll it back. His characterization of the effects of the rule, moreover, shows just why so little of benefit to the nation as a whole comes out of that august body.

So on the health care bill, as on so many other things, we now have to take what a minority of an inherently unrepresentative body will give us. Forty-one senators from our 21 smallest states — just over 10 percent of our population — can block bills dealing not just with health care but with global warming and hazards that threaten the whole planet. Individual senators now use the filibuster, or the threat of it, as a kind of personal veto, and that power seems to have warped their behavior, encouraging grandstanding and worse.

It turns out that the "nuclear option" threatened by the 109th Congress as led by Republicans might have effectively turned things around, but it is clear that the threat was only that, a threat. Republican senators knew that rolling back Rule 22 would have lessened the power of individual senators of both parties, and nobody wanted to mess with those fiefdoms. Instead, lining up votes by bribery was considered to be a much more "collegial" approach, one that ultimately benefited both the Senate as a whole and the individual senators on the make and on the take, the public weal be damned.

Mr. Geoghegan's carefully reasoned essay should be required reading in civics classes. It also should be passed around the Senate, with a note suggesting that the public just might be ready to force one or more of Mr. Geoghegan's suggested remedies. The subject might not be as sexy as health care reform, but it certainly is one that affects each and every bill that comes out (or doesn't come out) of the Senate.

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Blogger gdk said...

You might be interested in this podcast with Tom Geoghegan, posted Friday morning, which extensively covers Rule 22 and related issues.

10:41 AM  

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