Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Place Where Legislation Goes To Die.

The center-left editorial board of the Los Angeles Times actually had a pretty good idea. It suggests that the Senate end the practices of filibusters and secret holds when given the opportunity on January 5, 2011 to change the rules.

The U.S. Senate, once proudly known as the world's greatest deliberative body, has in recent years degenerated into something else: The place where legislation goes to die. It earned that distinction after Democrats won a majority in 2006 and Republicans took unprecedented advantage of long-standing Senate rules allowing the minority to block progress.

There's a good chance Democrats won't hold the majority much longer, however. That's why both parties should be willing to eliminate such anti-democratic practices as the filibuster and the placing of secret holds on legislation. And an opportunity to do so, which only comes along once every two years, is about to arrive.

I think that's a terrific idea, but I am not holding my breath for its implementation. Like the editorial board, I am fully aware that in 2012, absent a miraculous turn-around in the economy and a surge in employment, the Senate will probably come under the control of the Republicans. Now would be a good time to rid the primary source of gridlock in the Senate by allowing for "up or down votes" on legislation and presidential appointments. We could get legislation and adequate staffing in federal agencies and on the federal bench.

Not gonna happen.

The Republicans have no incentive to go for the rules change. They've made it clear since November that they intend to thwart every bill President Obama wants and needs so that they can deprive him of a second term. The "bipartisanship" of the lame duck Congress was a fluke, dealing only with issues some of the Republicans could live with as long as they could insert a couple of earmarks in each one. Come January, however, the intransigence is back in order.

And the Democrats? Well, the Republicans know full well that the Democrats don't have the spine to actually filibuster. Even when the Democrats held control of both Houses, they preferred to keep their powder dry rather than deny Bush appointments (for example, to the US Supreme Court).

So, while the editorial board has the right idea, the grandest country club in the world will have none of it. For the next two years, very little will get accomplished, and what legislation does get by will be that which the Republicans approve of, like more tax cuts for the rich and gutting Social Security.




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