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AdLib On December - 20 - 2009

The battle over Health Care Reform, the Stimulus Bill, global warming legislation, etc. has brought one thing clearly into focus.

The filibuster has transformed The Senate into an undemocratic, unrepresentative body of The People.

Imagine if our Presidential elections had the following rule, unless a President was elected by at least 60% of voters, no new president would be elected.

Would we consider that reflective of a true democracy?

So how can it be considered that bills that have over 50% of The Senate’s vote fail and that as little as 41% of the vote wins in killing a bill?

Think of how much profound change and progress could be taking place if we only needed 51 votes in The Senate to pass legislation.

That’s why I think the time has come to go nuclear.

When Republicans controlled Congress earlier in the Bush Admin, Senate Democrats used the filibuster to block some of the most extremist candidates the Bush Admin was trying to push through into becoming federal judges. Bush and The Republicans were furious about the principled use of the filibuster so they gave the Dems an ultimatum.

Either they stop using the filibuster as much as they were or they would employ what they called, “The Nuclear Option”, procedural changes that would not allow filibusters to be made on judicial nominees.

This caused enormous alarm among the historically invertebrate Democratic leadership and they agreed to let objectionable extremists  become judges for life as long as the Republicans let them filibuster once in a while in the worst cases.

Fast forward to today, when far more important changes to this nation are in the hands of a huge 60 member majority for the Dems and  how do they deal with the much more egregious overuse of the filibuster by The Republicans?

They shrug their sholders, give into those Senators who are tools of the very corporations affected by the bill, pay bribes to the Senators who engage in extortion and try to put lipstick on the legislative pigs they shepherd out of their chambers, squeezing from their forced smiles, “It’s a great start!”

The time has come to return democracy to The Senate. The filibuster is flatly undemocratic. Now, the weak kneed ones like Harry Reid in The Senate would run around waving their arms and shrieking at the scary idea that democracy might continue even under Republican majorities in Congress and fight to keep The Senate in eternal gridlock (which after 2010 I’m afraid it will be, The Dems aren’t likely to have a larger majority in the future).

But those Senators who have a fear of democracy are in the wrong business. Imagine the sweeping changes and progress that could be made to this nation if we only needed a simple majority in the Senate? Isn’t that worth accepting that Republicans would have the same right under a democracy when they get control. Isn’t that what elections are for?

The key point here is that if they put aside their fears of democracy and accomplished so much under true democracy, the Repubs would be out of power in the Senate for at least a generation and if they returned after that, society will have evolved so far from where they are today, they’d never maintain power if they didn’t reflect the new America.

I would argue that it would be a better reign on unpopular legislating and give the Dems the tools to reverse bad legislation quickly.

A little background, David Dayen wrote this on FDL:

In the 110th Congress, 70% of major bills were filibustered, as opposed to 8% in the 1960s. Political leaders just didn’t see the filibuster as an impediment a few decades ago.

http://news.firedoglake.com/2009/11/27/the-nascent-movement-to-end-the-filibuster/

He also referred to this explanation of how the Nuclear Option works:

The nuclear option is used in response to a filibuster or other dilatory tactic. A senator makes a point of order calling for an immediate vote on the measure before the body, outlining what circumstances allow for this. The presiding officer of the Senate, usually the vice president of the United States or the president pro tempore, makes a parliamentary ruling upholding the senator’s point of order. The Constitution is cited at this point, since otherwise the presiding officer is bound by precedent.

A supporter of the filibuster may challenge the ruling by asking, “Is the decision of the Chair to stand as the judgment of the Senate?” This is referred to as “appealing from the Chair.” An opponent of the filibuster will then move to table the appeal. As tabling is non-debatable, a vote is held immediately. A simple majority decides the issue. If the appeal is successfully tabled, then the presiding officer’s ruling that the filibuster is unconstitutional is thereby upheld. Thus a simple majority is able to cut off debate, and the Senate moves to a vote on the substantive issue under consideration.

The effect of the nuclear option is not limited to the single question under consideration, as it would be in a cloture vote. Rather, the nuclear option effects a change in the operational rules of the Senate, so that the filibuster or dilatory tactic would thereafter be barred by the new precedent.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_option#Changes_to_Senate_rules

This is the kind of change we need now. We have a window here where Dems should maintain majorities for years and an enormous amount could be accomplished. Meanwhile, Pres. Obama could fulfill his promise and ambition to be a modern day FDR and make the kind of big course corrections needed to tear this nation away from its growing plutocracy and back to a true democracy that serves its majority of citizens.

I know it’s scary but i believe that the prospect of becoming a truly progressive 21st Century democracy outweighs the horror of democracy being practiced in the Senate.

Written by AdLib

My motto is, "It is better to have blogged and lost hours of your day, than never to have blogged at all."

102 Responses so far.

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  1. typo-knig says:

    hi guys im trying to start a movment. i know its silly for a typo guy to try and get something done, but im posting this everywhere i know caring people gather. my email is [email protected] if anyone can help or think of any ideas to spread the word

    The recent health care fiasco has proved again and again that we the people have no voice in Washington.

    What if we could actually organize something. Not some teabagger thing with signs and yelling, but on a day, one day where everyone in the country at a certain time, just went quiet. 5 minutes would do. Not to protest what Washington is doing to us, but HOW. Maybe our silence would be more powerful than our shouts. Not left or right, just America saying we know what your up to and we don’t like it. Thunderous silence could be our weapon when words fail. Not left or right. The only ideology is that we the people aren’t being heard in Washington. That corporations aren’t we the people, we are. No other agenda as we all have different views and would only like to be heard, by the Congress and the White House. This would be a completely non partisan protest. Not left nor right , not Dem or Rep. but We The People.
    This cannot be accomplished by bloggers and email spam artists. We need the media to draw some attention to the cause. We don’t want a media circus. We don’t have slogans or silly names. Our goal is that with 5 minutes of silent dignity we might accomplish what decades of shouting has not occurred. we want our voices heard. 5 minutes On Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday everyone in America stops where they are what ever they are doing and says nothing, does nothing and for 5 minutes silently shouts. We matter. We are the people.

    A simple dignified poigniant way to get our message across. We dont want banners or marches. We only want to be heard
    Spread the word to everyone you know
    Monday, January 19, 2009.
    3:00 p.m Eastern.
    Everyone stops what they are doing and for 5 minutes. We have silence
    Maybe by doing nothing we can get something done.

    • AdLib says:

      typo-knig, I think it is great to be thinking of a way to make a statement about Americans not having their voices truly heard.

      Why don’t you post an article on this and invite the members here for their feedback and suggestions?

    • whatsthatsound says:

      It’s an interesting idea, typo-knig. I like it!
      But, another typo, you’ve set the date for January, 2009. Upcoming year is 2010.
      I’ll try to send you some silence from Japan.

  2. escribacat says:

    Just saw the Senate advance the health care vote. CSPAN says there are a few more procedural votes and then another vote during the week. I thought this was now going to committee next…anyone know what’s the story?

    • Scheherazade says:

      Also, there is this from Talking Points Memo:

      Voting Underway

      For reasons tied to the murky parliamentary logic of the senate, this is the first of six votes. But the tick tock over from now to Thursday are basically just what the maximum delay Republicans can force under senate rules. That was the sixty votes the Dems needed. Let’s be clear: this makes passage of the senate bill all but certain.

    • Scheherazade says:

      I just wrote an article that explains it that very thing. Also, you can find more information at Bloomberg.com. 🙂

  3. Khirad says:

    By the way, did anyone see the retrospective video Chris Matthews had of Sen. Kennedy giving a speech on the floor to the gist of: a bunch of working people paying taxes to pay for our cushy gov’t plans, but men like us are unwilling to pay a little more in taxes to return the favor?

    It was brilliant. I’m missing him.

  4. Questinia says:

    It’s odd that a country so enamored with violence should employ such a passive-aggressive device as the filibuster.

    We should do like those countries where they go at it physically, attacking each other with their shoes and dossiers.

    Can you imagine Lieberman in a fist fight? He’s probably a kicker.

  5. escribacat says:

    Hey, Adlib, Paul Krugman’s got a column along the same vein today:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/21/opinion/21krugman.html?_r=1&src=twt&twt=NytimesKrugman

  6. escribacat says:

    Does anybody know if the vote tonight is going to be on CSPAN?

  7. Kalima says:

    I remember how “Whatever Georgie wanted, Georgie Got.” It reminds me of this song. Whatever your President has proposed is met with constant obstructors mainly from the RW, not because his proposed policy changes are overwhelming, but because they don’t like the colour of his skin and try to wrap in a bow of socialism or Marxism to make it sound legitimate to their masses, as if the masses know the first thing about either.

    My heart bleeds at the ignorance or the bought mind set of your msm, your President has a tough road ahead, please extend your hand when you can, we will all benefit no matter which country we live in.


    • nellie says:

      George had his 60 votes — and too many of them from the dems.

      • Kalima says:

        That is my point nellie, what is wrong here?

        Some of these Dems need to shift party lines, they sound way too conservative to me.

        • nellie says:

          They can’t get votes from the GOP base. Otherwise, people like Evan Bayh would probably be Republican. He and Lincoln Chafee have basically the same politics — and Lincoln was tossed out of the GOP.

          If we think the dems have troubles, the GOP is really messed up. They can’t win without their base, and they can’t win with it — because the candidates that the base will accept are wackadoodles.

          I just sing the same old song all the time — we need instant runoff voting to make third parties viable. That will improve the discourse and give us better candidates.

  8. Scheherazade says:

    Not sure if this is worth a look or not, but I happened across it a moment or two ago.

    THE CONSTITUTIONAL OPTION TO CHANGE SENATE RULES AND PROCEDURES: A MAJORITARIAN MEANS TO OVER COME THE FILIBUSTER

  9. escribacat says:

    Where’s the button?

  10. Chernynkaya says:

    AdLib, I was going to write a similar post, but you did it much better-- really! And it IS scary because I know that the Reptilians will at some point regain control of Congress. As we know, these are not our parents Reptilians either. They are MUCH more radical and fascist.

    That said, on principle, we must overturn the filibuster rules, as they are not only undemocratic, but actually designed for gridlock. They practically ensure that no legislation passes-- this is WAY beyond incrementalism.

    But I do not believe this Congressional session will ever invoke the nuclear option, and not only because these are some of the most spineless Dems ever. I think Obama himself would not request or approve of it. It’s not his way, and that’s too bad.

    • FlyingLotus says:

      While I admire O’s high mindedness on bipartisanship in principle and theory, it is not going to accomplish squat with these cretins.

      At first, I thought he was being very clever, thinking he was exposing them for the “party before country” lowlifes they are.

      Now, I just think, Eff that and Eff them!

      • KevenSeven says:

        Savior! Where the hell have you been, girlfriend?

        Adlib and I have been kicking around the idea of a “drinking liberally with the planeteers, Los Angeles edition”. I trust you are in?

        I bet he brings your sister with him…..

      • Chernynkaya says:

        Hi, Flying Lotus, and welcome! Yep, me too-- fuck ’em. Right now, my consolation prize for crappy legislation is that the Reptilians got fucked. We did too, but not as hard as they did, so there’s that.

  11. FlyingLotus says:

    I know the Party of No deserves our wrath but the democrats, I’m sorry to say, deserve our ire.

    They allowed, once again, the No No’s to frame the debate on this issue.I’m not a sporty person but even I know, that playing offensive as opposed to defensive is the better strategy.

    The dems dropped the proverbial ball, imho.

    • AdLib says:

      As many have said, if this started out as “Medicare for All” and negotiated down to “Medicare for Some”, that would have made a hell of a lot more sense.

      Instead, Pres. Obama kicked off the whole thing by letting it be known that he didn’t need a Public Option in it. Big mistake, strategically.

  12. FlyingLotus says:

    I don’t know what I find more disgusting Lieberman or the cowtowing to him.

    Sincere ?

    Why does he hold so much power?

    • AdLib says:

      Hi FlyingLotus!

      I feel so dirty! And I’ve taken 5 showers just today. For me, having to kiss his jowly ass is the most disgusting.

      And he holds so much power because of this bullshit filibuster rule. Take that off the table and he’s back to being the nothing that he is.

      • FlyingLotus says:

        Hallo AdLib!

        Sorry, keep getting sidetracked with phone calls.

        I truly, truly despise him.Not a common feeling for me.I too, feel the need to take showers whenever I see a photo of him or read anything he says.

        Makes my skin crawl.

  13. bitohistory says:

    Thoughtful post AdLib. As you noted in the post, the tactic was used rarely in the past. In the 110th session it was used 159 times. In the 111th it has been already used 101 with another year remaining.

    The propose of the Senate is/was to temper the legislation of the house and do what is good for WHOLE country. That knowledge seems to be lost on the Senate anymore. Now it is me, my party, my state.
    What would it take to inspire the Senate today to remember their foundation?

    • AdLib says:

      Thanks bito.

      Frankly, I think that way of thinking is seen as archaic now, I don’t think we can return Repubs or Blue Dogs to thinking about anything other than getting re-elected and undermining those they see as their enemies.

      I think we just have to accept that we have termites permanently embedded in the walls of the Senate and cut around them so they don’t have the power to do more damage.

      Kill the filibuster and let majority rule, that’s at least a good start to restoring the Senate to its role.

  14. KevenSeven says:

    The Nuke Option would not be worth employing unless the Senate bill was re-written to be much more liberal. Even socialist, for my taste.

    Is there NO hope that the bill does not move to the left in conference?

  15. choicelady says:

    GREAT post AdLib. We are encouraging Reid to do precisely that, if he cannot use his force of committee appointment or the President won’t use the calm but certain threat of reduced federal support to the recalcitrant senators’ home states. It IS the only way. Thank you for being so clear, providing the background on the “nuclear option” and giving us all another set of actions to pursue.

    • AdLib says:

      My pleasure Choicelady and thanks for the props!

      Once I discovered that even reconciliation is a tough road to hoe since Committee Chairmen like Baucus and other Blue Dogs would have to sign on, it seems that this is the only viable alternative to allowing the 60 vote threshold corrupt every good bill.

      I would like to see a focused push by Progressives and organizations to push for this and assure Senators that they would have huge support for doing so.

    • KevenSeven says:

      There is no chance that the president would blackmail a senator with Federal funding. Not ever going to happen.

      Electoral support? Sure.

      • Scheherazade says:

        Maybe not, but Reid sure used the lure of money to temp a few Senators to vote for cloture.

        • bitohistory says:

          Sche, Why do you think that this is such a big deal? This is done from the Village Council to the President. It has been for years.

          • Scheherazade says:

            I don’t really think it’s that big of a deal. I would like to see other states get some of the perks that Nebraska has been given, but in the end if it gets the legislation passed then I don’t have much complaint. Besides, the idea that Medicaid will be covered by federal funds for Nebraska from here on isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

            I simply mention it because I do notice that people haven’t threatened people in Congress with money, but they are tempting them with it. I would like to see both push and pull. If they can do the one as a form of encouragement, I don’t see why they can’t do the other as an additional means of motivation.

  16. KevenSeven says:

    AdLib,

    I put together a spreadsheet that assigned each of the 100 senators the percentage of the nation’s population that they represent, and added them all up.

    The Dem caucus represents 2/3rds of the population of the nation, and the Thugs have 1/3rd.

    If you can tell me how, I would post it here. Or I’ll e-mail it to you, perhaps you could create an appendix to this column.

  17. FlyingLotus says:

    I’m peaceful by nature.

    Nuke ’em ’til there’s nothing left of the ‘lil buggers!!!

  18. Scheherazade says:

    The fact that one person in the senate (read Lieberman, Nelson, etc) can hold the nation hostage is an outrage.

    • AdLib says:

      The purpose it served in the past as an occasional exception in rare circumstances is no longer the case.

      It is obsolete, a horseless carriage in the middle of the freeway slowing down all traffic to a crawl.

      It needs to be taken off the road and put in a museum.

  19. PepeLepew says:

    Does anyone know … would it take 67 votes in the Senate to get rid of the filibuster. I would be opposed to it even if Republicans had a 60-40 majority.

    Also the Senate (Like the Electoral College) may have made sense in the 1790s, but today it doesn’t. It gives little states such as Wyoming and North Dakota too much power over the people of California and New York.

    • bitohistory says:

      Pepe, My understanding is that it does take 67 votes to change Senate rules.

    • AdLib says:

      Follow the link I referenced in my post, it goes into all of that. Yes, it would require 67 to change the rules and that will never happen.

      But as described above, it’s not necessary to change the rules to shut down filibusters. It would create a precedent that of course the Repubs would employ to excess if they were to regain power.

      But so what? They vote like the Borg, with one hive mind and they use reconciliation to get what they want done anyway so the end result won’t be much different with regards to them on many key issues…but it would make a huge difference for The Dems.

  20. nellie says:

    What’s even more egregious is the fact that the 56 or so senators who would push for more progressive legislation represent an even higher percentage of the U.S. population. When you take into account big states like California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania versus Utah, Idaho, Wyoming …

    The Senate is a recipe for minority rule. Especially with the filibuster in place. I say nuke it.

    • AdLib says:

      Killing the filibuster would at least moderate the already undemocratic structure of The Senate.

      As you say, states with less than 500,000 citizens have an equal voice to states with 32,000,000 citizens. How is that fair or democratic?

      Yes, states have different interests that may conflict but isn’t a democracy about protecting the rights of all but deferring to majority rule?

      If wishes could come true, I’d wish to have the Senate restructured like the House, providing only one Senator to each state as the minimum and redistribute the remaining ones among states according to population.

      It will never happen so getting rid of the filibuster would remove a second layer of anti-democracy on top of the basic one.

      And, the way things are now, so much could be accomplished, The Dems would win the support of the majority of Americans for decades to come.

      • nellie says:

        I agree. I’m all for protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority, but subjecting the majority to the tyranny of the minority is no better.

        As you say, the senate structure is already in conflict with the notion of majority rule. The filibuster only makes the disparity more absurd.


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