Monday, December 21, 2009

Senate Rules Screwing Us

A lot of people on the internets want to blame Obama for this health care fiasco but he's just one guy. I'm not saying I didn't wish he had taken more of a leadership position on the narrative, but he didn't really promise to do that and in fact, there simply isn't a whole lot he can do to move the process through the Senate. The Democrats are not the GOP. They don't do party discipline and "the base," whatever that is these days, doesn't do lockstep either.

But the bottom line is if we want to fix what's broken, it seems to me that the Senate is the place to start. Krugman takes up that theme today.
After all, Democrats won big last year, running on a platform that put health reform front and center. In any other advanced democracy this would have given them the mandate and the ability to make major changes. But the need for 60 votes to cut off Senate debate and end a filibuster — a requirement that appears nowhere in the Constitution, but is simply a self-imposed rule — turned what should have been a straightforward piece of legislating into a nail-biter. And it gave a handful of wavering senators extraordinary power to shape the bill.

The political scientist Barbara Sinclair has done the math. In the 1960s, she finds, “extended-debate-related problems” — threatened or actual filibusters — affected only 8 percent of major legislation. By the 1980s, that had risen to 27 percent. But after Democrats retook control of Congress in 2006 and Republicans found themselves in the minority, it soared to 70 percent.
And from MyDD comes this additional factoid.
Still it is the unbelievable growth of the lobbying industry that is remarkable. When LBJ was the Senate Majority Leader in 1961 there were under 50 lobbyists. Today there are over 23,000 lobbyists.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a watchdog agency that tracks the amount of money being spent to influence legislation, a record $263 million had been spent on the lobbying efforts between January and July of this year in our battle for health care reform. By September that number was up to $400 million. It's likely to surpass $500 million when all is said and done coming just ahead of last year's $486 million spent. But yes, that's right one billion dollars has been spent by the various healthcare lobbies over the past two years.
That would have been a whole lot of healthcare if they used it for benefits instead to protect their profit-gouging scams. But this is the system we have right now, and it's not because the Constitution mandates it. The Senate invented these rules to protect their own cozy little club and the attendant perks they enjoy from membership. In my utopia, the progressives and liberals would all be working in concert to change that instead of hollering at the President and threatening to do the GOP's work for them. Meaning, don't attack the bills, attack the process.

[More posts daily at The Detroit News]

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Blogger JoeBama "Truth 101" Kelly said...

Fillibusters or threat of them kept a lot of nutty Bush appointees from becoming judges. Sure it sucks when the bad guys use it against us. But there was and will be a time when we need it to keep sanity in government.

7:56:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Has it really? Didn't stop Roberts or Alito from being confirmed. That being said, I'm willing to keep the filibuster if they make people actually speak. It's the shut it down on the threat of a filibuster that is so destructive.

10:02:00 AM  

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