Why the Transformation we Hoped for in 2008 May Finally Arrive in 2012

2008 was supposed to be a transformational election. It wasn’t. Part of the blame certainly rests on President Obama who failed to propose policies that adequately met the grave problems our nation faced and continues to face, and for his reluctance to use his office to be advocate-in-chief. The largest portion of blame, however, rests with the United States Senate and its archaic rules that have been exploited by Senate Republicans in order to make an ordinarily slow process into one that no longer moves at all. To the disinterested observer, it appears our government isn’t doing anything and Democrats failed to deliver on the transformation they promised. A closer look reveals that is not the case.

The drafters of our Constitution intentionally made it difficult to pass legislation, and famously put into place several forms of checks and balances in order to make sure legislation was deliberately thoughtful and no political branch became too powerful. With that said, the founders also understood that a weak central government, or one that could not make decisions, was a recipe for failure. Keep in mind, the reason the Constitution was drafted in the first place was that the existing governing document, the Articles of Confederation, gave each State’s representatives so much power that the federal government was left unable to respond to the country’s needs. One could persuasively argue that over the past several years, we have returned to the dysfunction that overran government during the reign of the Articles of Confederation.

Democrats took over both houses of Congress in 2007. In each of the three Congressional sessions since 2007, Republicans have shattered the previous record for filibusters (80). In less than three sessions, Senate Republicans have filibustered 385 bills. While this may now seem normal, it has not always been this way. To give some historical context, in the 34-year period from 1917-1960, only 30 filibusters were filed in the Senate. To put it another way, it would have taken historical Senates 150 years to file as many filibusters as Mitch McConnell and his Republican cohorts filed in the last congressional session. To be fair, Democrats have abused the filibuster at times as well, but nowhere near the levels currently being seen.

The Senate’s reputation for a place where bills go to die is not just attributable to the filibuster. There are other various legislative moves, such as holds, that bottle bills up in committee so they cannot procedurally advance or receive a vote.

To fully understand just how good the Senate has become at killing legislation, one need look no further than the 2009-2010 legislative session. In that session (Obama’s first two years), the Democratically controlled House of Representatives and Speaker Nancy Pelosi passed 375 bills that never got an up or down vote in the Democratically-controlled Senate. This long list of bills included the following pieces of legislation: the Paycheck Fairness Act; the Elder Abuse Victims Act; the Wounded Veterans Job Security Act; the Veterans Retraining Act; the Vision Care for Kids Act; the Water Quality Investment Act; the End the Trade Deficit Act; the Job Creation Through Entrepreneurship Act; and the Promoting Transparency in Financial Disclosure Act. For a description of what these acts, and other blocked acts, would have done, you can go here. I cannot help but think that had these 375 bills not died in the Senate, then 2009 and 2010 may have actually been the transformation we were hoping for and expected.

There is hope though. At the start of each Congressional session (next one begins in January 2013), the first thing the new Senate leadership must do is adopt the rules of the Senate. It is generally accepted (although not universally accepted) that approval of the rules cannot be filibustered and can be passed with just 51 votes (or 50 if Vice-President Biden signs on). Harry Reid has finally threatened to pass a set of rules that significantly reduces a party’s ability to use the filibuster to essentially shut down the government. I am disappointed his threats are not of a complete eradication of the filibuster and that he has not promised to make good on the threat, but it appears more likely than not that should the Democrats retain control of the Senate, the filibuster as we currently know it will be no more.

The one thing that has so far prevented either party from reforming the filibuster is the fear that once they lose control of the Senate, the other party will ride legislative roughshod and pass a torrent of unfavorable legislation. This is what would happen, but that is a good thing. Elections have consequences. Removing undemocratic hurdles to legislation makes much clearer the impact of elections and choosing to elect Republicans or Democrats. For example, had Democrats been able to implement the laws supported by the White House and a majority of both houses of Congress in 2009 and 2010, we would have a very clear record on which to examine whether congressional Democrats and President Obama deserved to be reelected.

Instead what we have is a legislative record, particularly in the last two years, that have failed to address any of the nations’ problems in a meaningful way. Republicans are the primary culprit for complete inaction and at the same time get to blame Obama for the nation’s continuing woes that go unaddressed. Ending the filibuster would go a long way to end such shenanigans, clarify the difference between the parties, and bring very real consequences to who wins in November.

– Dylan


6 Responses to “Why the Transformation we Hoped for in 2008 May Finally Arrive in 2012”

  1. That’s interesting, I did not know they voted to adopt the rules each session, I thought they were stuck with them till they could get 2/3 to overturn any.

  2. If Reid follows through (I will not hold my breath), then I’ll applaud him. The link you provided states that the filibuster would not be removed altogether, but that it would once again become impractical to use. About time.

  3. Joel Stucki Says:

    Interesting. Sort of a “let ’em play” approach. I suppose, if ending filibusters backfired, they could be reintroduced after the next elections?

    I’d like to see what effect that would have in conjunction with campaign finance reform. If we had authentic people in office who truly held their positions by virtue of their character and the issues they really believe in, it would probably be safer to pass a rule against filibusters. Maybe then they wouldn’t ride roughshod over each other.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    What the hell. I left an anonymous comment before and you deleted it. That is so lame.

    You pissed me off, so I went back and read all of your posts–then I got to the first one. Wow. Just wow. Let’s see. Before I go full-on troll on you guys, I thought I’d grade you thus far and give you a last shot.

    No Dogma: Fail. Mitt romney bad, democrats good, 2012 election important. You guys so smart. Got it. I think it’s inherently dishonest to post a link to a website like PCTC while claiming to raise the impartial dialogue. I would admit–some of those programs sound commendable, but it’s not about that. Republicans like myself are about PAYING for it. We don’t care how good a program is, HOW YA GONNA PAY FOR IT?? I am a rogue in the sense I also oppose any tax break. New spending AND tax breaks are to be avoided. You guys clearly have a dogma. I suppose I do too. But I didn’t write a blog committed to “no dogma” then turn total-hypocrite while deleting any comment I disgree with or deem as snide. LAME. Fail.

    What else? Ah yes.

    Unsupported claims: Remarkable fail. Ha! Candace took nathen to the woodshed over crap he was spouting off. I’ve noticed other things as well.

    No dissertations: Fail. I suppose this one is subjective, but I found “the solution to everything (seriously)” quite tedious and drawn out.

    Unique Analysis: Fail. You mean there’s an election coming up? People take things out of context? Campaign finance reform?? not unique.

    And my favorite:

    Humor: UTTER FAIL. You guys haven’t even attempted to be funny.

    This is how it is–you guys can keep posting this arrogant analysis. We can respond. but you need to stop deleting comments that don’t please you that dont cross the line. In fact, don’t delete this one, or I will go full on troll on you fellas.

    And I’m a really good troll 🙂

    • Dear Anonymous:

      First of all, thank you for taking such a keen interest in our blog. I wish everyone had the time and dedication to go through and read each of our posts.

      The blog has been up for more than a month, and to date we have deleted one comment (which turns out was yours). As we’ve stated before, we strongly encourage readers to leave comments. We simply ask that people identify themselves at least with a first name. Anonymous comments (particularly critical ones) are not in the spirit of this blog, which strives for transparency and candor. We reserve the right to delete posts that we feel are mean-spirited and/or do not add constructively to the dialogue. But we don’t simply delete dissenting comments, something you no doubt observed while reading previous posts.

      You seem to have confused the word dogma with the concept of having an opinion. At no point did we say this blog was non-partisan. The blog features a picture of the Kennedys and is called the “bluebrothers.” Clearly we are liberal. We’ve made no attempt to hide that fact. When we say we don’t cling to dogma, we mean we don’t blindly support the Democratic Party, Barack Obama, or Harry Reid. When Democrats make mistakes or decisions with which we do not agree, we will chime in accordingly. At the moment, however, it’s difficult to focus on the mistakes of the Democrats simply because the Republicans are providing so much blog fodder.

      We can work on the humor. I’ll give you that.

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