Friday, April 29, 2005

Enough already: kill the filibuster

Time for the Constitutional Option.

The Democrats rejected Frist's proposal to allow 100 hours of debate on the Bush judicial nominations. After the time period, Frist's proposal stated that the nominees would receive an up-or-down vote and no nominees (even for future Democrat presidents) could be bottled up in committee.

This farce has gone on too long and the Republican Senators who are happy to accede to Democratic tactics (McCain, Chafee, etc.) are complicit in this hijacking of the Constitution. This is not a checks-and-balances issue: the check is the Senate's ability to deny the nomination, not to procedurally squash it. Either Frist acts, or he should be sacked.

Captain Ed says the Frist offer is clever because it flushes out the Democrats:

They aren't fighting for debate or free speech -- they want to avoid having to defend their opposition at all costs. The Democrats want to limit the debate to sound-bite sniping in the sympathetic press, not be granted scads of time that will ultimately expose the lack of evidence they have of any unfitness or impropriety on any of these nominees.

Maybe, but only the most credulous believe that the Democrats are fighting for debate, free speech, or principle of any sort (other than screwing the President).

Robert Robb hits the nail on the head by noting that the Senatorial procedures themselves are farcical and simply stupid. Regarding the filibuster, he states:

In reality, far from being a reason not to confirm conservative judges, Senate traditions and practices are a problem in their own right.

Let's take the filibuster. Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., says it is to protect "unlimited debate." But in today's practice, there is no such senatorial debate.

Instead, there is a virtual filibuster. The majority leader is informed of an intent to filibuster. The leader then decides if the 60 votes are there for cloture, or if a cloture vote is desirable for political reasons, even if the votes are not there. Either a cloture petition is filed or the matter is dropped.

The debate, to the extent it takes place at all, is through dueling news conferences, press releases, television and radio appearances and staged rallies. Anyplace except on the floor of the Senate.

The filibuster used to be an exceptional maneuver. With the virtual filibuster, the exception has become the rule. All major matters now require 60 votes in the Senate to pass.

So, far from being a protection for debate, the filibuster in modern practice requires an extraordinary majority for the Senate to act on anything of importance - contrary to what the Constitution contemplates.

The only exception is matters pertaining to the budget resolution [and certain defense issues -- TKM], which are exempt from the filibuster. This has resulted in a perversion of the budget resolution process, trying to stick in things not really budget related - such as drilling in the Arctic refuge - so that they can be approved on a simple majority vote.

And the filibuster isn't necessarily the worst abuse of power a Senator can commit: there's also the "hold":

It is also revealing, and not a surprise, that the worst abuse occurs outside the rules. That is the practice of individual senators putting what is called a "hold" on the consideration of presidential nominees.

The rules don't provide for this. It is not a recorded event, even though it often leaks out. And it is a gross abuse of political power.

Usually the hold is put on to compel some action by the executive branch. And it seldom relates to anything the actual nominee has done.

A couple of years ago, Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., put a hold on Mike Leavitt's appointment to head up the EPA because she was upset about false assurances the agency had made about air quality after 9/11. But Leavitt had been governor of Utah at the time.

Abuse is bipartisan. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, once was holding up about 400 Air Force promotions, demanding that four transport planes be delivered to his state's National Guard.

More recently, holds have been placed on Bush nominees to head up the EPA, which is again vacant, FDA and the Office of U.S. Trade Representative.

This is not, as commonly claimed for the filibuster, protection against tyranny by the majority. Instead, it is the tyranny of the smallest minority of all, a single senator.

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Its traditions and practices, far from deserving honor and deference, need a thorough scrubbing and reform.

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