Monday, December 21, 2009

You Break It You Own It

Paul Krugman did a good piece yesterday on our broken political system and our dysfunctional U.S. Senate. He points the finger at the “filibuster,” a self-imposed rule in the Senate that appears nowhere in the Constitution, which the Republicans have used to an unprecedented degree to grind Senate business to a halt.

He writes:
Some people will say that it has always been this way, and that we’ve managed so far. But it wasn’t always like this. Yes, there were filibusters in the past — most notably by segregationists trying to block civil rights legislation. But the modern system, in which the minority party uses the threat of a filibuster to block every bill it doesn’t like, is a recent creation.

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.

I’m glad people like Paul Krugman have finally awakened to a story that us lefty bloggers have been writing about for over two years. In September 2007 I linked to a Digby post about this (complete with a very interesting chart), noting the hypocrisy of Republicans filibustering everything that crossed their path when they whined about “Democratic obstructionism” when they were in the majority.

Anyway, here we are talking about the filibuster again, and here I am linking to another Digby post, with lots of very interesting charts. Here’s one:

Digby writes that abolishing the filibuster is a nice pipe dream but it won’t happen because both parties like it too much, plus there’s not much difference between 50 and 60 votes. She writes:

The argument for abolition of the filibuster falls apart when you see that the Dems have the 60 votes and---it doesn't make any difference. And that's because there is always some pampered little prince or princess who thinks he or she should be running everything and they will hold up the process regardless. That 50th Senator for the vote would be as hard to get as the 60th for the filibuster unless the Democratic party starts to require some partisan loyalty.

That’s exactly right. I don’t see how abolishing the filibuster will do anything but give fodder to the “Democrats are totalitarian Fascists/Socialists” tea bagger set.

But here’s what I don’t get. If the Republicans insist on gumming up the works, threatening to filibuster everything from this healthcare bill, to judicial nominations to the federal appeals court (remember when "the president's judicial nominees deserve an up or down vote”?), to an extension of unemployment insurance, to whether D.C. should have House representation, well, I say: call their bluff, Democrats.

Seriously, I realize it will grind things to a halt but that seems to be the Republican Party’s intent here, anyway. So let’s just let them stand up there and talk for hours and hours on end about why people can’t have an extension of their unemployment benefits or why the dang Department of Defense can’t be funded.

Can you imagine if the Pentagon ran out of money and when everyone asked why the answer would be, “Republicans are filibustering the bill, and you can watch it on C-SPAN”? I’m betting that filibuster won’t last too long.

Democrats need to play some hardball here, instead of constantly capitulating to the minority party. If the Republicans are going to insist on breaking our system, then for crying out loud, make them own it.