Well, I haven’t written about politics since before the election, but with the 112th Congress starting tomorrow, I thought I’d share a few thoughts. I’m not going to dwell too much on the so-called shellacking. President Obama had to acknowledge the loss of the House, but under the circumstances, it was not nearly as bad as it could have been. More importantly, it was not nearly the repudiation of his policies that the Republicans believe it to be. That being said, two years of Speaker Boehner will mean two years of unnecessary gridlock and leave Americans with a serious case of buyer’s remorse. I’ll write more about that later.
Tonight, I want to write about the Democratic-held Senate. There could be some very interesting and important rulemaking in the next few days or weeks in the Senate in the area of filibuster reform. The filibuster has been romanticized by Frank Capra in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Aaron Sorkin in The West Wing (Season 2: The Stackhouse Filibuster). In both instances, we were given the image of one man standing up to the tyranny of the majority and bringing the wheels of government to a screeching halt in the name of goodness and justice.
That’s a nice image, but what do you do when a minority caucus uses the filibuster for an entire session of Congress to thwart the will of the American people? I don’t know what else to call it when the Democrats begin the session with a 58-41 Senate majority, a 58% majority in the House, and a President elected with a margin greater than that with which his predecessor claimed a mandate. Vowing to thwart the legislative agenda on which Obama was elected, the Republican minority, with the help of some complicit conservative Democrats made use of the filibuster with unprecedented frequency.
So what do you do when a minority abuses the rules in such a way as to make a mockery of the concept of majority rule? Well, you change the rules. That’s exactly what Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and company plan to do. It’s not clear what, if any, reforms will be passed, but I have some thoughts on the matter.
I’m conflicted. I find the manner in which the Republicans thumbed their noses at the will of the American people expressed in 2008 truly disgusting. Having an inkling of how much better the first half of Obama’s first term could have been makes me want to blow up the arcane rules that allow minority rule in America. At the same time, I believe that the filibuster is a good way to give voice to the minority…unless it’s abused.
So here’s my solution. Go ahead and get rid of the filibuster in all cases except for the confirmation of federal judges. This is warranted by the fact that federal judgeships are lifetime appointments. Where a tax bill can be repealed, a judge much be impeached and removed by a 2/3 vote of the Senate. For something that important and permanent, I think a supermajority is warranted. However, I think that if a Senator is going to use the filibuster against a judge, they should have to own it. They should have to stand in the well of the Senate and actively hold the floor for as long as they can.
So, will my suggestion be adopted? Let’s find out tomorrow.