As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Senators Against Democracy

OK, is this thing on? By this point you probably know about the great and glorious bipartisan deal to sack Senate rules reform and replace it with something that can be called the same. A week or so ago I crawled out of retirement to castigate the bogus PR of the McCain-Levin compromise, which didn't only do nothing but actually would make the Senate operate worse in some respects. It comes as little surprise that this is almost precisely what will go into effect, right down to the sunset on the reforms to nominations and the motion to proceed, meaning they expire at the end of this Congress. Basically the changes amount to "Majority Leader Time Management Reform." The Majority Leader will get to stack some nominations together and move from one bill to another faster. It makes Harry Reid's job easier. It won't allow for much else. No wonder Reid pulled the trigger on it. The various changes are here and here. I've already said my peace about them. They're accompanied by a "gentlemen's agreement" that the leadership of both parties will force more accountability on the individual Senators doing the filibustering. Somehow I don't believe that a Majority Leader this pissed off about, well, accountability for his colleagues, will enforce that gentlemen's agreement.
At Tuesday's closed-door caucus meeting, Merkley was upbraided by Reid for breaking unspoken Senate rules and naming specific senators in a conference call with Democratic activists last week, according to sources familiar with the exchange. "He's pissed off so many in the caucus," said one Democratic aide piqued at Merkley. "He has been having conference calls with progressive donors and activists trying to get them energized. He's named specific Dem Senators. Many are furious. He was called out on Tuesday in caucus and very well could be again today."
I'm not in the Senate, so let me call them out. Carl Levin, Max Baucus, Dianne Feinstein, Patrick Leahy, Barbara Boxer, Mark Pryor, and perhaps Jack Reed and Joe Manchin. You can go back and forth on why these mostly old lions did what they did. Maybe they were concerned about "protecting minority rights" in the instance that Democrats return to it. This is a B.S. argument. The Senate aide who said "Roe v. Wade might be dead and Social Security would be private accounts" in a filibuster-less world apparently doesn't know that Roe v. Wade was a court case and that private accounts in Social Security, the last time it was introduced, didn't even come up for a vote in the majoritarian Republican-led HOUSE, let alone the Senate. The main usage of the filibuster in its early history was to block anti-lynching legislation. It's been employed most vigorously to stop civil rights laws. The history of the filibuster is a history of blocking liberal progress. And even if it WASN'T, there's a very direct and determined hatred of democracy here. Tom Harkin is pretty much the only Senator who dares to say this, but if the nation decides to elect a particular majority, that majority should have the ability to enact an agenda, and if the public doesn't like it afterward they can vote them out. That's basically how it works, or rather how it should work. Obviously this is a simplistic rendering that doesn't take into account gerrymandering and malapportionment (my top 5 Senate reforms are actually 1) abolition, 2) turning it into the House of Lords and making it irrelevant, 3) majority rule, 4) the "talking filibuster" or 5) shifting the burden on the minority), but that all ought to be worked on as well. The "but the Republicans have the House now, who cares?" argument is similarly bogus and shows no long-term strategy whatsoever. That's particularly true on Senate confirmations, where cabinet-level officials and all federal judges above the district level face basically the same playing field as they always did. House Republicans don't factor into that at all. Most everyone involved in the process, including Harry Reid, said at one point or another that there were 50 votes to do more than the crappy McCain-Levin template we're getting. Put another way, what there really weren't 50 votes for is using the process of changing the rules with 50 votes.  And that's a sad commentary on the upper chamber, which is so afraid of the small-d democratic process they refuse to use it to govern themselves, let alone the rest of the country. This was the first time that outside groups really forced themselves into the conversation on Senate reform, and brought it to a larger segment of the public as a democracy-distorting crisis that needed to be fixed. Fix the Senate Now had a broad coalition. They had money. They had a grassroots strategy. They ran ads. It wasn't Health Care for America Now, but it was pretty darn big for an internal procedural matter. Ultimately, they couldn't help people who refuse to help themseles. As I understand things, it took 22 years to get the cloture threshold lowered from 67 to 60 votes. Incoming freshmen Democrats almost totally supported stronger changes, and while it's not as simple as just picking off the old lions (the Senate does things to your mind, I'm afraid), I don't think the Fix the Senate groups will disband. They may come back stronger, in fact. The problem is that the planet may not have that kind of time. The Senate does move at a glacial pace, but the question is whether or not we'll still have glaciers by they time they get around to fixing things.