Nebton's picture

    Barbara Boxer shows how it's done

    The US Senate has many rules not codified in the Constitution. The most famous of these rules is the fillibuster. As was made clear by the threat of the "nuclear option" when Democrats were threatening to fillibuster judicial appointments, these rules are more guidelines than hard and fast laws. They are usually followed, but they don't have to be.

    Barbara Boxer decided that the rule requiring two Republicans to be present in her committee before voting was a rule that could in good conscience be ignored. I hope more Democrats (e.g., Pelosi) follow her lead.



    Senate rules are truly weird. I support skirting them when the other side is abusing them, as in this committee boycott case, but it can be a double-edged sword. Many of the rules are designed to protected the minority party. For instance, I assume that the requirement that opponents be present at committee meetings for matters to proceed was designed to keep the majority party from holding committee meetings without telling the other guys.

    Although their pretext is collegiality, I would suggest the worst of current Senate-rule excesses -- the filibuster-proof supermajority, anonymous holds -- are designed to enhance the power of individual senators, and thus of the Senate as a whole.

    Couple that with the unlimited corrupting power of the lobbyist's purse, and you have a legislative system that is thoroughly broken, with absolutely no incentive to fix itself. Witness the current health-care fiasco.

    I wish it was even remotely feasible to just get rid of the Senate, but I guess we're stuck with the House of the Landed Gentry for good.

    The rules haven't changed. They've been in place for centuries. It's the exploitation of the rules under fierce partisan pressure that's mired us in a hole.

    Gotta disagree, Genghis. Senate rules (including unwritten ones) change all the time. Through the 1960s, you had to physically filibuster to block legislation -- not just demonstrate you had the votes to defeat cloture. Cloture itself wasn't introduced until the mid-1800s, and the number of votes required to impose it has also changed over time.

    As for anonymous holds, as Republican Senator Chuck Grassley once said, "The secret hold is a practice of Senatorial courtesy extended by the respective Leaders. Even though it is one of the Senate's most popular procedures, it cannot be found anywhere in the United States Constitution or in the Senate Rules."

    Defending/expanding the power of individual members to block legislation and nominations is the one area where the Senate has shown itself truly bipartisan.

    Fair point about the recent filibuster changes. In any case, I accept the main point that the rules (and conventions) of the Senate have rendered it virtually paralyzed, with the caveat that partisan and self-interested willingness to exploit the rules has played a part as well. I liked the paralysis during the Bush years, but I suppose that if you want a dynamic government with the capability to enact sweeping reforms, such as universal health care, you have to accept the awful regressions along the changes. I do expect that the so-called nuclear option will eventually be employed if the stasis becomes worse, which could put an end to the filibustering.

    Got my doubts about enacting the nuclear option. Senators love their perks and prerogatives. They haven't even been able to muster the votes to scrap anonymous holds (NOT to abolish the holds, just to require public disclosure by the holdee). And that, as Grassley notes, is not even a formal rule.

    Real change will require Americans to actively take back their government at the ballot box. And the far right has successfully siphoned off much of the public's righteous anger into teabaggery. Democrats have effectively squandered the progressive impetus the Obama campaign fed off. The sabotage almost looks deliberate.

    I don't know if the nuclear option will be used any time soon. I just think that at some point, one party will get pissed off enough to use it to spite the other. It almost happened once already. And once that genie is out of the bottle, it will be employed regularly. I think that the Dems are actually more likely to use it if they lose seats. Without a supermajority, they won't be able to pass anything or get any judges approved in this political environment.

    If the minority is notified and invited but choose not to attend, then they have abdicated their role.  Thus I see no reason not to proceed.

    I'm tired of the Dems running scared of anything and everything and thus getting nothing done.  They were elected in the majority to accomplish an agenda so get on with it already.

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