« A Question For Megan McArdle | Main | Corner, Backed Into »

July 09, 2009

Comments

You're right.
Another way to think of it is to openly evaluate each vote in terms of what it values. In the case of healthcare reform, a vote against cloture values the status quo (the current healthcare system, Senate tradition, bias against new legislation, dismissiveness toward popular sentiment or plain majority rule) over all the things the proposed legislation is meant to achieve, including the prevention and alleviation of human suffering, cost-control, etc.

In some cases, voting against cloture is benign or even benevolent (i.e. blocking repeal of progressive programs). The point is that it is a tool and it's value depends entirely upon whether it is used to help or hurt people.

At least for the Democrats the religious RW doctrine should have no weight. The Kristianists(TM) argue that allowing cloture for a bill that would then pass, even if one votes against it, is equal to a vote for it.
For Dem senators it is 'just' a question about whether their corporate sponsors apply the same logic ('You could have stopped it by voting against cloture. Now it has passed. No more bribes .. eh .. donations for you!). I think there are relatively few true ideologues favoring the status quo in the Democratic party while a number of GOPsters seem to be true believers (i.e. would act their way even without monetary contributions).

You're wrong.

Actually, just the opposite is true. With the nation as divided as it is ideologically, it makes some sense to cause major controversial legislation to require more than passage by a single vote majority. The filibuster is the closest thing to we have to effect this.

You are right on the party discipline issue, that is up to the party.

The most interesting point in the Kilgore quote, with which you are in complete agreement, is his assertion that no senator has ever been defeated for re-election as a result of voting for cloture on a bill the senator will ultimately oppose. If a senator in the majority party truly opposes and thinks bad for the country the legislation under consideration, a vote against cloture is appropriate. A vote for cloture in this scenario is an attempt to have it both ways. Senators should not base votes on major issues based on whether or not that vote affects their re-election.

How many voters vote for the person running for senate, and how many vote for the party that person belong to? I would have thought it was more the latter than the former.

Senators have a responsibility to their constituents; their voting should reflect the will of the constituents more than their personal opinions. In many cases, their constituents probably knew very little about the senator themselves, but voted for the presidential candidate or the party. A senator who is honest with themselves would reflect this in the way they vote.

I would have filibustered the Iraq war, for instance.

At which point the Bushies would have invaded anyway and pointed to the AUMF as their Congressional authorization for such action (which is probably part of the reason why they were so intent on pushing the Saddam-al Qaeda link).

GOB:With the nation as divided as it is ideologically

Really? When was the last time one party (counting Lieberman and Sanders) had 60 a vote majority in the Senate, along with a house majority and the Presidency? Seems to me that the nation is about as united behind one party as it has ever been.

The composition of the Senate is never a good measure of the ideological division of the country. This is, of course, by design. Residents of smaller states are dramatically over-represented in the Senate. Just over 183,000 Wyoming residents voted for Sen. John Barrasso last fall. Sen. Barbara Boxer was reelected in 2004 with the votes of just under 7 million Californians. This is (unfortunately IMO) not a democratic institution.

Filibusters thus have little to do with the will of a majority (or a minority) of voters. My guess is that some groupings of forty Senators represent a majority of Americans, while some groupings of sixty-one represent a minority of Americans.

How many voters vote for the person running for senate, and how many vote for the party that person belong to? I would have thought it was more the latter than the former.

I'm not at all sure about this. Twelve states (not counting CT, VT, or PA) have divided Senate delegations (one D and one R). Incumbent Senators have very high reelection rates. Because of the power of seniority, voting for an incumbent because s/he is an incumbent is not entirely irrational.

Senators have a responsibility to their constituents; their voting should reflect the will of the constituents more than their personal opinions. In many cases, their constituents probably knew very little about the senator themselves, but voted for the presidential candidate or the party.

That depends on one's understanding of representative democracy. I'm inclined to the more democratic view that slightly_peeved holds, with the caveat that voters really ought to know who their Senator is and what he or she stands for. Given the scale of Senatorial campaigns, there's no reason that they should be any less familiar with him/her than with a presidential candidate or a party. And they are, in fact, voting for an individual not a party, especially when they vote for a Democrat, given the lack of party discipline in that party.

You're wrong.

Actually, just the opposite is true. With the nation as divided as it is ideologically, it makes some sense to cause major controversial legislation to require more than passage by a single vote majority. The filibuster is the closest thing to we have to effect this.

Soooooo... the Senate is supposed to require a supermajority for all bills?

That is what you're saying, you know.

If the vote for cloture is the vote that counts, then all bills require a supermajority.

Remember this will apply to "good" bills when your dear regressives get control of the Senate once more: squawking deplorements of the rogue-nation-du-jour, rubber stamps to blow up unworthy third-world countries, assorted regressive judicial activists' lifetime confirmations... all of it. Do you really fear democracy so much as to demand as many stumbling blocks as possible be put before the irresponsible masses and the levers of legislative power?

Or do you just assume that the nation is no longer "ideologically divided" when the regressives control 51 Senate votes? That, rather, the silent (and undervoting) majority has thankfully re-asserted its sane, rational control of the Senate, and that leftist contrarians had best not deny the honest-to-goodness sensible right-wing legislation this country needs a straight up-or-down vote?

This is all-or-nothing. Either you support supermajoritarian voting across the board in the Senate (and how dare the Great Unwashed wish to change the status quo ante!!) or you don't. Talking about "major controversial legislation" is all well and good, but the Republicans have made clear that what it takes for legislation to be major and controversial is that it not meet the Central Committee's approval. When said minority leadership have as their agenda legislative deadlock to demonstrate the ineffectualness of the majority party they were threatening to "go nuclear" on last session for daring to occasionally seeking supermajority votes on major controversial bills, it's hard to assume such talk as being made in good faith. When you have the spineless Beltway media openly speculating if the majority party will be able to muster the 60 votes "necessary" to pass every random bill, it's pretty clear that we're not talking about careful, measured prudence against the occasional rash and irresponsible law - we're talking about a minority party who believes that it's Just. Not. Fair. that they lost that silly election.

Sorry. We vote for cloture with the partisan, self-serving Senate we have, not the judicious, principled one we fondly dream of.

"Remember this will apply to "good" bills when your dear regressives get control of the Senate once more: squawking deplorements of the rogue-nation-du-jour, rubber stamps to blow up unworthy third-world countries, assorted regressive judicial activists' lifetime confirmations... all of it."

Memory is short, this was the tactic of choice for the Democrats in the Senate over the last eight years on everything from budgets to appointing judges. Bush not only didn't flog his own party for it, he didn't even flog the Democrats.

I find it compelling that at this point they are threatening to ostracize and publicly flog those who have a strong enough disagreement to try and protect the country from a freight train of quick legislation to ensure we maintain the Senates place as the deliberative body in our government.

Let's punish them if they don't go along...

Any Republican would have been crucified for suggesting such a thing.

Any Republican would have been crucified for suggesting such a thing.

Really? By whom. I can't even imagine a Republican needing to suggest such a thing. Did they have the problem of members of their own party filibustering Republican bills when they had a 60-member majority? I don't recall that.

Memory is short, this was the tactic of choice for the Democrats in the Senate over the last eight years on everything from budgets to appointing judges. Bush not only didn't flog his own party for it, he didn't even flog the Democrats.

This is mostly false. The Democrats filibustered much, much less when in the minority than the Republicans have. And Dems, of course, actually had a majority of the Senate for the last two years of the Bush administration, during which time the Republicans set a record for filibustering.

And during the years of Republican majority in the Senate, Senate Republicans and President Bush repeatedly "flogged" Democrats for filibustering (just Google "up or down vote").

What's slightly more true is that most progressives online were perfectly comfortable with Democratic filibustering during the years of Republican majority...and in fact urged more filibustering. Even here, though, there are some notable exceptions (e.g. Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns, and Money has been a long-time and consistent opponent of the filibuster, whoever was in power).

GOB:With the nation as divided as it is ideologically.

So the tie goes to the ideological conservative? Who made up that rule?

With the country so divided i don't think we should accept such a controversial rule on a majority vote. It would be divisive to impose such an anti-progressive rule on so many who disagree with it.

"What's slightly more true is that most progressives online were perfectly comfortable with Democratic filibustering during the years of Republican majority...and in fact urged more filibustering. Even here, though, there are some notable exceptions (e.g. Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns, and Money has been a long-time and consistent opponent of the filibuster, whoever was in power)."

I will not argue my previous point, I think filibusters and the threat of them are the same, something used by Dems a lot.

I concede your point is actually more pertinent.

What's slightly more true is that most progressives online were perfectly comfortable with Democratic filibustering during the years of Republican majority...and in fact urged more filibustering.

I don't dispute this, but it's an entirely different issue. What's being discussed in Hilzoy's post is Democrats' filibustering against their own majority, not against Republicans. The issue isn't even the current minority Republicans' filibustering Democratic proposals. That's what the minority does. It's a different question than members of the majority of 60 filibustering against their majority.

I truly don't intend to troll much today, but it seems a debate about what groups of politicians underperform other groups of politcians within their current scope of power pales somewhat to the events of the day. Mr. Smith weeps.

"I don't dispute this, but it's an entirely different issue. What's being discussed in Hilzoy's post is Democrats' filibustering against their own majority, not against Republicans. The issue isn't even the current minority Republicans' filibustering Democratic proposals. That's what the minority does. It's a different question than members of the majority of 60 filibustering against their majority."

I understand the point, I also think that at some point we need to recognize that this is precisely why we never get bipartisan legislation.

At the tipping point of 60 votes, the majority (either party)starts playing the "you can't do anything about it" card, forcing men of conscience to lose any sense of having input, creating an inevitable backlash. Thus no "change" in how Washington works.

With the nation as divided as it is ideologically

Whatever are you talking about? While it is true that the far right is hitting previously unheard-of extremes, they don't have a lot of support for those positions. In the aftermath of GWB's self-refutation of the right's ideology, the nation as a whole probably is more united in terms of ideology than it has been since about 1964.

Memory is short, this was the tactic of choice for the Democrats in the Senate over the last eight years on everything from budgets to appointing judges. Bush not only didn't flog his own party for it, he didn't even flog the Democrats.

Memory is short. What Ben said. If "up or down vote" doesn't get you enough hits, try "nuclear option" (I mentioned it before for a reason).

I find it compelling that at this point they are threatening to ostracize and publicly flog those who have a strong enough disagreement to try and protect the country from a freight train of quick legislation to ensure we maintain the Senates place as the deliberative body in our government.

I would think that a staunch supporter of the filibuster as a tool to keep the Senate "deliberative" would find the Republican behavior of the prior years more odious than the current Democratic behavior. I'd say the majority threatening to abolish the filibuster mid-session if the minority party does not agree to forgo its use is more of a threat to it than the majority party trying to enforce party line voting on cloture votes. YMMV.

(Though I must confess that the idea of Democrats being the party most notable for strict party discipline did make me giggle; thanks for that.)

Let's punish them if they don't go along...

Any Republican would have been crucified for suggesting such a thing.

Ah, memory is short!

I will not argue my previous point, I think filibusters and the threat of them are the same, something used by Dems a lot.

Lovely. So the Democrats threatening to filibuster "a lot" is worse than the Republicans actually filibustering "a lot". I will say this neatly elides the point that Republican threat of filibuster has grown implicit to the point that pundits take it for granted that Democrat initiatives need to muster 60 votes to pass. Oh, wait, we were comparing Republican filibusters to Democrat threats of filibuster, not Dem threats to Rep threats. Silly me. So a pox on both houses, but chicken on yours and small on theirs, eh?

I think a lot of it has to do with the actual amount of time spent on a bill. If the Democrats try to pass an enormous health care reform on a couple of days of debate, I can see voting against cloture even if you probably intend to vote for the bill in the long run.

But in general, filibusters are overused right now, so the cloture vote should be routinely supported.

"I will not argue my previous point, I think filibusters and the threat of them are the same, something used by Dems a lot."

Marty,

It appears to me that for rhetorical purposes you are conflating two different things here - actual filibusters and "the threat of them". The former are something that can be objectively measured by counting cloture vots and thus we can calculate how frequently they are deployed and by whom. The latter is something entirely subjective, it can refer to a range of activities from authoritative statements of intent by the Senate Majority or Minority leaders or other prominent memembers of the Senate to imaginary "threats" that exist only in your head based on little more than nutpicking from random political blogs.

To conflate these two things as if they are the same, and then to argue on that basis that the Dems are just as bad as the GOP strikes me as flirting with intellectually dishonest and bad faith argumentation for the sake of pure partisanship. It also appears to me to be at least potentially an emerging pattern in your comments here on this blog, since you used the same sort of conflation of facts and feelings in the Gov. Palin discussion threads to complain about how her "middle America" supporters feel threatened and offended by contempt coming from the coastal elites and their mainstream media, as if the latter are objectively responsible for the feelings of the former.

I for one would find your arguments more persuasive if you could do a better job of separating these two categories of evidence rather than leaning on this particular rhetorical crutch. It is fine to argue based on both objective and subjective information, but don't mix them up as if they are the same thing.

"Lovely. So the Democrats threatening to filibuster "a lot" is worse than the Republicans actually filibustering "a lot". I will say this neatly elides the point that Republican threat of filibuster has grown implicit to the point that pundits take it for granted that Democrat initiatives need to muster 60 votes to pass. Oh, wait, we were comparing Republican filibusters to Democrat threats of filibuster, not Dem threats to Rep threats. Silly me. So a pox on both houses, but chicken on yours and small on theirs, eh?"

I am wondering which house you think is mine? I think using the filibuster for everything is wrong.

I think allowing members of the Senate, either side, whoever is in power, to vote against cloture without fear of reprisal, is more important as the majority grows.

In todays Senate, any bill that gets past that wicket becomes law very quickly. Getting 51 votes out of 60 would be pretty easy for either party.

Everything is being done quickly. That does bother me. In a very short time we have passed massive spending legislation with inadequate detail, notes in the margins and short circuited the deliberative process.

We really can't afford to pass healthcare quickly and three months later come back and say we underestimated its impact.

Agreed, Sebastian. I'm generally opposed to filibusters as an anti-democratic measure, but if the point of voting against cloture is a good-faith effort to improve the legislative process by delaying (rather than avoiding) a vote on a bill, I see nothing wrong with doing so. Indeed, to the contrary.

"It also appears to me to be at least potentially an emerging pattern in your comments here on this blog, since you used the same sort of conflation of facts and feelings in the Gov. Palin discussion threads to complain about how her "middle America" supporters feel threatened and offended by contempt coming from the coastal elites and their mainstream media, as if the latter are objectively responsible for the feelings of the former."

I object to this characterization, in the disussion cited I made it clear I was giving an opinion. An opinion that I was specifically asked for BTW.

In this case,the Huffington Post article cited above said this:

"The use of procedural impediments for political purposes is nothing new in the halls of Congress. Former Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle was cast as a do-nothing obstructionist before being voted out of office. Reid too has, when in the minority, used filibustering measures to slow down GOP objectives, once bringing the Senate to the brink of a "nuclear" showdown over judicial appointments.

But mathematics suggests that the current Republican leadership in the Senate has taken the practice to a new extreme. Former Minority Whip Trent Lott freely admitted back in the summer of 2007, that the "strategy of being obstructionist" was being deployed, arguing that it was neither historically unique nor significant"

This reference doesn't count cloture votes, it recognizes the ability to slow things down, by both sides, just on procedural grounds (ie the threat is one).

I also believe that almost every comment here is a mixture of fact and interpretation, so the whole conflation discussion should be footnote warning on almost every entry.

Everything is being done quickly. That does bother me. In a very short time we have passed massive spending legislation with inadequate detail, notes in the margins and short circuited the deliberative process.

The problem with the above, which I do hope you're aware of, is that the filibuster just isn't used to address it. Its use is to kill bills and/or substantially reshape them to the liking of the minority, not to ensure that due deliberation is carried out. Period. Full stop.

The filibuster as used today is a tool to prevent bills from getting passed without including provisions to placate the minority. We can pass a filibuster-proof "compromise" bill and come back in three months saying that we underestimated its impact as easily as we can the original bill. The filibuster will do nothing to change this. It's not a magic bullet. Indeed, as it encourages horsetrading, it can backfire against this aim.

If the filibuster was being used in good faith to ensure due deliberation was occurring, your protests would be more meaningful. It is not. It is used as a means for a minority to force the majority to placate it in order to pass legislation. It is not used to delay legislation to ensure it is well written, it is used to kill or substantially rewrite legislation. The only way to argue it is not is to assume that the contrarian minority [b]by default[/b] knows better than the majority. Hopefully it's needless to say it does not.

"The only way to argue it is not is to assume that the contrarian minority [b]by default[/b] knows better than the majority. Hopefully it's needless to say it does not"

I disagree, the way to argue it, since we were talking about Democrats voting against cloture is to understand that individuals are deciding whether the bill needs more work that probably won't get done if it the bill makes it to the floor.

In todays Senate, any bill that gets past that wicket becomes law very quickly. Getting 51 votes out of 60 would be pretty easy for either party.

Of course, it's much, much easier for the Dems to get to 50. But this also ignores the role of the House and the President in the making of legislation- if the Senate GOP managed to peel off 10 Dem moderates in support of eg a conservative health-care-reform bill, it would stand exactly zero chance of becoming law.

This reference doesn't count cloture votes, it recognizes the ability to slow things down, by both sides, just on procedural grounds (ie the threat is one).

The only reason I can see for not using the simple metric of counting cloture votes is that it doesn't support your position (ie that the Dems resorted to the filibuster as often as the GOP is now). Seeking to broaden the argument to the much less-easily defined category of 'obstructionist behavior' won't help us answer the question either. It does help muddy the water though.

"Of course, it's much, much easier for the Dems to get to 50. But this also ignores the role of the House and the President in the making of legislation- if the Senate GOP managed to peel off 10 Dem moderates in support of eg a conservative health-care-reform bill, it would stand exactly zero chance of becoming law."

However if the moderate Democrats peeled off 15 Republicans for a truly bipartisan bill it would be much harder for the House or the President not to take that proposal seriously.

Regarding the tally of cloture motions, Matt Yglesias posted a chart summarizing the number taken in each Congress since 1981 here, and note that the 110th Congress finished with 139 cloture motions as documented here.

The current Congress (the 111th) is off to a slower pace, currently racking up only 35 cloture motions thus far. I haven't done a seasonal analysis of the data to determine if cloture motions are unevenly distributed through the year, but if the latter is not a significant factor then it looks like the 111th Congress is on track to file cloture motions at a rate slightly higher than the 109th Congress, but well short of the record set by the 110th.

On the basis of this data, I'd say that it looks to me like the GOP grossly abused the filibuster in the 110th Congress but is within or at least not too far outside of recent historical precedent (i.e. since 1991) in the current Congress, and claims that they are currently abusing the filibuster, or at least are doing so outside the bounds of post-1990 politics, are not very convincing. IMHO, YMMV, etc.

Given that, I'm going to stick with my previous position as stated on this blog back in February that the Dems need to work this as a poltical issue in the media and in the court of public opinion rather than press for institutional solutions in the Senate.

"Given that, I'm going to stick with my previous position as stated on this blog back in February that the Dems need to work this as a poltical issue in the media and in the court of public opinion rather than press for institutional solutions in the Senate."

I agree with this too. "Failure of will" is overused, but that is really all it is on the threat-of-filibuster issue.

At the tipping point of 60 votes, the majority (either party)starts playing the "you can't do anything about it" card, forcing men of conscience to lose any sense of having input, creating an inevitable backlash. Thus no "change" in how Washington works.

"Backlash" by who against whom? To my mind, the party that has gotten 60 votes has pretty much demonstrated it has the will of a supermajority of the American electorate, and should get on with doing the job that the American electorate voted for them to do.

The fact that the minority is the minority is a problem for the minority, not the majority, and said minority should probably be off thinking about what they need to do to get back on track with the voters. Neither the Democratic or Republican party, or the Know-Nothing or Whig party, has any sacred right to input or to exist at all.

"The fact that the minority is the minority is a problem for the minority, not the majority, and said minority should probably be off thinking about what they need to do to get back on track with the voters. Neither the Democratic or Republican party, or the Know-Nothing or Whig party, has any sacred right to input or to exist at all."

Except that our government was designed to have two Houses of Congress. The messy, all politics is local part, was represented by the House of Representatives.

The Senate, the name was intentional, was supposed to be the body dedicated to thoughtful contemplation of the issues that reflected the best ideas available. They were expected to be statesmen, able to work together to craft optimal solutions.

Much has been said about the equality of representation by various states versus population. This was based on the assumption that you could find two statesmen capable of working in a Senatorial fashion to represent the best ideas from all constituencies, but tied to the proposition that they ultimately represent all the people.

The party politics came later, I liked it better as designed.

Marty, the problem with your vision of the Senate is not filibusters--the problem is the quality of senators.

Consider, please, DeMint, Inhofe, Cornyn, Coburn, Craig, Sessions, Vitter . . .

@Marty:
I disagree, the way to argue it, since we were talking about Democrats voting against cloture is to understand that individuals are deciding whether the bill needs more work that probably won't get done if it the bill makes it to the floor.

Why? Show your work, or at least make an argument for your thesis. Which to clarify is what, exactly? To my eye it appears to be that Democrats by their very nature are incapable of wanting to see a Democrat-supported bill quashed - they can only want to see it "improved". Justify this quite audacious claim, please.

Explain to me what proof you have that Democrats refusing to support cloture are doing so for reasons other than the modern trend to use it to kill bills, particularly to kill bills without having a recorded vote against them. Unweave the mysteries of how the Democratic Party manages to ensure that every last one of its Blue Dog Senators will support every last bill's passage so long as it's carefully crafted and not "too hastily made". Awe me with convincing explanations of why we should assume that Democrats filibustering against their own party are only doing it for laudable reasons. Give me some reason to believe any of this beyond your misty-eyed platitudes about the deliberate thoughtfulness of Senators.

"Marty, the problem with your vision of the Senate is not filibusters--the problem is the quality of senators.

Consider, please, DeMint, Inhofe, Cornyn, Coburn, Craig, Sessions, Vitter . . ."

I don't disagree, yet hope springs eternal that we find a way to attract Senators to the job.

"Awe me with convincing explanations of why we should assume that Democrats filibustering against their own party are only doing it for laudable reasons. Give me some reason to believe any of this beyond your misty-eyed platitudes about the deliberate thoughtfulness of Senators."

I can't, but I think they should be able to without risk of party punishment.

With the nation as divided as it is ideologically, it makes some sense to cause major controversial legislation to require more than passage by a single vote majority.

Uh, given how frequently you like to browbeat everyone here about our lack of respect for our Constitution, perhaps you could point out to me the Constitutional basis for this supposition?

'Really? When was the last time one party (counting Lieberman and Sanders) had 60 a vote majority in the Senate, along with a house majority and the Presidency? Seems to me that the nation is about as united behind one party as it has ever been.'

There are a number of conservative democrat congressmen (some of the fiscal conservatives are called blue dogs) who do not subscribe to the idea that we should spend whatever it takes to provide government solutions supported by the party's far left wing for universal health care and reductions in greenhouse emissions, as examples. The House managed to get a one vote majority to pass a cap and trade bill after much wheeling and dealing and the result was not very pleasing to anyone. I think there were about 40+ democrats who did not support the bill. Similar variations exist among democrat Senators from rural farming and ranching states and those with significant energy constituencies. So as some of this legislation makes its way through the process it will lose some of its extreme left lustre or it risks failing to even get to a vote in the Senate. This is a better reflection of unity in the electorate than the imagined unity in the minds of those on the far left.

And Phil, I don't think there is a constitutional issue in matters discussed here. The Senate makes its rules and that is as it should be.

I can't, but I think they should be able to [vote against cloture for any or no reason] without risk of party punishment.

What I believe you're asking is for them to abandon their party. As in, become an independent. The raison d'être for a major American political party is providing quid pro quo support for members in exchange for support for the party's objectives. The Republicans embody this to a stricter degree than Democrats, but both do it. So... the Democrats should put country above party, knowing full well the Republicans aren't going to reciprocate? Once more comically assuming for the sake of argument that encouraging bills to be torpedoed by a minority's parliamentary procedures is "better" for the country than allowing the bills to be voted on by the full body of the Senate, naturally.

Look. Filibusters aren't generally used to delay a bill for review and careful deliberation. That you'd like them to be doesn't change the fact that they're filibustered to kill bills (possibly while avoiding awkward "no" votes that could come back at election time) or to strongarm the majority into crafting a bill catering to the minority's agenda... or to flat-out prevent a majority from being able to conduct business.

One last point. You say we must focus only on the Democrats' evil in enforcing party discipline to prevent defection on cloture votes. There's an elephant in the room. Why should it matter if one or two Democrats don't party-line vote for cloture? After all, it should take 41 of them doing so to filibuster... Hmm... there seems to be something missing from this equation...

"far left wing"

You keep using that word, but I don't think it means what you think it means.

In other words, when you use terms like "far left wing" and "extreme left lustre" to refer to contemporary US politics and to the Democratic party specifically, IMHO it is very hard to take your comment seriously. We don't have an organized and influential extreme left in this country. The closest we have is a single Socialist in the Senate (from Vermont) and even he is by historical standards and/or compared with the contemporary left in Europe a rather boring mildly left of center moderate.

If you want to know what an actual extreme left looks like in a democratic setting, take a look at one of the European Communist parties, or the far left of the US labor movement during the 1920s and 1930s. There just isn't anybody like that of any influence or sizable numbers in the US today. To paint with a broad brush, you can recognize a true "extreme leftist" when you find somebody who advocates the overthrow of capitalism as an economic system, the use of physical violence to enact political change, and the replacement of our system of "bourgeois"(so-called) democracy with a much more dictatorial state apparatus.

There are a few folks like that in the US today but their numbers are tiny and they have no influence to speak of within either the US govt or either of the major political parties. IMHO this is a good thing, but just because the extreme left has gone extinct in this country does not mean you can simply redefine the remaining mildly left-of-center moderates who you don't like as "extreme left" any more than it would be appropriate to redefine the more disagreeable and slimy mammals as Dinosaurs, regardless of how nostalgic you may be for the darwinian struggles of the late Cretaceous.

"far left wing"

You keep using that word, but I don't think it means what you think it means.

Yes, you are correct. I was too loose with that characterization. Progressivism is more descriptive of what I was referring to in my comment. The electorate, IMHO, is not unified in support of a progressive agenda.

The electorate, IMHO, is not unified in support of a progressive agenda.

I believe that the majority of the commenters here would not chafe too much under the label "progressive", but they would probably agree with your concerning the electorate's support of such an agenda. However, (shifting into just me mode) I would argue that the reason there is no unified support for a progressive agenda is because of various flaws in our political system, the way the media reports on things, and the powerful skew that corporate money has on the public debate.

The Senate, the name was intentional, was supposed to be the body dedicated to thoughtful contemplation of the issues that reflected the best ideas available. They were expected to be statesmen, able to work together to craft optimal solutions.

Several specific examples were pointed out, but I'd say that no current Republican fits that description, and that includes Ms Snowe, who continues to be a Republican in spite of that party trashing everything she claims to believe in.

"You say we must focus only on the Democrats' evil in enforcing party discipline to prevent defection on cloture votes"

I keep saying that because it was, kind of, the point of the post we are commenting on.

Well, yes... that was the subject at hand. But you've betrayed a nasty little double standard that it's wrong for Democrats to enforce party discipline (because that alienates "men of conscience"), but it's good and just and right for the Republicans to be enforcing the party discipline necessary to vote down closure should they be joined by a wavering Democrat with "a strong enough disagreement to try and protect the country from a freight train of quick legislation" like health care reform. If the Republicans cannot be counted on to rotely oppose bills by refusing to allow them to come to a vote, the free-spirited Saviors of Stately Deliberation will be impotent in the face of the fiendish haste of the Democratic majority. IOW, complaining that the Democrats are finally daring to do what the Republicans have been doing for years would be a bit more credible if you were not implicitly praising the Republicans for continuing to do so.

Well... I suppose I might be making an unfair assumption regarding your point of view. If you assume (as you've given every indication of doing) that the current Democrat legislative agenda is an abomination against God and nature, I suppose you could reach the conclusion that the Republicans would need no discipline to make all their members recoil in horror and vote against cloture... and in fact, any "men of conscience" remaining among the Democrats would need forced to vote against their instincts to recoil likewise.

Look. You've been claiming that your dog in this fight is preservation of slow legislation in the Senate for its own sake... or, I'll concede, for the sake of "bipartisanship"... but you've given bipartisanship the implicit meaning of Democrats coming to support Republican positions rather than the other way around. It seems a lot more like your motive in decrying whips stifling "bipartisan impulses" in the Senate is aimed at delaying or preventing the Democrats from passing legislation you find abhorrent than preserving any particular legislative style.

"Well... I suppose I might be making an unfair assumption regarding your point of view"

You think? I am pretty sure I have never said, or thought, that any legislative agenda is "an abomination against God and nature".
I have no interest in slowing legislation for the sake of making it slow. I don't care what party is trying to pass a bill, I don't think either party should threaten its members with punishment if they are legitimately concerned.

I do object to passing legislation as fast as you can before the public gets to understandd what it actually does or what it costs.

I do object to passing legislation as fast as you can before the public gets to understandd what it actually does or what it costs.

I imagine all of us do. I'm certainly in favor of "Read the Bill". But what does requiring 60 votes for passage have to do with that? That's not about increasing understanding -- it's just blocking bills from passing.

'I believe that the majority of the commenters here would not chafe too much under the label "progressive", but they would probably agree with your concerning the electorate's support of such an agenda. However, (shifting into just me mode) I would argue that the reason there is no unified support for a progressive agenda is because of various flaws in our political system, the way the media reports on things, and the powerful skew that corporate money has on the public debate.'

I get the last point in the series, but I'm unclear about what is meant by flaws in our political system and the way the media reports on things.

flaws in to political system
-power of incumbency
-2 party system
-redistricting
among others

media reporting on things
-more interested in atmospherics rather than actual policy discussions
-faux balance makes it impossible to call out people who are actually lying

This is the sort of thing I was thinking of.

Although 'read the bill' is laudable, the actual effect would be, I fear, negligible*.
This is especially the case, if the bill is constructed like the Patriot Act, consisting mainly of 'Law x, § y, sentence z, change word q to q# and add word r. '.
What would be far more effective is imo a strict ban on adding unrelated items to a bill (usually used to either poison it or get to things through that would never get a majority).

*Even if a speedreading course would be made mandatory for senators.

The electorate, IMHO, is not unified in support of a progressive agenda.

there is no requirement for public unanimity before legislation is passed. however, polling shows that a substantial majority of the US favors universal health care. and the majority of Americans voted for a presidential candidate who promised to enact UHC, and voted for representatives who could reasonably be expected to work with that president towards that goal.

the problem is, obviously, that the Senate is not a democratic body, and the filibuster rules are decidedly anti-democratic. the clear will of the people is denied by a handful of old white men who are more enthralled by the campaign contributions of big business than they are by the concerns of their constituents.

"What I believe you're asking is for them to abandon their party. As in, become an independent. The raison d'être for a major American political party is providing quid pro quo support for members in exchange for support for the party's objectives."

Call me crazy, but when I studied PoliSci, the raison d'être of a major American political party was that there was no other option. I'll jump on the quoting French bandwagon and point you to this.

In fact, that systemic characteristic is thought to be the reason American political parties are so weak. Single-member horse races, in many cases, only effectively allow two parties and, as such, individual members of Congress must make a bargain with the devil or face overwhelming odds against them at the polls. This is why you see ridiculous alignments of evangelicals and fiscal conservatives, civil libertarians and law and order blue dogs. The theory suggests that major American political parties are inherently fragmented and any "men of conscience" will face significant moral dilemmas on a routine basis. Enforcing party discipline, while necessary to get things done, should not be thought of in terms of a "you knew what you were getting into" mentality. They were in it from the beginning.

This discussion seems a bit off the rails to me. Where was anyone discussing Democrats not being able to filibuster with the Republicans under any circumstances? The point here is that it really better be worth it to them if they do. What's the big deal? They can't be taken out and shot. No one is proposing anything that violates the law or the rules of the Senate. Can someone say, specifically, without being vague and abstract, why this is a bad idea for Democrats or the country? Democrats punishing Democrats for supporting frivolous Republican filibusters doesn't seem the least bit controversial to me. And if the filibuster isn't frivolous in the view of the Democrats going along with it, they should be willing to accept the consequences of going along with it. Or are we, again, for the nth time, back to every bill needing 60 votes to pass the Senate, or what?

@Marty:

I am pretty sure I have never said, or thought, that any legislative agenda is "an abomination against God and nature".

That's some pretty fine parsing there. Way to deny obvious hyperbole.

I have no interest in slowing legislation for the sake of making it slow.

"Everything is being done quickly. That does bother me."

"The Senate [...] was supposed to be the body dedicated to thoughtful contemplation of the issues that reflected the best ideas available."

No, you want it slow for the sake of it being "thoughtful". And, um, not "quick".

You're doubling back on yourself.

I don't care what party is trying to pass a bill, I don't think either party should threaten its members with punishment if they are legitimately concerned.

If you're not being partisan (a notion I find somewhat incredible), herein lies the crux of your problem. You want two things which are somewhat contradictory. You claim to want the current Democrat agenda slowed by procedural means because it's backed by a precipitate supermajority voting bloc. And you claim to not want parties to enforce voting discipline (while risibly claiming Republicans would be "crucified" for doing so). The problem is that unless the Republicans enforce party line voting on cloture, a few dissident Democrats aren't going to be able slow down the legislative agenda to a "thoughtful" and "contemplative" pace. You can't have it both ways, unless you ask us to buy into an implausible suggestion that their voting bloc is spontaneous and principled, unlike the tyrannical and imposed Democratic bloc.

To say nothing of the fact that you've pointedly ignored that filibustering is simply not being used to buy time to contemplate bills - it's used to outright kill or hold hostage bills in exchange for concessions (which will not perforce improve a bill by mere virtue of being more "bipartisan").

I do object to passing legislation as fast as you can before the public gets to understandd what it actually does or what it costs.

That's fine, and I agree and sympathize. But enforcing a supermajority for bills isn't going to change this. It just gives the minority (via their enforced party discipline) the power to try to hold the legislative agenda hostage in exchange for concessions, or to kill bills that they oppose despite being a minority.

In a perfect world, cloture votes might be used as you call for us to assume they're being used (but aren't). In a perfect world, parties wouldn't pressure members to vote one way or another - for that matter, parties would not have an established position of whip. But this isn't a perfect world (see, for example, MEW's more succinct and eloquent comment above). It might be nice if we could assume that Senators are voting against cloture to put the brakes on the legislative process, or that parties wouldn't enforce voting discipline... but it's not realistic, and no amount of blinkered insistence that it is will make it so.

I do object to passing legislation as fast as you can before the public gets to understandd what it actually does or what it costs.

Posted by: Marty

If that's the case, it shouldn't be difficult for you to link to posts you've made vis a vis the Republican propensity to rush certain major bills through with little debate while trampling on the notion of cloture. You do have those, right? Posts of yours castigating the Republicans for putting the nuclear option on the table?

(I should probably have added "parties flat-out wouldn't exist" to my rose-tinted "perfect world" comments above - it's the natural corollary to all that, and equally realistic.)

"If you're not being partisan (a notion I find somewhat incredible), herein lies the crux of your problem. You want two things which are somewhat contradictory. You claim to want the current Democrat agenda slowed by procedural means because it's backed by a precipitate supermajority voting bloc. And you claim to not want parties to enforce voting discipline (while risibly claiming Republicans would be "crucified" for doing so)."

There are lots of assumptions and questions in this and other parts of this comment about what I believe. The underlying subtext being that I only care about this because I am a Republican etc.

I had an interesting coversation with someone about this who pointed out that I have not been preecise about what i believe because I have been in response mode. So here it is:

I believe that the legislative process should be a slow moving train. In some things that are routine this is not necessary, but in the areas where we are shaping legislattion, even a budget, that has far reaching impact on generations of Amerricans I think the checks and balances in the system should force a slow process and allow for pauses when consensus can't be reached.

The hardest thing in the world to undo is bad legislation. My father advised me over thirty years ago that he believed that in a choice between doing something and doing nothing that the people of the US were most often served best when the Congress did nothing. Most often, not always. I have come to agree with him despite my vehement arguments at the time.

In the current situation I believe that we need the Congress to address this issue with the same goal as they would have in considering, for example, a declaration of war. It will impact the lives, literally life and death, of many more people over a longer period of time and deserves the committment of the Senate to pass a bill with as close to a unanimous vote as possible.

I don't think Republicans or Democrats are treating it, or will treat it, as such. But that doesn't mean I don't believe they should.

Fine. Now show us all those posts where you vigorously denounced Republicans for trying to invoke the nuclear option. If you can't produce a single one . . . what does that say about your statements now?

You being principled and all, I'm sure you understand and agree with why I require some sort of verification from you.

"Fine. Now show us all those posts where you vigorously denounced Republicans for trying to invoke the nuclear option. If you can't produce a single one . . . what does that say about your statements now?"

I honestly don't know what this refers to, but since I have been commenting on blogs for about three months now I assume the answer is I can't.

Marty,

Your argument is that you would like them to slow down the legislative process, particularly on the momentous big-spending issues being considered this session, because mistakes made in this kind of process are not easily undone. But many of those on this site who see your comments are interested in moving on quickly because the favorable atmosphere is rapidly diffusing on issues they have waited for decades to get this close. Deliberative process is the last thing they want on these issues. Those who are debating you hate that the Senate gets elected the way it does and that the composition of the Senate is allocated in an other than direct proportion to population as the House is. If you show strength on substantive points, then you will be asked to verify your credentials by supplying consistent positions previously advanced.

"If you show strength on substantive points, then you will be asked to verify your credentials by supplying consistent positions previously advanced."

Over time I am sure that consistentency will become apparent. Unfortunately I haven't created a written record.

I believe none of us should allow the atmosphere to erode that might allow the Congress to address this and create one that allows them to address Social Security. Both of which are important to sustaining a middle class with some sense of security while supporting those that can't provide for insurance any other way.

Deliberative process is the last thing they want on these issues.

we've been deliberating this issue for nearly 20 years. the public wants it and they elected people who said they were going to do it. you lost.

"we've been deliberating this issue for nearly 20 years. the public wants it and they elected people who said they were going to do it. you lost."

Interstingly, one of the major issues in the campaign was the constantly repeated goal of changing the way Washington works inside the beltway.

So, now, the argument is the Republicans should change and the Democrats should just do things as they have always been done.

Sounds like the last 30 years all over again. Sorry, I had hopes that change would actually happen.

As long as we perpetuate the myth of the liberal political elite or neoconservative political elite being better than the other then, to quote one of Kris Kristofferson's best songs, "Nobody Wins".

@SoV:
You do have those, right? Posts of yours castigating the Republicans for putting the nuclear option on the table?

As Marty points out, it really isn't fair to criticize him for not posting on a subject, particularly when he's a newcomer.

Besides, what he has written (e.g., "Any Republican would have been crucified for [enforcing party line voting on cloture]") betrays his partisan myopia well enough.

So, now, the argument is the Republicans should change and the Democrats should just do things as they have always been done.

nobody's asking the GOP to change anything except to quit their abuse of the filibuster. and i thought you agreed with that.

if they don't like the health care bill, they are welcome to vote against it when it comes up for vote.

Another example:

As long as we perpetuate the myth of the liberal political elite or neoconservative political elite being better than the other then, to quote one of Kris Kristofferson's best songs, "Nobody Wins".

The dichotomy he declares to be false is what? Liberal politicians being better than neoconservatives, or vice versa. Hmm... for some reason the two sides of that don't quite seem the same...

"Besides, what he has written (e.g., "Any Republican would have been crucified for [enforcing party line voting on cloture]") betrays his partisan myopia well enough."

The constant referral to this statement, which is true, not myopic, is a complete red herring to avoid discussing everything else I wrote. It is telling that what I wrote that I believe is not as interesting to you as what you claim I believe.

and while we are at it:

"The dichotomy he declares to be false is what? Liberal politicians being better than neoconservatives, or vice versa. Hmm... for some reason the two sides of that don't quite seem the same..."

That either is actually better.

Republicans routinely enforce party discipline on votes, cloture and otherwise. That they don't need to publicly announce that they intend to start doing so merely reflects that they're already doing it. That you don't notice it doesn't make it less true, but it does suggest your range of vision is narrower than it could be.

As to the latter... the formulation neatly presents liberals on one side, and neoconservatives on the other, and you blithely declare neither is better than the other. Dandy. Shall we follow the unwritten logic of this statement and assume perhaps that you feel another philosophy actually is better? Shall we perhaps assume that that third, unmentioned philosophy would be plain old ordinary conservatism, as opposed to that nasty unpleasant neocon stuff?

Needless to say, from where I sit it's kinda hard to reach any other conclusion.

'If you're not being partisan (a notion I find somewhat incredible), herein lies the crux of your problem. You want two things which are somewhat contradictory. You claim to want the current Democrat agenda slowed by procedural means because it's backed by a precipitate supermajority voting bloc. And you claim to not want parties to enforce voting discipline (while risibly claiming Republicans would be "crucified" for doing so). The problem is that unless the Republicans enforce party line voting on cloture, a few dissident Democrats aren't going to be able slow down the legislative agenda to a "thoughtful" and "contemplative" pace. You can't have it both ways, unless you ask us to buy into an implausible suggestion that their voting bloc is spontaneous and principled, unlike the tyrannical and imposed Democratic bloc.'

Here's how I see this. Senate republicans range from center to right. Senate democrats range from left to center-right. Where any given senator falls depends on the nature of the issue, national security, environment, human rights, etc. Current major legislative efforts like health care and cap and trade(energy) started out center-left (some may say left). This is not the perfect model, but it allows one to understand how the politicians within the two parties can behave the way they do in a 'filibuster' situation, republicans are unified and democrats are split because those who oppose are trying to move the legislation to the right.

Those democrats willing to buck the party must see in their states voters who will not be supportive if the senators' votes are too far out of line with the states' interests.

"Dandy. Shall we follow the unwritten logic of this statement and assume perhaps that you feel another philosophy actually is better? Shall we perhaps assume that that third, unmentioned philosophy would be plain old ordinary conservatism, as opposed to that nasty unpleasant neocon stuff"

What it means is that I consider the modern conservative political elite primarily neocon. So that is the two groups we spend all of our time discussing. If I, or you, find a real conservative among the current political elite I will stipulate in advance that they will probably not be much better, if at all.

So are you asking me if I have a political point of view? Everyone does, I consider myself conservative fiscally, liberal on most social issues and,for lack of a better term, a federalist.

I am a registered Republican, I voted for Bush(though I would've voted for Gore for President), Gore, Bush and then McCain. I was raised in a divided political household and was a teen of the late 60's and would have been considered ultraliberal then.

I tremendously dislike politicians who lie about what can or will be accomplished, even with great flair, more than I hate politicians that are stupid or cheat on their spouses. I don't like media that panders to the most basic instincts of people to distort any rational discussion of an issue.

I don't EVER watch Fox and filter most of what is on the networks, I miss Tim Russert and like to listen to George Will.

Please, from all of that draw whatever conclusion you want, but don't accuse me again of having a hidden agenda beyond what I say.

" The problem is that unless the Republicans enforce party line voting on cloture, a few dissident Democrats aren't going to be able slow down the legislative agenda to a "thoughtful" and "contemplative" pace. "

A few dissident Republicans, until this week, were what allowed the freight train to move ahead so far. I believe they had a right to vote their conscience and decide that there was agood enough reason to vote with the Democrats.

I am not naive enough to think there is not a Senate minority leader rallying his troops, but I haven't heard that the troops were banned to Siberia or removed from committees because they voted for the emergency stimulus. I would disgree with the leadership if I heard that had been done.

So, I have little hope that the Democrats can't control enough votes, from both sides of the aisle, going forward to move things along at a frantic pace.

And full circle, the idea that not falling in line is a punishable offense offends me.

'I consider myself conservative fiscally, liberal on most social issues and,for lack of a better term, a federalist.'

I wish you luck here as a federalist. You will likely get a lot of contrary views since many here are progressives and what I will call advocates of a national majoritarian form of democracy. That explains the discomfort expressed regarding any action in the Senate that requires more than a simple majority and the disgust with the very existence of anything resembling a filibuster concept. I think there are many issues on which a federalist and a progressive will disagree.

"I wish you luck here as a federalist. You will likely get a lot of contrary views since many here are progressives and what I will call advocates of a national majoritarian form of democracy. That explains the discomfort expressed regarding any action in the Senate that requires more than a simple majority and the disgust with the very existence of anything resembling a filibuster concept. I think there are many issues on which a federalist and a progressive will disagree."

I actually enjoy the exchange of ideas on this blog, hopefully it can be an exchange of ideas rather than a constant question of motives>. :)

hopefully it can be an exchange of ideas rather than a constant question of motives

Hope springs eternal, Marty. I counsel patience.

"hopefully it can be an exchange of ideas rather than a constant question of motives
Hope springs eternal, Marty. I counsel patience."

Great advice, I'm working on it.

What it means is that I consider the modern conservative political elite primarily neocon. So that is the two groups we spend all of our time discussing. If I, or you, find a real conservative among the current political elite I will stipulate in advance that they will probably not be much better, if at all.

Three final points, before I bid this tired and over-beaten horse of a thread farewell.

First, by way of explanation of the primary reason why I say that, aside from the ragged condition of the deceased equine... I can't say I'm in the mood to play a round of No True Scotsman - Conservative Edition.

Second, to expound upon that - what does it mean in terms of policy preference when you categorically paint the whole of the right-wing leadership in the US as "neocon"? Perhaps this reflects ignorance on my part, but neoconservatism, being primarily a foreign policy stance, doesn't say much about what an adherent's domestic policy preferences would be. From where I stand, this looks an awful lot like an orthodox communist blithely asserting that some other communist whose behavior they don't care for is in fact a Trotskyist.

Finally, even if I concede your rhetorical slight-of-hand, so what? So you don't perceive yourself as adhering to the same political philosophy as Senate conservative leadership. That hardly means that it's not easy to see your claim to think that it's no better than Senate liberal leadership as being made in decidedly bad faith. I may not be a liberal, but my staunch dislike for their gleeful corporatism doesn't stop me from preferring their malfeasance to the conservatives' malfeasance. Methought thou didst protest too much.

"...but neoconservatism, being primarily a foreign policy stance, doesn't say much about what an adherent's domestic policy preferences would be."

This is wildly ahistoric and completely wrong; neoconservatism began as a philosophy about domestic policy. "A neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged." See Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Norman Podheretz, and Irving Kristol.

Neoconservatism:

Michael Harrington, a democratic socialist, coined the current sense of the term neoconservative in a 1973 Dissent magazine article concerning welfare policy.[7] According to E. J. Dionne, the nascent neoconservatives were driven by "the notion that liberalism" had failed and "no longer knew what it was talking about."[8]

[...]

The first major neoconservative to embrace the term, Irving Kristol, is considered a founder of the neoconservative movement. Kristol wrote of his neoconservative views in the 1979 article "Confessions of a True, Self-Confessed 'Neoconservative.'"[5] His ideas had been influential since the 1950s, when he co-founded and edited Encounter magazine.[12] Another source was Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine from 1960 to 1995.

[...]

Initially, the neoconservatives were less concerned with foreign policy than with domestic policy. Irving Kristol's journal, The Public Interest, focused on ways that government planning in the liberal state had produced unintended harmful consequences. Norman Podhoretz's magazine Commentary, formerly a journal of the liberal left, had more of a cultural focus, criticizing excesses in the movements for black equality and women's rights, and in the academic left.

[...]

The neoconservatives, arising from the anti-Stalinist left of the 1950s, opposed the anti-capitalism of the New Left of the 1960s.

The last decade was neither the founding nor the definition of "neoconservative."

I did include the "perhaps this reflects ignorance on my part" for a reason, Gary. I strongly suspected that it did, and you've (happily? depressingly?) demonstrated that the 5 minutes or so I'd spent poking about to check that prior to my prior post was time spectacularly ill-spent.

Although... re-reading (I skimmed it prior to the post you called me out on) the Wikipedia article you cite is suggestive - there is, some small mention of neoconservatives embracing ID excepted, no discussion of any neoconservative policy positions outside of international relations from the 80s on. While one Wikipedia article is hardly a basis to draw sweeping conclusions from, it does suggest that the last several decades may have seen some change in the membership criteria of the set "neoconservatives". Word meanings do evolve, after all.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad