Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Talk of Filibuster Reform Is Back

Frustration over the filibuster has put filibuster reform back on the agenda.  Harry Reid now claims to regret that he did not push the Merkly/Udall reform proposals in the beginning of this session.   Common Cause has filed a lawsuit arguing that the filibuster is unconstitutional.   Conservative opinion is split - with some arguing that the filibuster is an essential tool for fighting against overreaching government, while others claiming that in the short term, filibuster reform may help obtain conservative goals - like repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

The argument for the filibuster is that it protects political minorities and promotes bipartisanship.  But abuse of the procedure prevents the Senate from even being able to perform its basic responsibilities and hands power over to highly partisan obstructionists.  Moreover, as the parties become more and more partisan have less and less in common to compromise about -- what the filibuster does is leave important matters unaddressed. 

The goal of the reformers is not to eliminate the filibuster, but to limit its use to issues of natioanl importance.  The idea is to make filibusters harded to execute, so important legislation cannot be held up by one individual Senator with an unrelated greivance.  It also seeks to give the majority at least some ability to control the agenda by eliminating filibusters on motions to proceed (which means a majority can at least bring legislation to the floor with a simple majority, even if a final vote cannot be acheived without 60 votes).

I support eliminating the filibuster for all executive branch nominations (other than indpendent commissions like the FCC).   Presidents should have the power to place people of his or her choosing into an administration.  These individuals are all accountable to the President - so if they misbehave, it is a reflection on the President, not the Senate.  The appointment process has become so perilous, good people are often dissuaded from public service and important positions are left vacant, sometimes for years.  There are ample fora for the parties to battle on policy disagreements.  But when a President is elected - the people have had their say -- and a President ought to at least have the power to place people that agree with him (and the electorate) into positions of authority where they can attempt to execute his agenda.  At the very least, a President should have this power if he can muster 51 votes for confirmation. 

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