January 6, 2008

The Fabulous Filibuster


About one month ago, the current session of congress (the 110th), received the dubious honor of becoming the most filibusteringest congress of the last 30 or so years with an entire year left in the session. That's the equivalent of Barry Bonds hitting 70 home runs by the all star break in both the rate of record breaking and the amount of public hatred towards the record breakers.

The record is the direct result of obstructionism by the Republicans (expertly discussed in a pdf available for download and two Glen Greenwald columns here and here). These are the same Republicans, mind you, that stomped and cried and threatened the "nuclear option" of removing the filibuster because the Democrats threatened to block the nomination of a few judges.

Before you go accusing me of being a Democrat, let me just say this in my defense. The bills and amendments filibustered would have

1. Restored Habeas Corpus to before the Military Commissions Act (HR 1585 - S.AMDT.2022)
2. Increased support for renewable electricity
3. Reduced oil company subsidies
4. Given people in DC the right to vote (S 1257)
5. Reduced troop levels in Iraq
6. Voted to show No Confidence in Alberto Gonzales

All partisanship aside, those are things I would have liked to see happen.

I'm also bringing this up because the media is doing a piss poor job of covering the issue. Instead of discussing this issue as one of Republican obstruction, they simply say that 60 votes are now needed to pass Democratic legislation and that the Democrats are not delivering on their promises.

UPDATE
For an interesting take on minority and majority party politics check out Act 3 of This American Life episode 325.

8 comments:

Diggs said...

I agree with your position, but unfortunately there is another half to the equation. The second the democrats say that the republicans are being hypocritical; the republicans can easily do the same. Its funny how constitutional positions change when you are in the majority (you see much the same shift when a party has its candidate in the white house with a change in extent of executive powers). I guess the media could report that republicans are being hypocritical, but aren't the democrats as well?

the unbeatable kid said...

I don't think that I understand you. Are you talking about respecting minority party rights?

Diggs said...

Party views on legislative minority rights change depending upon who is in the majority. So democrats who look to republicans as obstructionists are being hypocritical, with the same being true of republicans. I understand you may agree with the goals of the democrats (and not with the Republican goals when they were in the Majority), but to change the view of minority rights based on their stated goal is simply too subjective. So I think both parties are being hypocritical. Just because the democrats think their legislation is "right" shouldn't change the rights of the senate minority. On a side note, if the democrats win the white house 08 I GUARANTEE their views on a limited executive power will change, and the republicans will once again champion states rights.

the unbeatable kid said...

that kind of balance ignores the scale of the differences. it's like saying that support for a policy is mixed and equal weight should be given to all view points when 95% of people are for something while 5% oppose.

the point of the post is that, whether you agree with democratic legislation or not, the republican are employing the rights of minority party (the filibuster) to a literally historic degree not even a year after pursuing a literally historic threat to remove that same power (the nuclear option). Their actions have swung from one extreme to the other being unprecedented in opposition to the filibuster to unprecedented in its use. That is undeniable fact.

the previous record for filibuster use belongs to the last congress to have a republican minority (107th). filibuster use dropped significantly when the democrats were in the minority (from averaging around 60 to averaging around 50).

of course, the democrats have changed their position of minority vs. majority party rights but the scale of the difference is so small when compared with the republicans that it's hardly even an opinion to say that they're not "the same."

Diggs said...

"it's like saying that support for a policy is mixed and equal weight should be given to all view points when 95% of people are for something while 5% oppose." The point of minority rights is to prevent againt the tyranny of the majority. Just because people support a position doesn't de facto mean that it's correct. I am not denying that republicans are being hypocritcal, but again so are the democrats. If you want to argue about degree go ahead. The point is that minority rights are an extremely important check in our government, and it shouldn't sway based upon whether your party is in the majority. BTW, in addition to the number of times a party uses a filibuster you should look to the circumstances of use. I would argue that the use of a philibuster on the approval of judges merely because they have a different judicial philosophy is extreme. EG the opposition to Janice Rogers Brown to me was nothing short of partisan non-sense. As was there opposition to most of the other judges. None of the challenges had to do with their judicial fitness. As a counter point, do you know what the senate vote to approve Ruth Bader Ginsberg was?

the unbeatable kid said...

"The point of minority rights is to prevent againt the tyranny of the majority."
as far as tyrannies go, i much prefer a tyranny of the majority to a tyranny of the minority.

"minority rights are an extremely important check in our government"
i completely support the the filibuster as a means forcing compromise but just because you have a power doesn't mean that you should use it at every available opportunity. proper use of a power means not abusing it. the problem isn't in the filibuster itself but how it's used. the way to correct the error is for people who believe in the legislation that's being blocked to punish the gop at the polls. they need that it's happening in order to do that.

"If you want to argue about degree go ahead."
that's exactly what i'm doing. in fact, that's the whole point.

"Janice Rogers Brown to me was nothing short of partisan non-sense."
my sentiments exactly. the idea that a party would threatened to remove one of the most important of the minority rights over something as ridiculous as a court of appeals judge scared the crap out of me.

"As was there opposition to most of the other judges."
i think that with regard to filibustering judges one party does not stand out above the other. the complexity is probably dealt with best here. part of the issue has to do with how partisan the judges put forth by the president are.

"None of the challenges had to do with their judicial fitness."
sure. that's been the standard for the last 20 years or so. repubs have historically used a racial litmus test (a la strom thurmond and jesse helms) and other ideological concerns. both sides certainly do it.

"do you know what the senate vote to approve Ruth Bader Ginsberg was?"
most supreme court judges get overwhelming nominations because they are well vetted and are relatively centrist in philosophy. do you know what the senate vote for scalia was?

Diggs said...

Ok, so the democrats are being completely hypocritical, but the republicans are being historically hypocritical. Apparently worthy of a distinction (ie "go ahead [and argue]").

the unbeatable kid said...

remove the words "completely" and "apparently" and you've deftly summerized my point.