Tag Archives: Senate

DADT and Parliamentary Procedure: a Historical Perspective

History is a tricky thing. On one hand, those who do not study it they say are destined to repeat it. On the other hand, interpreting history is a subjective exercise and often done in remarkably one-dimensional, self-serving manner. I generally avoid the use historical paradigms on this website largely for this reason. Because as an amateur student of history, I am all too aware of how nuance gives way to silly posturing, straw men and logical fallacies conveniently packaged as history lessons.

It is also for this reason that I have been unable to address the Tea Party movement in any meaningful way. I’ve discussed its members, I’ve discussed some electoral politics here, on the DFE FaceBook Page and on the Twitter feed. But I have yet to have addressed the movement as an object on its own, because I find the whole historical inspiration of the movement too insulting and infuriating to manage to piece together a cohesive argument. I don’t begrudge them their beliefs or political leanings; I don’t begrudge them their solidarity. Hell, I don’t even begrudge them their oft-disavowed but painfully omnipresent racism and xenophobia: such things don’t need my help to collapse under their own weight. But I do begrudge them their historical premise.

Let the Average Joe Tea Party go. But I really want to ask Dick Armey and the leaders of the various strands of the Tea Party movement, “do you really think – honestly? truly? – that Britons killed Britons over tea? Do you really believe – honestly? truly? – that Britons killed Britons over a modest increase in the nominal tax rate for high-earners? And do you seriously believe that Samuel Adams could have mustered the support of twelve other colonies to break from the Mother Country over a health insurance plan? If not, how is this whole Tea Party thing not just a little bit insulting to our Founders?”

But nuance, as usual, gives way to silly posturing. And in this case, hats.

Certainly, the Revolution was sparked by taxes and certainly it was instigated with brush fires like the Boston Tea Party. But even closer to the source of the actual friction between Britain and the Colonies was Parliament’s self-aggrandizing obsession with it’s own rules and procedures, at the expense of its actual duty to govern the country. We know the phrase “no taxation without representation in Parliament,” but what is less-well understood is that Parliament was not blindly ignoring the complaints of the American Colonies: it was operating under a set of rules it believed genuinely covered the Colonies without the need to adjust the way it did business. The charter that founded Parliament accomplished two necessary functions of a democracy. First, it established the Parliament as representative of the citizens of Britain. Second, it established Parliament as the sole origin of the laws that governed the whole of the British Empire. But when that charter was written, it didn’t take into account a large population of Britons now living in a conquered part of the Empire as indigenous people. There was no “redistricting” the British Parliament.

So at loggerheads were two entirely correct propositions: the common understanding of representative democracy on the American side and the supremacy of the Parliament as a legal body on the other. But in response to this growing and seemingly obvious contradiction, Parliament chose to worship its own rules and procedures rather than address any concern outside of them. That the American condition was in direct conflict with the founding principles of the Parliament – principles for which many commoners very much like the American Colonists fought and died – was of less importance to the Parliament than the orderly adherence to the rules that had governed it since then. And in response to the growing unrest across the ocean, the Parliament whose sovereignty over the Colonies lay at the heart of the conflict opted to pass more soveriegn laws: the Townshend Acts, the Stamp Act and finally the suite of nearly unenforceable Acts known as the Coersive Acts.

One lesson that might be taken from this history is that a parliamentary body more interested in itself than its job will leave an alienated populace to take matters into it’s own hands. Does that mean revolution? Of course not. But it is a lesson in disenfranchisement of a type that, for all the bluster, pomp and circumstance of Washington, I personally never really thought we would see in this country. Until recently.

Because when we view history and the present through this lens, what are we to make of Susan Collins’ decision to block the revocation of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? She is not an opponent of the fight against the discriminatory law that forces soldiers to lie about who they are. Indeed, she is a full-throated supporter of the effort. She doesn’t have any objection to the DREAM Act, either. There doesn’t seem to have been a single issue in the defense spending package with which she had a difference. Not a moral objection. Not a single ethical disagreement. And she would have had the support of an overwhelming majority of American voters, as well. The sole objection upon which she declared her willingness to join in the Republican filibuster was…. parliamentary procedure. That Democrats opted not to allow any more Republican amendments to a spending bill. And in retaliation for an extra-Constitutional parliamentary procedure she found unjust, she chose to support yet another extra-Constitutional parliamentary procedure.

For all the impassioned speech-giving prior to casting her vote, it boils down to taking her job as a Senator more seriously than her job as a lawmaker for the American people and those she represents. Say what you will about the pre-Revolutionary British Parliament, they at least passed and argued over laws. Susan Collins held civil rights of gays and innocent child-imigrants back from history for who knows how long because of arbitrary rules setup in the Senate which have no basis in law whatsoever.

Of course it isn’t the only example. If it was, this would be an isolated incident we could just leave aside. But Washington is starting to look more and more like a place completely unprepared to fulfill its duties, and that is especially true in the House and Senate, where the day to day football of the Congress matters much more than the 10% unemployment rate, the faltering housing market, the runaway banks, the crushed working man and oh, yeah: the will of the governed.

Losing a few Democrats in the Senate Might be a Good Thing for Democracy

Ok, so I know that headline is something that would make most Progressives and Democrats howl that I’ve gone all Rightie on them. Let those people howl.

But we have twice now in the last five years found members of the majority party discussing openly the possibility of changing the “filibuster rules,” to make it harder or even impossible to filibuster a bill. The latest is Senator Dick Durbin just yesterday. I am hardly a fan of the filibuster as a general rule, but it seems to me that the drama surrounding its use these days is largely manufactured and more a product of the state of the Senate over the last ten years or so than a real tactic.

It is doubtful to me that there is anyone in the Senate with the fortitude to manage a filibuster for real. Nevertheless, the idea of staying up past nine o’clock without the aid of cocaine and hookers seems to strike fear into the hearts of Democrats and Republicans alike, regardless of whether or not the monster under the bed actually exists. The question is therefore not whether or not anyone will stay up past their bedtimes to block the majority party’s agenda but whether the majority party has the votes to stop it if it did happen. “It” being the filibuster that probably will not actually happen, but the media and the Senate insists *is* happening over and over again.

If the Senate was down to a 55/45 split or even a 51/49 split, breaking a filibuster would be nearly impossible. Since the hypothetical filibuster is at this point unbreakable, the Senate is forced to consider the alternative: that reality might be preferable to fantasy, and majority vote might very well be all that is required.

Would the majority party continue to insist that they require 60 votes to get anything done in this case? Would we effectively have a complete government shut-down because of hypotheticals? Perhaps temporarily. But it won’t take long for folks up there to realize that, without bills to point to, they won’t have much to show their constituencies come the next election.

And the Whittling Begins in Earnest

I love Harry Reid. And by “love,” I mean, “want to punch in the face.”

We begin in a position of popular electoral strength and end in Gutless Gulch with Senator Harry Reid now proposing that we cut back the tax cut portion of the bill *as a compromise* to cutting the $100 billion dollars “centrist” Republicans want to cut out of the spending side.

Can we get back to reality, here? “Stimulus” is defined by government spending that replaces slacking spending by the American people for the sake of keeping jobs. We can’t keep cutting stuff out of an already inadequate spending package and hope to possibly stem the tide. We’ve lost a trillion dollars in spending on the consumer side alone, but we’ve got no more than half a trillion in new spending.

Let’s be crystal clear about this: there is no such thing as wasteful spending in a mega-recession!

Some spending that offends the sensibilities of Republicans is fine to remove. I think family counciling is good, but if you want to leave that to Jesus, so be it. But don’t make that an economic issue, because it isn’t.

“Waste!” So Saeth Reuters News Service

In discussing the Senate Democrat’s strategy meeting with President Obama, Reuters let’s it’s bias slip through the editorial board. Tsk, tsk! Journalists are supposed to be unthinking drones of information regurgitation! That’s called “objective reporting.”

Senior Republican senators warned on Sunday their party was unlikely to back the stimulus bill without changes to cut waste and to ensure the package provides an immediate boost to the deteriorating economy.

Emphasis mine, of course. You really needed to be told that. . .

So, it’s “waste,” according to Reuters News Service. I tend to agree with Barney Frank that if you’re keeping cops on the streets and nurses in hospitals, then that’s not waste, that’s job protection and exactly what the stimulus bill calls for. They took it out, but money for planned parenthood to keep unemployed or underemployed people from having unwanted pregnancies was probably also a good idea.

What makes Republicans really upset is not the lack of tax cuts: ferchrissakes, 40% of the damned bill is targeted to tax cuts. What upsets them is that they’re used to Bush-style tax cuts that just simply give money away. The tax cuts in the current stimulus package are in the form of tax incentives for companies who save jobs and work towards a greener business model. In other words, we’re using the tax cuts to stimulate the economy in ways that are proven to work. They’re not simply giving up cash to corporations and hoping they’ll magically just start spending money.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are once again letting the Republicans make themselves feel more important than they are. Republicans can’t think of one thing to do with this crisis except exactly what they’ve been doing for the last eight years. We can have an argument about who is most responsible for the problems later, but there’s no question that tax cuts have been done for eight years and been proven ineffectual. Why the hell doesn’t someone besides Barney Frank just come out and say that?

Here We Go Again. . .

If anyone needs any specific reason to think that the Republican Party has run plum out of ideas, check out their obstructionist tactics on the stimulus bill. Where have we heard about this one before? Oh, yes. I remember: the bank bailout bill that in obstructing they hamstrung their candidate and cost themselves the election. Looks like the House and Senate Republicans are planning on going for a double-dip because, “ooh! Wasn’t that lovely!”

It’s kinda nice watching the Republicans play Keystone Cops for a change.

I’m not sure that I agree with Josh Marshall‘s assertion that obstruction is the GOP’s best stand-out political move is, as he says, the best cynical political move. Of course, I understand that in pure political calculus, if the stimulus fails and Republicans opposed it, they create a necessary differentiation between the parties. That difference can be filled in with their own ideas which they can sell to a disaffected public.

But as I probably already said once or twice before the election, I don’t think any normal person whose job is at stake gives a rat’s ass about politics right now. Think the Republicans may be vastly underestimating the “flighty” public and it’s “fan-boy love” of Obama. Americans gravitated to Obama because of his competence at at time when we have need of real leadership. The party that chooses to stand on the sidelines and complain will be the party remembered for. . . having stood on the sidelines. Americans will remember that the Republicans chose to do nothing.

Locally, that’s why my thinking is beginning to change on the Renn Square project as well. Whatever our differences and suspicions about the project, we’d do well to find a way to improve the project in ways that benefit our ideals rather than seeking to kill the plan which at this point looks kind of necessary.

w00t! Kennedy’s Support Dries Up

I’m not sure that our opinion matters much at this point, but maybe it does. If so, Caroline Kennedy has a real problem in New York State in her bid to become our state’s second Senator. Talking Points Memo’s Election Central is reporting today that her 21 point lead has ablated into a 20 crater favouring Andrew Cuomo, who lets face it is a much better choice in the first place.

I’d like to think that our opinion on the subject matters to our representatives in Albany, but that’s never been much of a sure thing. And by the way, last night was the first time I got to hear CK actually speak in front of a camera. I’ve been inclined to believe that the whole, “you know” thing was just more media drama, but oh, my achin’ back. I stand corrected.

I Guess a Rochester Tribute Isn’t Good Enough?

H/t to Rachael Barnhart of 13WHAM. From the “Entirely too sensitive” files:

When Ms. Kennedy visited the Democratic headquarters in Rochester recently, local officials ushered her eagerly into a conference area known as the Kennedy Room, decorated with pictures of her father, her mother, her younger brother, and Ms. Kennedy herself as a little girl. Ms. Kennedy, while polite, did not appear particularly moved.

“She never responded to the pictures,” recalled Robert Duffy, the mayor of Rochester and the meeting’s host. “She looked and perhaps nodded. She never said a word about it.”

Call me nutty, but does this not strike you as a remarkably strident observation of a potential Senator by the Mayor of Rochester? Does Ol’ Duff know something we don’t, or does he not care?