Checks and Balances people!

December 17, 2009 at 3:53 pm (Politics) (, , , )

Now, first off….

There.  That’s a link to a little piece on the Huffington Post explaining how Joe Lieberman’s willingness to vote against health care reform illustrates that we need to fix the rules for filibusters.  Why?  Because filibusters give “outsized power” to single individuals to hold up legislation – because Lieberman is saying he might vote against it, making the potential vote 59-41 (assuming party-line votes), he holds all the cards and gets all the attention and say-so on the bill.

Now… let’s take a more careful look at what they say there, because it’s very telling.

“To pass the most important elements of the progressive agenda, the Senate must change its filibuster rules.”

If the Republicans had 59 votes, and were saying that the filibuster rules needed to be changed for the purpose of passing the most important elements of the conservative agenda, the Dem’s would be screaming bloody murder.  They don’t want the filibuster rules changed – that’s the last thing they want… except when they’re in power.  Then change the rules all you want – get those d#$%ed dinosaurs out of the way and let us at the levers of power, because that’s the way things should be!

Because we’re right, they’re wrong, and there’s no possible way that this could ever go wrong.

Those of you who are long-term readers might remember that I had words about this in my previous diatribes about binary thought disorder.  I’m confident that I’m right in saying that the Democrats would scream bloody murder if it was a Republican bullet point that was going to be pushed through for one simple reason.

They did, just a couple years ago.  Again, this isn’t a Democrat thing – the Republicans grumble about needing to change the rules every time they want to do something that the Democrats want to filibuster too.  And then?  Then the Democrats and the lib’s in the media and the blogosphere start screaming as though the world were about to come to an end.

There y’go, folks.  Think about it – the filibuster is meaningless if the rules to break it are adjusted willy-nilly by a simple majority (which they can be).  That very fact has meant that changing the filibuster rules is often referred to as the nuclear option – using it is a court-of-last-resort move, because it lets the proverbial genie out of the bag.  It’s true – the Constitution doesn’t say a thing about filibusters being allowed.  You can change them however you want… but guess what.  It doesn’t just change for you.

Of course, there’s a simple way around that too.  Just change the rules back before you lose power.  Of course, that makes it an even more baldfaced power grab, but is that a bad thing?  After all, it’s really only a symbolic gesture, one that lets you scream at the other guy when he changes the rules back so you don’t have a say in anything.

The filibuster exists for the purpose of making sure that the minority can stop the majority from pushing things through without an overwhelming majority.  That’s the entire reason it exists.  And that’s why, for very well over a hundred years, it has remained an option in the Senate.  There is only one reason to change it – because you want to take more power.  Forget the fact that they’re talking about health care.  That’s not what they’re talking about. 

Changing the rules of the filibuster has nothing to do with health care reform.

It’s just a smokescreen.

Changing the rules of the filibuster is something that you only do for one reason.  Because you’re trying to ram something down the throats of the public, opposition be damned.  If the Democrats go and change the rules for the filibuster, they’ll allow themselves to force a simple majority vote on anything that goes through.  Don’t kid yourself about Point #3 in that little article calling for the change – do you really think that the change wouldn’t, effectively, mean that a simple majority of democrats can vote anything through?  Even the system suggested there simply makes the filibuster a formality to wait through – go ahead and go home while the other guys rant and speechify to keep you from voting.  Then come in a week later, and push for cloture with 51 votes, before you go ahead and pass whatever legislation you want with 51 votes.

Health care would be the first thing pushed through, sure.  But would it be the last?  I don’t think so.  They’d promptly push through every single liberal talking point, one week at a time. 

Gun control restrictions?  There y’go.  It’ll cut down on the bill for our health care reform, after all.

Expanded welfare?  Well, hey, we just put you all on Government health care, why not on the Government payroll too?

Gay marriage?  Well… no, probably not, since The One has come out saying he’s against it.  But, if he’d agree to sign it, why not?

On-demand abortion?  It’ll be harder, but we can probably pull it off.

A special Presidential police force, to make sure those dangerous Right Wing lunatics stay in line?  Well of course!  We’ve taken away their chance to do anything through the system, we’d better make sure they don’t do anything outside the system too.

The list can go on, getting increasingly ridiculous all the way along.  Eventually, they’ll probably lose power… at which point, blast it.  The Republicans take over, and use the same rules to go ahead and change back parts of the system (abortion and gay marriage, probably… maybe gun control.)

Congratulations.  The system has become completely controlled by whichever side scores 51 votes, unless the Constitution specifically says you need more.

Yes, that’s a slippery slope argument.  It probably wouldn’t go that far, that fast.  But it illustrates the way that it could go.  If you think that pushing through those points, 1 week at a time, by virtue of having temporarily claimed a slim majority, is a good idea?  Congratulations.  You’re not a Democrat. 

You’re a fascist.

And I mean that by the real definition of a fascist – somebody who believes that the government should control the people, that the people exist for the service of the state, not the other way around.  You just only believe it when the government agrees with you, and you’d be screaming that every one of your rights is being violated if the Republican flavor of fascist were doing it instead.

So don’t go getting hacked off about the other side wanting a little control even when they’re the minority… because one of these days, you probably will be too, believe it or not.  And when that happens, you’ll bitch all the louder about any attempts to further limit your power.

That’s just how politics seems to work these days.  And that’s why the important question isn’t Republican or Democrat, it isn’t left or right – it’s politician or civil servant.

And those of us on the civil servant side have a smaller number of representatives than any other party you could name.



  1. H. o'Dagg said,

    Don’t you just LOVE sausage

  2. Vorex said,

    “If you think that pushing through those points, 1 week at a time, by virtue of having temporarily claimed a slim majority, is a good idea? Congratulations. You’re not a Democrat.

    You’re a fascist.”

    Or, you know, an Australian.

    We don’t have filibusters. Our rules of parliament in both houses forbid them and I actually had to look up what you were talking about so I could write a response to this article. (It was originally much much longer, but I kept getting sidetracked before the end). I really had to laugh.

    Honestly, this is a democratic tradition to be upheld? One that says ‘I know how a vote would go, so I’m going to throw a tantrum. I’m going to take my bat and my ball and go home so no-one can have a vote’. Surely there is a fundamental problem with the idea that you uphold democracy by refusing the expression of the will of the people (albeit through their elected representatives).

    We’ve actually had recent experience with just this issue. Until our last election one side of parliament had control of both houses. They were afforded the opportunity to push through legislation of their choice, and they took it. Opposition Senators took the opportunities they could to enforce delays and reviews but ultimately legislation came to a vote in timely fashion (as it should do) and it was passed on the numbers (as it should be).

    Did that government let power go to it’s head and overstep in some areas? Absolutely. The consequences? They were savaged at the next election. Our Prime Minister personally lost his seat, an almost unheard of event, and the new government repealed many of it’s laws, having been explicitly elected on a platform to do so.

    Where was I going? (See, I got sidetracked even in shorter form!) Ah, yes. Filibusters are foolish. They are a tool explicitly designed to prevent constructive debate and voting in a parliament that prides itself on such, and to shield the voting public from the consequences of their decisions when they need keenly to be aware of them in order to make a better decision next time.

    If you don’t get what you vote for, how are you supposed to judge whether or not it was good?

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