Thursday, January 03, 2013

Congress tries democracy for a change!

Steven Pearlstein explains Congress tries democracy for a change!

"In the Senate, it’s the ridiculous rules requiring unanimous consent to take up a bill or a nomination, and the filibuster that lets a minority of the Senate ‘talk’ a bill or a nomination to death without actually having to show up on the floor and talk. So even if there are 51 or 55 or even 59 senators willing to do something that is politically difficult — such as curbing the growth in entitlement spending, for instance — they  can’t unless they get the 60-vote supermajority now required under Senate practice.

The House, particularly under Republican control, has also effectively repealed majority rule. Since the mid-1990s, Republican leaders have vowed not to bring legislation to the floor that isn’t supported by a ‘majority of the majority’ — a majority of the members of the Republican caucus.  And once the caucus decides what to do, then it is expected that all Republicans will fall in line and support the party position. To accomplish this, bills have to be crafted to satisfy virtually every member of the Republican caucus, which pulls them even further to the right and makes them odious to Democrats, who similarly fall in line and vote as a bloc against them.

What this means in practice is that Republicans have to pass bills only with Republican votes.  And since the party has a thin majority in the House, the defection of only 20 or so of its most conservative members effectively dooms any legislation, as it did with Speaker John A. Boehner’s ill-fated Plan B.

What happened yesterday was that things worked the way the framers of the Constitution imagined they would work. The Senate took up a bill without unanimous consent, debated and acted on it without the losers resorting to a filabuter. And the House reverted to majority rule. By honoring his promise to the president and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring up any Senate-passed bill, Boehner (R-Ohio) agreed to set aside the ‘majority of the majority’ standard and allowed a centrist, bipartisan coalition to work its will — in this case over the objection of a majority of the Republican caucus.

This is the template for doing difficult things in Congress. In fact it, is the only template."

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