Legislation

Senate on a slippery path with filibuster change

The manufactured crisis last week that led to extraordinary, unprecedented change to the filibuster, prompted by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Democrats, is the first step down a road that undermines the nature of the chamber and will, almost certainly, lead to bigger changes.

The Senate was meant to be the more prestigious body of Congress and its members, given six-year terms, were selected to be responsive to state interests in Washington. Members of the House of Representatives, on the other hand, were meant to serve as the voices of the people, subject to re-election every two years.

Contrary to what President Obama said in his statement after the filibuster change, that “if you got a majority of folks who believe in something, then it should be able to pass,” the upper chamber was never meant to serve as a “voice of the people,” nor was meant to rubber stamp majoritarian views or interest.

It was meant, as James Madison once said, “to consist in its proceedings with more coolness, with more system and with more wisdom, than the popular branch.” Passing legislation and approving nominees based on consensus. The filibuster — which has existed as a concept since the chamber was created and in practice since 1837 — was a tool to achieve consensus.

But, over time, the Senate has become more and more like the House, beginning in 1913 with the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment, which mandated direct election of senators by voters in their respective states.

The Founding Fathers were concerned about a legislative branch that was too responsive to the whims of majority views, which could potentially be dangerous to essential liberty. In Federalist 10, Madison warned about the problem of faction.

Harry Reid is so terrified of losing his majority that he won’t allow Republicans to take part in the legislative process

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has been ruling the chamber almost like a dictator. He went nuclear on the filibuster, turning the Senate into a virtual rubber stamp for President Barack Obama’s court nominees, including a controversial pick who wrote a memo justifying extrajudicial killings of American citizens.

But Reid’s suppression of minority rights doesn’t end there. He’s also prevented Senate Republicans from offering perfectly relevant amendments to legislation to protect vulnerable Democrats against votes that could hurt them this fall:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wants to decide what Senate floor amendments Republicans can offer to guard against “gotcha” votes that could cost Democrats their majority.
[…]
Democrats worry [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell could split their caucus by forcing votes on broad tax policy instead of the basket of expired niche tax provisions the pending bill addresses.

Reid does not want to vote on a proposal to repeal Affordable Care Act’s medical device tax, even though the proposal has strong support in the Democratic caucus. That could put him and his colleagues on the slippery slope of reviewing all the tax increases in ObamaCare.

Illinois Rant Shows Problem With Modern American Democracy

Rants are nothing new, and they’re always popular. Who doesn’t love to watch a video of somebody totally losing it? Particularly if the person in question is a legislator.

The last time, it was Anthony Weiner, well before he decided to show his, erm, weiner, on Twitter. That was actually pretty funny, I admit, but I think what Mike Bost, Illinois State Representative, had to say was far, far better:

Acronyms, Acronyms and More Acronyms

I’ve come to realize that, for whatever reason, I’m particularly interested in minutiae as it relates to “politics.” I like to study the charts that congresspersons use as props when making floor speeches and search through legislation archives looking for bills that pertain to what are, frankly, ridiculous things (like the duties on certain types of pasta products or, one of my personal favorites, improving the management of wild free-roaming horses and burros). I think perhaps I feel that so many other people out there are thinking and writing about the “bigger” political picture (not that this isn’t a really good thing), that there have to be some others who are interested in the smaller things. In this vein, there is a particularly minutial issue (indeed, I don’t think I should really call it an “issue” at all) that has continued to annoy me for quite a while now—the widespread practice of using rather ridiculous acronyms in the titles of official pieces of legislation.

Here are some examples of some of these acronyms (from the current Congress), but there are COUNTLESS others (I’d be curious actually to see the results of an analysis of legislation from, say, the last 5 Congresses as to the percentage of bills that use acronyms in the title):

H.R. 3379: LOPSIDED Oil Prices Act of 2009 (Lowering Oil Speculation for Infrastructure Dedicated to Economic Development)

S. 1588: STOP Act (Stop Tax-breaks for Oil Profiteering Act)

H.R. 3295: RISE Act of 2009 (Removing Impediments to Students Education)

More Garbage Legislation

I have recently discovered the awesomeness that is Google Reader and through this have subscribed to the “Introduced Legislation” feed from GovTrack.  So, practically every other day I’m treated to at least 50+ new pieces of legislation that our intrepid government representatives have introduced in the House of Senate.  Here are a few that have popped up in the last week or so (yes, there is little that our federal government has not stuck its nose into)—

H.R. 1117: Medically Fragile Children’s Act of 2009- introduced by Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)

Getting Your Point Across to Your Representative

Lately, in the wake of all the rotten legislation being proposed today, a lot of people have asked me how they can contact their congressmen and senators.

I decided to put together a quick guide that I believe will maximize the effect of your citizen lobbying activities!

1. Find out who represents you.

Very Important! Most people don’t know who represents them in Congress. It’s always good to be from a congressman’s district before asking him to do something!

To find out who represents you, use this link.

2. Don’t send letters.

After the Anthrax scare several years ago, all mail takes forever to get to your congressman. So, by the time they get to your comments, chances are the crisis you were writing about has been settled a long time.


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