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January 28, 2011

Did the Senate just lose the future?

... the Senate decided that its current procedures are good enough. There's something slightly terrifying about that. Accepting a dysfunctional legislature is, as James Fallows and others have argued, one way to lose the future. Our problems -- debt, health-care costs, infrastructure, education, etc. -- are on autopilot. Our solutions are not. Obama can give as many speeches as he wants. If we don't have a political system capable of acting on our challenges, we don't have a political system capable of overcoming them.

via Ezra Klein at voices.washingtonpost.com

This may be a poltical blunder of colossal proportions for Democrats as well as continuing the long American nightmare of a dysfunctional US Senate blocking the functioning of the US administration, US judiciary, US House of Representatives and continuing the inability to move forward on myriad challenges.

Not that the filibuster reform would have been something great for Democrats, as it was crafted to reform the Senate for whatever majority.  And here's the difference between the parties.  

When Republicans (Senate Majority Leader of the time, Bill Frist) first made moves in this direction, they made it clear it would be to punish the Democrats and get their way: he called it the "nuclear option" (there's that good old right-wing violence metaphor ever in the forefront).  Democrats backed down a bit.  And they when the Republicans became the minority they ratcheted up filibuster obstruction to record levels, many times higher than had been seen historically.

Whereas the Democrats are proposing actual reform to open the Senate's process, encourage real debate, make the minority show their strength and hand, but create a workable system that, yes, allows the majority to get more done (which after all is what democracy is supposed to be about).

So Democrats have now legitimized the process of reforming the Senate via majority vote, but didn't do it.  And this reform moment will fade away.  -- Sidebar: Note that in this process, after about 15 years, Senator Wyden finally got the Senate to abolish secret holds.  15 years!  Just to abolish the secret hold. Holds still in place, just not secret.  (So, yes, Senator Merkley may still be a US Senator in a couple of decades (2050 anyone?) when reform of this magnitude might finally happen in the Senate.)

The moment has passed for real reform.  I do not expect it will blow this way again in my lifetime.

But Republicans aren't interested in good governance.

And that is the big danger for Democrats.

Now if the Republicans decide they want to shove more through when they are in power, they will use the opening created here by the Democrats to change the rules, but will not push though a Merkley-style reform.  It will be a power grab wolf in reform sheep's clothing.

Thank-you Senators Merkley, Udall and Harkin for trying hard and coming close.  And for having more optimism than I that you will succeed before it is too late.


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