Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Senate

I've been on travel for the last week, so haven't been able to blog. I'm now sitting at a computer in the convention center java bar (yeah, it's called that) to comment on the latest effort by radical Republicans (and I do not use that term lightly) to change the rules of the political game midway, for their own immediate benefit. CNN did a live broadcast of Bill Frist on the Senate floor this morning, explaining why he wants to get rid of the judicial filibuster, just this once. He repeatedly makes the argument as one of "opposition to a Senate minority preventing judicial nominees from getting a vote on the Senate floor." Why does he specifically refer to the injustice of the minority party doing this? Because the Republicans did exactly the same thing during Clinton's second term when they had control of the Senate. They bottled up his nominees in committee, so they wouldn't reach the floor for a vote; Senate rules say any nominees not acted upon during a session will be dropped, and must be re-submitted by the president.

So, to repeat, during the Clinton Administration, the Republicans used a parliamentary procedure to prevent the president's nominees from getting an "up or down" vote. Which is exactly what Democrats are doing. Filibusters are a legitimate parliamentary procedure. They may be bad or annoying, but they're legitimate.

Since they can't make the argument, then, that they're against this practice on principle, they make the claim that it's somehow wrong when the minority party does it. This is, of course, nonsense. The Senate is nothing if not a body that elevates minority power over the majority. After all, it's in the Senate that the state of Montana, which has roughly half a million residents, has exactly the same power as California. The Republicans have 55 Senate seats to the Democrats' 45, but these 55 senators represent a minority of the U.S. population.

There is nothing in the Senate rules, or even Senate precedent, that suggests the minority party's job is to roll over for the majority; that's for the House of Representatives.

One last point -- to me, this issue is really not about judicial nominees or the pros and cons of the filibuster. I don't feel strongly about using the filibuster for nominees, and am inclined to think a president really should be able to nominate whoever he wants, and the Senate should only withhold consent if the nominee is patently unqualified.

The real issue is respect: respect for the American system of government and for 200 years of tradition in the Senate. The current Republicans have shown that they have no respect for American system if it stands in the way of getting what they want, and what they know will be good for all of us. This is what happens when fundamentalists take over. Right now, we're seeing Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the fundamentalists have invaded and inhabited the Republican party. It will be interesting if the conservatives eventually realize they want their bodies back.

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