Saturday, December 26, 2009

Political Reform 101 and Ending the Senate Right of Filibuster

In 1975 a rules change allowed senate filibusters to take place from back rooms, cloak rooms and from the local bar and grill. This change continues to inflate the “price” of legislation faster than the Fed can mint the money. Ending the filibuster entirely increases direct democracy. The increase of direct democracy will, ultimately, produce a more limited government.

The potential for a filibuster springs from the notion that any senator should be able speak as long as he wants on any issue. This right to speak became a filibuster (an act of piracy –from the Spanish filibustero) when a member decided to abuse his liberty to pirate the senate floor and block the peoples’ constitutional operations.

The gentleman’s filibuster has been around since the U.S. Senate revised Rule 22 in 1975. From that time forward, no senator needed to speak for a filibuster to be in force. Today, one simply files a motion. Since 1975, then, a filibuster has no longer been a filibuster, an abuse of the constitutional liberty of free speech; it has simply become an abuse of the constitution. Rule 22’s revision made it slightly easier to attain cloture and move legislation, but Rule 22 made it much, much easier to enact a filibuster. It is not surprising, then, that since the enactment of Rule 22, the number of filibusters has sky-rocketed.

The senate might at least be returned to the rules of filibuster made popular in the old black and white movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Because the push-button filibuster focuses legislative authority in the hands of an even smaller group of legislators, a larger number of votes must be “purchased” by the majority. Hence, legislation is more expensive than it would be in a simple majority setting. Additionally, as the parade of Democrats filibustering their own majority’s legislation clearly shows, the last votes to break a filibuster are infamously expensive.

Senator Patrick Leahy’s vote cost 250 million; Louisiana’s Senator Mary Landrieu’s, 100 million to 300 million. Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd’s unwavering “aye” cost 100 million while Senator Ben cost 45 million. Finally, the Senator Sanders charged 10 billion in heath care centers for his vote. Nelson’s deal sounds like it is worth far more than 45 million. The public option in the senate bill is the expansion of Medicaid bought about through the destruction of Medicare.

Ross Perot used to say, diplomatically enough when speaking of reform, that the problem in Washington is that good people are caught in a bad system. It is awe inspiring to really look at how little the founding fathers prescribed when concerning the operation of the U.S. government. They fearless passed forward liberty, trusting in future generations to fully participate in freedoms humans in government never before experienced. There was never a prescription for or against a filibuster, but today it is so codified that you’d swear the senate couldn’t live without such a burden. The senate today would tell you that liberty itself would be jeopardized if this obstacle to direct democracy were removed.

That people took a better system, a system that allowed for greater liberty, and, over time, chose to allow the tyranny of a minority to impede the deliberations of the majority speaks volumes. Ross Perot was not entirely correct about people or government. Good people can be weak. Weak people can have redeeming virtues; none are, sadly barred from political office.

The operation of all politics is violence explicit or implicit. From taking taxes at the threat of fines, arrest and jail time, to defending American interests abroad with the active engagement of troops, all politics is about the use of force.

Hence, all active participation politics is “bad joss,” “bad karma,” or like using Sauron’s ring of power. The active use of political power brings out the worst in people. Such use should be limited at all costs. Such use should be shared by as many as possible, so that no one individual is burdened exclusively. The weight of power must be spread out as much as technology will allow and the use of such power should be as limited as possible.

The United States government must, obviously, be reformed. We are 11 trillion dollars in debt. Any institutional change that increases genuine debate (an not illicitly cuts off debate by abusing the right of free speech) must be sought. A line item veto should be given the president of the United States so that last minute items are put into legislation without debate. Public referendums ought to be considered, but more critically, more and more decisions about every category of life ought to be returned to state and regional governments where citizen participation can be more direct.

If history has taught us that absolute power in the hands of single monarchs is a wretched evil, it now seems she is liberally instructing her students that matters are even worse when such centralized authority falls on small numbers of men. In small packs, it becomes plain there is a mathematical certainly that many will be weak, others spineless, and others corrupt; that while virtue is the aspiration of man it is not his nature. Hence, the surest way to move the pack is to appeal to its vilest instincts. Even in better days it was the exception, not the rule, that an appeal to reason, virtue and the public good might win a legislative victory

In 2010 if one wants to know a reformer from a hypocrite, ask whether or not they would vote to change the filibuster rules in the United States Senate.

Oh, the vote on the filibuster rules, according to the courts, is itself filibuster proof -- probably.