Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Did we really win?


I love super-majority requirements -- the more stringent the better.

I cheered when the 1995 GOP Congress imposed a 60% super-majority requirement in the House for tax increases.

I think that America would be a lot better off if Congress learned to read the Constitution and realized that most of what they do isn't in it and therefore requires a 2/3 vote from both houses and ratification by 3/4 of the state legislatures to insert it by amendment.

The higher the bar, the longer it takes the mob to climb over it.

That's why I love the filibuster. End it? Heavens no. I'd like to improve it. A unanimous vote requirement for cloture, or at the bare minimum 7/8, sounds about right. And while we're at it, let's require 90% for passage of legislation and unanimous consent to override a presidential veto.

You might think I'd be happy, then, to hear of the "compromise" hammered out by "moderate" Republicans and Democrats to avoid the "nuclear option" and save the filibuster per se at the sacrifice of a few particular instances of it.

But I'm not so sure the deal is cause for celebration.

The "nuclear option" isn't gone. It's just back in the GOP scabbard, ready to be drawn any time the Democrats start getting uppity again. And what did Senate Democrats sacrifice to get that temporary reprieve? Presumably they still oppose the Bush judicial nominees who will now get an up-or-down vote, the outcome of which is a foregone conclusion. If Priscilla Owen, William H. Pryor and Janice Rogers Brown were unacceptable nominees last week, and if they were unacceptable nominees last year, and if they were unacceptable nominees two, three, four years ago when they were nominated, then how did this "compromise" suddenly make them acceptable?

I wish the Democrats had played hardball and either gathered enough Republican votes to shoot down the "nuclear option," or forced the GOP to pull the trigger on it.

If the "nuclear option" had been taken down hard -- made impossible for lack of a few GOP votes -- then the allegedly unacceptable nominees would have remained in limbo and the Bush/Frist combo would have been stuck in the lame duck penalty box for the next year-and-a-half. They're there already, but they keep threatening to break out.

And if the GOP had dropped the bomb? We'd see exactly what we're seeing now with the compromise, only without complicity and culpability on the part of Democrats.

It would have been nice to see Democrats peel off enough GOP votes to put Frist down like the rabid dog he is and stop the "nuclear option" cold.

Or, failing that ... well, the Democrats will be the majority party again someday, probably after the 2008 or 2010 elections (2006 is a long shot). I think it would have been worth a few years in the wilderness, a few years of letting the GOP feed out more of the rope it's hanging itself with, to be able to, as the first act of the next Democratic Senate, restore the check on government power that the GOP had swept aside. Especially since, as a practical matter, the compromise swept it aside anyway.

Then again, maybe I'm wrong. Others seem to regard this whole thing as a victory for Democrats and "moderate" Republicans. Among the reactions I've seen, only Howard Dean's has been lukewarm. Maybe he's seeing the forest, and not just the trees. It wouldn't be the first time.

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