If you're as sick of lame ducks and austerity bombs as I am, how about we delve into some real excitement today: the annual debate on the Senate filibuster.
Just as he has done almost every year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is again threatening to tweak the procedure that has allowed the Republican minority to essentially bring the business of the already lumbering body to a screeching halt. Last time, he and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reached a "gentleman's agreement" in which both sides promised to play nice and not abuse the privilege. We can see how well that little wink, nod and handshake worked out for them (delays and drama and gridlock make for more money in their campaign coffers) and how abysmally for the little people.
Now, Reid again vows to blow up the works with the so-called "nuclear option" on the first day the Senate reconvenes in 2013. This would require a mere 51 votes to ram through the rules change, as opposed to the two-thirds majority otherwise required to end the filibuster. In other words, they wouldn't be allowed to filibuster the filibuster.
The new rules would prevent Senators from silently gumming up the works by forcing them to actually flap their gums in public if they want to talk a bill to death. Who's that talk, talk, talking on our chamber floor? Quoth the Filibuster Scold "Nevermore" when it comes to phoning it in, secretly holding up routine nominations just for the mean fun of it and otherwise acting all passive-aggressive.
Filibustering, while glorified as the lone bravery of a principled Senator in the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, actually has a more sinister original meaning. When it comes to Republican filibusters, they really do adhere to the original definition of
the term: "irregular soldiers who act without authority from their own
government, and are generally motivated by financial gain, political
ideology, or the thrill of adventure". (Wikipedia) The etymology is as
tortuous as the Senate itself: from the Spanish "filibustero" to the
Dutch "vrijbuiter" to the English "freebooter."
While it's asking
too much to imagine Mitch McConnell as the thrilling type, he does
kind of remind me of Captain Queeg. You may remember Queeg as the rigid and compromised victim of The Caine Mutiny. McConnell, though, is the one who effectively led his own band of mutineers against the hapless
Democratic crew. He and his cohort turned rogue on their own vessel, reaping an unfair
bounty for the past four years. And given that he broke his "gentleman's
agreement" with Harry Reid to not abuse the filibuster privilege, his
hijacking of the ship of state was especially crass. Arrgh.
reform will actually force Senators to spend time in the Senate. The
more they're forced to show up and talk, the less time they'll have to fund-raise
and meet behind closed doors with the influence peddlars of K Street. Majority Whip Dick Durbin remarked earlier this year that most Americans would be shocked if they knew how much time he and his colleagues spend dialing for dollars instead of serving the people who elected them, "And how much time we spend talking about raising money, and thinking about raising money, and planning to raise money." Double Arrrgh.
recent survey had Senators admitting to spending 25% to 50% of their
time raising cash. (I think they're being way too modest) and claiming they just hate doing it. So, now is their chance
to hang up the phones, strut their stuff and regale us with their golden oratory. While
they're at it, they can do something about the Fair Elections Now Act
and other moldering legislation that provides for public financing of congressional campaigns.
Of course, I go overboard with my optimism. So sit back and watch helplessly as the interminable psychodrama plays itself out. I hate to be a spoiler, but here's a hint. The quacks always bomb in the end.