Thursday, November 29, 2012


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.

Filibuster 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.

A 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. 


Denis Neville said...

Filibluster…fictional political theater - by Republicans, Democrats, RINOs and DINOs, neo-liberals and neo-cons - for the rubes.

Collusion behind the scenes to protect the wealthy and the corporations, not “we the people.”

“Both parties today don’t stand for very much aside from self-interest. And they are mostly involved in hustling money from the 20 or 30 richest zip codes in the country.” – Kevin Phillips

Who elects these crooks and charlatans?

The rubes!!! We, the sheeple, do.

“The public soul of this country has changed forever, and professional sports is only a serenade for the death of the American dream.” - Hunter S. Thompson, Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness

Valerie said...

Excellent post, Karen - great commentary on both the fillibuster and the time away from politic in order to do fundraising. - Just like the plutocracy likes it!

Suzan said...

Seems to be a term coined for our age.

Thanks, K!

But they're getting to be easy pickings, no?

interminable psychodrama

Jay - Ottawa said...

I wonder how much time on the phone it took to get multinationals, like Bank of America, GE and Coca-Cola, to sponsor lavish parties for Obama’s inauguration?

Is this Barack Obama’s way of showing independence from the corporate world and solidarity with common people? Might this tell us something about his strategy in reaching the Grand Bargain?

The thing is, as we keep reminding ourselves, the big banks should be broke and disappeared, and their chiefs in jail. Still, they’re in the chips because BO transferred trillions of dollars from the middle class to the banks to prop them up. Bernanke, whom BO reappointed, keeps doing that without opposition while we sleep.

If on your last check up your fasting blood glucose was higher than 130mg/dL, I don’t ever want to see you shelling out money for cokes. Besides Muhtar Kent, Coke’s CEO, doesn’t like the way states in the US court business. Not friendly enough. He prefers to deal with the Chinese. Really.

GE in 2010 made a profit of $14.2 billion. It’s tax? Zero. And if I might just pour a pinch more salt in your wounds, know that GE got a refund that year of $3.2 billion. I don’t believe GE uses HR Block to make out its returns.

Blankfein of Goldman Sachs was on the Hill last week lecturing the Americans (who bailed him out at considerable sacrifice) about being addicted to handouts like Social Security. Bernie Sanders had a lot of fun with that on his website:

“Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein came to Capitol Hill this week to call for cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. As Congress and the White House are negotiating a year-end deficit deal, Blankfein blustered about the need to “lower people’s expectations” about their retirement and health care. He was loose with his facts. He spoke with all the sympathy for someone struggling to get by on a $14,000-a-year retirement that you’d expect from a Wall Street banker paid $16 million last year. To Bernie, Blankfein’s attack on working families is obscene. “Think about the arrogance of these guys on Wall Street who were bailed out by the middle class of this country when their greed and recklessness nearly destroyed the financial system, and now they come to Capitol Hill to lecture Congress and the American people about the need to cut programs for working families,” Bernie said. “This is what class warfare is all about.”

Anyway, here’s what it all boils down to. That lavish spending for BO’s inauguration? IT’S OUR MONEY, DAMN IT! And BO ain’t smiling back in gratitude to you.

Zee said...

"A recent survey had Senators admitting to spending 25% to 50% of their time raising cash."

"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."

Too true!

I used to work a 40-hour work week, give or take, as I was a salaried employee. Whether "blue collar" or "white collar," the same is pretty much true of the entire middle-class.

I don't think that it's too much to demand that our legislators be "in the office" from Monday through Friday, 8AM-5PM, like the rest of us.

This crap about them leaving early to be home on weekends to be with their families, is just that: CRAP. Move your damn' families to DC, or don't go home on weekends, or don't take the damn' job.

And they can "fund-raise" on their own damn' time. Give 'em two-week vacations like the rest of us, that they can use as they will.

We deserve more than two-and-a-half days a week from our legislators, and our President!