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Old 28th December 2012, 02:09 PM   #1
Meadmaker
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The problem is the blocking of votes.

The big problem I see in the American system of government is that it's too easy to block votes.

Right now, I'm thinking of the fiscal cliff talks, but it's not just the fiscal cliff. Nevertheless, I'll use it as an example.

President Obama has a proposal on the fiscal cliff. It includes tax hikes and spending cuts. Suppose you were to turn it into a complete legislative package and put it to a vote in the Congress. Why don't they just vote on it and see what happens?

The thing is, Boehner and McConnell can each block a vote in their respective houses, and they are doing so.

Why would you ever block a vote on anything? There is only one reason. You block a vote because that vote would pass. If it would fail, there's no harm in allowing a vote. Right now, there are a huge majority of Democrats and enough Republicans who would prefer the President's proposal to the fiscal cliff, so Boehner can't afford to allow it to the floor, where it has the votes to pass. He can't afford that because.....er......uhmmm......well dang it it just wouldn't be right! Just because a majority of the representatives want something doesn't mean......err....uhmm.....It's my House and I make the rules!

It shouldn't be so easy to block votes. In the House, the speaker can basically block any vote he wishes to block. In the Senate, it's even easier to block votes. Because of that, we get cliffs.
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Old 28th December 2012, 02:32 PM   #2
JoeTheJuggler
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Originally Posted by Meadmaker View Post
It shouldn't be so easy to block votes. In the House, the speaker can basically block any vote he wishes to block. In the Senate, it's even easier to block votes. Because of that, we get cliffs.
From Article I Section 5:

"Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings. . . ."

The current rules have not always resulted in such a dysfunctional Congress. It's really up to the voters to punish their representatives for abuse of the rules.
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Old 28th December 2012, 02:53 PM   #3
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There's at least one other reason to block a vote: If it's politically inconvenient to take a stand on the issue in question. It may be expedient to block a vote that wouldn't pass, if you'd have to trade away too many favors, or force too many unwelcome positions, in order to guarantee the failure.

And don't forget that it's also "too easy" to combine many unrelated things into a single bill. Voting for something you like is usually also voting for something you don't like. Sometimes, it's more expedient not to vote at all, until you can get a better deal.

I say "too easy" because the legislature makes its own rules for how it conducts business. By what measure can you say it's "too easy" to block votes, rather than "not easy enough"? And by what authority would that be changed, anyway?

Can the President command the Legislature to make decisions on the policies of his choosing, in the time of his choosing? Of course not; nor should he.

Could we the people amend the Constitution, putting some such stipulation in place? Perhaps, but in over 200 years nobody has yet produced a compelling argument for doing so. Will you be the first to convince a majority of the federal legislature, and a majority of the state legislatures, that this is a problem that needs solving?

After we go over the cliff, maybe you will be, at that. Certainly if you convinced enough of the electorate, their elected officials would pander to their demands, if only to keep their seats in office.

So: What would your amendment look like, and what would be your best arguments in favor of passing it?

More to the point: If you had the budget for it, what propaganda would you spew to the electorate at large, to convince them that your amendment should be passed?

Would you send different messages in different markets? Would you make different arguments to different interest groups? Which lobbies would you court, and with what offerings of quid pro quo? What lobbies would you spurn, and why?

What sources of funding would you seek out, to seed your super-PAC (for surely you'd need one)?

I'm not saying you should do all these things; I'm merely curious, as a thought-experiment, how you would go about solving the problem you've identified. What changes would you make? What arguments would you use to convince your fellow-citizens to support those changes? What arguments would you use to convince the lawmakers--who must ultimately enact those changes--to go along with them?
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Old 28th December 2012, 05:15 PM   #4
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I think vote blocking and anti-compromising could also be a side-effect of the majoritarian system. Our parties are encouraged in elections to be two entities straddling the center. But in Congress the opposition party is always biding time for when their party gets control. Why pass a bill that you disagree with when you have the chance of changing the whole game next election and getting what you really want?
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Old 28th December 2012, 06:02 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Tsukasa Buddha View Post
I think vote blocking and anti-compromising could also be a side-effect of the majoritarian system. Our parties are encouraged in elections to be two entities straddling the center. But in Congress the opposition party is always biding time for when their party gets control. Why pass a bill that you disagree with when you have the chance of changing the whole game next election and getting what you really want?
This has always made a lot of sense to me. The winner takes all elections does not encourage compromise and add in some of the gerrymandering making the issue worse.
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Old 28th December 2012, 07:40 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by seayakin View Post
This has always made a lot of sense to me. The winner takes all elections does not encourage compromise and add in some of the gerrymandering making the issue worse.
Politicians seek office to enjoy the benefits of power. If they are so at odds with each other that they cannot use their power, so much the better.

Still, even in these contentious times, the 112th Congress has still managed to pass 219 bills. Clearly the system is not perfect.
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Old 28th December 2012, 11:30 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
Politicians seek office to enjoy the benefits of power. If they are so at odds with each other that they cannot use their power, so much the better.
Inaction setting us up for failure on Social Security, Medicare, carbon emissions, etc. are features, not bugs!
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Old 29th December 2012, 03:34 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Meadmaker View Post
The big problem I see in the American system of government is that it's too easy to block votes.

Right now, I'm thinking of the fiscal cliff talks, but it's not just the fiscal cliff. Nevertheless, I'll use it as an example.

President Obama has a proposal on the fiscal cliff. It includes tax hikes and spending cuts. Suppose you were to turn it into a complete legislative package and put it to a vote in the Congress. Why don't they just vote on it and see what happens?

.
A one sided argument. There are no spending cuts in O's "plan". Only tax hikes and empty promises. The house has passed a complete budget extending the current tax rates for everyone. It is Harry Reid and the Senate that refuses to put it to a vote. Harry Reid's Senate is required by law to pass a budget each year. They have failed to do so in nearly 4 years. A tyranny of the majority tends to trample on the interests of the minority. That's the point of such rules -- to protect the interests of the minority.
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Old 29th December 2012, 04:59 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Tsukasa Buddha View Post
Inaction setting us up for failure on Social Security, Medicare, carbon emissions, etc. are features, not bugs!
You are correct, they are intended consequences of the way the system was set up, which is just showing extreme outliers in behavior at this time. The idea was to avoid the majority making sweeping decisions without some sort of consensus. This worked somewhat during the last administrations overwhelming control of the two houses.
[aside]
Currently there is a different issue at play, you have a POTUS who is not getting any of the usual deal making from the HoR, you have an HoR with the lowest number of 'swing seats' in recent history and the members of the HoR were mostly elected in districts that gave them sound majorities. This sets up a situation where the HoR is not going to 'play ball' with the POTUS, unlike when Tip O'Neil and Reagan cut deals, for example.

The Senate is preforming exactly as it is supposed to, it helped prevent some extreme changes during the last administration, it just happens to be going the other way now.

Now another issue is the nature of the two parties, you have Republicans that as a result of Newt Gingrich is totally cohesive and almost always gets its members to vote as a bloc. You have the other party, which is mischaracterized as a bloc, the Democratic party is still a big tent and members are very likely to not vote the party line. This aids the Republican party at this time as there are Democrats who come from mostly 'conservative' districts and they have to keep their electorate happy.

So while there are times it is very frustrating because the system stalls and vibrates around the center making little action it works that way by intention. It took a great amount to get the Affordable Care Act passed, which is regrettable to me, but the way the system is supposed to work. It has prevented some more draconian swings as well. I would hate to think what could have happened under the last administration if we had the majority takes all approach that some parliamentary systems can encourage. I look at what Thatcher was able to do in the UK and I am glad the the last administration did not have that ability.

So yes it is very frustrating and scary, I am not happy with the Congress or the President on the way this is unfolding at all. But I think about the other potentials for majority parties overwhelming the system and figure it works as best it can. I was very unhappy with the last administration and figure some are just as unhappy as I was then.
[/aside]
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Old 29th December 2012, 06:35 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Dancing David View Post
I look at what Thatcher was able to do in the UK and I am glad the the last administration did not have that ability.
Can you give specific examples of what she did that causes this concern?
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Old 29th December 2012, 09:15 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Meadmaker View Post
The big problem I see in the American system of government is that it's too easy to block votes.

Right now, I'm thinking of the fiscal cliff talks, but it's not just the fiscal cliff. Nevertheless, I'll use it as an example.

President Obama has a proposal on the fiscal cliff. It includes tax hikes and spending cuts. Suppose you were to turn it into a complete legislative package and put it to a vote in the Congress. Why don't they just vote on it and see what happens?

The thing is, Boehner and McConnell can each block a vote in their respective houses, and they are doing so.

Why would you ever block a vote on anything? There is only one reason. You block a vote because that vote would pass. If it would fail, there's no harm in allowing a vote. Right now, there are a huge majority of Democrats and enough Republicans who would prefer the President's proposal to the fiscal cliff, so Boehner can't afford to allow it to the floor, where it has the votes to pass. He can't afford that because.....er......uhmmm......well dang it it just wouldn't be right! Just because a majority of the representatives want something doesn't mean......err....uhmm.....It's my House and I make the rules!

It shouldn't be so easy to block votes. In the House, the speaker can basically block any vote he wishes to block. In the Senate, it's even easier to block votes. Because of that, we get cliffs.
Not nessacarily. You might want to block a vote to prevent your side from having to vote against it, as you are worried how that might be seen in several years. They might vote against it and it would fail, but it could cost them in future elections.

It isn't simply one thing or one reason.
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Old 29th December 2012, 10:09 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by ponderingturtle View Post
It isn't simply one thing or one reason.
This.

Also, as I pointed out, requiring Congress to change its rules against their will would require a constitutional amendment. The unintended consequences of such an amendment are unpredictable. Not only would it not solve "the problem" (as if there were one single easily identified problem), it might cause any number of new ones.

If you don't like obstructionism, vote your members of Congress out of office.

I suspect that many in the Tea Party Caucus think that blocking some votes is what their constituency wants them to do.
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Old 30th December 2012, 06:58 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Dancing David View Post
This sets up a situation where the HoR is not going to 'play ball' with the POTUS, unlike when Tip O'Neil and Reagan cut deals, for example.
I keep comparing the way those people acted with the way things go today.
The old way was better.


By the way, I'm not advocating a Constitutional amendment to prevent this sort of thing. I just wish people realized what was really going on here. Do they understand that there's a plan that has the support of enough members of Congress to win the vote, but the leadership has decided that they will not allow that vote to take place?
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Old 30th December 2012, 07:59 AM   #14
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So they block a vote for something that wasn't going to pass anyhow. What's the difference, other than not voting being more efficient?
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Old 30th December 2012, 09:34 AM   #15
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The big problem I see in the American system of government is that it's too easy to block votes.


This is the system working as intended. See the first quote in my .sig.


Go write a paper on it and get back to me.
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Old 30th December 2012, 01:55 PM   #16
Meadmaker
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Originally Posted by marplots View Post
So they block a vote for something that wasn't going to pass anyhow. What's the difference, other than not voting being more efficient?
There's no reason to block a vote on something that won't pass. You only block votes on something that will pass.
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Old 30th December 2012, 03:23 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by Meadmaker View Post
There's no reason to block a vote on something that won't pass. You only block votes on something that will pass.
No, you don't. Sometimes you block a vote because you don't want to take the fall for voting against it.

Sometimes you block a vote because you figure the negative spin from blocking it will be less harmful to your objectives than the negative spin from voting against it.

This is the second time I've pointed this out. Will you continue to ignore it?

Or do I have to ask you, who apparently knows so much about which votes will pass and which will not, are you a party whip? Have you counted noses on these votes? Are you privy to the councils of the legislators?

Or are you presenting as fact what is actually just your unsupported supposition?

I'm actually a little disappointed. Normally you make pretty intelligent arguments. Why have you decided to reduce what is obviously a complex question to such an oversimplified and unsupported answer?
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Old 30th December 2012, 04:53 PM   #18
marplots
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Originally Posted by Meadmaker View Post
There's no reason to block a vote on something that won't pass. You only block votes on something that will pass.
Wouldn't that mean you have enough votes to unblock it though?
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Old 30th December 2012, 04:54 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Meadmaker View Post
There's no reason to block a vote on something that won't pass. You only block votes on something that will pass.
I agree with theprestige.

Also, there is a flaw in your plan. If anyone could call for a vote of the entire body, then a party might try to game the system by introducing 20 or 30 votes everyday. Plus, and this is the point that would annoy me the most, sanctimonious religious fundamentalist would always be demanding votes on things like:
Resolved: America is a Christian nation.
Resolved: Prayer in school is the only thing that will save America's soul
Resolved: Evolution is a lie
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Old 30th December 2012, 05:50 PM   #20
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This is one area where the british system has it right. If you campaign on an issue and is included in your manifesto then the opposition actually vote for it. Wouldn't this small change make this sort of thing moot? I understand that the system in the states is different but it should be possible to have something similar.
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Old 30th December 2012, 05:56 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by Montag451 View Post
This is one area where the british system has it right. If you campaign on an issue and is included in your manifesto then the opposition actually vote for it. Wouldn't this small change make this sort of thing moot? I understand that the system in the states is different but it should be possible to have something similar.
But in a sense, each member of Congress has a manifesto from their own district, those that elected them. This puts them at odds with others, and not just members of the opposite party. The logjam in Congress represents a similar diversity of entrenched positions across the country. It's not that we just can't get along in Congress, we can't get along, period.
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Old 30th December 2012, 06:17 PM   #22
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Originally Posted by Ladewig View Post
I agree with theprestige.

Also, there is a flaw in your plan. If anyone could call for a vote of the entire body, then a party might try to game the system by introducing 20 or 30 votes everyday.
Yeah, that's what I'm saying. Anyone should be able to demand a roll call vote on anything, anytime. Obviously, that's the only possible alternative to the unlimited vote blocking ability of the Speaker of the House, and it's the only possible alternative to the no-fuss filibuster on any bill introduced.




Prestige noted that there were reasons to block votes even if the bill might pass, but his example isn't exactly one that makes the average person declare it a beneficial use of Congressional power. Someone might not want a vote because they are afraid that voters might be mad at them for voting that way. Well, folks, that's too bad. If you don't vote the way your constituents want you to vote, I guess that could become a problem for you at reelection time.

Congressional rules aren't exactly the sort of issue that gets people all riled up at the ballot boxes, so I guess no one is going to punish those who support rules that let a few members of the leadership wield stunning amounts of power. In order to get those rules changed, the people with the power would have to give it up voluntarily and, curiously, that doesn't seem to happen. It looks like we might at least get some filibuster reform. Maybe.


The first time I really noticed this vote blocking thing was during the impeachment debate in 1998. The Democrats wanted a censure resolution, and the Republican leadership wouldn't allow the vote. Why not? Because it would have given Republican legislators the opportunity to express dissatisfaction with President Clinton, but without the need for a ridiculous impeachment proceeding. It would have passed, and impeachment would have been off the table. Goodness knows why Hastert and friends thought that was a bad idea, but for some reason they really wanted that trial, and they made sure they got it.

Now we have something similar going on. Boehner has to work on a plan that gets nearly unanimous Republican agreeement, because otherwise it might look like an Obama win. Boehner can't put forward anything that isn't pure Republcian. I'm really confident that there are enough congressmen that would vote for a bill that avoids the fiscal cliff, if they could get it to a vote, but a true bipartisan bill would look Boehner look bad, so instead......I guess we'll see.

I just don't know what's going on in an awful lot of payroll processors these days. How much should they withhold for checks issued on Tuesday?
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Old 30th December 2012, 07:07 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by Ladewig View Post
If anyone could call for a vote of the entire body, then a party might try to game the system by introducing 20 or 30 votes everyday.
Originally Posted by Meadmaker View Post
Yeah, that's what I'm saying. Anyone should be able to demand a roll call vote on anything, anytime. Obviously, that's the only possible alternative to the unlimited vote blocking ability of the Speaker of the House, and it's the only possible alternative to the no-fuss filibuster on any bill introduced.
OK, if the top man in each party were able to call a vote, then one party might game the system by calling for many votes on things other than the important bill.
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Old 30th December 2012, 07:20 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
Politicians seek office to enjoy the benefits of power.
I'm not quite that cynical. I suspect that most pols get into the game because they want to improve society in a way consistent with their values. Most entryways into politics such as school boards, commissions, etc. don't really give a power seeker much of a thrill. As they climb the ladder, they may find the power trip to be intoxicating with the end result in the quote.
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Old 31st December 2012, 01:40 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by marplots View Post
But in a sense, each member of Congress has a manifesto from their own district, those that elected them. This puts them at odds with others, and not just members of the opposite party. The logjam in Congress represents a similar diversity of entrenched positions across the country. It's not that we just can't get along in Congress, we can't get along, period.
Don't give in to the polarization hype!

In reality, we get along just fine. Congress, by design, is where we send the few issues we don't agree on, but want the government to force on everybody else anyway (ETA: Contrast this with the repugnant notioin that Congress is where we send wonderful solutions to all the world's problems, so that they may be implemented over the objections of the stupid and wrong).

Viewed in this light, you and I are actually in greater agreement than we might think, and the logjam in Congress is actually better for both of us.

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Old 31st December 2012, 08:01 AM   #26
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
Don't give in to the polarization hype!
The polarization isn't all hype.

In the run up to the election, I saw an interesting statistic. The researchers wanted to determine whether or not we are really more divided today than we used to be. I can't remember the exact numbers, so I'll make them up if need be. (It was in a National Review article written on election day if anyone is motivated to look up the original.)

They looked at voting records by county across the nation. They defined a concept of a "landslide county" as one where one candidate for President received more than 60% of the vote. They found that in the decades since the '60s, the number of people living in landslide counties had dramatically increased. In other words, we are more likely to live around people who think and vote the way we do. We are less likely to have neighbors with different political leanings than we used to. We are more polarized in that sense.

This has implications for politicians, and we have seen it play out especially on the Republican side of the aisle. If you live in a landslide Congressional district, your seat is pretty darned safe in the general election. However, it isn't as safe in the primary. There are enough people in your party that mounting a challenge in the primary becomes more feasible. A lot of moderate Republicans have lost primary bids lately.

The trend isn't exclusively Republican. Joe Liebermann also got taken down in the primary.

I think this really is affecting fiscal cliff negotiations. From an electoral perspective, doing what you think is right for the country becomes less important than keeping true to the dominant ideology in your region.
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Old 31st December 2012, 08:51 AM   #27
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Originally Posted by Meadmaker View Post
I keep comparing the way those people acted with the way things go today.
The old way was better.


By the way, I'm not advocating a Constitutional amendment to prevent this sort of thing. I just wish people realized what was really going on here.
It sounds like you've taken a different position than what you expressed in the OP. In the OP you said the problem was that it's too easy to block votes. The rules made it no more difficult to block votes back in Tip O'Neil's day.

So obviously the problem is something else (or many other things)--not the rules that make it relatively easy to block votes which have been in place in similar form for some time now.

ETA: Or to put my response another way: what exactly do you mean by "the old way"? If you don't mean the rules that make it easy to block votes, what do you mean?

To broaden the discussion of the rules, while there are rules that give the minority power to block votes, there are also rules that give the majority the work arounds in some cases. (The reconciliation rule, for one example.) If you're not suggesting something like the nuclear option (remove the Senate filibuster forever), then what are you suggesting?
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Old 31st December 2012, 08:56 AM   #28
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
Don't give in to the polarization hype!
Ha! You can't convince me. I'm married. I know all about polarization and logjams, and, while we are at it, not bringing things to a vote.
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Old 31st December 2012, 09:59 AM   #29
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Originally Posted by JoeTheJuggler View Post
If you're not suggesting something like the nuclear option (remove the Senate filibuster forever), then what are you suggesting?
First, that people pay attention to the parliamentary tricks. That doesn't seem likely to happen, but we can dream.

Second, that rules be modified so that it's easier to force a vote. This is especially true in the Senate where any Senator can block any bill, and you have to get 60 publicly recorded votes to stop him. Would I go nuclear on the filibuster? Maybe. At the very least, I would demand a return to the "old style" filibuster, which would force filibusters to be very public displays.

Right now, a Senator can filibuster without most voters even knowing it's happening.


What really prompted this was the failure to vote on "Plan B". It went down because of lack of support from right wingers, and now there is no plan in the House. I'm really confident that someone could craft a compromise that would get the moderates in both parties to support it, but such a plan would never get to a vote. Boehner, in particular, couldn't allow that to ever come to a vote on the floor, because his own party would have him strung up for letting it happen.
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Old 25th January 2013, 09:13 PM   #30
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How Senate Graybeards Killed Real Filibuster Reform

Quote:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced today that he's reached a deal with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on some procedural reforms that are intended to help cure the chronic, appalling dysfunction that's bedeviled the Senate since 2006 or so, when Democrats took over the body. Here's a quick list of the formal changes:
  • Shorten debate following a cloture vote on the motion to proceed from 30 hours to four.
  • Leave the ability to filibuster that cloture vote essentially intact.
  • Allow the minority to offer two amendments on every bill.
  • Shorten confirmation time for judicial nominees once cloture is invoked.
And two informal ones, which are to be executed without actually changing Senate rules:
  • Senators will have to actually be on the floor to threaten a filibuster.
  • Time allocated for debate will have to actually be spent on debate.
You can see the full proposals at the bottom of this post.

That's ... something. But the changes fall far short of what reformers had hoped for. In December, I wrote a primer on what the reformers wanted. Here's a list of those proposals and their fate:
  • End the filibuster altogether: As expected, Senator Tom Harkin's call for legislation to pass by a simple majority died. The idea was always fringe, even within the hardcore reform group.
  • Ban filibuster on the motion to proceed: Though debate after the vote is curtailed, the motion to proceed can still be filibustered.
  • Bring back the talking filibuster: This was probably the central tenet of a plan put forward by reform ringleaders Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tom Udall of New Mexico. It won't be happening either. They wanted to force the minority to actually stay on the floor and speak, just like Long and D'Amato back in the day, in order to hold up business.
  • Ban filibusters on House-Senate conferences: No dice, although there will now be only one chance to filibuster bills after they've passed both chambers, rather than three.
  • Shift the burden on cloture: Al Franken's proposal to force the minority to come up with 41 votes rather than forcing the majority to produce 60, got nowhere.
So basically all of the major reform ideas came to naught.
I suppose it's better than nothing though.
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