Sunday, December 23, 2007

Strength in (lack of) Numbers

So, it's been a year now with the Democrats in power and many of you are wondering where the change is. We are still stuck endlessly in Iraq. A large number of children will soon fall off the rolls of SCHIP and lose their only access to health care that doesn't come by trading electricity for HMO coverage. The few things that made it out of the House of Representatives have quickly disappeared, never to be heard from again. Meanwhile Bush & Co. are sitting (not quite) contentedly getting the funding they request only cut by 50-60%.

It all comes down to one word that the Republicans of a year and a half ago wanted to strike from the lexicon of the Congress. Something they swore was horrible and obstructionist and that no Senator should stoop to. It is also something the Democrats were going to fight to their death to protect. Something so vital to them that they couldn't imagine a Congress without it.

That word: filibuster. From the American Heritage Dictionary "The use of obstructionist tactics, especially prolonged speechmaking, for the purpose of delaying legislative action." This act, available only to senators, requires 60 votes to override and bring a piece of legislation to be voted on. Back in the good old days of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington a senator would actually have to speak for as long as he wanted the filibuster to last. Now, a senator merely has to say he is filibustering the bill to get a vote (call a Cloture vote) and if the vote fails, the Senate just moves on to more important things, like non-binding resolutions...

And do you know what I say about all of this? It's a damn good thing the filibuster exists. Without it, my generation would have lost the safety net that is Social Security. We would have @$$4073s like Bolton as our representative in the UN getting us nowhere (I know he made it there anyway, but everyone in the UN knew he was a fraud at least). And I can't remember what other idiotic things Bush tried to push through Congress but failed because of that minority.

There is also the power one man wields over all of this, and the real cause of the deadlock now going on in Congress. That is the power of the veto. This lets the president throw out bills he doesn't like unless Congress can override him with a 2/3 vote. Thats 218 votes in the House, and a mere 67 votes in the Senate. Only 7 more than what is needed for cloture, but apparently a very difficult 7 to get. This would be great when used to keep oppressive or bad legislation out. It is a very important check on Congressional power. Unfortunately, this time, it was put in the hands of a d1ck who has nothing to lose. He may be a lame duck in that he can't get any new legislation passed to help him (at least nothing he can't convince a large enough portion of the American public is important...), but he can stop anything he wants with impunity.

Normally, this would be where bi-partisanship and negotiation would take over. But if there is one thing this president has shown us, it's that playing the public for fools and making them think that there are only two ways to do something ("My way or no way" isn't it?) has worked to keep that from happening. This is both the strength and the weakness of a liberal majority: liberals are willing to work with other people to push toward some greater good. Bush has shown in numerous business and political ventures that he will do it only his way, and stick his fingers in his ears screaming "LA, LA, LA" as loud as he can when anyone asks him to do anything different.

Now I hear many of you screaming, "Well, if Bush is doing all of this horrible stuff, just impeach him!" This would be great, he hasn't done anything explicitly defined in the Constitution, but so many of the things he has done could definitely be put under "other high crimes" as the clause goes. But, there's a slight problem. Back in the 2006 elections, the Republicans, knowing they wouldn't have much of a chance, pulled a fast one on the Democrats without them quite noticing. Many Republicans in border line states prognosticated and said things along the lines of "If you vote for a Democrat, nothing will get done and all they will do is start endless hearings." The Democratic candidates were quick to counter "That's not what we will do; we have our first hundred days planned out. We are going to make this country better." Unfortunately, the first 100 days are quickly forgotten 600 days later... If they start serious impeachment proceedings against the president now, they won't be able to end by Nov. 4 because guess what ugly number springs up again: 2/3. To impeach a government official, you need two things: a simple majority vote in the House of Representatives; this labels the president officially "impeached" (bonus points for those who know which two (and only two) presidents have been thusly labeled). Then it is tried in the Senate (by the Chief Justice) and falls to a 2/3 majority vote. If you can't get 67 senators to say that children deserve health care, I doubt you will get more than 50 to say yes on an impeachment vote.

And what happens after the Congress fails to even get this done? The Republicans come back to their home districts and say "See! I told you they were do nothing Democrats!" and it's twelve more years of them being in the majority... I find it sad to say this, but with the cards we are dealt right now, we need the Democrats to continue with (most of) what they are doing. Keep fighting for good legislation, let Bush veto it, and throw something else at him. If you can show the Republicans are being obstructionist, and throw their own dirt back at them, we have a good chance of the Democrats picking up a few more seats.

Then it will be time for some real third (fourth and fifth?) party candidates to push forward with agendas Americans really want.

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