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Explain this Filibuster and Reconciliation Stuff to Me!
There has been a lot of news talk about the 60 vote threshold vs. the budget reconciliation process. Unless you are a political junky these terms may be baffling. A brief definition of these two terms is in order.
Actually the terms have to do with procedural rules of the Senate (akin to parliamentary rules). When anyone talks about the 60 vote threshold, they mean that if one side (Democrats OR Republicans) have a supermajority, (of 60 votes in the Senate) they can pass whatever bill is on the floor and the rules allow the bill to pass with 60 votes and make a filibuster illegal under the procedures of the Senate. If you watch the old Jimmy Stewart movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
(1039) you see an example of the filibuster. Later Bob Hope did his own movie with a parody of the filibuster scene of Mr. Smith . . . . In both cases you see silly stuff like reading Gone With the Wind , or the telephone book just to keep the debate going. The purpose of the filibuster is to promote bipartisan compromise it is one way, sometimes the only way, to ensure that the majority party is not going to ignore and bully the minority party, it is a way to battle the forces of extremism. The only way to avoid a filibuster is for the issue under consideration to have a supermajority (in the Senate that means a 60 vote majority). If you have the supermajority then the minority cant just bog things down forever when 2/3 rd of the people are under agreement. The filibuster exists to ensure that the views of a large minority (like 49%) cannot be blithely ignored. (Remember when a minority of Senators take a stand they may also be representing more than one-half of the population of the United States .)
A filibuster is only possible when a Unanimous Consent Agreement is not in place. A unanimous Consent Agreement means that the Senators have not agreed to limit debate. Before a bill is debated the Senators are asked to vote on limiting debate. If the issue is uncontroversial, a yawner bill, it is common for the members to voice vote to limit debate just to get to the vote faster and get it off the floor. The senate may want to limit the debate because the issue under consideration is already going to pass with 100 percent (or almost 100 percent) of the voters in favor of its passage. Now this may surprise you, but sometimes our Senators will give rip roaring speeches in front of the cameras so that the clip will run on TV back in their home districts. Even though the issue is not all that controversial, even though almost everyone is already supporting the issue, some Senators give a fiery defense to look tough to the voters back home. To just get past all this grandstanding, the Senators limit the debate, and that limitation is called a Unanimous Consent Agreement.
On the other hand, if the issue is hot, if the bill is objected to by lots and lots of voters, the Senators will vote no
on limiting debate, and that is when the Unanimous Consent Agreement is not in place , and filibusters are possible. The ability to filibuster is drawn from the rule of unlimited debate. In other words, the senate is permitted to debate on a bill endlessly, in an unlimited manner, unless, before debate, all Senators agree to limit their ability to debate that issue.
Is the filibuster good, or is it bad? Is it good to allow the minority to hold up getting laws passed? Is it fair for 49% to stop a bill when 51% of the lawmakers are in favor of it? NO! Is it good for the 51% side to just blithely ignore the positions and rationale of the 49%? NO!
So what is this budget reconciliation process
? The budget reconsiliation process is an optional procedure that operates as an adjunct to the budget resolution process established by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974. The thinking behind the reconciliation process was to make it easier for Congress to change current law in order to bring revenue, spending, and debt-limit levels into conformity with the policies of the annual budget resolution. I guess, when it comes to money, if there are differences in the funding and the debt-limit levels, and some tweaking has to happen, Reconciliation, allows the adjustments to take place with a 50 percent plus 1 vote, and makes a filibuster against the rules.
Reconciliation is an optional procedure and because of this, Reconciliation has not been used in every year that the congressional budget process has been in effect.
While the tweaking to smooth out funding and debt limit matters was the purpose of this procedural rule, it became a loop hole that avoided those pesky filibusters. If one side had a majority (51%), but not a super majority (60%) then Reconciliation was used to get stuff passed while preventing the almost majority side (49%) from having their say.
The use of Reconciliation to ram stuff down the throat of the other side actually started with the Republicans. When the Republicans had a less than 60 vote majority, they resorted to using Reconciliation to get stuff pass the Democrats and not even having to hear the objections of the other side.
Is it wrong to pass stuff with 51% of the votes? No. Is it frustrating, infuriating, maddening, exasperating, and galling? Yes, yes it is. Will Reconciliation piss off the minority? You bet your sweet booty it will piss off the minority. Is it wrong when the losers are upset and the winners are elated? No, not wrong, but not necessarily smart. The what goes around comes around rule is always in effect and cant be voted out of the way.
If the Republicans, when they had a majority, used Reconciliation to shove stuff down the throats of Democrats they have little right to protest when the roles reverse and the majority Democrats consider shoving their bills down the throats of Republicans. If the Democrats dont use Reconciliation they will look crazy. It is crazy when Democrats cant get bills passed when they are in the minority, and then they cant get bills passed when they are in the majority. If the Democrats dont do what the Republicans did wont they look spineless, and stupid?
Do not doubt that this all started with Republicans. Here is a brief (abbreviated) list of Republican use of Reconciliation:
- 2005 - Legislation That Reduced Spending on Medicaid and Raised Premiums on Upper-Income Medicare Beneficiaries
- 2003 - President Bushs 2003 Tax Cuts
- 2001 - President Bushs Signature $1.35 Trillion Tax Cut
- 2000 - $292 Billion Marriage Penalty Tax Cut (VETOED)
- 1997 - Balanced Budget Act
- 1996 - Legislation to Enact Welfare Reform
- 1995 - Contract With America Agenda
In college I remember working with people pledging a fraternity and I heard them complain about the cruelty of the hazing. I was later shocked that these same young men, who complained bitterly about the hazing they had to endure, took glee in hazing the next group of pledges. I remember asking one guy why he was so eager to be cruel to the new pledges and he said, They did it to me, and now its my chance to do it to someone else.
That didnt make a lot of sense to me. I guess it is human nature to slap back when you are slapped. All this reminds me of the famous quote from T he Untouchables movie:
You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. THATS THE CHICAGO WAY ! And that's how you get Capone. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that? I'm offering you a deal. Do you want this deal?
We the people just dont care. We the people want good, effective government and all this Republican Democrat gotcha behaviors piss us off. Reconciliation makes sense, sort of, but is that the deal we want. Do we want our laws made by a slight majority kicking the crap out of the slight minority? Are you ready for that? Do you want this deal?
Article submitted Saturday, March 28, 2009 & read 4258 times.
Tex Norman is a social worker, currently working at the Oklahoma DHS Abuse and Neglect hotline. He will have been married to Kathie for 40 years this August 2012. He has a son Ryan who earned a PhD from Princeton. Tex spends his free time working as an artist and writer. : http://texnormanartist.blogspot.com/ ... http://collagepoetrybytex.blogspot.com/
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