Both houses of Congress tweak their rules on the first day of a new session. The rule changes for the 112th Congress, while not revolutionary, are more sweeping than usual. In the Senate, the Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) hopes to ever so slightly modify the rules of the asinine filibuster, which over the past 30 years has morphed from a genteel oddity of parliamentary courtesy to effectively requiring a supermajority in order to flush the Senate toilet. This is anomalous, and not explicitly designed into the institution by the Constitution save for the handful of cases where it is (e.g. passing a treaty, over-riding a veto, deciding guilt at a trial of impeachment).
How do the Democrats plan to change the filibuster rule in a body that is only marginally more democratic (and in descriptive terms, probably less representative) than the House of Lords? By requiring that the Senator executing the filibuster have the temerity to be on the floor of the Senate itself. Which, as anybody who has seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington understands, is how it ought to be.
Republicans, of course, are seething, but what else is new? Senator Alexander (R-TN):
“Voters who turned out in November are going to be pretty disappointed when they learn the first thing Democrats want to do is cut off the right of the people they elected to make their voices heard on the floor of the U.S. Senate,”
Except of course that’s precisely what the rule change will effect – ensuring that their voices are indeed heard.
This is a procedural alteration that should have limited impact on the actual execution of the filibuster, yet “Mr. Alexander and others have warned Democrats to brace for a backlash should they act unilaterally.”
Which is exactly what the Republicans are doing in the House. The rule changes in the House are more substantive and clearly more political and ideological. To wit:
“Members offering bills for new programs will have to explain how they will pay for them, not by raising new revenues but by finding other ways to cut costs. Each bill introduced will also have to cite the specific constitutional authority for its contents.”
Unless, of course, one wants to repeal health care reform:
“A big exception will be the bill to repeal the health care law that House Republicans plan to bring up next week. That bill will not be subject to amendments, nor will Republicans have to abide by their own new rules that compel them to offset the cost of new bills that add to the deficit; the health care repeal and tax cuts are not subject to this new rule.”
So in the Senate, the Democrats are suggesting a modest procedural change that does little more than return the filibuster to its original spirit, which has Republicans promising a “backlash”. Yet Republicans in the House have no compunction against establishing rules that have an explicit political and ideological motivation and result, with the added dollop of hypocrisy in exempting their own pet project from their very rules.
This will be a fun Congress to blog about.