Monday, February 15, 2010

"An Abusive Use of a Historic Vehicle"

I read little bits of thoughts and things throughout my days; it's the world of blogs that I live in, and that's ok, good even. Occasionally though, a tiny little snippet sets off an avalanche of thought in my wee brain, and a logjam of those snippets then starts rolling in concert. That happened yesterday, when I saw a quote from Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Conn) concerning the workings of the Senate.

“I’m saddened in a way… the reason the Senate works is because the chemistry of the membership makes it work. That’s why it takes unanimous consent to do almost anything. And the essence of the Senate was basically a longer, slower look at things. ...we’re frustrated right now over an abusive use of a historic vehicle (ed. - the filibuster) that led to the essence of what the Senate is, we’re about to abandon the essence of the Senate.”

What he says has resonance. The Senate places great emphasis on comity and the requirement for its members to behave with respect toward one another. The rules of the Senate reflect this, but also accord a great deal of discretion to each member in directing the progress of business at hand. In return, Senators are expected to abdicate this authority in all but the most extreme of circumstances, allowing established process and majority rule to bring legislation to a full chamber vote. This is the rightful place for each Senator to have his or her say.

In recent times, procedural holds and the modern filibuster have prevented a good deal of Senate business from reaching the floor. Members are exercising their powers in tantrum-like fashion, and it's keeping the body from doing the People's Work. Many left-wing pundits have chastised President Obama for not taking a harsher stand on this behavior, and have suggested he use recess appointments to get his nominations through the Senate. They also want him to advocate loudly for passing Health Care Reform through a filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process. And honestly, there's many frustrating days that I'd agree.

But while I might just be a starry-eyed optimist, I think Obama is playing a longer game here. For four years he worked across the aisle in the Senate, and I think he has a deep respect for the chamber's traditions and deliberative style. He knows that the country is better off with a fully functioning and respectful Senate. And he's working from his position in the executive to give it space, but also to cajole it into again behaving like an adult. Right now that's delaying HCR from becoming law, and it's keeping a number of important appointments from being filled. But if he can successfully bring the Senate back from its idiotic scorched-earth methodologies, then I'm more than willing to wait a bit longer. 

But only a bit...

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