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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Why the Filibuster Deal Will Fail

As anyone who has been following politics lately will know, the so-called "gang of 14", a grouping of 7 Republicans and 7 Democrats, has just made a deal in the Senate to end a standoff over the issue of filibustering the President's judicial appointments. The "deal" they worked out is unfortunately doomed to failure for four reasons.

1) It is too vague:
The Democrats are expected to only filibuster under extraordinary circumstances. What this means is left undefined. What's more, they go even further to blur it up saying that 'each member will be his or her own judge as to what constitutes extraordinary circumstances'. So, basically, the Republicans view "extreme circumstances" as Bush nominating a horse or some other non-human, and the Democrats view "extreme circumstances" as Bush nominating a judge that Bush would like.

2) Neither side agrees on what it means:
Even now, both sides are unable to agree on whether or not the agreement closes the door to the Republicans using the "nuclear option" - i.e. moving to eradicate the ability to filibuster nominees altogether. The Democrats claim that the agreement forever puts aside this option, and the Republicans claim that if the Democrats don't hold up their end of the bargain that they can proceed with it (and remember, if the democrats filibuster anything except for a horse, or perhaps a chicken nominee, then they will have filibustered in a non-extraordinary circumstance and not held up their end according to the Republicans' understanding of the deal).

3) It is an agreement about what an uninvolved third party will do:
Part of the agreement was that Bush would begin to seek the advisement of the Senate in deciding his nominations. I don't believe Bush was part of the 14 in this deal. How do you make a deal about what someone else will do? Bush will say he isn't beholden to deals other people make, and the Democrats will view this as a breaking of the agreement, thereby justifying (in their minds) the filibuster of every nominee that isn't Jane Fonda.

4) The entire thing is a farce to begin with:
We all know the Republicans have the power here. They have the majority and they can do whatever they like. The only reason they hesitate to eradicate filibusters of nominees is that they know this may come back to bite them if they should ever be in the minority and facing a Democrat President's nominee. So, really there's nothing the Democrats can do. This was basically a choice between "stop filibustering these nominees" or "stop filibustering all nominees forever". It was kind of like someone holding a gun to your head and telling you to do something, and then you saying, "I'll make a deal with you. I'll do what you ask and you won't pull the trigger." The gunman says, "ok".

I admire the efforts of anyone who would seek to negotiate and reach agreements on things. I think the Congress needs more of this all around. But it has to be done in a sensible way. What they've done here is merely some schmoozy language to make everybody feel good in the short term. In the long term when this whole thing comes crashing down because of illogical thinking, both sides will say the other broke the agreement, and will debate the issue for years to come.


  1. And you didn't mention the Constitution of the United States which gives the RIGHT to fillabuster to the minority to KEEP the majority from running rough-shod over everthing and everybody and pusing through all kinds of partisan legislation, making whatever appointments they wish to the detriment of the 2-party system. I hope the agreement DOES fail and believe that it SHOULD fail. Otherwise, we would be at the mercy of whatever the lame-duck majority decided would be done in this country. Not having to worry about re-election (only 2 terms are allowed for a President), can you imagine what an unscrupulous President might be able to accomplish? It could lead to all kinds of unsavory conditions - anarchy, monarchy etc. to name a few!

  2. Thanks for the comment. Actually, I didn't mention that because the focus of my point was on why the agreement will fail, due to inherent problems in the structure of it as an agreement. This is a completely separate issue from whether or not filibustering should or shouldn't win out, which I didn't address.

    Unfortunately, the Constitution giving rights to things doesn't mean that measures which undermine them will fail. They often succeed despite the Constitution, which is why our rights are dwindling. This is why that point wasn't included as a "flaw in the agreement". There is such a thing as a flawless agreement between people conspiring to usurp the Constitution, meaning only that the agreement will operate as the two parties intended.

    As far as my position on the filibuster itself, I agree with you that there's no reason to change the rules, and that doing so would be harmful to the intent of the Constitution.

    Incidentally, on a completely separate note, we don't have a "2-party system" officially. It's multi-party system. It just so happens that two of the parties have so completely dominated it that they have managed to conspire on rules that make it nearly impossible for other parties to play a role.

    A dictatorship is a system of political parties too, the only difference being that there is just one political party allowed to hold office. So, in that sense, we are just one party away from being a dictatorship.