Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Senate Must Be Reformed


Tom Friedman argues that there will be a third party candidate in 2012 because people are sick and tired of the two-party system. His concern?
a president who won a sweeping political mandate, propelled by an energized youth movement and with control of both the House and the Senate — about as much power as any president could ever hope to muster in peacetime — was only able to pass an expansion of health care that is a suboptimal amalgam of tortured compromises that no one is certain will work or that we can afford (and doesn’t deal with the cost or quality problems), a limited stimulus that has not relieved unemployment or fixed our infrastructure, and a financial regulation bill that still needs to be interpreted by regulators because no one could agree on crucial provisions. Plus, Obama had to abandon an energy-climate bill altogether, and if the G.O.P. takes back the House, we may not have an energy bill until 2013.
But all of these half measures resulted not from lack of political will or from a bankrupt two party system, but from the Senate's ridiculous rules, including the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to pass anything. With the filibuster, the likes of Ben Nelson (Mr. Cornhusker compromise) and Joe Lieberman (who depends heavily on support from insurance companies) decide national policy. Without the filibuster, one needs only 50 Democrats plus the Vice-President to pass reform legislation in the Senate. Without the filibuster, the stimulus is larger, heath care reform includes different (and likely better) compromises, and the financial regulation bill has teeth. Change the Senate rules, and American democracy works again--hardly perfectly, for it has many many other problems besides--but far better than it has for the last two decades.

The problem, as I have said over and over again since Obama's election, is the Senate. It has been for some time. If we want to save American democracy, the Senate has to be reformed.

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