Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Krugman: Filibuster Renders Senate Dysfunctional

Why can't the Senate get anything done? The biggest reason is the filibuster. Paul Krugman, in America Is Not Yet Lost, looks back to 18th century Poland to find a parallel situation:

A brief history lesson: In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Polish legislature, the Sejm, operated on the unanimity principle: any member could nullify legislation by shouting “I do not allow!” This made the nation largely ungovernable, and neighboring regimes began hacking off pieces of its territory. By 1795 Poland had disappeared, not to re-emerge for more than a century.

Today, the U.S. Senate seems determined to make the Sejm look good by comparison.

The use of the filibuster means that a democratic majority is not enough; we need a supermajority. A senator or a party has the ability to tie up the government with just the threat of a filibuster:

The truth is that given the state of American politics, the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.

Don’t hold your breath. As it is, Democrats don’t even seem able to score political points by highlighting their opponents’ obstructionism.

The election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts–or any Republican–aids the roadblock. Yet the Obama administration has so much trouble going on the offensive:

It should be a simple message (and it should have been the central message in Massachusetts): a vote for a Republican, no matter what you think of him as a person, is a vote for paralysis. But by now, we know how the Obama administration deals with those who would destroy it: it goes straight for the capillaries. Sure enough, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, accused Mr. Shelby of “silliness.” Yep, that will really resonate with voters.

One party is determined to obstruct, the other is unable or unwilling to change the rules. Our political paralysis continues.

No comments: