Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Change in the Filbuster Rule furthers Partisan Politics

President Obama has made it clear that, when the legislative process fails to advance his agenda, it is his intent to achieve as much of his agenda as possible through executive powers. The Democrats in the Senate have now used the “nuclear option” to break the filibuster rule to allow a simple majority rather than 60 votes to confirm executive nominees and most federal judges. The immediate effect is to allow the Democrats to pack the Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals with three new judges even though there is no pressing need. Administrative and regulatory actions which are challenged are most often adjudicated by this influential court. The appointments are for life.

This will allow for a significant extension of Presidential power.

“... to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet [will] cause the bitterness and gridlock to get worse.”
 - Senator Barack Obama, 2005
The hypocrisy is that both parties in the past have vigorously opposed this option when their party was in the Senate minority. It has always been perceived as a power play by the majority to eliminate the need to seek some greater deliberative collaboration, compromise and consensus which incorporates at least some of the concerns of the minority and the larger community. A group of democrats have made it clear that they would also like to abolish the filibuster for normal legislation in the Senate. The approval rating for Congress cannot be much lower than it already is, but this move toward more partisan legislation only adds to the causes for public cynicism. Senator Obama opposed such a rule change at a time when the Republicans held a majority in the Senate. He said that neither party should “change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet” and that such a change would only cause “the bitterness and gridlock to get worse.”

The Nuclear Option Debate Explained in Two Charts
    -- Washington Post

New breed of Senate Democrats drove filibuster change.
    -- Los Angeles Times

James H. Rutherford, M.D.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Super Majorities Here and Abroad

Congressional redistricting in Ohio is an example of what to expect from unconstrained super majorities here at home. In Ohio, whoever controls at least two-thirds of three state offices is able to control the legislative redistricting process. This almost always results in the party in control maximizing the number and demographically secure districts for itself. This process across much of the nation has resulted in the entrenched positions of both parties and thus much of the gridlock that we see in a divided Congress. When one political party has controlled all of Congress and the Presidency, there also has not been much moderation or collaboration.

When this is the behavior of super majorities in our own country, why should we expect anything different from super majorities abroad. Many Arab nations have a super majority of Muslims in their population. Maldives, for example, has a population which is 95% Muslim and their recent Constitution requires that to be a citizen of Maldives one has to be a Muslim.

The redistricting process in California has thus understandably drawn some attention. First, a law was passed that placed the redrawing of voting districts in the hands of an independent commission. California also did away with party primaries. Instead, everyone runs and votes in a single open primary, with Republicans and Democrats on the same ballot. The top two vote-getters compete in a runoff. The candidates are often thus inclined to reach out to a broader portion of the population to win the elections. Even though the Democrats still control both the Assembly and the Senate in the California legislature, it at least appears that the current legislature has had a tendency to be more moderate.