In the heat of my disgust at Harry Reid & Joe Lieberman – which still stands – I was reminded of an excellent essay written here. Of course it takes a non-American to see our system more clearly 🙂
This is the meat of the matter:
The Senate rules are rather complicated and arcane. The main problem is that there are votes to both start and end discussion on a proposed bill. They are called “cloture votes”, and require 60 out of 100 votes to pass. The final vote on a bill is what you’d expect: 51 out of 100 votes is enough (or, 50 plus the tie-breaking vote of the vice-president). There are more rules, and I’m not familiar with all of them, but those are the important ones.
As long as the opposition party is at least somewhat interested in getting things done, these cloture votes aren’t a big problem. However, when the opposition really wants to block things, they can delay a bill indefinitely by continually voting against cloture. That is called “filibustering”. In the past, this has been done by both parties, but it was generally an exception. But now, Republican senators have made it their goal to block the Democrats at every turn. They will always vote against cloture, effectively making the required majority not 51 votes, but 60 votes.
Yes, the filibuster. Something the Democrats used very rarely to block legislation when they were in the minority, thought the few times they did use it, the GOP was thoroughly irritated and then threatened to change the Senate procedure rules to eliminate it altogether so that a simple majority always won out. I remember what a huge argument that was when they proposed it! Wonder how they would feel about that rule change now? Something tells me not so much. The difference is that as the minority party, the GOP use the filibuster nearly every single time. Since the Dems have been in power in the Senate (2006-present), there have been more filibusters than there were from 2000-2006. In other words, the GOP is a very very effective obstructionist minority. They do a very good job of sticking together and simply blocking everything that comes down. Hence the need for 60 votes to stop the filibuster. Not 51 – 60. Which is why it was so important for Dems to woo Joe Leiberman back into the fold (ha HA) after the election despite his endorsement of John McCain. Leiberman is officially an independent having lost the Democratic primary in his state during the last election to Ned Lamont – a much more proven Progressive Democrat who was largely supported by the netroots. Unfortunately, Lamont could not defeat Leiberman a second time when Joe switched parties in order to stay on the ballot & drew on moderate Republican voter’s support to win his seat again. He’s been making the Dems pay for that primary defeat ever since. And he is certainly NOT a reliable 60th vote for the Dems. At least, not on any legislation which would be even remotely progressive. So the Senate’s version of the health care bill is pretty much toothless and a complete bow down to the insurance companies’ agenda and not the people’s agenda. And THAT pisses me off! I’m a Democrat because I believe that parties policies benefit a larger portion of the US population. I vote for Democrats so that their agenda can be passed. But, in the Senate, without some sort of SUPER majority of GOOD Democrats, nothing can get done. And then people think Dems are useless (which, they are!) and turn back to the GOP who would again limit legislation to simply benefit corporations & the wealthy in the hopes that some of that will ‘trickle down’ to The People. Which it wont & we will continue with a crisis in the middle class.
The GOP are bullies, and the Dems are wimps. Two extremes that only serve to hurt the general public. It’s rather hard to maintain a feeling of Hope & Change under these current circumstances, ya know?