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Wednesday, January 13, 2010


As I sit watching the TV news coverage of the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti I have both feelings of empathy and sorrow for the suffering that is depicted. But my mind wanders (a common occurrence as I grow older). I ponder how others view and react to this:
  1. What do the Wall Street bankers who are poised to cash their multimillion dollar "bonuses" think as they see the devastation in Haiti on their HD flatscreen TVs?
  2. How quickly will Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney as well as Glenn Beck find the nefarious link to President Obama? He surely caused this or allowed this or didn't respond quickly enough.
  3. Is Mark McGuire hoping this disaster pushes his ugly mug off the 24hr news cycle?
  4. Is Simon Cowell aware of what's happened?

I know my random thoughts are gauche, and I apologize to all "who may have been offended" as well as the poor, poor victims of the earthquake. May our Lord guide the steps and hands of the relief workers as they strive to do the impossible.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Reform rules in US Senate

Good thing about having a blog that nobody reads (and/or comments on) is that my private musings remain quite private. And this often nudges me to daydream about topics that nobody in the "mainstream media" seems to be addressing at all. Two of these are as follows:
  1. Major modifications to presidential election procedures, making the "Electoral College" more fairly reflective of actual popular votes cast across the country. The biggest aspect here is abolishing the "unit rule" whereby states cast all their votes for whoever wins a bare plurality of popular votes in that state ( a rule employed by 48 states). More on this musing later.
  2. The majority party in the US Senate (at present time would be the Democrats) deciding to revise Senate rules at the start of their legislative session each January (or is it every other January?) specifying that the required "super majority" for defeating a filibuster is 60 votes. This one is my topic for today.

The Senate rules are not mandated by the Constitution. The Senate could set the "super majority" at any number they wished, or even do away with it entirely if they wished. I start by acknowledging that Americans in general seems to like the notion of Congress only taking actions endorsed by a "substantial" majority of citizens. And in pursuit of that, the idea of the Senate needing a super majority to proceed to votes on important bills is generally approved. But how "substantial" does this gap need to be? If 60 is good, wouldn't 90 be great? No! Ninety or eighty, or even I would argue 60 are too tall a requirement. Why should a clear minority be allowed to prevent the majority from moving forward?

The Senate rules have not been changed, even though changing them would be fairly easy to do. It would only take a simple majority vote in January to create new, revised rules. So why doesn't the majority party change them. Inertia and fear. If they changed these rules and subsequently lost control of the Senate, the other party might also relax or scrap the "super majority". That is why Democrats have been reluctant to act.

The only recent episode that generated any national debate on modifying the 60 vote cloture rule was last administration when Republicans talked publicly about changing Senate rules to a simple majority for judicial confirmation votes. They wanted to be able to get a justice approved with a bare majority vote, which they had at the time. But that ole fear of the other party, them wascally Democrats, getting in power and doing likewise prevented Republicans from going down this road. Instead they came up with a "Gang of 14" Senators, 7 from each party deemed "Moderates", to reach consensus on judicial nominations and take the filibuster and cloture issues away. Bottom line: Republicans were almost ready to stick their big hairy toe over the line they'd previously honored.

My thinking and suggestion is that some degree of "super majority" is wise. It gives the country comfort that the issues that get passed are not razors' edge divisive. But I think 60 votes is "a bridge too far". Why should the majority be required to scrounge for 50% more votes than the minority party? Doing so gives perhaps too much power to the moderate "swing voters". (See Nebraska's Senator Nelson). And in recent years as Republicans have purged their legislative bodies of moderates, all the moderates that are left are Democrats. (Yes, I'm not forgetting about the two Maine Senators, but when push comes to shove, they vote with the conservatives way too much of the time.)

So, keep the "super majority" rule. But modify it down to 55. This would still require that the majority party elect 10 more reliable votes than the minority party. That seems to me to be enough. In fact it is a threshhold that Republicans rarely reached during the almost 8 years they controlled the Senate.

That's my opinion. What you think?