by Joe Shea
December 16, 2013
'BLACK SANTA CLAUS' ECHOES DOWN THE YEARS
BRADENTON, Fla., Dec. 14, 2013 -- Republicans are reportedly "furious" that their reliance on the old Senate rules on filibusters has been stymied by the Democrats, who want the rules to conform to the oldest principle of democracy - majority rule.
Regrettably, the Democrats have not yet embraced majority rule to the extent that it would cover votes on all legislation before the Senate, but opinion-makers suggest that it soon will.
Whether they extend the application of majority rule or not, the Democrats have gone a long way toward solidifying the foundation of our democracy. Every town board, planning commission, city council, county commission, state senate and assembly in the country, and every kind of political election - and I suspect all service organizations from church and synagogue committees to the Kiwanis, Elks, Moose and Lions clubs around the world - not to belabor the point - use the principle of majority rule to confirm decisions.
Unfortunately, the perverted, heady politics of Washington did not find those examples good enough for our United States Senators, who adopted what has been called a "super majority," but might better be called a "false" majority, as it required 60 percent of the 100-member Senate to invoke cloture, i.e., to cut off filibusters. Now, majority rule will allow confirmation of the hundreds of presidential nominees the Republicans have used the filibuster to avoid acting upon:
As Speaker of the House John Boehner recently pointed out in an angry rant at a press conference, proponents of Tea Party style politics like Heritage Action and FreedomWorks have pushed to stall the budget process and defund Obamacare at the potential expense of both Republican prospects in 2014 and the nation's solvency. Tea Party proponents forced a government shutdown that took us to the brink of default on our nation's debts, a consequence whose negative repercussions would be felt for decades to come.
Why was the false majority created in the first place? Essentially, opposition parties over the years didn't want to get steam-rollered into allowing a president's appointments to set the agenda and direction for the nation's future. In recent practice, that meant Republicans would not have to figure out a way to oust dozens of Administration appointees once they were confirmed, an almost impossible task.
Those who favored the false majority argued that it was a logical extension of the Constitution's provisions for "checks and Balances," the principle that none of the three branches of government - the executive, the legislative and the judicial - would then be able to overstep their constitutional boundaries, or even their traditional ones. Judges wouldn't rewrite laws, but send them back to Congress; the House and Senate wouldn't force unwanted appointees on the executive branch; the executive branch wouldn't enforce some laws passed by Congress and ignore others.
All of those things, however, have happened under the false majority. President George W. Bush, for instance, introduced the nevelty of adding notes of his own that set non-legislated limits on new laws; President Obama, for instance, decided that not all of the mandates of the Affordable Care Act had to be implemented by their deadlines (the President's spokesmen say, however, that provisions of the ACA allow him to do that).
It should not be unexpected that politicians would seek to overstep their roles. This is a great country of enormous wealth and opportunity, and seizing some of that for themselves is almost a natural instinct among the more predatory pols. The easiest legal way to do that is through amassing campaign contributions from interested parties who don't care whose rights and expectations they may trample. With money comes power, and with power comes corruption when checks and balances fail.
The false majority rule, then, serves to give the minority party more power than they have earned from the people by election. With it, they can block not only nominees but also the actions and decisions of those nominees that imperil their interested parties. An appointee to the FCC, for instance, may want o force monopoly media outlets - such as a top-down company that owns tv and radio stations and daily newspapers in the same market - to divest some of their properties.
A Dept. of Labor nominee might want to see the minimum wage increased, or threaten the power of unions by allowing relaxed rules for illegal immigrants. A federal judge may decide EPA rules must be enforced against major polluters, costing those companies millions. One Homeland Security director may favor a certain brand of metal detector, while another waiting in the wings might favor a different one. There are thousands of interests, and those with the dollars to contribute make themselves sharply felt when the false majority can be applied through a timely filibuster.
Is majority rule flawless? No. Those who can pack boards and legislative bodies with their favored members can sometimes rule autocratically, and it may seem the only way to rein them in would be to require even one dissenting vote to stop the proposal; in those cases, though, the press should be the balancing agent, reaching out to the public to correct the problem through new elections or recalls. And what some may feel is autocratic, someone else may feel is simply the popular will, which should prevail. Throwing away majority rule because it is inconvenient for some is not the answer.