Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Senate Reform Notes (Featuring Superbill)

I wrote quite a bit about various reform proposals last week over at Ezra's place, but I goofed at least in one respect: I completely forget to comment on one of the better proposals out there, from Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post.  First of all, she is I think the only one out there doing what I think should be done, which is to separate legislation, judicial nominations, and executive branch nominations.  On to her specific proposals:

I agree with her suggestion of eliminating filibusters on exec branch nominees.  She doesn't say how she would get there...the Senate could have a time limit for debate, or it could have a 51% (or even lower, I suppose) requirement for cloture.  I support individual Senators using holds to bargain for specific benefits for their constituents as part of the nomination process, but oppose the supermajority requirement for confirmation; Marcus simply says to get rid of filibusters.

On judicial nominations, Marcus supports the status quo.  I agree with her on cloture, but I would like to see an end to individual holds on these nominations -- I like the idea of large minorities bargaining over nominations, but not the idea of individual Senators blocking them, although I'm not sure that there's a workable rule that could be drafted to achieve this.

The other proposals are familiar: Marcus wants to eliminate filibusters on the motion to proceed to a bill, and to cut down on postcloture and other miscellaneous opportunities to stall; I've covered them in my series already (links below). 

As far as reform actually happening, Marcus leans towards the "grand bargain" school of thought -- the parties should agree on a reform but have it take effect far enough into the future that it is not clear which party would be harmed.  I'm confident that reform won't happen that way.  The much more likely scenario is that the majority gets fed up and threatens to impose dramatic reform by majority vote, and then backs off and cuts a deal for less severe reform by the official requirement in the current Senate rules, 67%.  Of course, another way for the minority to avoid reform is to scale back on the number of filibusters.  The problem right now is the intense pressure on Republicans to be as rejectionist as possible at every stage, regardless of medium or long term consequences, so in reality there's a fair chance we'll get (if, say, the Dems have 57 Senators and a popular re-elected Barack Obama in the White House in 2013) majority-imposed reform, with Democrats choosing a middle path that makes activists on both sides unhappy.

Meanwhile, for those interested in filibusters, the best thing you can do is read Greg Koger's new book.  If you're not going to do that, or even if you do, I'll include a link to the FDL Book Salon Greg did, with my participation, this past Sunday.

And for anyone who wants to know my views and didn't follow my series last week, here are the links:

Our Dysfunction Senate (intro)
The Logic Behind Senate Rules (why Senators like holds and the filibuster)
The Democracy Behind Senate Rules (I like Madisonian democracy, not majoritarianism)
Guidelines for Senate Reform (what to look for in reform proposals)
Assessing Senate Reform Proposals, Part One (proposals by Senators)
Assessing Senate Reform Proposals, Part Two (other proposals)
Wrapping Up with Superbill (my proposals, including Superbill!)

Two more things.  First, I should give credit to Ezra Klein, who suggested a ways back that one possible path to reform would be gradually loosening the restrictions on reconciliation.  As I said in the original piece, that was going to be my recommendation...just repeal the Byrd rule, or pare it back. 

Anyway, I eventually decided that the better path is to remove it from the budget process altogether: thus, Superbill -- one bill a year that can't be filibustered.  I have to admit I'm a little disappointed that as far as I know no one has seemed especially interested in that particular reform so far, but that also means I haven't heard any arguments against it...at any rate, fair warning, I think I'm going to continue pushing it, along with eliminating filibusters on executive branch nominations and individual holds on judicial nominations. 

On the other hand, while I like the name Superbill!, it's very negotiable.  Personally, I like the sound of Coburn-Durbin Bill, if it would get those gentlemen on board.

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