Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Also: Superbill!

As long as I'm on the topic of the filibuster today, I should really mention once again that instead of trying to re-jigger the rules so that filibusters can once again be relatively rare -- as the Merkley and other proposals try to do by trying to push Senators to the floor for "live" filibusters -- the better option is to give the majority party a chance to legislate those things on which they agree and place as a high priority.  My proposal is to replace reconciliation with one bill a year, unattached to the budget process, into which the majority could cram as much of its agenda as they want.  That's Superbill! 

If the Democrats had a Superbill! this year, they could have used it for the major remaining issues on which Democrats are more or less unanimous.  That almost certainly would not have included a major immigration bill, and might not have included a major energy/climate bill.  It would, however allowed 59 (now 58) Democratic Senators, along with a Democratic president elected with a large majority and a large majority in the House, to pass their major priorities on which they did agree.  Moreover, if would probably mean that Republicans would be willing to cut deals on various bills that would otherwise go into Superbill! and therefore not need GOP votes. 

Note, too, that Superbill! would work very differently in different circumstances.  In the actual 112th Congress, Superbill! would allow the majority Democrats to have a somewhat better bargaining position against the Republican-majority House, but otherwise it wouldn't help much.  Suppose that in 2012 Barack Obama is reelected and the Democrats narrowly regain the majority in the House, but fail to add to their Senate majority (which wouldn't be a big surprise, since far more Democratic seats are up than GOP-held seats).  Superbill! would help the Democrats quite a bit, but they could hardly pass their entire agenda, since with only 53 (or so) Senators they couldn't afford to put items in it that would cost votes on final passage. 

In other words, Superbill! gives the majority a much more decisive advantage than tinkering with incentives to force a live filibuster or reducing the time that an unsuccessful filibuster can chew up, but at the same time it still doesn't turn the Senate over to majority (party) rule.  Indeed, by allowing intense majorities to act, Superbill! makes it safer to preserve the rights of individual Senators and intense minorities in cases for which there is no intense majority.  I've been pushing this for several months now, and still haven't been convinced it's a bad idea.  So, whether we call it the Leader's Bill, the Majority Bill, or [Senator to be determined who adopts the idea]'s Bill, I'll keep pushing my pet reform: Superbill!


  1. I like the idea. But ...

    That almost certainly would not have included a major immigration bill, and might not have included a major energy/climate bill.

    Why not? Are you saying that Dems wouldn't have had 50 votes for either of these things? If they did, what's to stop them from lumping those controversial elements into the Superbill, too?

  2. Bernstein,

    always enjoy your blog, and particularly how you bring political science wisdom to bear on the issues of the day.

    I would be interested in your reaction to Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin's argument that the issues in the Senate are merely a symptom of the fundamental problem in American politics--we now have parliamentary parties in a separation of powers system:

    The question Balkin's post raises for me is when will median voter theory become relevant. Why don't polarized parties in a separation of powers SMDP system eventually pay some price for their stances?

    Dr. B

  3. The simpler solution is to require those aged Republicans to roll out the cots and speak for days via C-SPAN. Let the vacuity of their opposition be made manifest in front of God and everybody,over and over and over, every time they throw their little hissy fits. Let's announce Senator McConnell is having a little moment that make take a week or two to sort out.

  4. Andrew,

    Yeah, I don't know that Dems had 50 votes -- especially vote overlapping votes.

    Dr. B.,

    Will read.


    See my post on live filibusters (link on upper right). It just wouldn't work.


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