Saturday, February 6, 2010

Broken government

"Washington was immobilized by snow on Friday. This is highly unusual. Normally, Washington is immobilized by senators." - Gail Collins, The New York Times


"Far too many of the president's nominees were never afforded an up or down vote because several Democrats chose to block the process for political gain." - Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama during the presidency of George W. Bush


Funny how elections change one's perspective. During the Bush presidency, no one howled louder than Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama anytime a vote on one of the president's nominees to fill a position was delayed. It was unconscionable and the worst kind of political obstructionism any time a Democrat sought to block an appointment or to delay a vote on a single nominee. Now, Shelby is blocking not one but seventy - that's 70! - Obama nominees.

What profound constituional principle is Shelby upholding? Why, the principle that Richard Shelby must not be obstructed in his desire to bring as much pork as possible to Alabama! He wants a defense contract to build a new tanker to be awarded to a bidder who will do the assembly work in Alabama, and he wants a new F.B.I. facility for testing explosive devices to be located in Huntsville, Alabama. Of course, the fact that the contractors involved in these projects have poured enormous amounts of money into Shelby's political campaigns has nothing to do with his actions. Shelby has magnanimously said that the Obama Administration can come and talk to him about the matter any time.

Meantime, understaffed government agencies will just have to make do with the personnel they have. Nobody is getting confirmed while Shelby sits on his two-bit throne and thumbs his nose at the American people.

This is just the latest symptom of a Senate that is broken and unable to do the people's business. It is broken because of the arcane rules of the body. The thing is these rules are not laws, they are not constitutional requirements, they are just rules - and rules can be changed if they are not working. The Senate has it within its power to change the rules. There is no earthly reason in a democracy that it should take 60 votes to accomplish ANYTHING in the Senate. Why should not a simple majority apply here as it does anywhere else in a democracy? It should! But it never will unless the members of the Senate summon the intestinal fortitude to make the needed reforms. And the Senate will not find that intestinal fortitude unless it has strong leadership either from the President or from the leaders of the Senate or both.

The frustration of the American people with their broken government is palpable. They want action - on the Health Care Reform bill, on financial oversight reforms, on jobs programs, and on a whole range of other problems. Will the Senate, which is the roadblock to all these actions, rouse itself and stop people like the execrable Richard Shelby from blocking everything to achieve his petty political ends? Sadly, I am not hopeful.

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