Apr 012013
 
Scan of cover of Common Sense, the pamphlet. N...

Scan of cover of Common Sense, the pamphlet. No alterations were made to the scan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What a difference a few centuries makes!

It was early 1776, when Thomas Paine penned one of the most important literary works of all time. Long held as the pamphlet that sparked the Revolutionary War, Paine’s “Common Sense” made a compelling argument for American independence and drove colonists down off the fence of indifference regarding British excess.  Paine’s work gave voice to the growing unrest of a nation being actively exploited by an unholy partnership between an all-powerful monarchy and the corporate profiteers of the time. That much should resonate with the vast majority of citizens of 21st Century America, but today, the “common sense” of the Founders has largely been replaced with something very different.

Contrary to the tenets of modern conservative mythology, the Founders were anything but anti-government zealots. There was indeed much debate over the degree of power appropriate for the federal branch, and even within that body, the extent to which the executive should have control. But be that as it may, there was never any argument over the absolute necessity of government. In Paine’s own words, “Here then is the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world.” It wasn’t a desire to be free of government that brought about the dumping of the East India Company’s tea into Boston Harbor, nor was it rejection of the public good or the tax revenues required to provide it that drove the colonies to war; it was the overwhelming need to end the tyranny of governance without morality.

Read the long list of “injuries and usurpations” listed within our Declaration of Independence in the indictment against the Crown. Each and every entry addresses the corruption of an immoral government, not the immorality of government.  The problem with the Tea Act of 1773 wasn’t simply that it raised taxes on tea; the problem that led to the Boston Tea Party was that the law was enacted to give a corporation, the East India Company, full and unfettered access to the American tea trade and extend to it unfair advantage by granting an exclusive exemption from any tax on tea exported to the colonies. Those ships in Boston Harbor weren’t boarded in protest of taxation – the protest was against the corrupt effects of corporate lobbying and the government sponsorship for which it pays.

The Founding Fathers fully understood and appreciated the need for moral government and knew all too well the debilitating impact, the exploitation and erosion of rights inherent in a system intended to serve the few at the expense of the many. It was no accident that the Constitution of the United States was a strengthening over the articles that held together our young republic, nor was the enactment of the Bill of Rights merely a political endeavor.  The Constitutional Convention of 1787 signaled clear acceptance of the premise that a strong nation required a government that was both strong and moral, and the system of government that emerged was clear acceptance of the core principle of our democracy: so eloquently stated by Thomas Jefferson, “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves.”

How can it be then that that which was so patently obvious as to be considered “common sense” in the time of wooden ships and oil lamps is now so hotly debated in the age of information?

Can it be that the Founders were wrong, that the drive for less government will actually pave the path to more freedom, to an increase in happiness? Somalia has far less government, but it’s unlikely that many Americans would argue to adopt Somali style law here at home. Although our founding establishes the “pursuit of happiness” to be an inalienable right, it’s the countries of Northern Europe that consistently register as those where the citizenry is the most happy – and they do so with far higher taxes and more government than that of the US.

Perhaps instead, the Founders were actually right: maybe, it’s not so much the size of government, but rather the size of the group in control of the government, that threatens true freedom and inhibits the happiness of the people?

This was the “common sense” that pervaded American thought from the time of our founding up until the late 1970s. It was clear to Thomas Jefferson where the real threat to liberty resided, “The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed corporations.” Lincoln too was astute in his mastery of this common sense, “We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” Progressive Republican (now an oxymoron) and noted trust-buster, Teddy Roosevelt, had no qualms with loudly voicing this wisdom, “to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task.” His cousin and 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, could not have stated it more clearly, “We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.” Even former 5-star general and president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, warned of the potential for corruption when economic power casts its shadow on government, “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence . . . by the military-industrial complex.”

But alas today this wisdom that brought us independence and enabled our ascension as the greatest nation in the history of the planet has somehow been brought into question.  Our nation now stands divided between those who still believe in the “common sense” that prevailed for the first 200 years of our history, and those who instead embrace a different way of thinking, a new paradigm steeped in dogma, devoid of factual substance, bereft of moral underpinning, and made popular by the very powers that so many good Americans strived, and often gave their lives, to keep in check.

Paine, Jefferson . . . all of the Founders, Lincoln, the Roosevelts,  they all had one thing in common that bound them to “common sense” – they believed that government was the “solution” to the ills of society, a means to address the “inability of moral virtue to govern the world.” Sadly, both that belief, and to a constantly increasing extent, the ethic upon which it is based, no longer hold their honored position at the forefront of the American political psyche.  Adhering to their core tenet that no good crisis should ever go to waste, the powers of money and greed seized the opportunity presented by a 1970s America struggling to address a global shift in the energy market, and like vultures circling a wounded beast, swooped upon a fragile and unwitting public. Hawking a new ethic, where the immorality of greed was turned on its head, and selfishness suddenly became a virtue, Americans were sold a counterfeit bill of goods – government was painted to be “the problem,” not the solution, and the age of “common sense” gave way to the new era of “common nonsense.”

Make no mistake, while this claim may sound like hyperbole, it only seems so because the utter nonsense of the “government is the problem” cult has been so wildly popular and widely accepted, it’s become a cultural article of faith for many Americans. But unlike “common sense,” which can be argued with sound reason, based on empirical evidence and historical precedence, any argument in support of the new “common nonsense” must, by necessity, be rooted in the same deceptions, distortions, and distractions from which the entire paradigm was spawned.

Unless one believes that Paine was wrong in his assertion that government is made necessary by the failure of humanity to otherwise govern itself in a moral manner, then the very premise of the argument to shrink government to where “we can drown it in a bathtub” is flawed at its core . . . provided you actually object to immorality. The simple truth that seems to evade so many good people is that, whether government is small or large, or whether it exists at all, we will all be governed. We can be governed by a body formed “of, by and for” the People, or we can be governed by some form of ruling elite, but one way or the other, governance will occur – decisions will be made and rules will be set into place. The only real question is by and for the benefit of whom?

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that what’s good for the billionaire is not necessarily good for the working person, but still the purveyors of “common nonsense” have somehow managed to hoodwink millions of people into diligent support of policies that cannot lead anywhere but to the demise of the American worker. Just as the monarchy of King George served the English Crown at the expense of the colonies, the new American plutocracy serves the economic elite at the expense of the rest of America. The key difference is that in 1776 we united, embraced “common sense” and went to war to fight against the tyranny of the ruling elite, but today we stand divided, with half of the American public embracing “common nonsense” and fighting to strengthen the suffocating stranglehold the ruling elite have around the throat of our democracy.

The fact of the matter is that, where sound government is built on a solid foundation of unity and morality, the argument to shrink government “in order to serve the people” is built on a smoldering dung heap of manufactured division and self-serving propaganda.

Arguments for a strong and efficient government “of, by and for” the People, contend that working people deserve a fair wage; that no American should work and not be able to afford food, shelter and healthcare; that investing in our nation: in the education of our people, in developing clean sources of energy, in protecting the environment, in building and maintaining our infrastructure — is the best means to make America stronger, and that the true greatness of any nation is measured by the well-being of its average citizen, not the vast wealth of its richest few.

In stark contrast with this vision are the arguments that form the entire basis for the “shrink government” movement. Strongly upheld in the dogma of contemporary conservatism, yet proven time after time to be utter falsehood is the entire hit parade of “common nonsense.”

Trickle-down economics, the notion that wealth allowed to accumulate at the top will be shared, has been revealed to be a sick joke. It has never worked, not in the 1890s when it was graphically referred to as “horse and sparrow” — where the more oats fed to the horse, the more edible matter there is available in their droppings — and it surely doesn’t work today. Wealthy individuals don’t invest more in additional capacity because they have more money leftover after taxes — they do so when increases in demand require increases in supply. It’s really that simple: in order to rev up the economic engines, you need to increase demand, and it doesn’t take a quantum physicist to understand how that’s best accomplished —through policies that benefit the middle class.

When it comes to government budgeting, contrary to GOP doctrine, tax cuts do not actually pay for themselves. This is easily evidenced by the results of the Bush cuts of 2001 and 2003, which as “common sense” would suggest, are the source of the single largest portion of the present federal debt. The argument that tax cuts for the rich will raise tax revenues is nothing but the same “voodoo economics” used to support the rest of the “common nonsense” about trickle-down. Of course . . . nobody actually believes it’s true — not even the liars who say it’s so. Everyone knows there’s ZERO empirical evidence to support the claim. In fact, all evidence supports exactly the opposite.

In a 2005 Congressional Budget Office study looking at the macroeconomic impact of an across-the-board 10% tax cut, the CBO estimated that the BEST CASE return on such an “investment” would be to recover 22% of the lost revenue over the first 5 years and 32% over the subsequent 5 year period. And those were their “most optimistic” projections. Using their more conservative assumptions, the CBO concluded that the recovery would be only 1% over the first 5 years, and that the second 5-year period would actually produce a 5% increase in lost revenue. What’s important to keep in mind is that this study looked at “across-the-board” tax cuts — for rich and poor alike. If the cuts were isolated and applied to the top tax rates only, even less of the money would find its way back into the productive economy, ensuring a net negative result. A 2009 study by Mark Zandi, head economist for Moody’s, came to the same unavoidable conclusion regarding tax cuts, and also offers an eye-opening comparison to the “common sense” net-positive impact of government stimulus spending.

Unfettered by fact or substance, “common nonsense” is abundant and free of the ties that bind rational argument. Take for instance the story that the fight to keep the top marginal tax brackets from rising is about protecting small business. This is a great talking point, but when placed under the light of factual scrutiny, it becomes immediately apparent that when you increase taxes on people earning more than $250K, you don’t — in the real world — actually impact small business . . . unless that is, you share the elitist view that the 2.5% of “small businesses” that include large hedge funds, law offices, and billion dollar companies like Bechtel and Koch Industries are actually “small” businesses. If it seems to you a little deceptive to label billion-dollar hedge funds as “small business” because they employ so few people, or perhaps a bit disingenuous to use the same label for billion-dollar companies because of the legal form of the business, you just might have some grasp of “common sense,” on logic, reason, and honesty. There are many terms that fit this particular “small business” type of distortion, and “common nonsense” is probably the most kind.

How about the “common nonsense” that President Obama has raised taxes on average Americans? It’s a valid claim — only if signing 18 tax cuts for actual small businesses, lowering income taxes for 95% of the population, and bringing about across-the-board payroll tax cuts can somehow be construed as raising taxes on average Americans.

At the center of the entire “common nonsense” narrative is the story of the pending doom of Social Security and the assertion that it requires we raise the retirement age and cut benefits. The truth is that the program is actually able to pay full benefits through 2037 and pay 75% of benefits thereafter without making any changes. And the further truth is that full benefits could be paid for the entire 75 year horizon and beyond, simply by lifting the taxable earnings cap, thereby treating the richest Americans like everyone else and requiring them to pay on every dollar they earn.

Medicare too has a “common nonsense” crosshair painted over the program. The story goes that issues with Medicare are “forcing” us to swap the program out for a voucher system that will place all burden on elderly recipients to cover cost increases. The perpetrators of this cruel lie euphemistically refer to it as “premium support,” but in the real world, the one where “common sense” still prevails, it’s clearly seen for the throw-the-elderly-to-the-wolves option it actually is. Sadly, in the immoral world of “common nonsense” this choice is preferred over allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, moving away from the profit centric fee-for-services healthcare model, or otherwise dealing with the soaring cost of healthcare, which presently costs us more than double the average for other OECD nations and consumes over 17% of our GDP.

“Common nonsense” also dictates that defense spending is sacrosanct, even though we spend nearly as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, with a Department of Defense budget that’s actually tripled in size just since 1997. Still, somehow the argument is that, in order to protect ourselves and remain safe, we must continue to increase defense spending that already runs more than $1 trillion annually, when all defense related spending is included, and is pushing 30% of the federal budget.

The tenets of “common nonsense” assert that the American Dream is still what makes our nation special, yet completely ignores the fact that upward mobility in the US has gone the way of the Dodo bird. They contend that taxes are too high, even though they’re at the lowest portion of GDP since 1950. They posit that the debt is our most pressing issue, threatening to bankrupt the economy, in spite of the fact that we once paid down the bill for World War II that weighed in at 122% of GDP. They even argue that the federal stimulus of 2009 was a failure, while the fact is that it added as much as 4.5% to the GDP and increased domestic employment by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs.

Many ideas may be “common,” but there’s nothing sensible about the need to give tax subsidies to oil companies that already enjoy profits of $341 million per day. The denial of climate science may be accepted in the halls of “common nonsense,” but in the halls of science, it’s clearly seen as “nonsense” by 97-98% of those performing research on the topic. The promotion of the Keystone XL pipeline for the jobs it will create, the assertion that corporations are people, or the fight to protect the robber banksters from regulation are all both “common” and utter “nonsense.” There’s no legitimacy in the argument that we need to both balance the budget AND maintain special tax advantages for the wealthy, like a 15% tax rate for hedge fund managers and provisions that allow the very rich to hide their earnings in tax havens abroad. This is all “common nonsense” of the most bold and blatant variety!

Those people who strive to exploit American workers, send jobs overseas, leverage capital to dismantle and destroy productive companies, and fight to defund unemployment insurance, should be openly rejected when they then stand and complain that the 47% of Americans who’ve been left with no money, and no job, pay no income tax. It’s like kicking somebody in the teeth and complaining that they got blood on your shoe. Such people should be seen as the snake-oil-peddling purveyors of “common nonsense” they truly are. Vulture capitalists don’t feed the productive economy — they feed on it!

Like carnival barkers, these hucksters want Americans to believe that we’re faced with such rampant voter fraud, that draconian measures that may interfere with the ability of legitimate voters to participate is regrettably necessary, that the problem is just too dire to ignore. So, what’s the truth? That your odds for winning the Powerball or Mega Millions jackpot are 6 times better than finding a single case of in-person voter fraud. But of course, when you just can’t compete honestly on the issues, the “common nonsense” justification to suppress democracy becomes an absolutely essential component of your plan to retain control — and America gets 30 states enacting measures to disempower voters over the past two years.

Yet as ridiculous as the tenets of trickledown may be, as egregious as the efforts of voter suppression, as reprehensible as the arguments illegitimately attacking the “entitlements,” possibly the master stroke of “common nonsense” is the utterly absurd notion that, if we fail to cut government spending, the United States of America is going to become another Greece — we’re going to go bankrupt.

Now that’s one hell of a scary prediction! But never mind the fact that the entire “what we have is a spending problem” meme depends entirely on the “common nonsense” of trickledown and tax-cut doublethink — predictions of an American bankruptcy are, in fact, forecasts of the IMPOSSIBLE. The truth is that it’s impossible for Japan, Australia, Canada, the U.K., or any other nation that issues its own non-convertible, floating exchange-rate currency to go bankrupt. As Alan Greenspan has clearly stated, “a government cannot become insolvent with respect to obligations in its own currency,” because, “Central banks can issue currency, a noninterest-bearing claim on the government, effectively without limit.” Yet in the Bizarro World of “common nonsense” we must embrace the same austerity that’s destroying the economies of Europe in order to avoid a scenario that can’t happen anytime before pigs fly.

“Common nonsense” is not some natural and unavoidable phenomenon. The sad truth is that, like in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the natural human process of cognitive dissonance has been systematically replaced with a form of doublethink, where people simultaneously embrace certain long held values and their contradictory opposites. This can only be made possible through deliberate deception and promotion of falsehood, through constant revisionism — through perpetual generation and repetition of “common nonsense.”

Just as the tobacco companies of the 1960s lied to suppress the truth about cigarette smoking, willfully polluting the lungs of so many Americans just to maintain corporate profits, the corporatocracy of today feeds the “common nonsense” pump and pollutes every aspect of American society for the very same purpose. Thomas Jefferson made it abundantly clear that, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people,” and the opposite is also true — a misinformed citizenry is a vital requisite for exploitation of a free people.

Make no mistake, the source behind the wellspring of “common nonsense” has but one motivation — the thirst for money and power. Thus far their deception has been overwhelmingly successful. They’ve permeated the American consciousness with a false meme of government that takes from a hard-working middleclass to gives to an undeserving poor, yet the plain truth is that “91 percent of the benefit dollars from entitlement and other mandatory programs goes to the elderly (people 65 and over), the seriously disabled, and members of WORKING households.”

They’ve used this “common nonsense” to distract the public and conceal the truth that what’s really occurring is the systematic use of power and influence to control government for the benefit of the most wealthy, to take from that hard-working middleclass and feed the proceeds to a voraciously greedy and disconnected rich. Nowhere in the annals of “common nonsense” will you see reference to the growing concentration of wealth, to the fact that the richest 1% now hold more financial wealth than 95% of our population combined, nor will you hear the barkers speak of the 93% of all economic gain in the present recovery that’s gone to that same 1%. And rest assured, you damn sure won’t hear any mention of record-breaking CEO salaries or the huge bonuses they’re paid while offshoring American jobs and forcing workers to accept more than 3 decades of stagnant wages culminating in the recent drop in nationwide median income, the first since 1967.

American democracy is under attack, and the war isn’t being waged by a foreign foe. The enemy of a strong and prosperous America is the very same enemy Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Eisenhower and so many others warned about. It’s the enemy of which Jefferson expressed his wish to “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government to trial and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

If America is ever to save its middleclass and return to a system of shared prosperity, it must first come to reject the blatant falsehood and turn from the “common nonsense” of the cult of gutted government. The common sense of our forefathers holds as true today as it did when they formed our fledgling government: the solution to tyranny is now and always has been the unity of the People — and government “of, by, and for” those People is the only mechanism through which their authority can be set into force.


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Jul 052012
 
English: This is a high-resolution image of th...

English: This is a high-resolution image of the United States Declaration of Independence (article (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday we celebrated the 236th anniversary of our independence from the tyranny of King George of Britain. I am grateful for what the Founders and all who have fought for the American ideal have achieved, but as I contemplated what America has become, I  also found myself mourning the loss of honor and unity that once defined our nation.

July 4, 1776 is celebrated as the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted. Within that document was contained, not only a statement declaring the thirteen colonies to be independent states, but also a definition of the moral standard under which our new nation was formed. That standard of equality is manifest in possibly the most important words in American history, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These words weren’t meant to be hollow, to be celebrated with flag waving and fanfare but once a year, and relegated to quaint remembrance, a plaque on a wall or page in a text book, at all other times. No, these words were to be emblazoned upon the very heart and soul of a nation, for they define the ideal; they define what it means to be American.

According to the Founders, it is in order to “secure these rights” that “Governments are instituted among men.” The American government was formed for that purpose, a purpose that the Founders clearly understood to be served only through dedication to the public good. This was, after all, the focus of the first fact “submitted to a candid world” in the Declaration that we now celebrate. The Founders considered this proof and valid criticism of the tyranny of the King of Great Britain: “He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”

Governments “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” it goes without question that they must serve the public good, for why would any individual otherwise offer their consent? It is for this reason that the “general Welfare,” held in the Constitution, along with Justice, domestic Tranquility, and common defense, to be the pillars of “a more perfect Union” and the means to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” is one of two reasons for which the Congress was empowered to levy taxes.

This recognition that the government is to serve all of its citizens was once the hallmark of America. It was what set us apart from the monarchies of Europe and Asia. It served as the model for the world. The Founders embraced the idea, and Lincoln challenged the nation to uphold the principle and resolve “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” When our democracy was threatened by the greed of the Robber Barons, Teddy Roosevelt led the fight to return to this value of the Founders, and when the reaper of greed took his toll and wrought the Great Depression, FDR once again brought us back to respecting the commons and tending to the public good.

E pluribus unum — “Out of many, one” — the motto of the United States adopted by Congress in 1782. When we remain true to this creed, we embrace and expand the greatness of America. When we turn our backs on the general Welfare, we reject all that’s made us great. Patriotism is the love and devotion of one’s country; it’s supporting that which serves to make our country stronger; it’s everyone doing their part and sharing the benefits — it’s working in unity to “form a more perfect Union.”

This truth was patently obvious to the Founders and every great American leader since. How is it now the object of such controversy?


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Dec 312010
 
Official Photograph of Tom Udall, United State...
Image via Wikipedia

Article first published as Democrats Take up the Good Fight to Reform the Senate on Technorati.

With polls showing an 83% disapproval rating, few people would argue that the Congress isn’t broken. Fewer still would not assign a great deal of blame on a completely dysfunctional Senate. With more than 400 pieces of legislation passed by the House only to die in the Senate of the 111th Congress, the more “deliberative body” has truly become a haven for obstructionism. But that might all change if Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) succeeds in his attempt to reform the filibuster.

In response to a Senate minority that has utterly corrupted the use of the filibuster, Senator Udall, along with fellow Democratic Senators, Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), and Michael Bennet (Colo.), are leading the way to bring back some form of integrity to this aged parliamentary procedure.

Not mentioned in the Constitution, the filibuster is the product of senatorial rule changes established in 1806 that removed the motion “to move the previous question” and effectively eliminated any ability to end debate on an issue and move to a vote. Yet, even once the potential for filibuster existed, it wasn’t until 1837 that the procedure was first used, and its use remained infrequent for decades.

In 1917, the Senate changed its rules again and created a means to end a filibuster; by invoking cloture, the motion to end debate would be subject to passage by a two-thirds majority vote. Under these rules, the filibuster remained a powerful yet seldom used maneuver that resulted in only 56 filings of cloture through the end of the 91st Congress in 1970.

But starting with the 92nd Congress, things began to change and cloture was filed 23 times during that Senate alone. With 44 filings in the subsequent Senate, it became clear that what was once a rare procedural maneuver was becoming a mainstay for the Senate minority. This led to another rule change in 1975 that redefined the super-majority needed to end a filibuster, setting it at three-fifths — the 60 votes required today.

While use of the filibuster had become more frequent, it wasn’t until the past two Congresses that use was turned to abuse. Cloture filings averaged only 36.4 for each Congress from 1971 through 1990, and started ramping up with the Republican minority of the 102nd Congress, but still averaged only 51.5 from 1971 through 2006. Starting in 2007, with the 110th Congress, complete and utter obstruction was introduced and the tyranny of the minority began.

Viewed historically as a means to ensure that major issues were given a full and fair hearing, the contemporary corruption of the filibuster process has led instead to complete obstruction and the inability of the Senate to conduct even the most routine business. The Republican minorities of the 110th and 111th Congress made the filibuster standard operating procedure, using the procedure to block anything and everything, with no other goal than to impede progress.

In total, there were an unprecedented 275 motions for cloture filed in response to the filibusters of the past two Republican minorities. That’s more filings than occurred during the first 67 years of the motion’s existence. Such absurd levels of obstruction have nothing to do with governing. As is evidenced by the many successful cloture votes that were followed by easy passage of the bill, the new SOP for the GOP is all about delay —about bringing government to a standstill. Why else would the extension to unemployment benefits in late 2009 that survived back-to-back filibusters be passed by the Senate without opposition, 98-0? Or what about the filibuster of Fourth Circuit nominee Barbara Keenan that was eventually broken with a cloture vote of 99-0?

Fortunately for the American people, the Republican minority’s rampant abuse of the filibuster has caused such frustration that the backlash may result in real reform. In a Dec. 18 letter to Majority Leader Reid that was signed by all Democratic senators remaining in the Congress that opens Jan. 5, the majority stated, “We believe the current abuse of the rules by the minority threatens the ability of the Senate to do the necessary work of the nation, and we urge you to take steps to bring these abuses of our rules to an end.”

Senators Udall and Merkley are promoting the use of the “constitutional option” to effect the changes they seek. Using this procedure, the Democrats will be able to change the rules of the Senate with a simple majority vote, but according to many experts, they can do so only on the first day of the new Congress. It’s true that some experts disagree with this assessment and suggest that the majority could effect change at a later date, but there’s little doubt that such a move would be filibustered, so Senator Udall is pushing for the change to occur on Jan. 5.

The reform package being circulated would not end the filibuster, or even change the cloture requirements for a three-fifths majority, but it does include several smart changes that promise to restore credibility to the process. First and foremost, the changes would put an end to the purely procedural threat to filibuster by requiring that 40 senators vote to invoke a filibuster. This would replace the present requirement that the majority leader file a cloture motion to overcome an anonymous objection to a motion to proceed. The package would also require a “standing filibuster” — in the form of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the filibustering senator would have to remain on the floor to sustain it.

Other changes being considered include: limiting filibusters to only one per bill — under present rules, many bills are filibustered multiple times, starting with the decision to begin debate, followed by another filibuster on each amendment, and followed by still another filibuster before a final vote; another proposal would shorten the time for debate once cloture is invoked, which is presently set to at least 30 hours; and although it’s not filibuster specific, there appears to be significant support for the elimination of the “secret hold,” a ridiculous practice that enables a single senator to block nominations and legislation — anonymously.

Whether or not any of these changes will come to pass remains to be seen. There’s no doubt that the Republicans will fight these proposals with everything they have, but fortunately, they have very little. The sole opposition argument is something to the effect of “you won’t like this when you’re in the minority.” Republican Senator, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee stated the opposition’s case most succinctly, “Even if Democrats were to change the rules, they will gain nothing except the prospect of retribution in two years while destroying the Senate.” Such rare honesty is to be commended, but it should not in any way temper the complete rejection of the notion that enabling the Senate to perform the duties for which it exists is somehow destructive to the institution.

Contemporary Democrats don’t have much credibility when it comes to standing up against Republican bluster. They are more prone to meet aggression with compromise. As always, the American people can help this situation by contacting their senators and urging their support for reform. They can also sign-on to help Fix the Senate Now. This is “Change We Need.” It’s the good fight for the Democrats, and if the unanimous signing of their letter is any sign, we just might have that rare set of circumstances that embolden people to do what’s right, instead of what’s easy.


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