Favorite

Arcane rules 

Fifty-two years ago, President John F. Kennedy and House Speaker Sam Rayburn overcame a small minority of obstructionists in Congress and changed the history of American politics.

In 1961, Democrats held 263 seats in the House. With only 174 Republicans with whom to contend, the president and Rayburn should have been able to push through whatever they pleased. But six of the 12-member House Rules Committee had effective veto power on all legislation. The committee of eight Democrats and four Republicans controlled the schedule of the U.S. House. When the committee's two conservative Southern Democrats, Howard Smith of Virginia and William Colmer of Mississippi, banded together with the Republican members — as they did often, especially in the face of civil rights legislation — they could block proposals from reaching the House floor.

Kennedy and Rayburn's solution was to add three new members to the committee, including two younger, more liberal Democrats who would assure the president's domestic agenda could reach the floor. The ensuing fight has been described as the fiercest of the era. Only by expending much political capital did Kennedy and Rayburn prevail. Their victory lost the South to Democrats for a generation and, several years later, helped usher in Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.

Last week, the Senate made a similarly arcane change to procedure that could have just as sweeping of an effect on American politics — with progressivism and pain served in similar manner. Led by Majority Leader Harry Reid and with the blessing of President Obama, most Senate Democrats (though not Mark Pryor) voted to deny the minority party the opportunity to block executive and judicial nominations (save the Supreme Court) with a filibuster, which requires a 60-vote supermajority to overcome. The next time the minority uses the filibuster on a significant piece of legislation or a Supreme Court nominee popular within the majority, bet on the procedure dying all together.

In reaction to the news, state Sen. Jason Rapert, the standard bearer for right-wing-nuttery in Arkansas, tweeted, "America, this is tyranny." In fact, the move was a highly democratic corrective. The filibuster isn't in the constitution. It wasn't used until the mid-19th century and remained incredibly rare until the 1970s. Democrats and Republicans were each on the other side of near filibuster showdowns in 2003 and 2005 and many of them are on record supporting what they now oppose (John Boozman in 2005: "The American people are tired of obstructionism").

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell forced the hand of Democrats. Since he became Republican leader, filibusters have gone from a way for the minority to issue a protest in extreme situations to standard procedure. Almost 30 percent of all the cloture motions — cloture is the procedure to break a filibuster — filed in the last 100 years have come under McConnell's watch.

The rule change will obviously come back and bite Democrats eventually, but in the meantime, the Obama administration may actually be able to get some things done. The EPA is in the process of issuing new rules to limit carbon emissions. Much of the administration's financial reform package, Dodd-Frank, hasn't yet been enacted. Both are sure to draw legal challenges and, like most all court cases involving the federal government, they're likely to go the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Now that the filibuster has been curtailed, the president is expected to get three long-delayed nominees to the D.C. circuit confirmed, which will put the court in control of judges nominated by Democratic presidents.

Party polarization broke the practical uses of the filibuster. Without a change, Democrats wouldn't have gotten anything out of the Senate. Moreover, Republicans likely would have ended the filibuster whenever they eventually took back the Senate majority and won the presidency. Why not act now?

Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Most Shared

  • World leaders set to meet in Little Rock on resource access and sustainable development

    Next week a series of meetings on the use of technology to tackle global problems will be held in Little Rock by Club de Madrid — a coalition of more than 100 former democratic former presidents and prime ministers from around the world — and the P80 Group, a coalition of large public pension and sovereign wealth funds founded by Prince Charles to combat climate change. The conference will discuss deploying existing technologies to increase access to food, water, energy, clean environment, and medical care.
  • Tomb to table: a Christmas feast offered by the residents of Mount Holly and other folk

    Plus, recipes from the Times staff.
  • Fake news

    So fed up was young Edgar Welch of Salisbury, N.C., that Hillary Clinton was getting away with running a child-sex ring that he grabbed a couple of guns last Sunday, drove 360 miles to the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C., where Clinton was supposed to be holding the kids as sex slaves, and fired his AR-15 into the floor to clear the joint of pizza cravers and conduct his own investigation of the pedophilia syndicate of the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state.
  • Reality TV prez

    There is almost nothing real about "reality TV." All but the dullest viewers understand that the dramatic twists and turns on shows like "The Bachelor" or "Celebrity Apprentice" are scripted in advance. More or less like professional wrestling, Donald Trump's previous claim to fame.
  • Arkansas archeologist does his job, is asked to leave

    Amid Department of Arkansas Heritage project.

Latest in Editorials

  • The end of an era

    We're sad to report that Doug Smith has decided to retire. Though he's been listed as an associate editor on our masthead for the last 22 years, he has in fact been the conscience of the Arkansas Times. He has written all but a handful of our unsigned editorials since we introduced an opinion page in 1992.
    • May 8, 2014
  • A stand for equality

    Last week, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel became the first elected statewide official to express support for same-sex marriage. His announcement came days before Circuit Judge Chris Piazza is expected to rule on a challenge to the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Soon after, a federal challenge of the law is expected to move forward. McDaniel has pledged to "zealously" defend the Arkansas Constitution but said he wanted the public to know where he stood.
    • May 8, 2014
  • Same old, same old

    Remarking as we were on the dreariness of this year's election campaigns, we failed to pay sufficient tribute to the NRA, one of the most unsavory and, in its predictability, dullest of the biennial participants in the passing political parade.
    • May 1, 2014
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans

Event Calendar

« »

December

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Reality TV prez

    • And while we're at it, Runner, the Wisconsin recount isn't finished yet, but as of…

    • on December 9, 2016
  • Re: Reality TV prez

    • In fact, Runner, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.7 million and counting, just…

    • on December 9, 2016
  • Re: Stay the course

    • Thank you Autumn. I agree that we can not compromise an inch on the value…

    • on December 9, 2016
 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation