Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Prelude to WAR! Emegrency Compromise Delays Showdown

May 12(25), 2005
In an emergency meeting yesterday evening, seven Democrats and seven Republicans reached a compromise to avert a Senate showdown of historic proportions. The deal came as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist moved within hours of initiating the nuclear option, a move that would trample the rights of the Democratic minority and pile drive Republican judicial nominees through Congress.
While Republicans retained public solidarity with Frist, a number of the more seasoned lawmakers were gravely concerned with the situation, and their qualms led to the unlikely coupling of West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd (D) and Virginia Senator Mark Warren (R ).
“We’ve got to do something about this,” Byrd pleaded with Warren. “We’ve got to stop this.” Warren agreed, and he began a series of high level talks with Byrd and other Democratic leaders. Several moderate Republicans have put their careers on the line, risking rejection by violently extremist Red districts, to save the Senate as a unique and independent institution. Among these courageous men were Senator John McCain (already reviled by many Republicans for combining conservative social values with ethical legislative ones) and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who remarked, “A lot of people at home are going to be really mad at me…but I’m willing to vote for this, because it’s bigger than me.”
In that, Graham is certainly correct. The filibuster has been an honoured institution in the Senate for countless decades, and, indeed, is one of the primary differences between the Senate and the House, the difference that gives the Senate much more power. The Founding Fathers wanted a reasonable minority to stonewall majority efforts to garner greater power. What, is, however, a reasonable minority? Could one miniscule group of senators be able to derail the will of hundreds of millions of American citizens?
Most people are surprised to learn that the answer is, “No.” The Founding Fathers were flexible men. They knew that if protecting minority rights infringed upon majority rights, democracy was not truly working. Therefore, they added a provision to the filibuster that both parties have made use of numerous times: if a faction has an overwhelming majority in the Senate (called a, “supermajority,”), showing that a vastly greater number of the American people support them than support the closest minority, the filibuster may be overturned.
In the 100-member Senate, 60 votes can end a filibuster. Therefore, if a party, say, the Republicans, commanded incredible support from the people, their will could still be done. Unfortunately for the Right, Republicans only control 55 seats of the Senate, five short of the supermajority at which the closest minority party becomes an unreasonably small faction not entitled to shoot down the majority’s legislation.
Because, under current Senate rules, Republicans could not overcome a Democratic filibuster, Majority Leader Bill Frist has decided to overturn the regulations, much the same way that Republicans changed House ethics rules to keep Tom DeLay in his position as House Majority Leader when it seemed that he was about to be indicted by a Texas grand jury. Needless to say, the idea has caused great distress. If it was to go through, the Senate as an independent institution would become effectively null, merely an extension of the autocratic House.
Republicans, of course, have shown very little respect for precedent since George W. Bush stole the presidency in 2000. If the rules fir their own political agenda, they are enforced with the most stringent firmness. If those rules do not fit the Rightist agenda, they are antiquated and must be discarded. Hypocrisy aside, the consequences for both parties and for the Senate will be far-reaching and dire. The prestige of the Senate will certainly be reduced, as will be its ability to stand up to the President (whose influence will undoubtedly be increased, as the serving President is almost always the leader of his or her political party).
Perhaps most perplexing, Senator Frist seems completely oblivious to the fact that his changes will eventually haunt Republican legislators when that party is again a minority (a day that, given Republicans’ recent approval ratings, may not be long in coming). Maybe he is arrogant enough to believe that the Right will stay in power forever, a prospect that many hypothesize could be the ultimate goal of his alterations. In an interesting development, the release of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, has coincided perfectly with the political upheavals in the United States. The film, about a rogue senator in the fictitious Galactic Senate who changed parliamentary rules and then is able to establish a dictatorship, has been alluded to be numerous political observers (and even some senators in the true Senate) as being paralleling the current situation in America. None less than George Lucas, the film’s director, has stated that he believes the movie makes a political statement.
One senator recently brought a poster of the evil Emperor Palpatine (the aforementioned rogue senator) into Congress and exclaimed, “This is what these changes will lead to.”
That prospect is what has so many anxiously awaiting the outcome of the current crisis. Many are now cheering the compromise as a victory for America, but the deal should be looked upon with caution; as Howard Dean has said, the true test of its durability will be when a vacancy appears in the Supreme Court, which, in light of Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s current medical problems, is likely to happen within months. This compromise has not ended the fight; it has pushed it back temporarily. Bill Frist, expressing disappointment with his more moderate colleagues, has said that he will still continue to pursue what he calls the, “Constitutional Option.”If the vote to change the rules goes to the floor but is defeated, it would be a catastrophic political blow to a Republican Party that has already fallen dramatically in public opinion polls since the 2004 Election. If the vote goes to floor and actually gets through, it would set a terrible precedent for all future minorities and would disable the Democrats until at least the next election in 2006. Either way, both sides have a lot to lose. The bottom line is: this isn’t over.


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