Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Senate Still Has Rules - For Now

Fourteen Senators reached an agreement that preserves the rules of the Senate for now. The price for this agreement is that three atrocious people - Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen and William Pryor will be put on U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal (Pryor is already on, temporarily, as a recess appointee.) Is the price worth it?

Though the price was dear I think it was worth it because I'm not confident that the forces of reason and Democracy would have stopped the nuclear option. Once the bomb exploded we would have not only had these three judges confirmed but many more who could possibly, if that is imaginable, be much worse. But that would be just the beginning. Bush would have completely taken over the Senate. From that point on, fifty Senators, with the assistance of Dick Cheney, could have done whatever they wished. The Senate is not much of a check as it is on the absolutism sought by the radical right. After the nuke exploded it would have been no check at all.

There is one side of me that thinks the chaos of a successful nuclear power grab would have been in the long term interests of the country. The premise for this argument is that the American electorate would finally rebel against the legislative agenda the radical theocrats would enact and be revolted by the country's rapid slide into Presidential autocracy, causing a sweeping realignment of power in 2006 and 2008. But the risks are too great and the damage done in the interim could be profound.

So I prefer to adopt the more cautious hope that this agreement could be a really positive turning point for the Senate and the country. That Senators will demand a more collaborative posture from the White House and not just on judicial appointees. They have been to the brink and the view was scary. It is our country that the White House is playing with and its time for at least one branch of government to act responsibly.

Here is a good summary of the reaction across the political spectrum and the text of the agreement

We respect the diligent, conscientious efforts, to date, rendered to the Senate by Majority Leader Frist and Democratic Leader Reid. This memorandum confirms an understanding among the signatories, based upon mutual trust and confidence, related to pending and future judicial nominations in the 109th Congress.

This memorandum is in two parts. Part I relates to the currently pending judicial nominees; Part II relates to subsequent individual nominations to be made by the President and to be acted upon by the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.

We have agreed to the following:

Part I: Commitments on Pending Judicial Nominations

A. Votes for Certain Nominees. We will vote to invoke cloture on the following judicial nominees: Janice Rogers Brown (D.C. Circuit), William Pryor (11th Circuit), and Priscilla Owen (5th Circuit).

B. Status of Other Nominees. Signatories make no commitment to vote for or against cloture on the following judicial nominees: William Myers (9th Circuit) and Henry Saad (6th Circuit).

Part II: Commitments for Future Nominations

A. Future Nominations. Signatories will exercise their responsibilities under the Advice and Consent Clause of the United States Constitution in good faith. Nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist.

B. Rules Changes. In light of the spirit and continuing commitments made in this agreement, we commit to oppose the rules changes in the 109th Congress, which we understand to be any amendment to or interpretation of the Rules of the Senate that would force a vote on a judicial nomination by means other than unanimous consent or Rule XXII.

We believe that, under Article II, Section 2, of the United States Constitution, the word “Advice” speaks to consultation between the Senate and the President with regard to the use of the President’s power to make nominations. We encourage the Executive branch of government to consult with members of the Senate, both Democratic and Republican, prior to submitting a judicial nomination to the Senate for consideration.

Such a return to the early practices of our government may well serve to reduce the rancor that unfortunately accompanies the advice and consent process in the Senate.

We firmly believe this agreement is consistent with the traditions of the United States Senate that we as Senators seek to uphold.

Gary L. Norton

Monday, May 23, 2005

Follow Up to NO RULES

Bruce Ackerman picks up on the lament in my last post about a Senate with no rules. He focusses on the Vice President's role from an historical perspective.

Gary L. Norton

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Fristibuster - A Senate With No Rules

There are so many aspects of the Fristibuster debate, most of which have been examined at length. The nominees being debated learned little in law school and have forgotten most of that. The "this is an unprecedented use of the filibuster" argument is disingenuous in the extreme. The 2002 Congressional Research Service Report on Cloture debunks that silliness.

Maybe the most disturbing aspect of this proposal is that, if used, we will have a Senate with No Rules. Rules are what makes our society function, whether in our personal lives or in the operation of government. If you can change the rules regarding your personal behavior to suit your needs at a given time, there are no rules. You are simply free to do whatever you wish - lie, cheat, steal, etc. The same is true with government, whether a homeowners association or the Congress. That is why every organization has a procedure which requires some form of Super Majority to change its operating rules. Without that, a majority would be free to do whatever it wished at any time. That not only results in a tyranny of the majority, but also the chaos of the ever changing whims of the electorate.

This is arguably the worst aspect of the Fristibuster. Currently, Senate rules can only be changed with a two thirds majority approving the change. Mr. Frist, with the enabling of Dick Cheney, asserts he can ignore the rule regarding Filibusters (unlimited debate that can only be ended with a three fifths vote) by simply having fifty Senators and one Vice President say that a new rule applies. Once that tactic is used for judicial filibusters it can be used for any and every rule of the Senate. We will no longer have a Senate. We will have fifty spoiled children and their buddy taking their ball home whenever they wish.

Gary L. Norton

Friday, May 13, 2005

Social Secuity Privatization

Social Security is probably the best example of our Government and its Citizens giving effect to the admonition in the Preamble that we should Promote the General Welfare. Yet, since its inception Social Security has been under attack by those who see it as Socialism or something worse.

Those of you who follow the Social Security non-crisis debate know that this is just the most recent example of the Republican dream come true - the first real opportunity to kill the program. They control both Houses of Congress and the White House. The chance may never come again. Now, they can't be up front about killing Social Security because the program is too popular. So they have to work through the side door.

First they'll undercut its funding by creating Private accounts. Next, they'll means test the program so that only the poorest get a meaningful benefit. Starting at an income of just $20,000 benefits will be reduced to the point that a person making over $90,000 will only have 19 percent of that income replaced by Social Security upon retirement. In time everyone in the middle class or above will see Social Security as nothing more than another form of welfare for the poor. And, as such, it will be a prime target for the budget axe. One need only look at the cuts currently proposed for Medicaid, the program that helps the needy and poor children, to see the strategy.

Most politicians and their supporters in the media are too canny to speak the truth about their real agenda. But every once in a while someone slips, and out comes the truth. This happened last Saturday night on the Capital Gang when the intrepid Mr. Novak blurted out the following -

NOVAK: We want more. The other thing -- the other thing is, on Social Security, I thought -- I thought it was a very good thing to start means testing, to star to work away at this fiction that this is an insurance program. It's really -- it's a -- it's a glorified Welfare program, and means testing is necessary. And it's going to come sooner or later.

My, My. Better watch out Bob. Poppa may spank you.

You can read the whole transcript here.

Gary L. Norton

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Focus on the Constitution

The address and title of this blog refer to the Constitution of the United States. That wonderful document established the mechanisms and structures for the operation of our Federal government and limited the powers of that government over the lives of the people. And it did one other thing. The Preamble stated in general terms the goals that we wanted our government and our country to strive for - Establish Justice, insure Domestic Tranquility, Provide for the Common Defense, Promote the General Welfare, and Preserve the Blessings of Liberty. Everything worthwhile and good done by the government generally falls within one or more of these goals. And when the government acts without regard to these goals it is generally doing damage to our nation and its people.

One need only look to the Patriot Act; preemptive war (AKA snipe hunt for WMD); unimaginable and destructive deficit spending; destruction of the middle class by elimination of a truly progressive tax burden; attacking the independence of our judiciary (which is the only protection we have from theocracy and despotism); jeopardizing our security by creating adversaries; weakening alliances and stretching our armed forces to the breaking point; government interference in personal family decisions; and turning the Congress into a one party dictatorship of the leadership, to know that precious little attention has been paid to Preamble and the Constitution of late.

These and many other areas will be the subject of my posts. I love my country and I love its institutions. It hurts me grievously to see what is happening and I will add my voice to the many seeking to return to the more balanced, thoughtful, compassionate, respectful and progressive country the founders intended.

Gary L. Norton