National Commentary

Let ‘Em Filibuster!

bentonmugAn esteemed historian of the U.S. Presidency appearing on the Daily Show last week offered a very good idea. Doris Kearns Goodwyn told John Stewart that the 59-member Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate should call the GOP’s bluff on its filibuster threat.

Instead of pulling back from legislation because of a threatened inability to close debate with a 60-vote majority, especially in the case of health care reform, Democrats should force the Republican minority to resort to the filibuster, and let the American people see exactly what that looks like.

She recalled when Sen. Strom Thurmond resorted to a filibuster in an eventually unsuccessful attempt to block the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He had to hold the floor as long as he could with ridiculous ramblings and dissembling commentaries having nothing to do with the issue at hand. According to Goodwyn, he worked overtime prior to taking the floor to dehydrate himself, so he would not have to yield the floor for a bathroom break.

Under the burden of actually condoning such a circus show, other lawmakers came under increased pressure from their constituencies, if not their own consciences, to call for cloture and move on to put the legislation to a simple majority vote.

As President Obama reminded the Senate Democratic Caucus in a meeting at the Newseum yesterday morning, Democrats have been faced with more cloture votes, to hypothetically prevent filibustering by Republicans, in just this past year than Congress had to face in two full decades in the 1950s and 1960s.

In something as important as real health care reform, Goodwyn’s advice should be taken to heart. Let the American people see the extent to which the GOP will go to prove it is, indeed, the “Party of No.” The spectacle should prove to be so unsavory as to shame enough Republicans to break ranks on cloture and bring the matter to a vote.

Obama yesterday spurred his fellow Democrats in the Senate not to back away from fighting for the values that, for most of them, were the reasons they sought public service in the first place. He urged them to turn away from the cable network newscasts and toward the hurting, fearful faces of their middle class constituents.

He reminded them of the depths of the fiscal and economic crises that he and Democratic lawmakers inherited from eight years of wholesale irresponsibility and wanton excess by the Bush administration.

Republicans grumbled during Obama’s State of the Union message last week when Obama reiterated some basic, undeniable facts. In 2000, after eight years of Bill Clinton’s Democratic presidency, at the point when George W. Bush took over, the nation had a $300 billion budget surplus.

Eight years of Bush turned that surplus into a $1.3 trillion deficit, the result of two major tax cuts, a Medicare prescription drug program that had no plan to pay for it, and two major foreign wars, one of which was entirely avoidable, to put it mildly. On top of that, because of Bush the nation is burdened by $8 trillion in debt coming due in the next few years.

Moreover, on his watch Bush enabled the greatest orgy of unregulated risk-laden financial instruments leveraging in history, triggering an economic collapse that sucked $300 billion out of federal revenue coffers, threatened a cataclysmic global meltdown, and threw millions of Americans out of work, many perhaps permanently because of the growing importance and influence of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) nations.

The technical problem with the Bush-originated deficit and debt is that they were all piled up to serve non-wealth generating objectives. They are the result of resources simply squandered, as if in a frenzy of excessive carousing.

Now, Republicans are assailing Obama for wanting to incur more debt, even though this time the debt is being put to a wealth-generating purpose.

There is a huge difference here that every responsible household in America knows: there is unavoidable cost, there is waste and there is investment in the future. From the standpoint of the deployment of resources, including debt, there is all the difference in the world between the three.

But Republican obstructionists don’t want folks looking at it that way.