Give Congress a Fish and it Will Eat for a Day...
This is really interesting:
In an apparent warning to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), some liberal Democrats have suggested a secret-ballot vote every two years on whether or not to strip committee chairmen of their gavels.
Baucus, who is more conservative than most of the Democratic Conference, has frustrated many of his liberal colleagues by negotiating for weeks with Republicans over healthcare reform without producing a bill or even much detail about the policies he is considering.
“Every two years the caucus could have a secret ballot on whether a chairman should continue, yes or no,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “If the ‘no’s win, [the chairman’s] out.
“I’ve heard it talked about before,” he added.
These procedural reforms might seem a bit arcane, but they're actually the most importance changes liberals -- or conservatives, or anyone else -- could make. Legislatively, the difference between passing a bill and changing the rules that make it so hard to pass bills is the difference between giving a man a fish and teaching him how to fish. Right now, health-care reform is stuck in a congressional process that is explicitly and aggressively biased against large pieces of legislation. That's not only made the bill harder to pass, it's also made the bill worse: reformers began with a modest approach because the political system can't bear much in the way of change.
And that's true for any bill you might want to name. Climate bills. Social Security reforms. Tax policy. It's true for bills pushed by Democrats as well as bills pushed by Republicans. Some of these rules could, over time, get changed. The filibuster originally required the commitment of one solitary senator. Today it requires 40. The House Rules committee used to use a Dixiecrat majority to kill all legislation. Then Kennedy and Rayburn fought to expand the committee and end its role as a cemetery for social change.
The problem, of course, is that changing procedural rules is hard to do, and no one really wants to expend political capital on arcane parliamentary battles. Presidents don't take office promising to make it easier for future presidents to make a difference in the lives of voters. They take office promising to make a difference in the lives of voters. So there's very rarely much appetite for huge fights over changes in congressional procedure.
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