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Superbill!

Jonathan Bernstein thinks the majority should get one bill each year that's free from both the filibuster and the nutty requirements of the budget reconciliation process:

Replace reconciliation with a free bill: one bill a year with a time certain for consideration. That's right, Superbill! One bill that can't be filibustered. What could the majority stick in it? Whatever they wanted! It could, if they have the votes, contain the entire legislative agenda. But the bill would be subject to amendments (limited only to prevent an infinite filibuster-by-amendment), meaning that the minority would have some tools available to sink it (sauce for the goose ... the amendments would need just a simple majority, too). Superbill would have to pass the House, too, so that's another constraint.

It's better than rule-by-loophole, anyway.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 19, 2010; 9:26 AM ET
 
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Comments

I agree that this would be better than the current system, but not by much. The Senate would spend all its time on the one bill and really important things would get cut or dropped in the endless negotiation. And though Republican complaints about the length of the healthcare bill were stupid and made in bad faith, I'm not sure I want to get to a place where all legislation for a session is packed into one gigantic bill, with modifications to housing policy next to military funding, next to climate legislation. I'm not saying each piece of legislation needs to be laser-focused on a single issue, but this seems to me to fall on the other side of reasonable.

And let's face it, creating a nearly comically absurd exception to a nearly comically absurd procedural rule doesn't make the whole system sane. I'm also pretty sure that passing the rules to create Superbill is no more easy than passing the rules to eliminate or neuter the filibuster.

Posted by: MosBen | July 19, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

In addition to being a silly proposal, doesn't Superbill give the lie to Jonathan's insistence that current Senate rules are actually more democratic than simple majority rule would be? He cites the importance of allowing intensity of preference to be registered in the legislative process (which frankly has nothing to do with the contemporary filibuster but anyway ...), as well as the "democratic" nature of unconstrained parochialism. But if the filibuster is really something other than a mistake that a small coterie of arrogant dimwits refuses to correct, then why the Superbill at all? And if its a good idea to let a simple majority of a quorum pass a single, huge piece of legislation why is it a bad idea to allow a simple majority of a quorum to pass numerous, smaller pieces of legislation? How is cramming everything together into one bill going to lead to better legislation?

Posted by: rwclayton7 | July 19, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

rwclayton7, like most compromises, I think the idea is philosophically inchoherent. People that support the filibuster would say that at least there would be one chance per Congress to pass meaningful legislation while supporters of the filibuster get to keep their stupid rule while allowing one ponderous piece of legislation to sneak by.

My complaint isn't that it doesn't make any sense with any consistent theory of legislative rules. My complaint is that it only improves our situation marginally, if at all and isn't any easier to implement than wholesale elimination of the filibuster.

Posted by: MosBen | July 19, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

From above: "I'm not sure I want to get to a place where all legislation for a session is packed into one gigantic bill, with modifications to housing policy next to military funding, next to climate legislation. I'm not saying each piece of legislation needs to be laser-focused on a single issue, but this seems to me to fall on the other side of reasonable."

Omnibus bills give power to the party leaders and serve as a means of hiding certain "features" from full scrutiny. The recent unemployment insurance extension controversy is a good example: while majority party leadership would like to highlight the unemployment aspects of an omnibus bill, Senators must also consider the other aspects of the bill. By reducing (not increasing) the number of omnibus bills, serious topics might receive more serious consideration.

Continuing the example, more than a month ago I commented that a standalone bill proposing only an unemployment insurance extension might receive a warm reception in the Senate. I'm still at that point -- why should a Senator be forced to vote against a bill that includes both necessary and costly-yet-unnecessary elements? Why not simply vote on each item independently?

Posted by: rmgregory | July 19, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Instead of a superbill process that could be abused in all sorts of ways ("I'd like to attach a million dollar rider for the perverted arts!" as The Simpsons said), I'd rather see the number of filibusters limited. Let the minority have three filibusters per session. These could only be made at the vote to proceed to debate and final vote -- not for specific amendments.

Is there a chance the majority party could overwhelm the minority with a bunch of controversial votes? Sure, but I think that possibility is something our political process can handle. The fact is, our politics coalesce around the procedural mechanisms we have in place. Perhaps the best evidence of this is how easily we've all adopted the "you need 60 votes to pass any bill" mindset.

In a "three filibuster" senate, the use of the filibuster would be extraordinary relief again, and its proper use would be a matter of debate inside the minority party. Overwhelming the minority would also be a matter of public record and debate, and would probably subject the majority to lots of criticism. Moreover, if the majority vote actually meant something, more Senators would take it seriously.

Posted by: NS12345 | July 19, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Another idea might be to force the minority to produce an alternative bill, or at least written good cause, in order to take advantage of the filibuster. The point is, there needs to be some kind of downside risk to gridlock. It's ridiculous that we have a system that lets the minority gum up the works and then blame the majority for not getting anything done (and that's just as true when the minority is Democratic).

Posted by: NS12345 | July 19, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

What's wrong with majority rule? Everyone keeps dancing around that.

The US Senate is by design lopsided toward the minority of this country. Additional hurdles are unnecessary.

Posted by: lol-lol | July 19, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

MosBen: I think you and I agree that this would be a pretty inadequate solution, even given the usually-inadequate nature of compromises. My point was more about Jonathan Bernstein in particular, who takes lots of pot shots at arguments against the filibuster (nothing inherently democratic about majority rule, importance of registering intensity, local influence) but then presents an alternative that embodies all of the supposed flaws he's pointing out in the proposals of majority-rule proponents. It just aggravates me, that's all.

Posted by: rwclayton7 | July 19, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

rwclayton7, yeah, I can see that.

rmgregory, I'm not opposed to bills including some disparate elements. There's a certain amount of that sort of thing that I think is necessitated by the complexity of our system and the need to address sometimes quickly developing events while navigating legislative procedure. On the other hand, cramming a whole Congress' worth of legislation into one bill is, I think, taking that to an unnecessary and undesirable extreme.

Posted by: MosBen | July 19, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

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