I’m of two minds about President Obama’s shout out for Senate rules reform in his State of the Union speech. I’m glad he brought attention to the need for reform, but mostly I’m very disappointed with what he chose to call for. From the State of the Union:
Some of what’s broken has to do with the way Congress does its business these days. A simple majority is no longer enough to get anything -– even routine business –- passed through the Senate. Neither party has been blameless in these tactics. Now both parties should put an end to it. For starters, I ask the Senate to pass a simple rule that all judicial and public service nominations receive a simple up or down vote within 90 days.
This change would make the only thing exempt from the filibuster in the Senate the particular business of a president in making appointments.
The real problem with the current Senate rules governing debate that allow for filibusters and 60 votes requirements for closure is that they hurt good governance. Allowing that is illogical and frankly idiotic.
The current senate rules make a mockery of the clear Constitutional intent that the Senate be a majority vote chamber except where the Constitution explicitly requires more. They make our government even more biased in favor of the status quo. They destroy accountability by allowing parties to make partisan promises that they know they will not have to keep. The rules also shift the balance away from the far more representative House to the already undemocratic Senate. Finally, super majority requirements have repeatedly been shown to be a very bad way to run a legislative chamber.
The fact that the senate rules also allow a minority to make it slightly harder for a president to fill executive and judicial positions without the president using recess appointments is just one relatively minor issue in comparison.
Yet instead of calling for a meaningful fix to the root cause of the problem, President Obama just called for the creation of a new special privilege that would help only the president. Calling only for this one change but leaving the rest of the problem in place makes this look more like a power grab than a call to honest and fair reform. There is no good reason to say a minority in the Senate shouldn’t be allowed to filibuster the business of the executive branch but should be allowed to filibuster the business of the House or even a majority of the Senate.
President Obama, if you believe the 60 votes for closure rule is unfair or bad for the government, you should call for it to be eliminated, not call for just a special exemption for presidential appointments.