Democrats & Liberals Archives

The Articles of Confederation, and Why Congress Has Majority Rule.

The Republicans will surely enjoy the advantage of being able to prevent bills from even coming to a vote, much less pass. But in carrying out this policy of permanent obstruction in the senate, they unwittingly follow the terrible example of our forefathers in post colonial times, the example which eventually forced them to rewrite the Articles of Confederation into the constitution, and make all but the most extraordinary of votes a majority rules affair.

The veto of each state was a second weakness in the Articles of Confederation. Not only did all amendments have to be ratified by each of the thirteen states, but also all important legislation needed the approval of nine States. With several delegations absent, one or two States were often able to defeat legislative proposals of major importance.

The framers were faced with a system that simply did not work. The minority could not pass anything, but they could sure prevent passage of anything as well. Although the ratio is slightly small the sentiment is probably the same: namely that laws should only pass by a supermajority, if a huge amount of the representatives and Senators in Congress approved.

What the framers found is that this rendered their country vulnerable to a host of problems. Rarely could they agree on anything with that level of unanimity. Ultimately, they decided to make the default mode of Congress that of the majority winning the votes.

If it is problematic for folks in the time of the framers to put up with having to acheive a supermajority on every matter, uniting members in a common cause for even the simplest, most uncontroversial legislation, then how much better are Americans off in this day and age, with all the challenges we face, challenges our forebears could not dream of?

The Republicans endanger their own future majorities with this precedent they set. What they can do to us, we can do to them. I would hope we'd be more mature than that, but what the Republicans consider justifiable in their response to us, might, through the frustration they inspire, appeal to the Democrats as well.

And what it would deprive Americans of is a Congressional majority of any kind able to do it's job. Surely the Republicans could run afoul of some opinion poll, giving Democrats the excuse they need to say that the majority demands that they confound the majority that voters elected. Never mind how ambiguous polling can be, how important the nuances are, or how stark and immense the majorities granted. The report of the week's statistically sampled political whims will outrank the official, comprehensive, authoritatively counted votes of the American people. Never mind letting the people decide whether or not they will reward the conduct of their Senators on election day, the members of one party are here to rescue American voters from their own mistakes, by countermanding their constitutionally elected leaders with a provision that doesn't even exist on its own as a rule in the founding charter of this nation.

The mandate of the people must not be something that is simply claimed, independent of any real measure. It must be something earned through votes on election day, claimed by the side that has a clear majority. Yes, that serves me well now, and I will admit that. But it will also serve Republicans well when and if they take over. Republicans have nothing to gain from having the only weakly constitutional filibuster turned on them the way it's been turned on us, and Americans of all parties and all kinds will not benefit by having their decision on election day countermanded by the party they purposefully put into disfavor.

Let me make a clear distinction that we sometimes fail to make in this day and age: A filibuster is not a final vote. It is a vote on whether to continue debate. Cloture votes are votes to end debate. Once that debate is over, and the bill is before the Senate, those who voted to close debate can vote against the bill. The only reason there would be any confusion is if we were talking about a minority that knew it couldn't win those votes.

The Republicans were already aiming to filibuster the stimulus package at the beginning of the year, long before any opinion polls were present to stop them, long before they succeeded in driving down poll results for the President and his agenda. Specter's defection about the middle of the year came as an eventual result of the Republican's punishment of him for this vote.

So the question here becomes, that not long after an election which unquestionably rebuked the Republican Leadership, with a wave election. the Republicans had already settled on this strategy. They had already decided that the voters were mistaken.

They never gave us a chance, really, to prove ourselves, and that is what galls me the most. After years of having proven their leadership wanting, they won't let anybody else try anything else. If voters are punishing Democrats for anything, they are punishing them for getting not enough done. Republicans allude to this when they goad us about not being able to get our caucus together (although they seem to be uniformly negative when we finally DO get our act together anyway) Oh, you should be powerful enough to get sixty votes on every subject! As if that were the way our Democracy was meant to function. But it wasn't. Our democracy was designed with a majority rules vote in mind. All the rest, all the filibuster itself is, is just Senate rules.

So finally, it comes down to this one question: Which rules do we want this country to be guided by most principly: the Constitution's, which sets no supermajority requirement, which gives authority according to the mandate of a free and fair election; or, the Senate rules, whose authority is supposed to be designed and implemented within the rules of the Constitution?

Will the Republican Party allow this country's Senate to function the way voters and the architects of the constitution intended it to function, or are they going to continue to do damage to the order of the Senate and the the welfare of this country in order to use the power of the Senate rules as a substitute for the power of the seats the voters took away from them?

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at January 20, 2010 11:25 AM
Comment #294183

SD: So the Senate majority should change the rules to simple majority. End of your problem. Just don;t object when the majority party changes.

Posted by: Mike in Tampa at January 20, 2010 1:11 PM
Comment #294186

Mike in Tampa-
No, the filibuster, as I have advocated before, should be used sparingly. Meanwhile, read this and tell me what you think.

There’s a difference between saying that every bill must pass this hurdle, and perhaps an occasional controversial one. There’s a difference between having such a practice to prevent and destroy any negotiation, and having it to encourage the making of deals.

I want my old Congress back! The one I was told about in Grade School where a majority passes legislation! You know, the one we had for, say, the first two hundred years? Just a suggestion. I mean, it might even be the conservative thing to do, if conservatives are still about honoring traditions.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 20, 2010 1:15 PM
Comment #294187

And no, Mike, I don’t object. It would just mean that I would have to try real hard to make sure that my people remained accountable enough not to need a voter intervention.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 20, 2010 1:16 PM
Comment #294188

I would like my old congress back to, the one that listened to us, not the one we have today that thinks they know what is good for us. I have written my congressman, about my objections to the HC plan and I guess a lot of others did to because he voted against it and he’s a liberal Democrat. Fillibuster, is good when used sparingly but both parties abuse it. Term limitations in congress should be law but I know that will never happen. I’m glad to see you are calming down some.

Posted by: KAP at January 20, 2010 1:33 PM
Comment #294196

Congress will listen to voters. But they should have the chance to succeed and fail on their merits. Republicans did half the work for us in 2006, to be honest with you, and even more in 2008. Unfortunately, Republicans are once again doing the work of making Congress unpopular once again, but they lacked the decency, or perhapse the votes to stick around and take responsibility for their inaction. Instead, they’re forcing it on us.

First: Republicans can vote against things and campaign against things just fine. A filibuster is not necessary for them to be on the record against something.

Second: I understand the implications of the rules. I just don’t like them, or find them a long-term positive for either party, or the country. Isn’t it time the country’s interest came first?

Third: The voters decided to magnify our advantage in the Senate and House. Shouldn’t we read that as a signal towards bold action, if we’re smart? Might we not get punished, thrown out if we fail to do what people want?

Fourth: If we misread the signal, voters have a means of registering their displeasure: at the voting booth. Let us do what we want to do, Let yourselves oppose it as you are wont to do (cloture votes don’t require that you vote for the bill you’re closing debate on.), and let the voters decide who’s right, if anybody.

That’s how Democracy is supposed to work, how it ought to work, and by my argument above, how it ultimately has to work, if we want a functioning government.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 20, 2010 3:04 PM
Comment #294198

Yes Stephen congress and the President are finally listening. I heard on the news the President and Reid will not push the HC bill through until after Brown is seated. I think this is a plus for Democrats a small plus but a plus anyway. Now maybe both sides can sit down and get something that people will go for. Now it’s time to focus on the economy, Jobs, and HC in that order.

Posted by: KAP at January 20, 2010 3:17 PM
Comment #294203

KAP wrote; “Yes Stephen congress and the President are finally listening. I heard on the news the President and Reid will not push the HC bill through until after Brown is seated.”

I heard them both speak also and I congratulate them both on being realistic and displaying some wisdom.

As I see it, the Pres and congress have invested most of the political capital they gained in the last election on HC. They kept raising the bet and reached a point of no return or compromise. That wasn’t smart, but that’s where they are now. The focused so hard on HC that they took their eye off the most pressing problem…the economy. The economy is an immediate problem requiring all their concentration. The folks are hurting and congress just keeps talking about higher taxes and more regulations to strangle the businesses that have survived.

Posted by: Royal Flush at January 20, 2010 4:22 PM
Comment #294205

Royal Flush-
They didn’t take their eye off the ball, actually. They did something to start out. They passed a stimulus. They passed a tax cut for the middle class. Then they went over to the matter of Healthcare, which negotiations with Republicans on that, trying to get a bipartisan bill together, delayed long past any reasonable time frame.

If you want something reasonable done in Washington, if you want negotiations that let Republicans have a real voice in legislation beyond the word no, return to the constitutional roots of the majority vote, and reserve the filibuster for the truly offensive bills.

As for what Obama said? Obama is essentially a Centrist Liberal. If you gave him half the chance, you could have a civil discussion on him with the issues. He’s like Reagan in that.

Problem is, Republicans want to pretend that they can recapitulate their earlier triumphs, despite their party being even lower in the polls than the President or his party.

They essentially elected a liberal Massachussetts Republican, and they’re acting like it’s a landslide. Well, maybe it is as long as they’re planning on flooding the party with the same moderates they’ve spent the last year trying to kick out.

But if they’re going to go more moderate, they got to give the moderates the chance to be moderate, or otherwise they’ll be useless as teats on a boar. The endless filibuster deprives moderates and centrists of both parties of the opportunity to put deals together.

They must end it, or they will end up losing Scott Brown in the next election.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 20, 2010 4:54 PM
Comment #294209

SD wrote; “They passed a tax cut for the middle class.” I beg to differ…I am middle class retired and the tax on my retirement annuity has gone up. Take a look at your paycheck stub and tell me your payroll taxes have gone down.

SD also wrote; “They essentially elected a liberal Massachussetts Republican…”

Baloney…I have watched his campaign adds online and he is no liberal. Did you hear his acceptance speech…if that’s liberal then I want more of them.

Posted by: Royal Flush at January 20, 2010 5:08 PM
Comment #294211

Royal Flush-
Roughly seventeen dollars more in every Paycheck, starting in April, for the entire rest of the year. Obama saved me hundreds of dollars!

As for Scott Brown? Somebody took a look at his actual voting record, and found that he was liberal for a Massachussetts Republican. Which makes him VERY Liberal for a National GOPer.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 20, 2010 5:16 PM
Comment #294214

SD…do the arithmetic…9 months X $17 = $153. Where is this hundreds of dollars you’re talking about?

Apparently I only though I was in the middle class. Since my retirement annuity is being taxed more I must be wealthy. Hardly…I think SD is blowing smoke.

SD blows more smoke by posting a link to “somebody”. I read the link and frankly SD…I will believe what my own ears have heard rather than the words and work of “somebody”. I am an informed conservative, not a gullible liberal.

Posted by: Royal Flush at January 20, 2010 5:41 PM
Comment #294220

Sorry SD…I apologize for saying something about you rather than the message. Hope I don’t get canned because of my temporary mental lapse.

Posted by: Royal Flush at January 20, 2010 6:43 PM
Comment #294231

Royal Flush:
I get paid biweekly, so I got $306 dollars. My family also benefited from a mortgage relief plan, which has helped immensely. My workplace also benefited as well, getting some grants.

As for the link, if you have any factual objections, please make them. Simply dismissing the source on partisan grounds won’t get me to stop bringing this up when you guys try to claim he’s a Red meat conservative. I’m as interested in what a man like him does, as what he says. People can say anything, you know.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 20, 2010 9:15 PM
Comment #294260

Stephen, I agree that the party has not been given a fair chance to prove themselves. But to be perfectly honest and fair, they really have done little to indicate that they have grown beyond the political stigmas that have caused government to be essentially dysfunctional. Our President I am sure is well intentioned. His vision was based on change which included the need for reform and accountability in all areas of government. He also recognized, just as most responsible people do, that the need for change must take place within the entire political spectrum. Not just the conservative side of things. Not merely at the executive level. The voters of this country recognized his vision and agreed that it was appropriate for the times. The problems we see today are the result of nothing more than what is happening at the legislative level. That would be business as usual.

It makes me wonder if the party I support has taken the message of 2008 to heart. I think not. The election of 2008 was as much a statement against politics in general as it was a referendum on republican policy. It is my belief that what happened in Mass is just that. A referendum on the entire political process. It is an awakening of public political consciousness. A statement to all legislators that you are no longer immune to accountability. I hope the trend continues. It is what is needed to bring those who are supposed to represent our best interests back to earth. In this I applaud the people of Mass.

Posted by: RickIl at January 21, 2010 10:55 AM
Comment #294294
It makes me wonder if the party I support has taken the message of 2008 to heart.

No, I don’t think so. But that’s why it’s important that Progressives like ourselves keep that message in our hearts and keep on making it. Until either they get it, or we elect people who believe it from the start, the Democratic majority will never be truly stable, and truly progressive.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 21, 2010 1:48 PM
Comment #294357

Stephen, your party missed the boat and opportunity to change the rule of 60 votes in the Senate. Priorities, Stephen, priorities. Your and the other party have them all screwed up, like that pork laden budget your party passed in a time of record debt and deficits, like the contributions your party’s representatives are taking from wealthy special interest corporations including the financial sector, like the banking bailouts without conditions.

I am pleased to see that Obama finally gets it that he shouldn’t be listening to Summers and Geithner about financial sector reforms, but, to Paul Voelker who took the political blame for rescuing this nation from hyperinflation through painful monetary measures. Often the cure for what ails you will bring a lot of discomfort. But, you end up with a new lease on life for having suffered it.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 22, 2010 11:46 AM
Comment #294524


“Roughly seventeen dollars more in every Paycheck, starting in April, for the entire rest of the year. Obama saved me hundreds of dollars”

don’t know what bracket you’re in, but you got a bigger tax cut from bush. BTW at the end of this year that bracket reduction you now enjoy will vanish unless renewed. so you will face a 33%, or 25% income tax increase, depending on which bracket you fall into. assuming you’re not in the top bracket.

Posted by: dbs at January 24, 2010 6:35 PM
Comment #294576


Why don’t the Democrats force the filibuster? It has worked before (in fact usually works).

Posted by: Rob at January 25, 2010 10:39 PM
Comment #294959

Congress will help resolve conflicts between states relating to boundaries, jurisdiction and other issues, but only as a last resort.

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Comment #375138

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