Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Why You Should Care about the Gorsuch Confirmation

I am sure you, like me, are watching the Neil Gorsuch Supreme Court nomination drama with ghoulish fascination.  As you probably know, the Republicans are threatening to go "nuclear" by reinterpreting Senate rules (changing procedure) to allow a majority vote to end debate. This would allow the Republicans to end the Democrats' filibuster going on right now, and effectively make it possible for a majority vote to decide a Supreme Court nomination.

This controversy seems like a Hatfield-McCoy dispute.  Tit-for-tat, a never ending escalation, dating back to who-knows-when.  The last "nuclear" trigger was pulled by Harry Reid to allow majority vote to end debate on judicial nominations short of the Supreme Court.  Didn't take long for the Republicans to go the next step, prompted by lingering Democrat rage over McConnell's plan to not consider the nomination of Merrick Garland last year and their intent to retaliate against Gorsuch.  Notably, McConnell's idea was first made by Joe Biden in the 90's.

Don't assign black hats and white hats here.  You can see that this is an oscillating drama with no good guys, just viciousness and no consideration for us.  You know, the public.

The WSJ recaps the sorry descent into hell:

"The rise in partisanship has fed an escalating feud between the parties over how to use the Senate’s procedural tools to keep the other side in check. Democrats, when in the Senate minority during President George W. Bush’s presidency, sought to block a set of Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees before the Gang of 14 agreement defused the tension. The parliamentary arms race between the parties has just continued since 2005,” said Sarah Binder, a senior fellow specializing in Congress at the Brookings Institution. “Minorities exploit the rules and majorities find new ways to restrict those new avenues. Later, when Republicans were in the minority, their opposition to some of then-President Barack Obama’s judicial and executive nominees helped push Democrats, led by former Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, to change the chamber’s rules in 2013. That change enabled the Senate to approve lower-court and executive nominees with just a simple majority. Then last year, Republicans, back in control of the Senate, refused to hold a hearing for Merrick Garland , Mr. Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court after Justice Antonin Scalia died in February. That stoked anger among liberal voters, who pressed Democratic senators this year to oppose Mr. Gorsuch. The pressure from Democratic voters also was driven by resistance to Mr. Trump’s inflammatory comments and early actions in office. This is like a troubled relationship where everybody has a grievance and everybody has a little bit of a reason to be angry, but the question becomes, what do we do next?” said Sen. Schatz of Hawaii."

Sadly and dangerously, the WSJ notes that we can still fall deeper down this hole:

"However, lawmakers from both parties say there is no appetite now for changing the 60-vote threshold for procedural hurdles on most legislation. GOP lawmakers have said Mr. Reid’s decision to change the rules in 2013 paved the road for their alteration later this week. The consequences of the 2013 rules change became evident this year, when Mr. Trump’s nominees, many of whom were contentious, cleared the Senate often along largely partisan lines."

This is the threat you should be worried about, a lot. The Senate's procedural rules are a valuable check-and-balance against "Majoritarianism". The concept that we should always do what the Majority wants is extremely dangerous. The issues that arise are very threatening to all of us.  As a minority, I am particularly averse to Majoritarianism.  Issues of personal liberty and individual rights are directly threatened by this, and not to be melodramatic, but those are critical issues that define what makes America great. The inconvenient roadblocks in the Senate protect us all. Stripping them away in a Hatfield-McCoy style dispute injures us all, considerably.

As it relates to the Border Adjustment Tax, consider what makes this terrible proposal hard to translate into legislation and law. The Republicans are only able to push tax reform through as part of reconciliation, a Senate procedure that severely constrains the terms in the law. Reconciliation is valuable because debate can be terminated with a majority vote. Connecting the dots yet?  

If debate on legislation can be ended by majority vote, this rule can easily change - right now.  A block of cooperating Republicans in the House and Senate, backed by the White House, can do whatever they like, with no obstacles. This makes Trump a King, not a President. Democrats in Congress would have no role until their power can be restored by the voters, then they would set about doing what the Republicans are doing right now, namely tearing down what the last guy did.

Yoyo-ing laws and regulations will come at a terrible cost to all of us.  We should care, a LOT, about this pending change in rules in the Senate.  There's no point in my calling my Illinois Senators, they are both Democrats so we know where they stand.  If you live in a state with a Republican Senator or Senators, I suggest you write them and call them today to protest this change in rule.  I also suggest you organize groups of people, large groups of people, to also do this today. We can only stop this by group action as voters.

This is serious.  Your actions can make a difference.

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