Setting the Record Straight

September 8, 2008

Whose Washington?

 ‘Maverick’ Chasing Own Tail
     Have you heard the McCain ads that blame something called “Washington” for our ills? This “Washington” is called the Bush administration and McCain (as he says in an ad) voted with Bush 90 percent of the time.
     A McCain ad famously says Democrats will bring us a string of deficits. What McCain forgets is that George Bush, whom many call the worst president in history, inherited a huge surplus from Bill Clinton–a surplus that prom- ised to reduce dramatically the national debt and its accompanying payment costs–and frittered it away on tax breaks for the rich and powerful and on a futile and stupid war.
     Yes, in the short run, a Democratic administration may be forced into a period of deficit spending just to repair some of the Bush damage, but Obama promises to rearrange the ill-thought Bush tax cuts so that the middle class benefits and the rich and super-rich pay much more. This rearrangement is what McCain calls increasing taxes.
     The other thing we must remember is that when people refer to a “do-nothing Congress,” they are forgetting who wields the power in the final analysis.
     Because of his veto power, a president can engineer virtually whatever legislation he wants if the a house of Congress is closely divided. To overcome the veto power of the president, two-thirds of those present and voting in each house must vote to override a veto.
    More importantly, for more than 20 years the Senate has lacked a “super majority” of 60 to overcome a threat of filibuster any senator can launch. And the Republican minority, for the past 40 years, but par- ticularly in the past two years, has not been shy about using that legislation-blocking device.
     With the Senate elections this time around, neither party is likely to reach a super majority last enjoyed in 1978, by the Democrats. The Democratic party may get closer to that number, but it has not had anywhere near that strength since it gained a one-vote majority in the Senate in 2006, thanks to now-independent Joe Lieberman who is not likely to be wel- comed, much less vote for a Democratic majority on Jan. 3.

What Gets Things Done

     The minority party in Congress, primarily in the U.S. Senate, invariably complains about a “do-nothing Congress.” The complaint is lodged for partisan purposes, but it actually is a legitimate one these days.
     Although presidential candidates on the stump tell you what they “will” do, almost none of it will happen without the agreement of Congress. The two most active periods in Congress in the last half century were in the mid-1960s when civil rights, anti-poverty, Medicare and other significant laws were passed and the mid-1970s when ethics reform and alternative energy laws were passed.
     It is no accident both of those periods had a U.S. Senate in which the majority party, Democrats, had at least 60 members.
     Without enough votes to shut off a filibuster (these days, the threat of a filibuster) the Senate is handcuffed on partisan issues.
     The Senate will never change that rule because it would have to have that “super-majority” to do so, and if it had that big a majority, why do so.
     The only answer is to elect enough members of the same party to have a majority in each house and in the Senate, to give that majority at least 60 seats. Only then will Congress, and the president, be able to “get things done,” i.e., change.

     Senate Super-Majorities


     Ironically, the successes of the Democratic majority in 1964 severely weakened the party. The civil rights legislation led most members of Congress from the South, traditionally Democrats, to switch parties, and they have never switched back.




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