Dec 14, 2009

Breaking: Journalist Mad at U.S. System for Working the Way It Was Designed to Work

In the Guardian today, a guy named Michael Tomasky has written an article about why Americans shouldn’t blame President Obama for the morass of a healthcare debate that has been going on for the last three weeks in the Senate, but instead should blame the ‘broken political system’.

Now, I’m only going to mention in passing the idiocy of the premise that if an American president (who, no less, until last January was a member of the Senate, so should presumably know how it works) can’t get a bill through Congress that it isn’t the fault of his inept leadership or the substance of the bill, but is instead ‘the process’. That’s too obvious.

No, instead, I’m going to pass that and go straight for the other reasons that Mr. Tomasky’s argument is illogical and ill-considered. It should be expected that someone writing to the British audience of the Guardian would have the ability to explain how, exactly, the American system is different than the U.K. Parliament. Parliaments are expedient, combining the legislative and executive branches into the office of the Prime Minister. If the PM can get a majority in the House of Commons, then he has a law. The U.S. doesn’t quite work the same way. There are four hurdles to pass in America: (i) the House of Representatives, (ii) the Senate, (iii) the final, post-conference bill in the House and Senate, and (iv) the President. Mr. Tomasky seems, on a cursory glance, to get that. He mentions that “the system has always ensured that the minority party has certain rights and that the executive branch cannot just muscle through Congress any old thing that it wants. Our founders wanted a system that moved slowly.” He thinks that now it’s at a standstill, and that’s the fault of the system. Perhaps he wasn’t around for George W. Bush managing to pass No Child Left Behind or the PATRIOT Act or Medicare Part D or the Iraq War Resolution or TARP. Perhaps he wasn’t around for Obama’s $787 Stimulus. It seems to me like Congress is doing a fine job of passing laws--just not the healthcare bill that he wants so badly.

However, let’s ignore his ignorance and take him at his level.

First, he goes on about the filibuster. Yes, it’s true-the filibuster was rarely used throughout most of our history, saved only for high-profile bills. In recent days, it is put forward all the time, making it impossible to get any substantive bill through the Senate without 60 votes. He tries to blame this on an intransigent Republican minority. However, the last time I counted, Democrats have 60 votes in the Senate, making any Republican opposition utterly meaningless. Even with every single Republican voting against a measure, Democrats should be able to get it through. If they can’t, that’s not a failure of the rules of the Senate; that’s a failure of the Democratic party. I’ll bet his tune would change if there were 51 votes for a bill destroying Social Security. Maybe then, he’d view the filibuster as the gift of the democracy gods, preserving the precious rights of the minority. That’s the problem with arguments against the filibuster; nine times out of ten, they simply come from people whining about the difficulty passing their pet bills. The hypocrisy is astounding. Of course, it’s unfair to indict Mr. Tomasky for something he didn’t say, but I’m sure if I went through the annals of his articles, I’d find nothing arguing against the Democrats’ use of the filibuster on Bush’s judicial nominees.

Moving on, Mr. Tomasky, does admit that “Obama’s problems are not limited to Republicans, of course.” He then bemoans the difficulty of getting the last few votes before 60 and how it is possible for a few Senators to “dictate terms in exchange for their votes.” Isn’t that what’s always been the case in both houses for all bills? Senators (and Representatives, for that matter) vote for a bill for two reasons. Those on the fence-especially in the case of this healthcare bill-are dictating their terms because they want to get reelected (Lincoln, D-AR; Landrieu, D-LA), they disagree with substantive portions of the bill (Lieberman, I-CT; Snowe, R-ME), or both (Nelson, D-NE). “But why won’t they just give it up and vote for a bill that they think is bad and that will cost them their seats?” Mr. Tomasky foolishly implies. Is the answer really that hard to understand?

Finally, he makes a huff about “the nature of the GOP opposition.” There are only ten real moderates in the GOP, he asserts. Now, even if we assume that Michael Tomasky’s definition of ‘moderate’ truly is moderate (which it most certainly is not), it’s a moot point once again. There are over 218 Democrats in the House, meaning that Democrats can pass anything they please without any Republicans. I repeat, Democrats also have 60 votes in the Senate, making them able to pass anything with nary a conservative vote. Any hardships President Obama’s bill is suffering stem fundamentally from his own party not being able to get itself in order. To claim that the American system is ‘broken’ because of that is just plain wrong.

Oh, and maybe congressmen are also against it because the public hates it. Imagine the United States Congress actually listening to the people! If we're not careful, some people might start to think that we live in a democracy...

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