Removing The Obstacles

by digby

Ezra Klein has posted an interview today with my congressman Henry Waxman in which they discuss one of the most fundamental problems we face in trying to pass needed legislation:

KLEIN: ... Even with a popular new president and a large House majority and 60 Democrats in the Senate, it seems unlikely we'll actually solve these underlying problems. We might get legislation. But it's not likely to avert the existence-level fiscal threat from health-care reform or the existence level environmental threat from climate change. But if not now, then when? And if Congress can't respond to challenges of that magnitude, doesn't it suggest that something is quite wrong?

WAXMAN: I think we need to be open-minded and think about the possibility in changes of process as well as policies. We shouldn't be so burdened by the past that we can't face the future. The seniority system in the House was traditionally dictated by members who didn't like the speaker having so much power over the committees. But when I came to Congress, if you were the senior member, you became chairman no matter how competent you were, no matter how in sync you were with the majority caucus. That was enormously advantageous for many of the Dixiecrats who remained Democrat for that reason, to take advantage of the seniority, but who aligned themselves on policy with the Republicans, and created a situation where even when Democrats had large margins, there was this sort of Southern Democrat-Republican coalition that ruled.

The fight by Sam Rayburn to allow the Rules Committee to be controlled by the leadership was an enormous and brutal fight, but a necessary one. The chairman before that time was Judge Smith from Virginia, who wouldn't let civil rights legislation go to the House floor because he was a segregationist himself. That meant that even when the Judiciary Committee proposed a bill for civil rights, members of the House couldn't vote on it.

There are anti-democratic rules that need to be changed. In some ways, the filibuster is an issue we might want to look at more closely. It is a two-edged sword. But I come from California, where to pass a budget you need a two-thirds vote. And they've been unable to pass a budget for years now able to deal with the fiscal problems. And it has thrown the state into chaos because they can't get the two-thirds vote.

The filibuster used to be a two-thirds requirement, and it wasn't until 1975 that they changed it to 60 votes. Well, that was a move in the right direction. For sure

Ezra points out that the filibuster affects legislation in more ways than one because the House anticipates the the Senate's reaction as well.

The filibuster and other arcane undemocratic processes are issues that should be addressed. if we can assume that we are entering an era of progressive possibilities, and knowing that we saddled with a conservative judiciary, it becomes important to have the legislative branch working with fewer impediments.