Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Happy New Year, now back to partisan shenanigans

This first week of the new year saw the opening of the 109th Congress, with the customary rhetoric about reaching across the aisle and working with the other party. But before the perfunctory platitudes had finished echoing in the Senate chamber, Majority Leader Frist was already threatening to tamper with "Rule 22" (that's Washington-speak for what has been called the "nuclear option" of eliminating the filibuster). So much for a fresh bi-partisan start to the new session.

Whenever anyone in Congress starts talking about changing procedural rules, watch out. The motivations are rarely noble. In the Senate, some wise man a long time ago made the rule that you need a 2/3 majority to change the rules. That's because whenever the majority party wants to change the rules, it's a sure sign of partisan shenanigans. But since the Congress seems so intent on rewriting the rules, I'd like to propose an UpWord rule change that would improve the quality of deliberations.

Senate Rule 22.1: A motion of cloture may be passed by either one of the following methods:
(a) a 2/3 majority vote of the full Senate
(b) a simple majority of the majority party senators PLUS
a simple majority of the minority party senators
Federal judicial appointments are for life (and please don't go mucking with that!), so they should be considered very carefully. Extremists of any ideology should be avoided. Prudence dictates only confirming those candidates who can command broad bipartisan acceptance. If any 34 (let alone 40) senators have qualms about a judicial nominee, that should be good enough reason to skip them.

The way the senators rant and rave about the "obstructionism" of the minority party filibusters (and keep in mind the exact same rants were coming from the Democrats when the Republicans were "obstructing" some of Clinton's nominees), you'd think it was difficult to find well-qualified judges who can pass the 60% muster. With the headline focus on ten filibustered nominees, it's easy to forget that around two hundred nominees were confirmed. President Bush has an over .900 batting average on judicial nominees! "Going nuclear" over the small percentage of nominees that fail to garner broad acceptance is just plain petulant, not to mention a disservice to the American public. If Senator Frist believed an iota of the bi-partisan rhetoric he put out, he would take the UpWord path of choosing to focus on the 90% success rate, and work with the President to find just a few more judges like the two hundred that got confirmed.

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