Sometimes my two year old daughter tells me no, repeatedly, in a way that reminds me that she clearly misunderstands the balance of power in our relationship. As a result of events and decisions entirely outside of her control, she is the child and I am the parent. The power and decision-making process is a relatively one-way street. Now of course my wife and I have instituted strategies that maximize her involvement in what we think is a positive way. I can’t imagine that such a thing is all that different for many parents. So when I think about a life where my two year old has somehow gained the ability to thwart my decisions I shudder. It would be awful. Nothing would get done.
Which brings me to this:
The Senate on Thursday took up the nomination of Richard Cordray, President Obama’s choice to lead the new consumer protection board. It did not vote to confirm him. The outcome isn’t at all surprising. But it’s important to take a step back and understand just what is happening here, because Republicans aren’t simply weakening consumer protection. They’re also weakening American democracy.
Jonathan Cohn is speaking of the modern day version of this dirty, loaded with juicy historical goodness, word: Nullification. While the idea of nullification is historically represented in the Nullification Crisis, Cohn argues that we’re essentially seeing its contemporary in the U.S. Senate:
I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating. When a minority of senators use the power to block votes over confirmation in order to undermine a law – a law that they lack the votes (or presidential support) to overturn – that’s not the way things are supposed to work in our system. It’s the “normalization of extortion politics,” as Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly has called it. It’s also, as Brookings historian and constitutional expert Thomas Mann once said, a “modern-day form of nullification.”
The Senate actually voted to precede with a vote on the conformation for Cordray, by a simple majority of 53 votes. The Republicans promised, though of course not actually exercised, a filibuster on the conformation vote. Thus we can see the consequences of a de-facto supermajority requirement for nearly every piece of legislation in this Congress.
The reason we’re talking about Republicans is because they are currently, and have been since mid-term’s of ’06, the minority party in the Senate. It is not unfair or biased to point out that cloture votes have skyrocket since, you guessed it, 2006.
Of course you’ll recognize an upward trend beginning in the 1970’s. So in the spirit of poxing, yes, it has been a tactic employed by both parties. Yet I can’t help, as others have noted, that it’s especially troubling when a minority party uses the filibuster threat to impede the law of the land. James Fallows notes (my emphasis in bold):
This week’s thwarted vote represented a further step in Constitutional revision, in that the minority was not simply trying to keep a bill from being passed. Instead they were openly trying to keep an already-approved piece of legislation from taking effect — they were nullifying it. To simplify the story: the legislation in question established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, often described as Elizabeth Warren’s brainchild. President Obama shied from nominating Warren herself, who had become “polarizing.” The Republicans have nothing against the replacement nominee, Richard Cordray, except that they don’t want his agency to exist. Thus the blocked vote on his nomination.
Of course Congress has other ways of impeding established laws, most notably refusing to provide funds, yet those practices don’t have the effect of redefining the Constitutional framework for the Senate itself.
I’m starting to see a trend here, perhaps something I’ll call the “Election Loser Complex,” and from which I can actually quote myself from a previous piece:
This whole issue strikes me as one of those times when the framework of the status quo doesn’t benefit the minority party. Thus, like the inherent unfairness of life, we see a decidedly short-memory desire to change the rules to better circumvent the (un)fair benefits of winning elections. As usually, when those desires are so fulfilled, they usually become regrets when the minority party regains control.
Eventually, if I’m lucky enough, my daughter will be making decisions for me after a long and hopefully positive life. I’ll have to accept this fact as a result of something beyond my control (aging), and learn to make the best of it because life goes on and things still need to get done. I can’t help but think that some people, and their respective parties, need to heed the same lesson when they lose elections and are no longer in control. Because the country moves on and things still need to get done.