Obama Supporters Pursue a Flawed Majoritarian Argument

Stephanie Miller, an otherwise very savvy political progressive, but burdened with an inability to see virtually any fault in the performance of President Barack Obama, has lately focused on the lack of a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate as a major reason for failing to pass more promised legislation. She says that beginning with the hospitalization of Senator Ted Kennedy and his subsequent death, the Democrats had the 60 votes to break a filibuster for less than 50 days and that was insufficient time to pass major legislation.

There is a major flaw in Stephanie Miller’s contention and that of like-minded supporters: the flaw is that the majority party in a newly elected Senate has the power and the authority to set its own rules as to how Senate business will be conducted. Instead of ruling out a filibuster on an introduction of a bill and then requiring that opponents of a bill hold the Senate floor to actually filibuster, the Democratic Senate leadership shelved any bill that the Senate minority leader said he had the 41 votes to sustain a filibuster.

While an actual filibuster was taking place, Senate majority leader Harry Reid could have called a press conference at noon every day and pointed out how a minority of senators were preventing consideration of the public’s business. Although the U.S. public is not notable for active involvement in the the law-making process in Washington DC, it doesn’t have a great tolerance for a clear minority of senators preventing any business from being done in the U.S. Senate.

I retain images from the past of cots being set up in Senate chambers and senators reading recipes and reciting from telephone books because they could only filibuster on final votes, and had to continuously hold the Senate floor.

As for the U.S. House of Representatives, a common contention of apologists for Obama and Democratic legislative failures is that prior to January 2011, Blue Dog Democrats, allied with a rock-solid Republican minority, could block any legislation proposed by Obama and the Democratic leadership. Some Blue Dogs were bluer than others and some of the Blue Dog opposition was centered on taxation issues, or possibly abortion. Moreover, the House Speaker and Democratic leadership could have punished recalcitrant Blue Dogs by denying them coveted committee assignments and blocking their pet legislative projects.

Much of the blame for legislative failures is attributable to the Democratic leadership in Congress not effectively using the tools at its disposal; President Obama’s weakness as a negotiator; and Obama’s sharp changes of position, such as on the Bush tax cuts and the public option on healthcare reform.

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