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April 18, 2005
The Politics Of Impatience

In the ongoing debate about the lengthy GOP hesitation in forcing a vote on the filibuster rule change, many people have written about politics being the art of the possible, and the unreasonableness of expectation that legislation can get passed in the first 90 days of a new session. Mark Noonan at GOP Bloggers probably wrote it best:

Now, what do we conservatives (many of whom are highly upset right now) want? We want taxes reduced massively; we want the War on Terrorism won; we want Social Security privatised; we want abortion at least highly restricted if not banned outright; we want prayer back in public schools; we want tort reform; we want regulatory reform; we want increased nuclear power and oil drilling; we want our borders secured; we want illegal immigrants deported; we want government spending to be heavily cut; we want conservative judges to be approved yesterday...pretty simple, right? The President and the GOP leadership in Congress should just be able to whistle up the implementation of all this tomorrow, right?

Of course that is wrong; and you all know its wrong. Politics doesn't work that way. To get incensed that in April of 2005 (ie, not three months into the second term in which President Bush said that Social Security would be the main domestic priority) that the borders aren't airtight against illegals is absurd; to get incensed that President Bush hasn't managed to push through reform on a 60 year old American political icon (Social Security) in 60 days is absurd; to get incensed that the GOP Senate leadership hasn't successfully concluded the battle over judicial filibusters in 60 days is absurd...things take time; and in politics, they generally take a lot of time.

I would agree with most of what Mark writes here. Most legislative priorities don't even take written form until the session opens, as prmary sponsors look for partners across the aisle first to hammer out language that will gain bipartisan support. (Of course, this usually happens at the staff level.) It takes time to get through leadership of both parties, debate over tactics, and so on. Social Security reform is an excellent example. First identified as a serious legislative priority during the presidential campaign, the bill has yet to take form because the President wants a debate first on (almost) all possibilities for reform first. The border situation provides a less-understandable example; the 9/11 Commission identified the US-Mexico border as a gaping security issue, and for years prior to that, the GOP has demanded the tightening of security and better enforcement against illegal immigration.

However, the point missed by Noonan and others is that the filibuster isn't legislation at all -- it's a rule change. It doesn't require a legislative draft or process, it does not need committee hearings, and GOP leadership hardly needs to consult with Harry Reid to see if he'll support it. No better example of the difference can be found than the first 90 minutes of the 1995 Congress, when Newt Gingrich and his new Republican majority in the House pushed through not just one but several significant rule changes designed to reform Congress, most of which are still in place, if not all. It took Newt 90 minutes and a spine to make these changes.

The filibuster rule change is just the same. It doesn't take 90 days to think about, send through subcommittee and committee, and schedule for a vote weeks or months into the future. This change had a mandate from the electorate equivalent to the Contract with America in 1994, as the 2004 election resulted in an eight-seat swing to the GOP, whose national campaign for Senators relied heavily on voter anger on obstructionism.

Now, 90 days later, Frist and the GOP leadership has allowed that mandate to dissipate -- and they risk further erosion by pushing it off further into the summer or even later. In the meantime, the courts with the empty appellate seats continue to sit empty, further clogging the court system (and amplifying the influence of previous appointees), as well as leaving the currently embargoed nominees twisting in the wind. And with the GOP acting as if they're ashamed of their own selections for the bench, these fine jurists will eventually get the message and walk away with disgust -- and the entire exercise will have to start from scratch.

Compromise and middle ground have become a fantasy for the weak-kneed in the GOP leadership. The only preparation needed to move this question is to schedule Vice President Cheney's appearance in the Senate to handle the motion. True leadership results in creating the environment needed for success, not just laying back and waiting for the stars to align properly. If Frist can provide leadership, let this be the test. If he can't, he needs to step aside and let someone else handle the job -- perhaps George Allen or Kay Bailey Hutchinson. But let's quit pretending that delay buys anything but retreat on this rule change.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 18, 2005 6:41 AM

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after the reading of the day, and the comments of the weekend, this remains a very serious debate, even if we will win. Why? - because of the tactics and arguments used by the opposition in this debate. Since when does faith negate one's opinion on a... [Read More]

Tracked on April 19, 2005 9:05 AM

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