Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Filibuster: a tale of two charts

An article by Ezra Klein at WaPo talks about the filibuster--as used in the United States Senate--and the current effort underway to abolish it's use, via the Supreme Court. The effort is being spearheaded by one Emmet Bondurant--whose bona fides Klein is quick to establish--in the form of a lawsuit he has filed that maintains the practice is unconstitutional.

Bondurant--working with the non-profit org Common Cause--makes a fair case. Here's the lawsuit, as filed in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. The lawsuit cites the opinions of people like Madison and Hamilton (see pages 28-30 of the lawsuit)--both of whom objected to the idea of a super-majority as a standard feature--and noted quite rightly that super-majorities were ordained by the Constitution in exceptional situations, like Impeachment votes and votes to override Presidential vetoes (see page 26 of the same).

But then the lawsuit cites a graph, essentially this graph:


Quite clearly, the graph show a dramatic increase in Cloture votes--the means of stopping a filibuster--beginning in the 1970's (the most important line is the green one, by the way). The number of such votes has trended up fairly dramatically since then. And this is a critical element of the lawsuit. Bondurant et al are arguing that the threat of filibuster has become so common as to make it impossible for the Senate to function, in a day-to-day basis. Oddly enough, though, the Stimulus Bill and the Obamacare legislation still managed to become the laws of the land. And Sotomayor and Kagan still managed to ascend to the bench on the Supreme Court.

But I promised another chart in the title, so let's get to it. Here it is, from Jay Cost at the Weekly Standard:


Now, what does this chart have to do with the other, you may ask (its the red line we're worried about, in this second graph)? Well, what this chart shows is a steady increase in entitlement spending per capita. And the moments when it bumps up to a new level correspond to jumps in invoked clotures. What this suggests is that part of the reason for more and more filibusters, year in and year out, is a more and more out of control Congress, when it comes to spending and the like.

Much like the Republican backlash misinterpreted by Todd Purdum, this--the growth of filibusters--is a reactionary response to a steadily growing problem. In fact, this kind of reactionary response has even manifested itself in the Office of the President, in the form of Signing Statements. Remember the brouhaha over those, during the Bush years? But, like filibusters, signing statement usage has been on the rise since Reagan took office. We're told it's because evil conservative Presidents want to undo the will of the people, as expressed by Congress, but the reverse is never considered: the growth of signing statements reflects the growth of Congressional overreach, the growth of more and greater intrusive, freedom-sapping government regulations.

Taken together--the growth of entitlement spending and the growth of government regulations--is it really surprising that tools like the filibuster and the signing statement are being used more frequently than ever before? There's an easy way to limit filibuster usage, in my opinion: limit the growth of the Federal Government.

Oh, and before I forget, the lawsuit against the filibuster has zero chance of succeeding.

Cheers, all.

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