Saturday, August 7, 2010

The world's greatest do-little body

Learning a new thing is such a hoot. Today I learned that the word "filibuster" comes from vrijbuiter - old Dutch for "looter."

"Looter," of course, is a pejorative term, one we tend to feel is perfectly appropriate when we - and a majority of the Senate - favor a bill that is being delayed by the minority. We must remember, however, what Senate old-timers would say to young, reform-minded new-comers: "You've never been in the minority."

Anyway, I picked up my latest bit of etymology in a New Yorker article by George Packer detailing how the U.S. Senate has become a steaming pile of delay, obstructionism, and inability to address issues vital to our country.

Packer's long piece shows with excruciating clarity the year-and-a-half Senate battle leading to the narrow passage of health-care reform and financial regulatory reform. But he points out that filibusters hardly exhaust senatorial obstruction. In this session, for instance, 345 bills passed by the House never have been allowed to come to a debate in the Senate. Meanwhile, 76 nominees for judgeships and executive appointments approved by Senate committees have been blocked from a full-Senate vote.

Packer warns that the passage of health and regulatory reform depended on special circumstances - like a strong Democratic majority and a president with an electoral mandate - that may not be repeated. Two days after regulatory reform was passed, it was announced that the Senate would not address comprehensive energy reform legislation for the rest of the year.

Let me quote some of the article's final words: "And so climate change legislation joined immigration, job creation, food safety, pilot training, veterans' care, campaign finance, transportation security. labor law, mine safety, wildfire management, and scores of executive and judicial appointments on the list of matters that the world's greatest deliberative body is incapable of addressing."

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