Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman called in his New York Times column today for revising the rules on the filibuster.
We need to take on the way the Senate works. The filibuster, and the
need for 60 votes to end debate, aren’t in the Constitution. They’re a
Senate tradition, and that same tradition said that the threat of
filibusters should be used sparingly. Well, Republicans have already
trashed the second part of the tradition: look at a list of cloture
motions over time, and you’ll see that since the G.O.P. lost control of
Congress it has pursued obstructionism on a literally unprecedented
scale. So it’s time to revise the rules.
A voice of the progressive establishment, Krugman also urged liberals to pass the health care bill for reasons that I wholly concur. While it's erosion has been disappointing, the social welfare program it creates will provide health coverage to tens of millions of Americans and the limits on health insurer coverage exclusion policies are a step forward. The one caveat for me is amendments to the bill cannot take away existing consumer protections or it won't be worth passing.
Krugman says the progressive strategy should be pass the bill now, change the filibuster later. His voice lends credibility to both movements, and hopefully will get progessive donors thinking hard about making a filibuster revise a condition of their donations. Afterall, money talks in the Democratic party as much as anywhere.
The erosion of health care reform and the power the current legislation retains for insurers is deeply troubling. As the Los Angeles Times reports today, if a bill passes, there will be years of opportunity to fix what we don't like in the bill and regulate the insurers before its implementation in 2014. States will have another bite at the apple, and so will a Senate that hopefully has more democratic rules. If the legislation dies, it's likely there will be no health care debate for another decade.
That's not appeasement, it's a simple pragmatic fact about the balance of power. Insurers win either way, but they win bigger if they are subjected to continued scrutiny, which is why they are trying to defeat the legislation at every turn.
I've gotten a lot of hate mail from both sides of the aisle since first urging a reversal of the filibuster as a way of strengthening health reform. The negative notes are of two stripes: 1) the filibuster will protect gridlock when Democrats have fewer numbers and progressives will need it later to stop tyranny of the majority 2) the health care bill is a piece of crap, so why are you fighting for it to survive.
Krugman's column is an answer on both issues that I believe in.
The populist in me believes that doing what 60% of Americans want is only possible when there's something closer to majority rule in the US Senate. I trust the values of the majority of Americans more than the values of the minority of Senators. Yes, a filibuster rule change could come back and bite us when the numbers are different. But public opinion is still a check on the wrong type of policies. And the filibuster won't save the Democrats if they don't deliver on the biggest issues of our time, including jobs, because they won't have 40 votes in the US Senate if they don't create the change they promised.
Any way you look at it, there's risk. But without risk, you know the saying... there's no chance.