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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Profiles in Hubris

I’m down in Georgia for an extended Thanksgiving holiday with family, so the shenanigans in Washington seem a little remote. But when the wind blows south, I can catch a distinct whiff of Republican hubris, which smells like brimstone inadequately covered by overpriced perfume.
Last week we all gazed in awe at the House GOP’s passage of the DeLay Rule, which proffered the unprecedented idea that Republicans in Washington had the power to decide which state legal proceedings were legitimate or not.
This was followed by the passage of one of those obnoxious omnibus appropriations bills that treat all investments of taxpayers’ dollars as pretty much identical knots on rolling logs. There’s no telling how many legislative stinkbombs were included in this unread and undebated mess of a bill, though thanks to vigilant Democratic staffers and Josh Marshall, we do know about a provision sponsored by the reliably scary Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK), which would allow the chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees access to anybody’s federal tax returns.
And for dessert, House Republicans decided to block action on a desperately needed intelligence reform bill, loosely modeled on the 9/11 commission recommendations, because they wanted to protect the turf of the massive, shadowy, and unaccountable proliferation of intelligence operations being run out of the Pentagon.
But the supreme act of hubris is now under consideration by Republican Senators: the first modification of filibuster rules in 20 years, and the most significant enhancement of raw majority power in the Senate since 1917. Republicans, of course, had no problem with filibusters, and often used them, until the moment when (1) they gained control of the White House and both Houses of Congress, and (b) their top priority became stocking the federal judiciary with conservative judges requiring Senate confirmation.
There are hundreds of legitimate arguments for and against the Senate tradition of unlimited debate, and the limited but real power of the minority to slow down legislation and force compromise through actual or threatened filibusters. But there’s no question that the power of a party controlling both executive and legislative branches to control another branch for decades through a host of lifetime appointments to the federal bench is one of those contingencies that make filibusters respectable. And the willingness of today’s Republicans to throw out more than two centuries of precedent, and subject the Senate to raw majority power like the House, makes you wonder how they can continue to call themselves “conservative.”

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