coakley, brown, and health care

I’m not sure how to call today’s Coakley/Brown race in Massachusetts, largely because of the difficulty of predicting turnout and, even more so, the reactivity of polls based on turnout predictions. But I’m intrigued by the thread around talk radio and the ‘net that health care reform is “dead” if Coakley loses.All this is based on the magic 60-seat so-called supermajority in the Senate. There’s debate over whether the filibuster rule is democratic, constitutional, good, etc. and there’s thinking over whether Democrats might use reconciliation, propose that the House simply pass the Senate bill as written in order to avoid having to return to the Senate, and even that it be rushed through the Senate in the two weeks or so it will take before Massachusetts can certify the winner of the election.

I have two questions here. First: why doesn’t a filibuster involve actually filibustering any more? The filibuster is the parliamentary equivalent of putting your body in front of a train. It is supposed to be the last-ditch opportunity for a Senator to put his or her body, her time, on the line to block legislation s/he thinks will be a disaster. Why not make the suckers stand up there, use the time, work their bodies, do the things that make the filibuster more than a symbol? So long as the filibuster is entirely subjunctive–a promise to filibuster if legislation is introduced–it becomes a coward’s symbol, evacuated of its corporeal power.

Second: what, exactly, has the 60-seat “supermajority” done for the Democrats? In order to preserve this supposedly magic number, the Dems have been at the whim of Republicans in Democratic clothing like Lieberman and Nelson, who insured that the health care reform bill would be stripped of many of its central elements. If the 60-vote magic number is out of reach anyway, maybe that’s actually better for health care reform, because it would reduce the value of these right-wing “Democrats'” votes. Go back, drop the compromises to Lieberman and Nelson, take it back to the American people, and put it forward. (Joan Tronto has a letter to the NYT that makes this case, as did Jon Stewart last night.)

Author: andrewperrin

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

3 thoughts on “coakley, brown, and health care”

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