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An accomplishment?

Jul 18, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

The Senate has little to boast about from Monday's filibuster deal

Anyone who follows the work of the U.S. Senate these days, regardless of political inclination, surely would agree that the upper house of Congress is dysfunctional in the extreme.

This week's brokered agreement that will largely preserve the often-abused filibuster rules in the Senate is being counted by the members as an alternative to the awful partisan gridlock that has all but ruined a fine institution in the eyes of the public.

Actually, it is simply another example of it.

The filibuster, conceived and created in the earliest days of the Republic to be used as a last resort against majority tyranny, is now employed so often to block action on ordinary legislation that it has become the standard procedure of the Senate.

These abuses can be compared to a regular customer coming into his local coffee shop, pulling a gun, and pointing it at the head of the clerk across the counter every time he wants to buy a simple cup of joe. What once was an ordinary $1 transaction has become an armed confrontation.

The current Senate majority, which happens to be the Democrats, got so fed up with this misuse of procedure that its leaders devised a way to restrict the filibuster severely, and they threatened to do it this week. While Democrats used the filibuster more than they should have when they were in the minority for a while during the Bush administration, Republican senators battling President Obama's administration have raised the filibuster to a fine art of the absurd. Were Democrats to return to the minority, they probably would continue the terrible trend out of spite, if for no other reason.

Debated this week was whether it would be better to have no filibuster at all, essentially, than for it to be invoked so often. Some last-minute bartering avoided that so-called "nuclear option," and the deal was hailed by many senators as a triumph of bipartisan cooperation.

Truly, though, it didn't do all that much. President Obama's side caved in and withdrew two of the nominees who have been filibustered for almost two years rather than be approved for their intended offices. Republicans, in turn, immediately agreed to confirm Richard Cordray to lead the new consumer protection cabinet position, even though he had been the nominee opposed most vehemently via filibuster. Suddenly, within an hour, he was approved almost unanimously. It makes one wonder what all the fuss about these nominees had been about.

Left in place are most of the filibuster options that have been used by both parties over the past decade for obstructionary purposes. When the chips are down, neither side wanted to give up the right to abuse the filibuster.

It's a very good bet that the threat of a filibuster, which nowadays is the same thing as an actual filibuster, will be used again, probably very soon, and on something that 20 years ago would have fallen far below the standard required to mount such an extraordinary roadblock.

One day, perhaps, senators might be called upon to explain why their only way of doing business in what used to be called the greatest deliberative body on Earth is to push each other to the brink of disaster before finally reaching a hurried, unsatisfactory solution.

The Senate managed to do something Monday, but it falls short of a truly worthy accomplishment.

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