Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tyranny of the Majority?

In their last ditch effort to scuttle health insurance reform, Republicans now charge that using reconciliation to pass amendments to the bill, presumably after the House passes its version of the Senate bill, would somehow represent a threat to the United States Senate.  Senator Alexander went so far as to claim that using reconciliation to pass a bill "of this size and magnitude and complexity" would "be the end of the Senate as a protector of minority rights."  Senator Alexander seems to forget that this ship has already sailed.  The large and complex health insurance bill has already passed the Senate in December, after one of the longest debates in history, and extensive public hearings by three different committees.  And it passed by a margin of 60 to 40.  It might have passed by an even larger margin if the Republicans had not made a strategic decision to stand united in opposition for political reasons.  (Recall that Senator Snowe supported the bill in committee then refused to vote for the final bill after being pressured by her Republican colleagues.)

So where exactly is the threat to democracy or minority rights represented by passage of health care legislation?  The reconciliation threat the Republicans are talking up now is only being talked about for some relatively minor changes to a mammoth bill that has already passed by a margin that nobody has a right to complain about.  It is just wrong to say that reconciliation is being proposed for a bill of unusual size and magnitude and complexity.  The bill already passed after a cloture vote, by a super-majority.  Not to mention, as the cited ThinkProgress article points out, that reconciliation has been used numerous times in the past by Republicans when they held the Senate majority, for much larger measures than the health care law changes the Democrats may intend to make. 

And let's not rewrite history by citing the supposedly glorious history of the Senate as a protector of minority rights.  In fact, the history of the Senate's use of the filibuster has mainly been a shameful history that resulted in the denial of civil rights to millions of Americans for many decades, not to mention many other reforms that have died in the Senate.  The Senate has never protected any minority rights other than the rights of a minority of its members to attempt to thwart the will of the voters. 

(Lamar Alexander photo from Tennessee Guy; photo of Strom Thurmond from Senate history website describing his record-setting speech in opposition to Civil Rights legislation in 1957)

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