Governments Should Govern

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I’m really surprised by the number of conservatives who, like Mike Potemra, seem to regard something like this as a knockdown argument in favor of the filibuster:

I address this question to Rachel Maddow, who just delivered a long and passionate address against the filibuster (I caught only the last five minutes of it): Three years from now, Palin is president, with J. D. Hayworth as Senate majority leader, and Michele Bachmann as Speaker of the House. (Of course it’s impossible – just like the election of Obama was, and the election of Scott Brown, and . . .) I imagine they, too β€” Palin, Bachmann, Hayworth, Secretary of Defense Liz Cheney, Secretary of Education Glenn Beck, the whole team β€” are going to want to pass some legislation. Would 51 Senate votes be OK for that, as far as you’re concerned? Or will we agree, then, that major changes in national policy need more deliberation, more of a consensus, and not just the passions of a fleeting democratic moment?

Like Jon Chait I’m happy to bite this bullet. But of course just like conservative activists today, if it’s permitted for congressional progressives to prevent majority rule in the wake of a conservative electoral victory then I will urge progressive members of congress to obstruct as hard as they can. But if we switch to a set of rules where a party that wins an election gets to govern, then I’m fine with those rules applying in an even-handed way.

I actually think such a system would be beneficial in both directions. If it were easier to enact and expand programs, but also easier to cut and eliminate programs then I think that on net we would end up with more and bigger good programs and fewer and smaller bad programs. In the UK where there are very few veto points, you don’t really see policy see-sawing back and forth. Many Labour initiatives (NHS, etc.) stand the test of time, but when the Tories manage to sell the public of axing something it tends not to come back. To my way of thinking, that’s a beneficial dynamic.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that unified partisan control of the government is quite rare. We had divided government from 1981-92, again from 1995-2002, and again from 2007-2008 and the Democratic congressional caucus of 1993-94 had a low level of ideological coherence. That would ensure bipartisan governance much of the time, and leaders of a unified troika would worry about overreach provoking a midterm backlash.