What "The World's Greatest Deliberative Body" is Costing Us

Today, in a brazenly partisan decision and a rare occasion of a court choosing to involve itself in a separation of powers dispute between the two elected branches of goverbment, 3 judges appointed by the last three Republican presidents ruled that President Obama's recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board last year was unconstitutional. Why? Republicans at the time forced the Senate to hold "pro-forma" sessions in which the body simply gaveled in and out for a few minutes every few days. So, the judges held that the Senate weren't technically in recess, never mind that it wasn't actually on the job.

While the Obama administration is expected to appeal this decision, if it stands, it will invalidate hundreds of decisions not only by the NLRB, but by the Consumer Protection Bureau - the director to which also had to be appointed in a similar manner. The court is basically saying that a minority in the Senate is allowed to block the people's work with impunity even while they don't actually work. They are allowed to kneecap the government even while vacationing.

All of this was made possible by what Sen. Harry Reid refused to crack down on yesterday: the flagrant use of the call-it-in filibuster to block everything from legislation to presidential appointments. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell put together a "reform" proposal that does nothing to expose the obstructionism of the Republicans, instead choosing to speed up some motions to proceed and post-filibuster debates. The excuse for this dumb turnabout? Because, said, Senator Reid, we wouldn't want the Senate to turn into - God forbid - the House, something akin to a majoritarian institution. Why, that is just plain anti-democratic.

After all, the "graybacks" among the Senate Democrats fear returning to the minority one day, and they argue that a reformed filibuster rule won't look so good when the tables are turned and it's the Democrats that have to defend filibustering something by actually being on the floor. Well, it's called democracy. If the tables are turned and it is the Democrats who want to block legislation, then by all means, we should have Democratic senators with the courage of their convictions hold the floor and speak.

Sure, Sen. Reid says he has other legislative tools at his disposal, and he does. I like Sen. Reid. He's surprised the Republicans more than once with his legislative maneuvers to the delight of Democrats. But his now twice-failure to reform the filibuster speaks to an allegiance to an institution out of step with the times. Even as he has recognized the Republican abuse of the filibuster time and again, he remains ultimately unwilling to shake up the chamber.

"The world's greatest deliberative body" has become the world's worst giant sucking sound. It has become the place where not only good legislation go to die but where democracy is strangled. It has become the place where the work of the people is thwarted by the whim of a fringe within a minority political party. It has become the place to settle old scores, start new ones, obstructing the president's agenda not because of what is on the agenda but who is president. The United States Senate, in its great fear to protect democracy against the tyranny of the majority has ushered in an era of tyranny of the minority.

The protection of the silent filibuster is not about protecting minority voice. For goodness' sake, it's their voices we wanted on the Senate floor should they want to block something. This is about protecting the egos of old men who want to protect their exclusive privileges and extraordinary powers. This is about a bunch of gray men more concerned about their individual power than about the future of our country.

If we did not have the silent filibuster, the president's nominees to the NLRB and the CFPB would have been confirmed. Our nation would not be sitting at the edge of exploding gun violence while the Senate remains derelict in its duty to confirm a director of the ATF. We would have been able to advance legislation ranging from immigration reform to broad jobs packages to deficit reduction to a sound energy policy.

I am thoroughly disappointed, not simply because this "deal" preserves without harm the GOP's obstructionist power but because the United States Senate, as a legislative body, chose to remain insulated from the needs and demands of the people, instead choosing to preserve their own power.