Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Gander Serves His Own Sauce

Well, for once here's a senator who deserves to win this year's election.

Using a scheduled midmorning speech on the Senate floor, Bennet will propose a package of bills that would cut a broad swath across a set of practices and procedures that have become notorious symbols of a gridlocked Capitol.

He will propose eliminating anonymous holds, banning private-sector earmarks, freezing pay and budgets for members of Congress, and barring lawmakers from lobbying for life.

Michael Bennet was appointed to the Senate to fill a vacancy left as part of Obama's cabinet selections. He's facing a very tough race come November- in fact the smart money shows him losing, rather handily, to pretty much any Republican.

But Bennet deserves better- and he's working hard to solidify the Democratic base in a battleground state. He's the senator who drafted the letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid demanding that a government-run public insurance option be added to the health care reform bill through reconciliation- an effort which, as of today, picked up its 33rd supporter, not counting Harry Reid himself.

And now he's proposing changes to move the Senate away from its current state of dysfunction.

* Bennet proposes a time limit on filibusters, after which the threshhold for cutting off debate drops to 55 instead of 60.
* Bennet proposes eliminating the current practice of allowing a single Senator to anonymously place a hold on the confirmation of people nominated by the President for office.
* He'd also ban lawmakers of any sort from lobbying for life- and prohibit Congressional staffers from lobbying for at least six years.
* In addition to all that, he proposes curtailing earmarks for the private sector, freezing Congressional salaries and staff budgets, and imposing strict ethics regulations on the use of private charter jets for Congressional travel.

Every last one of these things is a good idea. Bennet doesn't get rid of the filibuster entirely- and considering the Democrats are currently on the frog-march for minorities in both houses, that might be a good thing- but he does pull its teeth quite a bit.

Unfortunately, it's highly unlikely that any of these reforms will actually pass. Senate rules require 67 votes, not 51 or 60, to be changed. The "nuclear option" threatened by Republicans in 2005 and murmured about now by Democrats would require a simple majority, but couldn't be used to reform filibusters- only to destroy the practice altogether. This is really a shame, because every one of Bennet's reforms needs doing- and badly- if we want a functional federal government.

I'm going to think long and hard about sending a check to Bennet for his election campaign. This is the sort of thing that needs to be encouraged- bucking against the system when it fails, rather than upholding the system over the people it was designed to serve. People who tilt at windmills deserve a reward.

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