Today, Senate rules obstruct progress while rules for running the country obstruct democracy. It is time to change both.
I do not recall ever have had a positive word to say about the Republican Obstructionist in Chief Mitch McConnell, but today I must change my tune: the man has demonstrated once again that it is wise to listen carefully to one’s adversaries, for he has come up with a short and penetrating assessment of the mess into which the U.S. Senate has fallen. According to McConnell:
This notion that the Senate is dysfunctional is not because of the rules. It’s because of behavior. [The New York Times 11/25/12, 24.]
Good rules will not prevent obstruction or corruption or political games at the expense of American democracy and the national interest. Good rules will make such common misbehavior more difficult, but McConnell is of course quite correct that those intent upon misbehavior will continue to find ways to engage in it. The Republican “ideological right” (which is virtually every Republican currently in the Congress, the traditional “responsible right,” one might say) will hardly stop legislating the impoverishment of the middle class just because of some Senate rule changes. They cannot: nothing is more irritating to an elitist cabal of the rich than an empowered, politically active and economically secure middle class. The only way the American middle class, now actually represented in the Senate as Elizabeth Warren and a handful of others join lonely Bernie Sanders, will regain the ground it has lost since Reagan as the result of the anti-New Deal counterattack of the rich is by fighting every inch of the way.
But some cautious changes to the new Senate rules to obstruct some of the misbehavior of the obstructionists like McConnell would be a nice first step. Then, perhaps the Senate will be able to change some of the really important “rules,” such as the tax boondoggle for the rich known as the capital gains tax, which makes an unearned present to everyone who gambles (with their own money or money borrowed from someone else) at the expense of the folks who actually work for a living.
Another “rule” desperately requiring reform is the practice of allowing the foxes to guard the henhouse. How it works is no secret: let’s say the multi-millionaire CEO of a major Wall St. casino, sorry “financial investment firm,” wants to halt Government oversight. He retires, accepts a job in the Treasury Department, writes new legislation allowing him to do what he wants, and then returns to Wall St. to make himself even richer. This revolving door that institutionalizes conflict of interest is of course not restricted to banks and the Treasury; myriad examples could be cited of energy corporation officials making energy policy and drug corporation officials telling American citizens what kind of health care they will be allowed to buy. The Recession of 2008 and scandalous bailout that followed show clearly enough the impact of this revolving door and the need for a clear prohibition on high corporate officials accepting Government positions allowing them to write their own tickets. A ten-year prohibition on moving in either direction would be a nice rule.
When the capital gains tax rate goes higher than the rate assessed on working people and when the revolving door for corporate leaders is slammed shut, you will know that the rules of the game in the U.S. are shifting in favor of the people.