Conventions and the Hagel Nomination Filibuster

An essential part of the Washington and Westminster systems of government are conventions. These are standards of behavior and procedure that is respected by all inside the system. While the Westminster system with its long adhoc history of working government has a lot of conventions the younger and more constitutionally explicit Washington system does as well.

A good example of a convention in the Washington system is when GM and Chrysler went broke at the end of the Bush Administration's tenure. America had already elected a new President, but Obama and his Administration would not be sworn in until January. The convention here - which the Bush Administration honored - was that no big policy decisions are made during this lame duck period. The Bush Administration did a little, but did not make policy on what to do with GM and Chrysler. They left that to the incoming Obama Administration.

Conventions exist everywhere but they are inherently fragile. They only last as long as they are respected and adhered to. Once a convention is broken, it never returns. The convention is gone forever.

Prior to the Hagel nomination for Secretary of Defense it was a convention that cabinet position confirmations would not be filibustered. This is no longer true. The modern Republican Party has been breaking convention after convention in the US Congressional system for the last fifteen years or so. Such as keeping votes open until legislation passes and now filibustering cabinet nominations. If anything it seems like Senate Republicans are making super majorities the new normal:

"We're going to require a 60-vote threshold," Inhofe told The Cable.

Cornyn told The Cable, "There is a 60-vote threshold for every nomination."


Unless the filibuster, anonymous holds and super majorities in cloture are removed everything that flows through the Senate will require 60 votes to even get debated. It will become the norm for everything from Judicial nominations, to Cabinets, etc. Governing will become a problem for the Executive in this environment. Harry Reid messed up when he did reform the filibuster when he had the chance.

The collegial agreement he made with the Republican Senators was not honored. I also have no doubt if the Republicans come into a majority in the Senate they will do away with the filibuster immediately. Just as the House Republicans did away with Democrat's procedure for Pay As You Go as soon as they came into the majority in the House.

It is a shame the Republicans are chewing up conventions and spitting them out. The Washington system survived on the collegial nature of the American political elite. Since the 1990s the collegial nature of the Washington system has been broken and the junking of conventions is part of this tear. The Democrats still seem to be conducting Congressional politics with the belief that the collegial nature still exists. The Republican party does not consider itself so constrained.
cam 2013-02-19 19:04:59.0