Stacking the Deck

STACKING THE DECK….E.J. Dionne today:

That the president is fixing the Social Security reform game should be obvious. The most basic corruption of the process is the way the Republican congressional leadership has transformed the bargaining that once took place between the House and the Senate.

In the old days, when each house produced different versions of the same bill, a “conference” committee typically including members of both parties from both houses would thrash out the details and reach a compromise. Now the Republicans will concede whatever is necessary to get a bill out of the Senate, even as the lockstep-Republican House produces a right-wing version of the same proposal. In conferences, Republicans routinely freeze out all but the most pliable Democrats. The supposed “compromise” that emerges is not a compromise at all. Democrats who go along become enablers of a game being played with a stacked deck.

That’s exactly right. It’s the same kind of thing that’s behind the filibuster controversy, where the only reason that Democrats were forced into filibustering in the first place was because Republicans so cynically demolished all the traditional (but arcane) rules they themselves had taken advantage of to block judges when Bill Clinton was president. If Republicans had played fair in the first place, there would have been no need for filibusters.

There are plenty of other examples of this kind of thuggish Republican behavior. Keeping floor votes open for hours of arm twisting and vote buying, for example, instead of the usual 15 minutes. Preventing Democrats from so much as offering amendments to Republican legislation. Increased use of “emergency” late night meetings. Keeping the text of legislation secret until mere hours before scheduled votes. Squeezing the time for debate by allowing no more than one or two days a week for work on real legislation. Slashing the number of bills considered under open rules. And, of course, threatening the “nuclear option” to cut off judicial filibusters. You can get more details here in Rep. Louise Slaughter’s detailed report.

Unfortunately, this kind of backroom drudgery can’t compete with runaway brides. So how do you get the public to pay attention to this kind of stuff? I’m not sure. But “playing by the rules” is a pretty ingrained American habit, and this brand of Republican hardball would be widely unpopular if someone could figure out a way to dramatize it. Who will figure out how to do it?