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Monday, February 08, 2010

Paul Krugman: America Is Not Yet Lost

The Senate is broken, and government won't function properly until it is fixed:

America Is Not Yet Lost, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: We’ve always known that America’s reign as the world’s greatest nation would eventually end. But most of us imagined that our downfall, when it came, would be something grand and tragic. ... Instead..., we’re paralyzed by procedure. Instead of re-enacting the decline and fall of Rome, we’re re-enacting the dissolution of 18th-century Poland.
A brief history lesson: In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Polish legislature, the Sejm, operated on the unanimity principle: any member could nullify legislation by shouting “I do not allow!” This made the nation largely ungovernable, and neighboring regimes began hacking off pieces of its territory. By 1795 Poland had disappeared, not to re-emerge for more than a century.
Today, the U.S. Senate seems determined to make the Sejm look good by comparison.
Last week, after nine months, the Senate finally approved Martha Johnson to head the General Services Administration, which runs government buildings and purchases supplies. It’s an essentially nonpolitical position, and nobody questioned Ms. Johnson’s qualifications: she was approved by a vote of 94 to 2. But Senator Christopher Bond, Republican of Missouri, had put a “hold” on her appointment to pressure the government into approving a building project in Kansas City.
This dubious achievement may have inspired Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama... Mr. Shelby has now placed a hold on all outstanding Obama administration nominations — about 70 high-level government positions — until his state gets a tanker contract and a counterterrorism center.
What gives individual senators this kind of power? Much of the Senate’s business relies on unanimous consent: it’s difficult to get anything done unless everyone agrees on procedure. And a tradition has grown up under which senators, in return for not gumming up everything, get the right to block nominees they don’t like.
In the past, holds were used sparingly. ... But that was then. Rules that used to be workable have become crippling now that one of the nation’s major political parties has descended into nihilism, seeing no harm — in fact, political dividends — in making the nation ungovernable. ...
Republican leaders refuse to offer any specific proposals. They inveigh against the deficit... But they also denounce anything that might actually reduce the deficit... And with the national G.O.P. having abdicated any responsibility for making things work,... individual senators ... feel free to take the nation hostage until they get their pet projects funded.
The truth is that ... the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.
Don’t hold your breath. ... Democrats don’t even seem able to score political points by highlighting their opponents’ obstructionism.
It should be a simple message (and it should have been the central message in Massachusetts): a vote for a Republican, no matter what you think of him as a person, is a vote for paralysis. But by now, we know how the Obama administration deals with those who would destroy it: it goes straight for the capillaries. Sure enough, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, accused Mr. Shelby of “silliness.” Yep, that will really resonate with voters.
After the dissolution of Poland, a Polish officer serving under Napoleon penned a song that eventually — after the country’s post-World War I resurrection — became the country’s national anthem. It begins, “Poland is not yet lost.”
Well, America is not yet lost. But the Senate is working on it.

    Posted by on Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:22 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  Comments (103)

          


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