Get the Commitments Now – Or It Will Never Happen

President Donald Trump speaks before he signs the coronavirus stimulus relief package in the Oval Office at the White House, Friday, March 27, 2020, in Washington. Listening are from left, Larry Kudlow, White House c... President Donald Trump speaks before he signs the coronavirus stimulus relief package in the Oval Office at the White House, Friday, March 27, 2020, in Washington. Listening are from left, Larry Kudlow, White House chief economic adviser, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarty of Calif. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) MORE LESS
August 19, 2020 2:07 p.m.

I’m concerned and frustrated by this – and no it’s not a Susan Collins impersonation. The executive branch under Trump needs to be audited. We need a full report on everything that happened – something that is distinct and separate from any kind of criminal investigations and more important than criminal probes. I’ve laid out why this is important and how it should work here and here. But it’s simply not going to happen unless Democrats secure clear commitments from Joe Biden and congressional leaders in advance.

I say this not because I think these people oppose doing this. It is a question of priorities and the vortex of crises Biden will face on day one of his presidency if he (and we) are lucky enough for him to be elected. There will be an on-going COVID epidemic, a massive economic crisis and so much more. Getting to the bottom of what happened under Trump won’t happen unless it’s been clearly committed to in advance and planning has gone into just how it will unfold.

Want to do something? Start pressing for these commitments. As I noted above, I’ve set forth in these two posts what it would be and why it’s important. But these aren’t meant to be prescriptive. Others may have different approaches. But something like this needs to happen. And it’s critical to bake it in now. There will be too much chaos and pent up need and suffering for it to get attention without these advance commitments.

Let me note another thing which needs an advance commitment. If the Democrats take over the Senate, which is now a real possibility, the filibuster should be abolished on day one. I don’t mean holding this over the opposition as a threat to avoid its abuse. I don’t mean limiting its use in new ways. I mean abolishing it altogether on day one.

No progressive legislation of any sort – whether it’s of the Biden flavor or the Sanders flavor – will ever happen with the filibuster in place. There may be rare, rare occasions where electoral tsunamis create 60 seat majorities as briefly happened in 2008. It’s not totally impossible that it could happen this year. But with the Republicans’ huge and growing small-state advantage it seems all but impossible.

We don’t need to see this as playing to some partisan advantage. A democratic legislature is not meant to function and in fact cannot function if all legislation requires a super majority. We are in a historically unique situation in which Republicans by and large are working to block rather than pass legislation, other than tax cuts and they have a lock over the electoral mechanisms in the senate through which they will almost always be able to sustain filibusters. It has to go – on day one. This will face opposition from many Democratic senators. They will need to be pushed and they can be. It has to go.

We have seen that Republicans can get everything they want and pack the courts with 51 vote majorities. Their one big failure under Trump – abolishing Obamacare – they couldn’t manage with 50 votes. There is no advantage Democrats get from the filibuster and it is an affront to democratic principles. Republicans already have a massive Senate advantage just through the structure of the Senate itself.

There is a decent argument that the Senate is not like the House and shouldn’t be turned into a version of it. There are procedures used in other countries that can slow without halting the legislative process – processes in which a major piece of legislation must be voted on and voted on again a month later, for instance. This could address some of the need for deliberation and caution which the Senate is supposed to contribute. If I were in charge I would probably replace the filibuster with something like that. But perhaps we shouldn’t over think it. The truth is that the modern Senate is already like the House in all the worst ways. It is controlled 100% by the leadership. It’s virtually all party line votes. What the leadership wants it gets and it gets it quickly. Agreeing to operate with the filibuster is agreeing to accomplish nothing and rob the hope of progressive change of any public credibility. It’s a mistake. Starting getting commitments now.

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