Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Senator Tester wrong on filibuster rules -- Senator Baucus looks out for rural states?

It is no great secret that our Democratic Senator Max Baucus, for all of his other shortcomings, has a great sensitivity to rural state interests, whereas his junior counterpart, Senator Tester, has a bit of a tin ear in that regard.

Senator Tester is wanting to "reform" filibuster rules in the U.S. Senate, but Senator Baucus is dragging his feet, saying that he wants to see how such changes would affect rural states. Sen. Baucus is, of course, being evasive and coy and keeping his options open. After all, he already knows the answer to his question -- weakening the filibuster will weaken the influence of rural state senators.

When I was a wee lad, learning about politics from my rancher father -- a Republican, but hardly a fire-breathing conservative, much to my occasional dismay -- I learned that the one thing that gave agricultural interests a fighting chance in the national debate was the U.S. Senate, where states like Montana and South Dakota had exactly the same number of votes as New York and California. As the years went by, I learned that the rules of the Senate only magnified the power of rural state U.S. Senators. Things like "holds," "filibusters," and various and sundry procedural arcana give individual Senators incredible powers to look out for the interests of their states -- and of the nation, for those Senators who are inclined to think about their country.

Granted, those powers are negative powers, but that is exactly what the U.S. Senate was designed to be -- a forum for protecting minorities against the majority, a sort of legislative "veto" analogous to the veto power that the President wields with relation to Congress.

Senator Tester is undoubtedly bowing to his masters in championing these "reforms." He knows who paid the bills for his last election, and it wasn't Montanans or anyone particularly concerned about Montana.

It is useful to recall that when Republicans had comfortable control of the U.S. Senate during Presidency of Bush the younger -- with dreams of a permanent majority similar to the current dreams of Democrats -- there were Republicans who were making noises about doing away with the filibuster rules. Sanity prevailed and Republicans wisely stepped back from that particular abyss.

One can only hope that Democrats will remember how fleeting Senate majorities can be and will likewise step back from the abyss that is an unrestrained rule of a simple majority. It is unfortunate that Senator Tester, supposedly the "only farmer in the U.S. Senate," doesn't understand what side he is supposedly on -- the side of Montana. One hopes that Senator Baucus will follow what have to be instincts honed by many terms as a small rural state Senator, holding the line against Senator Tester's folly.

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