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Consensus, the ultimate dog’s breakfast. In praise of just enough votes.

Offline Charlie says, "The continual decline in support for health care reform and climate change legislation [was because] Congress created incomprehensible quagmires." I agree with that completely, but differ in part with his assessment that this resulted from a certain strategic error by Obama:

He's learning the hard way that he'll have to govern from the center. He turned the key pieces of his legislative agenda—health care and climate—over to liberal congressional leaders and committee chairs, and now we have a dog's breakfast on two critical issues which he'll have a very tough time turning into saleable meals.

It is a dog's breakfast, but I attribute the cause more to supermajority rules than to negotiations within the majority caucus. It seems to me that more often than not a bill that has majority support gets worse when additional votes have to be rounded up and "paid for" with watering-down amendments, earmarks, and other legislative currency. As the managers have to move further and further ideologically to pick up more votes, the price they pay is frequently to make amendments that change a reasonably coherent bill that has a good chance of doing what it proposes to do into a bill beset with crippling and even contradictory provisions that is in fact a dog's breakfast.

A recent example of that is the odyssey of the public option in the pending Senate healthcare legislation: It went from being a robust Medicare-like proposal that would truly have threatened for-profit insurers and driven down premiums to something that is in the bill only because it will be a very unattractive option available to hardly anybody—a public option in name only and probably a waste of money. Now suppose the Senate didn't need just 60 votes but 100—what would that bill have looked like? I submit that any healthcare bill that got 100 votes would be trivial or a travesty or both. Similarly, every year in the California state budget process, which requires a 2/3 majority in both houses, the concessions that have to be made to get the last vote or two are just nauseating. Building supermajorities makes legislation worse, not better. That is particularly true when there is no ideological middle in a legislative body, as I have shown here there clearly is not in the US Senate.

Let's get back to majority rule in all matters. Those who won the last election should grow a spine, take responsibility, write bills they're proud of, pass them with just enough votes, and be accountable in the next election. If they lose, let the other bunch of rascals repeal it. That would give us clearer policy options, less internally contradictory and wasteful legislation, more personal accountability, a more engaged and informed electorate, and overall better government. Also, it would seem more propitious to run for reelection on a record that people can understand, even if they disagree with it, than to run an entire campaign wearing a dog's breakfast.

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