When Republicans try to point out the efforts Bush, McCain, and other Republicans made to curb the excesses of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back when it might have done some good, one of the responses Democrats offer is: “hey, Republicans were in charge of Congress until 2006, so if restraints on Fannie and Freddie didn’t get passed then it must have been the Republicans’ fault.”
This tells me that such commenters either are dissembling, or they are hugely ignorant about what used to be called “civics” back when I was in school.
Perhaps those Ayers & Company-engendered “reforms” about teaching “social justice” have persuaded schools to ditch the sort of courses that used to teach us how our government actually works. Or maybe the current ignorance of same has little to do with Ayers, or with schools at all. Maybe these things are taught but nobody’s listening and nobody’s remembering—after all, it’s dull and boring and has nothing to do with our daily lives, right?
Wrong. Whether one is a Democrat or a Republican, and no matter which party (or parties) one prefers to blame, the current economic crisis does indeed have to do with how government works—or fails to work—most especially the question of how to get things done in a government not completely controlled by one party or another.
That’s the sort of government we usually have. And that’s the sort of government we had during the Bush Administration, even from 2000 to 2006 when Republicans were nominally in control of both Congress and the Presidency. The fact is that their control of the Senate was very tenuous: for most those years the split between the parties in that body was essentially 50/50, with mild fluctuations due to deaths and changes in party affiliation. By far the largest majority the Republicans ever had in the Senate in those years was during the two years prior to the 2006 election, 55 Republicans to 45 Democrats.
That’s not enough to end the power of the filibuster, a way the minority can block legislation by the majority unless the latter has sixty votes in favor of a bill. Sixty votes is the magic number needed to force cloture, which ends the logjam.
The result of all of this is that unless a party has a supermajority of sixty or more in the Senate (the House works by simple majority) it cannot force its legislation through if the opposing minority party has signaled its will to filibuster. The filibuster doesn’t even have to happen; it’s enough that the minority makes is clear that it will happen and that efforts to pass the bill are futile.
This is apparently what happened with the bill to reform Fannie and Freddie. No doubt the parties differ on whether passage of that particular Republican-sponsored (and McCain-sponsored) bill would have actually helped forestall the current crisis. But my point here is that a statement that Republicans somehow could have made it happen, when they actually did not have enough votes to do so and when Democrats had already indicated their firm and united opposition, is ignoring the way Congress works.
The way Congress works is that it often doesn’t get things done, due to divided government. If the President is of a different party than the majority in Congress, he/she has the power of the veto as well, and a supermajority of two-thirds is needed to override it. Although these various checks on the power of the majority may be seen as a drawback when it’s your party that’s in control, be careful: you’ll want those same curbs when it’s the other party in the driver’s seat.
Despite our ignorance (or perhaps because of it) of the way majority and minority government functions in this country, we may be headed for a demonstration of real majority power. If Barack Obama becomes President and Democrats sweep both the Senate and the House and get at least sixty seats in the former, defeating all filibuster attempts, we are in for the most unchecked power for a single party since the mid-30s or mid-60s. If you liked what happened back then (or if your parents or grandparents did), you’ll probably love what’s likely to happen now.
For a preview of what that might be, check out this article in the Wall Street Journal, which just may be the most important pre-election piece that’s been published. Send it to everyone you know; perhaps it will be a wake-up call to some.