Saturday, February 26, 2011

No one cares about legislative process

Watching the right's reaction to the Wisconsin situation has provided a too rare real world reversal experiment on what happens when it is the left using some procedural quirk to halt measures they oppose but that would otherwise pass easily.

For example across the twitter streams for tags like #wearewi and #wiunions you find right wingers whining about the State Senate Democrats "not showing up for work" and "not doing their jobs" and other variations.  The interesting thing is that they haven't actually settled on a talking point, probably because nothing they're trying is really working.  Voters just don't care.  They now understand something of what the Governor and Republicans were trying to do (at least the union busting part, probably less so the medicaid and privatization parts) and oppose it, vehemently.   They just don't care how the State Senate Democrats have been able to stop it, as far as voters are concerned at a moment like this, as long as the rules allow whatever is stopping the bill, they're fine with it (and more). 

This is a bit different from the filibuster fight over the past four years in that most of the time, the general public was not really aware of whatever the Republicans were obstructing.  On the occasions where the public did care, like over the health care bill, and somewhat on financial regulation reform, the reaction to Republican obstruction just depended on whether the public liked the bill.  On HCR, they were slightly opposed, so Republicans paid no real price for uniform obstruction.  On Finreg, the public supported the bill and so Reid's gambit of holding repeat cloture votes eventually did work.

The important lesson here for process reformers is to understand how vital it is that the process be fair and robust against trickery because voters just don't respond much to process issues.


  1. The key difference for me is accountability. The Dems in WI fled over one particular issue, they did it publicly and have offered public justifications for their actions. There is also no question who did this - all the Dems in the Senate. All that increases accountability - by temporarily slowing things down and making an issue out of it, this increases the ability of the public to weigh in and settle the dispute.

    The constant, quiet use of filibusters for all manner of issues is completely different.

    Of course, that should have been how we complained about this issue earlier.

  2. Yes, that's true. One thing that helps here is that this kind of obstruction is necessarily very dramatic and entails personal effort and even cost for the minority to do it. They don't just sit back and deny cloture, they have to physically leave the State.

    An important aspect of that is that it means they can't be there to influence other Senate matters that might take place, attend committee hearings, vote on other bills etc. The US Senate filibuster combined with the "two track" scheme means you can really selectively block things, this is a real all-or-nothing gambit.

    So it is way better from a small-d democratic standpoint because as you say, it entails more accountability for those using it.