No Panaceas

Friday, May 09, 2003
Irony: It's illegal to burn the U.S. flag in Norway.

More fun with DC housing listings:

Beds: 1 Bedrooms
Baths: 2 full baths
6 half baths
Price: $3,750,000

Ok, so a total of EIGHT bathrooms -- 2 full, 6 half -- along with ONE bedroom. All for $3.75 million. (It also has eight fireplaces and covered parking, so hey, what else could you want?) I don't know if it would make much of a place to live, but what a party shack!

Stepping back from the brink: By last nite I was convinced that this whole "nuclear war" option was nothing but a trial balloon. Now I'm convinced that it was a trial balloon as this morning's Post reveals a new plan to limit, not abolish, filibuster's against judicial nominees:

Under the plan, a nomination could be forced to a vote within about two weeks. It is less drastic than several alternatives that are being threatened by Republicans, including lawsuits and tricky parliamentary maneuvers -- known as the "nuclear option" -- that some senators have warned would likely prompt all-out war in the Senate.
The proposal was modeled after a plan proposed recently by Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.), although Miller would have applied the time limits to all filibusters, not just those on judicial nominations. Miller's plan, in turn, was patterned after an earlier proposal by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.).

An aide said Frist was "putting the idea out for discussion" with no deadlines for action, but wanted to "get this done as quickly as possible." The proposal is likely to go to the Rules and Administration Committee for hearings, the aide said.

The article also notes that the White House is staying out of it since, "it may have more chance of winning Democratic support without the White House imprimatur." Good thinking.

We'll see how this plays out. I'm vaguely hopeful that at some point some of our more mature senators from both parties will sit down and work out true confirmation reform. Here are several issues:

1. I don't like this word, but the Senate needs to take a more "holistic" approach to confirmation reform. The filibuster isn't the problem. The filibuster is just a new manifestation of a deeper underlying problem where extreme ideological polarization is fusing with Senate procedure to kill judicial nominees. In my view the filibuster poses a much less noxious problem than other aspects of Senate procedure such as blue slips, holds, and committee obstruction that allow a tiny fraction of the Senate to block confirmation. Next to these devices the filibuster is the pinnacle of democracy. At least with the filibuster, forty-one senators have to take a public stand to sustain it. So reform needs to look at the bigger picture. I laid out a reform idea here and here that calls for guaranteeing a floor vote for all nominees coupled with a super-majority requirement (to force current and future presidents to nominate moderate nominees.) For any reform to work the Republicans have to either 1: give the Democrats something tangible in return, such as the nomination and confirmation of some of Clinton's blocked nominees; or 2. postpone the reform's activation until 2005.

2. I'm not a fan of the filibuster, but it is constitutional. I believed that in 1993 when the Clinton administration whined about the filibuster, and I believe it now when the Bush administration is whining about it. A lawsuit would be a frivolous waste of tax-payer's money. If the Supreme Court ultimately declared the filibuster unconstitutional the decision would be based on judicial activism founded on loose construction. You can't get much less ambigious than: "Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings..."

3. I don't buy for a second that all the Republican senators want the the filibuster weakened or abolished (either abolished totally or just for nominations). The filibuster enhances the power of individual senators and even if you are annoyed now, every senator knows that there are other times that the filibuster looks mighty attractive. Forty-five years ago it was the liberal Democrats who tried every trick in the book to abolish the filibuster. You say you support getting rid of the filibuster? Fine. Right now there are fifty-one Republican senators. Think about 2004. Illinois is already in major danger of going to the Democrats. It's not outrageous to think that Lincoln Chaffee will change parties or that the Democrats will pick up a couple of other seats. The Democrats have a good chance to take the White House. What do you think about the filibuster now? Or maybe Bush wins in 2004. How about President Hillary Clinton winning in 2008. Impossible you say. That's what they said about Nixon in the early sixities.

Thursday, May 08, 2003
Michigan Blue-Slips: The Hill has an interesting piece on blue slips and Michigan court nominees. Both Michigan senators are Democrats, and they are blue-slipping Bush nominees. Earlier this year Judiciary chair Hatch stopped considering single blue slip rejections but he's still considering double rejections (though it looks like he's wavering).

The article highlights an issue I've been thinking about for a while, without really developing it much. I wonder what overall impact blue slips have on the composition of the federal bench. Take the case of Michigan. Because Michigan has two Democratic senators, few Bush nominees will make the bench and as a result the 6th Circuit only has one Michigan judge out of the ten on the bench. Likewise, back during the Clinton administration it was virtually impossible for nominees from North Carolina to get confirmed because of Helms. Some senate delegations are all Republican, others all Democratic, and others are mixed, so the impact of blue slips will vary by state. Thus you might end up with some interesting state representation and ideological patterns due to blue slips.

Blue slips are part of the larger picture that also involves the filibuster. I've talked about confirmations and reform here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Filibuster Warfare: The Republicans have "hatched" (sorry) a ploy to banish confirmation filibusters by declaring that the filibuster rule (Rule 22) does not apply to the Senate's Executive Calendar. (Different types of Senate business go onto to different schedules or calendars.) The Executive Calendar contains items sent from the White House, such as treaties and nominations (both to the executive and judicial branches.)

The way it would work is the Republicans would ask for a ruling. The presiding officer, with the advice of the parliamentarian, then makes the call. The official presiding officer is, of course, Vice President Cheney, but he only sits for expected close votes or otherwise significant occasions. (This might be one.) The rest of the time the job rotates among majority party senators. If the presiding officer rules that filibusters don't apply to the Executive Calendar then all it takes is a majority Senate vote to uphold the ruling.

I'll have to think abou this a bit, but it is a brazen move for at least two reasons: 1) there is precedent for filibusters against Executive Calendar items, an implicit recognition that such filibusters are fine; and 2) the Democrats will go to war, and there are LOTS of ways that a completely pissed-off minority can make life in that body even more miserable then it is already. I feel really sorry for the Senate parliamentarian on this one. Talk about being stuck in the middle.

Read about the current plan here.

DC outdoes Tokyo: Here's a listing I saw for a condo:

MLS ID#: DC4321386
1 Bath
4 Sq. Ft.

A bargain at only $22,250 per square foot. I take it the bath is actually a bucket. A small bucket.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003
Update on the Iraqi War rally event: Bush now sits at a 70 approval rating, a statistically insignificant drop from the 71 he reached at the war's start. (He was at 57 just prior to the war.) Clearly, 71 is the peak so it's down hill from here and probably very fast down hill. My guess is that Bush will get something similar to what Carter got with the Iranian Hostage Crisis or, a bit more optimistic for Bush, something akin to the longer lived October Missile Crisis rally. It's nothing like the boost his father received after the Gulf War and, of course, it does not compare to the September 11 rally. I talked about rally events and presented some data here and here.

There she blows: I guess Georgetown no longer has the most powerful manhole cover explosions.

Cheney signs on for another go: I was thinking about writing a piece on how Bush should replace Richard Cheney with Condoleeza Rice. In truth it wasn't an idea I took seriously if only because it violates the first rule of choosing vice-presidential candidates: First, do no harm. Presidential campaigns are fundamentally about the presidential candidates. (When the veep candidate takes center stage it's usually in a bad way: Quayle, Ferraro, Eagleton.) Bringing on Rice would violate this for three reasons: 1. It would create a firestorm of speculation about why Cheney left, an annoying distraction; 2. It would irritate the right; and 3. It would put an untested, inexperienced candidate with fuzzy domestic policy views on a national ticket.

On the other hand, she's smart, articulate, and capable. She has a variety of experience, including a successful run as provost of Stanford, a much tougher job than vice-president. She would be the first woman ever on the Republican ticket and the first African-American ever on a major ticket. It would be a bold for-the-history-books stroke for Bush, and a boost for the Republicans' bumbling attempts to diversify their base. Obviously no where near a majority of African-Americans are going to vote Republican, even with Rice on the ballot. But the Democrats can't afford even of small dissipation of their African-American and female support base.

Anyway, it's all a moot point now.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003
The Bigger News: Maybe I'm just way too cynical, but I don't find the revelation that yet another self-righteous blowhard has skeletons in his closet all that newsworthy. Amusing coincidence: One of most famous casino executives ever is...William Bennett. I don't know, have you ever seen the Straussian Bennett in the same place as the Circus-Circus Bennett? Twins separated at birth? An elaborately orchestrated dual life?

Of far more relevance is the recent three-judge panel ruling on campaign finance reform. Finally! Weighing in at 1,638 pages I don't envy the clerks who have to plow through this tome. Obviously the decision is complicated and it will be months before people really figure out its implications. But my guess is that both the Democrats and Republicans are going to push the ruling just as hard and fast as they can.

Who wins? In terms of pure short-run interest I think the Democrats have to like this decision, but for a reason that I don't think is getting pointed out much. As is well known, relatively speaking the Democrats do better on soft money than on hard money. But the larger point here concerns the Republicans with their late convention. To me the Republican's big coup surrounding the late convention isn't really the association with September 11 memorials. Rather it's the free advertising much closer to the election AND, more importantly, the fact that the Republicans get to run under less restrictive primary campaign finances much longer than the Democrats. The Republicans won't have to switch to general election funding until well into September, thus leaving them more to spend from that category than the Democrats, who choose their nominee in late July. Having access to soft money makes this disadvantage less acute for the Dems.

There is a lot of uncertainty about the legal boundaries -- the restrictions of advertisements for example, that is, if you raise the money can you spend it? Given the pending intervention by the Supremes I have trouble believing enforcement is going to be all that aggressive, regardless. More to the point, the Supremes will probably hand down a decision just before the primary season begins. Like lots of people I've long expected the Supremes to overturn most of the original act, including the soft money ban, and the restrictions on television advertisements and independent expenditures. So what the current ruling means is that the parties can start raising money now and then spend most of it after the higher court's decision.