US Senate nukes the filibuster for appointments

November 22nd, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports:

The partisan battles that have paralyzed Washington in recent years took a historic turn Thursday, as Senate Democrats eliminated filibusters for most presidential nominations, severely curtailing the political leverage of the Republican minority in the Senate and assuring an escalation of partisan warfare.

I think it is good the filibuster is gone, as you should be able to confirm appointments with a majority. However by unilaterally changing the rules, the Democrats have started what may be a chain of events which means that in future the majority will be able to do anything it wants.

In NZ standing orders generally only change if there is unanimous approval. The standing orders generally protect the minority, and Governments know one day they will be in opposition and then be protected by standing orders.

The Democrats will enjoy having got rid of the filibuster while they hold the White House and the Senate. But at some stage the Republicans will hold both, and then they may regret their decision greatly.

The change does not apply to Supreme Court nominations. But the vote, mostly along party lines, reverses nearly 225 years of precedent and dramatically alters the landscape for both Democratic and Republican presidents, especially if their own political party holds a majority of, but fewer than 60, Senate seats.

It is inevitable that supreme court nominations will in time lose the filibuster also.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, warned Democrats against the rule change on Wednesday, saying that if the GOP reclaimed the Senate majority, Republicans would further alter the rules to include Supreme Court nominees, so that Democrats could not filibuster a Republican pick for the nation’s highest court.

Inevitable.

The vote to change the rule passed 52 to 48. Three Democrats — Sens. Carl Levin (Mich.), Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) — joined 45 Republicans in opposing the measure. Levin is a longtime senator who remembers well the years when Democratic filibusters blocked nominees of Republican presidents; Manchin and Pryor come from Republican-leaning states.

I’m no fan of the filibuster, but both sides have used it in recent years.

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Armstrong on Labour’s day of shame

August 6th, 2011 at 10:59 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in the NZ Herald:

The Labour Party does not have very much cause to feel grateful for anything right now. But it should get down on bended knee and thank the Almighty that hardly anybody would have been watching Parliament late on Wednesday afternoon.

Anyone doing so would have witnessed a spectacle which would immediately have brought several words to mind – words such as pitiful, pathetic, embarrassing and disgraceful.

You can watch for yourself at In the House.

What matters now is that last Wednesday things shifted from straight filibuster to pure farce. The only characters needed to make this Trevor Mallard-orchestrated protest a complete pantomime were Chuckles the Clown and Dorothy the Dinosaur.

Labour not only demeaned itself, again – something it is perfectly at liberty to do – it also demeaned Parliament, and that is unacceptable.

For the best part of an hour, Labour MPs raised timewasting points of order and forced a series of pointless votes to try to stop debate on Roy’s bill from even starting.

Labour made repeated demands that Speaker Lockwood Smith be recalled to the chamber to rule on decisions made by National’s Eric Roy, who was chairing the House.

This went beyond the ridiculous by including decisions from Roy (no relation to Heather Roy) granting those very Labour MPs the call to speak in the debate – a perverse case of deliberately biting the hand that feeds.

Next time Labour protests the use of urgency, they should be reminded of this.

Some of the Labour MPs caught up in this episode must now surely regret it.

One such MP, Wellington Central’s Grant Robertson, felt obliged to post a lengthy explanation on Red Alert, the Labour MPs’ blog.

He made no apology for the ways in which Labour was trying to stop Roy’s bill. He admitted it was “unedifying” – surely the understatement of the week – but claimed it was all part and parcel of parliamentary practice.

Well, no. A clear line can be drawn between trying to delay a measure’s progress through Parliament by filibuster and trying to find and exploit gaps, loopholes and apparent anomalies in Parliament’s rules to subvert the will of the majority. Labour crossed that line.

On top of that, Labour’s filibustering has denied other parties’ MPs the opportunity to get their own private member’s bills – some of which are worthy measures deserving of enactment – on to the order paper.

That is unfair. But it is symptomatic of Labour’s lingering arrogance from its years in power.

Incredibly, it continues to try to pull the wool over voters’ eyes by promising to bring in private member’s bills to block things such as National’s plans for partial state asset sales. Such talk is poppycock. Such bills would first have to be lucky enough to be drawn in the ballot which determines which bills get on to the order paper.

In the last ballot, 24 bills were vying for a lone spot.

Furthermore, there has not been a ballot since November last year. No prizes for guessing who is responsible for that.

This has been the delicious irony. Labour have blocked every single Labour and Green private members bill from progressing, in their desire to ensure their mates retain compulsory funding. And it has all been for nothing.

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Freedom moves closer

August 4th, 2011 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Labour have spent all year blocking every single private members bill in an attempt to stop students from gaining freedom of association.

Last night they were dumbfounded (check the video out here) when Heather Roy put an end to it by using the procedural motion that the Committee report progress to the House on the Royal Society bill which had been fillibustered to prevent the VSM bill from being debated.

The House voted to report progress, which meant that they automatically proceed to the next item of business – the VSM bill.

Trevor Mallard looked even more manic than normal, while Grant Robertson was so distraught, he looked like someone who had just been told their beloved pet cat had been run over by a car. This gives you some idea of how desperate they are to stop students being able to decide to stop funding their political mates. It is the last vestige of compulsory unionism.

Labour continued with an extended temper tantrum for an hour or so. Probably because they had been boasting to NZUSA and the student associations that they were so clever they had guaranteed the bill would not pass before the election.

It still is not guaranteed of course, but only one clause remains for the committee stage of the VSM bill, and then the third reading. That will require two more members days, but there are three scheduled before the House rises so I rate the chances as pretty reasonable.

If so, it means from 1 January 2012 finally students will have the ability to decide whether or not they personally wish to belong to a students association, and as importantly no longer be forced to fund partisan political advocacy which they disagree with.

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Labour’s priorities

June 20th, 2011 at 12:24 pm by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins at Stuff reports:

Labour will introduce a bill preventing the sale of key strategic assets without a clear public mandate, says Labour leader Phil Goff.

Goff said the bill would require any future proposal to partly or wholly privatise a State-owned enterprise or Crown entity to gain support from 75 per cent of Parliament, or from a majority of voters in a referendum.

This is hilarious, because Labour is ensuring such a bill will never get drawn from the members’ ballot because they are filibustering the VSM bill.

A journalist should ask Labour if they will stop filbustering the VSM bill, in order to allow more bills to be drawn in a ballot, and giving their anti-privatisation bill a chance to be drawn.

I bet you the answer is no.

So what does that mean? It means that Labour value protecting compulsory student associations from voluntary membership more than they value stopping asset sales. Their number one parliamentary priority is stopping VSM at all costs.

Incidentially turning to the substance of their silly bill, I’ll support a law which requires a referendum to sell any asset, so long one also needs a referendum for teh Government to buy any asset (over a non trivial value).

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Parliament at its best and worst

March 10th, 2011 at 2:39 pm by David Farrar

Just returned from making my third and fourth submission in the last fortnight to the Justice & Electoral Select Committee. As with the previous times, there was good questioning and discussion on the issue. Ths time it was about the name suppression clauses of the Criminal Procedure Bill.

As I was observing other submissions, I reflected it is a pity more people don’t get to see MPs at work like this. Unless the bill is a highly partisan one, they are genuinely engaging with submitters and looking for ways to improve the draft laws, before they are finalised. It’s an important part of our democracry, and one of the parts that works very very well. The absence of an upper house makes their role even more vital.

I hope that someday Parliament will broadcast (even just over the Internet) all public sessions of select committees, as well as the House itself.

Sadly this week we also saw Parliament at its worst. Labour wasted four hours of the House’s time filibustering the Hamilton City Council (Parana Park) Land and Vesting Bill. This is a non controversial bill that is supported by all parties in Parliament and passed its 1st and 2nd readings without dissent.

Now I’m not against the Opposition being able to fillibuster. I blogged in 2009:

I do support the rights of the Opposition to filibuster – within reason. In fact I was the primary staffer who helped National delay the Employment Relations Act by a week in 2000.

But a filbuster is a blunt weapon for an Opposition to use, and if you get it wrong, it can hurt you.

I tend to think an Opposition should do a full filibuster only once per parliamentary term – it should be used against the piece of legislation that you think is most harmful to the country.

This was the test National used in 2000 with the then ERB. It gave all sorts of special favours to unions, and National decided it was the law they were most against.

Now some will say why filibuster at all? Well an Opposition can not defeat a law, so all they can do when it is a really really bad law, is delay it to show how bad they think it is.

But here Labour is filibustering a totally non-controversial bill. They wasted the entire four to four and a half hours allocated to local and private members bills on talking about how they like to go to the park.

Why? Well their real target is the next bill on the order paper – the VSM bill.

It is interesting that Labour have decided that the VSM bill is so bad, thet they are going to try and oppose it with ore vigour than any other issue before Parliament – even more so than tax cuts, privatisation etc.

Why are Labour willing to risk a public backlash with their fillbuster, in the hope they can stop VSM (voluntary membership of student associations) occuring? Someone on Twitter provided the best answer – because there are no limits to what a parent will do to protect their young!

Compulsory membership student associations have been a major source of training and employment for future Labour Party MPs. So there are no big issues of principle involved.

What is even rarer is that Labour is willing to fillibuster private members day. Only one in six sitting days is given over to private member bills. And the vast majority of those sitting in line are from Labour or the Greens. They’re willing to stop all of those being debate, so long as they can delay VSM.

Of course they will fail. Even with fillibusters the VSM bill should pass into law in April or May. And the Government could always adopt it, and pass it as a Government measure. There is no way it won’t pass before the election.

Ironically the longer they delay it, the less time universities will have time to prepare their enrolment software.

It will be interesting to see how many weeks or months of fillibustering will Labour inflict on private members day, in their fight against VSM. It would be good to see on TV some of the inane filibustering speeches that were made yesterday on the Hamilton City Council (Parana Park) Land and Vesting Bill.

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Labour’s filibuster

May 18th, 2009 at 6:43 am by David Farrar

Blaise Drinkwater is unamused by Labour’s 1000s of frivolous amendments to the Auckland Council bill.

I’m not quite on the same page. I do support the rights of the Opposition to filibuster – within reason. In fact I was the primary staffer who helped National delay the Employment Relations Act by a week in 2000.

But a filbuster is a blunt weapon for an Opposition to use, and if you get it wrong, it can hurt you.

I tend to think an Opposition should do a full filibuster only once per parliamentary term – it should be used against the piece of legislation that you think is most harmful to the country.

This was the test National used in 2000 with the then ERB. It gave all sorts of special favours to unions, and National decided it was the law they were most against.

Now some will say why filibuster at all? Well an Opposition can not defeat a law, so all they can do when it is a really really bad law, is delay it to show how bad they think it is.

And this is the aspect I find somewhat bizarre around Labour choosing the Auckland Council to filibuster. Labour actually support there being an Auckland Council, and set up the Royal Commission that recommended it.

Now some will say, but wait the Government has changed some of the RC’s recommendations. Yes, this is true. But all those details such as the composition of the Council, Maori seats and the structure of the second tier are dealt with in a second bill, that is going to select committee for full consultation.

My other criticism of Labour’s filibuster is they overhyped it, and underdelivered. Labour MPs talked about keeping the House sitting until the Budget, when in fact they failed to even keep it sitting until Saturday midnight. They made two tactical blunders with their filibuster:

  1. Had too many amendments on the Part voted on just before midnight Friday. Labour had hundreds and hundreds of amendments to Part 3. Normally each of them would take around a minute to vote on, so they were counting on it taking up much of Saturday. But there is an exception to the rule that the House rises at midnight under urgency. It does not rise until all the amendments for a Part have been voted on, if that vote has started. So instead of having the voting delay things further, it just meant that MPs ended up sitting past midnight. There was no debate to be had – just a series of votes.
  2. They had too many amendments on the same clause, allowing the Government to take them out in a first strike? How? Well any Government amendments get put first, and if the Government amendment is passed, it can make redundant an Opposition amendment. The easiest example is the date the law comes into force – meant to be the day after royal assent. The Opposition put up hundreds of amendments proposing alternative dates. The Government then put up an amendment to change it it the second day after royal assent, and that wiped out all of Labour’s amendments.

Tactic No 2 stopped the House sitting until around 5 am Saturday as it wiped out most of Labour’s Part 3 amendments. But I was amused to get a call a bit before midnight asking me to bring in blankets and sleeping bags for National MPs. I felt like the Red Cross!

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