Senator Richard Shelby, (R)idiculous, AL, has placed a general hold on all of Obama's government appointments. Why? Because he is angry that the administration is cutting pork barrel spending in his state.
More generally, the Republicans have made an unprecedented use of the filibuster in the past year, blocking %70 of all bills to come through the Senate. In one year, the Republicans have filibustered more bills than were filibustered in all of the 50's and 60's combined.
The result is that it is now well understood that supermajorities are required to pass any legislation in Congress. With the election of Scott Brown as the 41st Senator, the Republicans now hold not only a power to delay legislation, but a power to effectively veto all of it.
Republicans are abusing the filibuster. A few years ago, the Republicans threatened to abolish the filibuster because the Democrats filibustered a handful (%4.4) of Bush's federal judicial nominees. Yet today they are filibustering not just judicial nominees, but all nominees of any kind, and almost all legislation. They are even filibustering legislation they ultimately vote for.
The filibuster isn't a Constitutional requirement. It is a Senate procedural rule, and by a simple majority Senate vote, Democrats can declare Republican filibuster abuse unconstitutional. The same procedural rule Republicans threatened to invoke a few years ago because the Democrats filibustered a few judicial nominees.
Republicans are exercising the filibuster in an unconstitutional manner by turning it into a de facto requirement of 60 votes to pass legislation or make appointments. The Constitution specifies the majorities required to pass specific types of bills (simple majority for legislation, 2/3ds to ratify treaties, etc). Moreover, the Founding Fathers agreed that requiring supermajorities was bad for the country. How do we know? They explained it in the Federalist Papers:
To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision), is, in its tendency, to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser... [I]ts real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of the government, and to substitute the pleasure, caprice, or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent, or corrupt junto, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority... If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority, in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will overrule that of the greater, and give a tone to the national proceedings. Hence, tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good. And yet, in such a system, it is even happy when such compromises can take place: for upon some occasions things will not admit of accommodation; and then the measures of government must be injuriously suspended, or fatally defeated. It is often, by the impracticability of obtaining the concurrence of the necessary number of votes, kept in a state of inaction...
It is not difficult to discover, that a principle of this kind gives greater scope to foreign corruption, as well as to domestic faction, than that which permits the sense of the majority to decide; though the contrary of this has been presumed. The mistake has proceeded from not attending with due care to the mischiefs that may be occasioned by obstructing the progress of government at certain critical seasons... [W]e forget how much good may be prevented, and how much ill may be produced, by the power of hindering the doing what may be necessary, and of keeping affairs in the same unfavorable posture in which they may happen to stand at particular periods.
Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 22, explaining that the Constitution does not require supermajorities in order to prevent the tyranny of the minority.It's uncanny. It's almost like Madison and Hamilton time warped to 2009, watched the Senate in session, then went home and made reports about what they saw.It has been said that more than a majority ought to have been required for a quorum; and in particular cases, if not in all, more than a majority of a quorum for a decision. That some advantages might have resulted from such a precaution, cannot be denied. It might have been an additional shield to some particular interests, and another obstacle generally to hasty and partial measures. But these considerations are outweighed by the inconveniences in the opposite scale. In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority. Were the defensive privilege limited to particular cases, an interested minority might take advantage of it to screen themselves from equitable sacrifices to the general weal, or, in particular emergencies, to extort unreasonable indulgences.
--James Madison, Federalist 58, explaining that the Constitution does not require supermajorities in order to prevent the tyranny of the minority.
Let me emphasize, Madison and Hamilton actually agreed on something! They agreed that the Constitution should generally not require supermajorities to pass legislation.
Why, then, do Republicans think they know better than the Constitution and the Founding Fathers what is good for America? Why do Republicans think that subjecting America to the tyranny of the minority is acceptable?
It is unacceptable. Senator Shelby should NOT be allowed to use the filibuster to extort porkbarrel spending for Alabama. Neither should the Republicans be allowed to use the filibuster to "extort unreasonable indulgences" from the majority's legislative agenda.
It is time for the Democrats to exercise the Constitutional Option to restore the Senate to its Constitutional foundations as plainly expressed in that document, and in the Federalist Papers. It is time to declare Republican filibuster abuse unconstitutional, to end the tyranny of the minority, and enact the majority's will NOW!