The Supermajority That Never Was
It hasn’t been very long since Al Franken was sworn into office as the Democrats’ newest United States Senator, but it’s been long enough for Franken’s presence to shift the politics of the Senate, if his presence would be the shifting sort. After all, as you’ll probably remember from all the coverage of Franken’s final win over Norm Coleman, the Franken victory brought the Democrats a supermajority, a filibuster-proof voting bloc. Now, we were told, the Senate could be a real force for change, because the Republicans could do nothing to stop the Democrats.
So, how has that filibuster-proof supermajority worked out? Let’s take a look at one of the issues that the Democrats used to gain back majority control over the House and Senate, and see what kind of filibuster-proof votes the Democrats in the Senate have taken so far. The issue: Corruption in military spending.
I’m looking… darn it, no votes with Franken leading the Democrats to overturn corruption in military spending so far. Oh, but there is news of a vote to come…
It just so happens to be on an issue that Peregrin wrote about yesterday: The F-22 jet fighter boondoggle. The F-22 jet fighter is an anachronism of the Cold War that there is no strategic need for any more. The military has told the Congress to please stop budgeting more money for more F-22s to be built.
There are good reasons, besides fiscal responsibility, for scrapping the F-22. It keeps crashing, killing Air Force pilots and endangering people on the ground. For every hour in the sky, it needs more than 30 hours of maintenance, and after about 140 minutes in the air, it starts to fall apart to such an extent that a catastrophic malfunction becomes likely.
Yet, has Congress kepts passing more funding to build more and more F-22s. The reason is that big military contractors who profit from the production of F-22 airplanes funnel big amounts of money into the campaigns of members of Congress, and members of Congress show a certain loyalty to those contractors as a result.
It’s just the sort of corruption that the Democrats campaigned against in 2006 and 2008, and now, with a supermajority in the Senate, the Democrats finally have the chance to do something about it. Only, they aren’t, because they can’t.
It’s not that nobody’s trying. Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat, is attempting to pass an amendment that would strip extra money for yet-more F-22s out of this year’s military appropriations bill. He’s attempting to pass it, but he can’t, even though he’s convinced Republican Senator John McCain to join the effort. Levin says he just doesn’t doesn’t have the votes.
Why can’t Levin get the votes to pass that amendment, when the Senate Democrats have a supermajority, plus McCain’s vote? That should be enough right there.
It looks like the Democrats don’t really have a supermajority. The reason Senator Levin can’t pass that amendment to end corrupt military spending on the F-22 is that there are Senate Democrats who won’t vote with him. Those Senate Democrats support corrupt spending on the F-22.
I’m not seeing the big change in the Senate that Al Franken’s vote was supposed to catalyze. It was supposed to be that nobody in the Senate could stop the Democrats, but that perspective presumed that the Democrats would be a cohesive, meaningful voting bloc ready to follow through on the Democrat Party’s promises of reform.
The reality is that, in the United States Senate, a Democratic supermajority means that nobody can stop the Democrats… except the Democrats.