We used to be able to actually get things done in this country. Our Constitution was crafted in a matter of months, despite the extremely divisive issues involved. FDR's New Deal was fully in action before his first term was up, even though it contained many controversial bills. On Dec. 17, 1941, we declared war on Japan within 24 hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
But then, slowly, our system began to bog down. A deadly combination of factors mired Congress deeper and deeper in partisan gridlock. Finally, we got to the point where it took us 2 years to pass moderate health care reform. How did this happen?
Procedural rules in the Senate have always been designed to prevent 51 Senators from shoving bills past the other 49. But filibusters (which, as you probably know, prevent Senate bills from being voted on unless at least 60 Senators vote to end debate) used to be used more rarely than they are now. Today, filibusters are as normal as earmarks - and far more destructive.
In an ideal world, all Congresspeople would have the people's best interests at heart. Unfortunately, ours is not an ideal world. As Congress has increasingly become beholden to lobbyists and frequent polling has made politicians ever more insecure about their reelection prospects, they have lost the willingness to make tough but necessary decisions. In addition, everybody has moved to the ideological center, where decisive action on anything and real reform of any institution are considered rash. This means that, in order to get the 60 votes now required to pass anything, politicians must water down their bills until their "reforms" actually change nothing.
Today, passing a bill in Congress is like writing a pop song. It must be as familiar and inoffensive as possible in order to appeal to the mass market, which supposedly rewards "moderation". Over and over, politicians attempting to pass strong reforms have withered under the threat of filibusters, killed the strongest portions of their bills and watered down others, and finally passed the bill, 60 - 40, with one side bashing the bill for being too strong and the other bashing it for not being strong enough, and the moderates who only voted "yes" because of earmarks for their home states or because they had no hope for a better deal already trying to distance themselves from it. And then, after all that, they find that their finished bill barely made a dent in the problem it was supposed to solve. Is it any wonder that our country is such a mess?
But we can change. We can change the rules to make filibusters less deadly and stop letting 41 senators dominate the other 59. A way to do this would be to allow filibusters to be broken with 55 votes rather than 60. This way, a tiny majority of 51 or 52 senators could not dominate the Senate, but neither could a tiny minority of 41 or 42.
This country is supposed to be a democracy. So tell your senators to restore democracy to the Senate.