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Catfood Commission II: A Cowardly Attempt to Dodge Democratic Accountability

It currently appears that the most likely resolution to the debt ceiling situation will be the use of the Mitch McConnell-Harry Reid back up plan. This plan will probably include some form of the Catfood Commission II. A bipartisan commission that would work in secret to come up with package that would be fast tracked through Congress. This means the bill wouldn’t go through the proper committees and couldn’t be amended or filibustered.

Fast tracked bipartisan commissions are very popular with some elected officials because they are purposely designed to destroy basic democratic accountability. They are meant to provide cover for politicians who are too cowardly to admit their desire is to pass legislation the electorate doesn’t want.

Voting to allow a fast track package in the future provides a way for senators to technically keep their promises while indirectly actually breaking them. For example a Conservative Republican senator may have promised to not allow any tax increases to pass. Yet they can indirectly get around this promise by simply voting to allow in the future a fast track package that can’t be filibuster. When that package containing tax increase comes up, the GOP senator can vote no but tell their base there is nothing they can do to stop it, since it can’t be filibustered.

It allows senators to vote to help pass a bill they know will eventually break one of their promises while being able to deny that is what they did.

Additionally the provision where the package can’t be amended and only gets an up or down vote is just legislative sleight of hand. Politicians will be able to act like they weren’t able to shape the final package put together by just the small group. It allows politicians to pretend they really didn’t like parts of the package but had to vote yes because it was “only this or nothing.” This is, of course, a lie.

Regardless of whether or not amendments are allowed, all members of Congress can still shape the package behind the scenes. If a coalition of House Democrats make it privately clear they will vote against the package if it contains X, if the bipartisan gang want their package to pass, they will make sure it doesn’t contain X. All that is really accomplished is that the the public is kept in the dark as the entire legislative process is moved to a backroom, and politicians are more able to hide the role they played in designing the package from their voters.

Most importantly, the admitted purpose of making such packages fully bipartisan is so that regular voters are denied a way to easily express their disapproval at the ballot box. Since we have a two party system, if the two parties both equally vote for something unpopular the electorate be unable to punish anyone at election time. Two party elections are a zero sum game. If  voters try to punish the two parties equally the net effect on who wins will be nothing.

If there was something popular with the electorate that both parties wanted to do, they would just do it. There would be no need for  fast track bipartisan commissions. They only resort to these cowardly tricks when they know they are planning to force on regular people something the American voters oppose. It is all about finding away to screw the voters which denies voters the ability to return the favor to their elected officials. At its core the Catfood Commission II is a deeply anti-democratic proposal.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker is political writer and blogger for FireDogLake. He is an expert on health care policy and the politics of health care reform.

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