This American Life and the News

Good week this week.  I’ve become more involved in the office, now am trained to give tours of the US Capitol (yes, I am again a tour guide) and have actually gotten to do some writing around the office.

One of the things I’ve come to enjoy the most is the numerous news sources available to a student like me.  In Madison, we have the two city papers, wispolitics, a few blogs and two campus news papers (not counting the onion).  Here in DC, we have several national news papers available each day in the office, news sources that specifically cover what is going on at the hill, and more magazines and national publications than I know what to do with.

It’s wonderful to have access to so many learned people and to get so many insights into life on this hill.  Especially this week when law makers are discussing measures such as a comprehensive climate change bill and what amounts to a $50 billion bail out for state and local governments to avoid cutting social services such as firemen and policemen.  You quickly gain an understanding of who knows what’s going on and who’s just making partisan noise to get some good soundbites for their campaigns.

I’ve also come to understand that the magic number up here on the hill and in DC as a whole is 60.  60 votes in the senate are needed to avoid a minority filibuster.  For those of you that don’t follow the hill’s proceedings, a senate rule states that any member may hold the floor “as long as he or she is able,” which amounts to letting them speak until they literally collapse from exhaustion.  This unfettered speaking right is called the filibuster.  The longest on record is Senator Strom Thurmond’s filibuster of the Civil Rights Act, which took up 24 and 1/2 hours all on his own.  And when the minority gains the floor, they can yield to each other and perpetually hold up all other actions in the senate.  Therefore all legislation in DC is measured by its ability to get 60 votes in the Senate, which is what really matters in the end.  I personally feel that there are enough other mechanisms put into the legislative system to kill any legislation that doesn’t have strong support that the filibuster is not necessary, but it’s a very cherished part of the Senate tradition.

As I write this, I’m listening to Ira Glass on “This American Life” talk about the State of New York’s budget crisis.  One quote by David Patterson, the Democratic Governor of New York, summarizes my feelings about government during the recession:

we’ve asked government to take on too many tasks that cost too much money, and we find ourselves in this quagmire

This isn’t to say that government has failed in its goals.  Instead, I believe it says that we’ve taken on too many projects and now find ourselves in a recession where we are unable to finance these projects, despite their good intentions.  We need to have a very frank discussion in this country about the limits we face and how best to use our resources, which are NOT infinite.  To bring it full circle, this is a conversation that legislators in Washington DC don’t seem to want to have.  Right now, they instead seem content to pay lip service to the idea of cutting spending, but their actions indicate that they really don’t believe that this is a conversation that must be had.

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