Super-Majority Requirements and Fiscal Outcomes (Tax Compromise Edition)
The pending compromise between the two parties on taxes and other policies underscores the fact that enhanced minority power (in this case, the filibuster power) helps contribute to fiscal irresponsibility.
The pending agreement over the extension of the Bush tax rates alongside the payroll tax cut, the extension of unemployment benefits and a few other sundry items is not exactly a deficit cutting maneuver. The package will result in a combination of decreased revenues and increased spending. I know it is an article of faith of some that tax cuts lead to increased revenues and there is the further hope that all of these things will stimulate the economy, yet we have to admit from an empirical point of view that the Bush tax rates, combined with the payroll cuts and unemployment benefits, will contribute to larger deficits over the next two years. However, after a year in which fiscal responsibility and deficits in particular were watchwords for certain segments of the electorate, one would think that such a move would give those individuals pause (but perhaps not).
Now, none of this says that the actual policies agreed upon create a good, bad or indifferent outcome for the moment. The point is to illustrate how the filibuster rules in the Senate actually help contribute to our fiscal circumstances.
To wit: whenever there is a super-majority requirement to proceed on something, it is the minority that is empowered. Because the minority party can use the power of the filibuster to shut down the legislative power of the United States, they are empowered to extract concessions from the majority. It is axiomatic: the more actors empowered in a given negotiation, the more concessions that have to be made. Further, those concessions must be of a nature that they attract agreement without leading to members of your coalition defecting. Under such circumstances, what is easier to provide? The answer is more pleasure than pain. Or, to be less cryptic: some combination of lower taxes and higher spending tends to be the result of such a negotiation.
This is the dynamic that has helped sink California: all budgets and tax increases have needed a 2/3rds majority to pass for decades. Under such circumstances, more spending is a requisite to forge a compromise while raising new revenues becomes all the harder. (It should be noted that the voters decided to go to a regular majority vote for the budget this November when they chose to pass Prop. 25 55.1%-44.9%).
At a minimum, this dynamic is worth pointing out as we continue to consider the Filibuster and whether it deserves reform. I know a lot of conservatives consider it a tool for blocking Democratic policies that would expand the size of the government. However, it must be understood that it creates a dynamic in which deals must be brokered, and deals require goodies (i.e., spending).
It is, in fact, a good thing that the budget cannot be filibustered under Senate rules, or we would likely have even larger deficits (and by extension, debt).