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參院鬧劇 別釀成美國悲劇

(2010-02-09 10:52:17)
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杂谈

分类: PaulKrugman

America Is Not Yet Lost

 

We’ve always known that America’s reign as the world’s greatest nation would eventually end. But most of us imagined that our downfall, when it came, would be something grand and tragic.

What we’re getting instead is less a tragedy than a deadly farce. Instead of fraying under the strain of imperial overstretch, we’re paralyzed by procedure. Instead of re-enacting the decline and fall of Rome, we’re re-enacting the dissolution of 18th-century Poland.

A brief history lesson: In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Polish legislature, the Sejm, operated on the unanimity principle: any member could nullify legislation by shouting “I do not allow!” This made the nation largely ungovernable, and neighboring regimes began hacking off pieces of its territory. By 1795 Poland had disappeared, not to re-emerge for more than a century.

Today, the U.S. Senate seems determined to make the Sejm look good by comparison.

Last week, after nine months, the Senate finally approved Martha Johnson to head the General Services Administration, which runs government buildings and purchases supplies. It’s an essentially nonpolitical position, and nobody questioned Ms. Johnson’s qualifications: she was approved by a vote of 94 to 2. But Senator Christopher Bond, Republican of Missouri, had put a “hold” on her appointment to pressure the government into approving a building project in Kansas City.

This dubious achievement may have inspired Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama. In any case, Mr. Shelby has now placed a hold on all outstanding Obama administration nominations — about 70 high-level government positions — until his state gets a tanker contract and a counterterrorism center.

What gives individual senators this kind of power? Much of the Senate’s business relies on unanimous consent: it’s difficult to get anything done unless everyone agrees on procedure. And a tradition has grown up under which senators, in return for not gumming up everything, get the right to block nominees they don’t like.

In the past, holds were used sparingly. That’s because, as a Congressional Research Service report on the practice says, the Senate used to be ruled by “traditions of comity, courtesy, reciprocity, and accommodation.” But that was then. Rules that used to be workable have become crippling now that one of the nation’s major political parties has descended into nihilism, seeing no harm — in fact, political dividends — in making the nation ungovernable.

How bad is it? It’s so bad that I miss Newt Gingrich.

Readers may recall that in 1995 Mr. Gingrich, then speaker of the House, cut off the federal government’s funding and forced a temporary government shutdown. It was ugly and extreme, but at least Mr. Gingrich had specific demands: he wanted Bill Clinton to agree to sharp cuts in Medicare.

Today, by contrast, the Republican leaders refuse to offer any specific proposals. They inveigh against the deficit — and last month their senators voted in lockstep against any increase in the federal debt limit, a move that would have precipitated another government shutdown if Democrats hadn’t had 60 votes. But they also denounce anything that might actually reduce the deficit, including, ironically, any effort to spend Medicare funds more wisely.

And with the national G.O.P. having abdicated any responsibility for making things work, it’s only natural that individual senators should feel free to take the nation hostage until they get their pet projects funded.

The truth is that given the state of American politics, the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.

Don’t hold your breath. As it is, Democrats don’t even seem able to score political points by highlighting their opponents’ obstructionism.

It should be a simple message (and it should have been the central message in Massachusetts): a vote for a Republican, no matter what you think of him as a person, is a vote for paralysis. But by now, we know how the Obama administration deals with those who would destroy it: it goes straight for the capillaries. Sure enough, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, accused Mr. Shelby of “silliness.” Yep, that will really resonate with voters.

After the dissolution of Poland, a Polish officer serving under Napoleon penned a song that eventually — after the country’s post-World War I resurrection — became the country’s national anthem. It begins, “Poland is not yet lost.”

Well, America is not yet lost. But the Senate is working on it.

 

眾所周知,美國身為舉世最偉大國家的霸主地位終有結束的一天。不過多數的人認為,一旦美國開始式微,將是具有悲劇意味的大事。

我們目睹的不是悲劇,而是一齣足以致命的鬧劇。美國並不是因為在全球伸出帝國般的觸角而逐漸不支,而是因為程序問題而陷入癱瘓。美國並未步上羅馬帝國衰亡的後塵,而是複製18世紀的波蘭土崩瓦解的前例。

以下是一段扼要的史實。17與18世紀期間,波蘭議會採一致決原則,只要有一名國會議員在議場高喊「我不同意!」,就可以封殺議案。這導致當時的波蘭難以治理,鄰國趁機開始蠶食它的領土。至1795年,波蘭已經消失,一百多年後才復興。

今天,美國聯邦參議院似乎決意青出於藍勝於藍。

經過九個月後,聯邦參議院終於通過瑪莎‧強森出任聯邦政府總務署署長的人事任命案。該署職掌政府建築物及採購,署長是超越黨派的職務。沒有人懷疑瑪莎‧強森的資歷,參院以94票對2票的懸殊表決結果通過該案,然而代表密蘇里州的共和黨籍參議員龐德卻對此案附加「前提」,以迫使聯邦政府批准一項堪薩斯市的建築案。

此一可疑的成就可能對阿拉巴馬州共和黨籍參議員薛爾比產生啟示作用。無論如何,薛爾比已經對歐巴馬政府的各項重要人事提名案─大約70個政府高階職務─附加「前提」,直到阿拉巴馬州獲得一紙油槽合約與一個反恐中心為止。

個別參議員如何握有如此的權力?參院的許多議事過程有賴共識:除非全體參議員對程序無異議,任何議程都難以推動。在這種議事傳統下,參議員取得封殺心中所惡重要職務提名人的權力,以換取不一味抵制議事的默契。

以往,參議員甚少使用「前提」。國會研究處在一項報告中指出,這是因為當時的參院「遵守禮讓、互惠及協調的傳統」。那是當年。曾經可行的遊戲規則因為美國的一個主要政黨偏執於無政府主義,認為即使美國因此陷入癱瘓也無大害(政治分贓)而窒礙難行。這種局面有多槽糕?糟到使我開始懷念金瑞契。

讀者可能還記得,1995年擔任聯邦眾議院議長時,金瑞契刪除聯邦政府的預算,迫使政府暫停運作。這種手段醜陋又極端,然而至少金瑞契的要求很明確:他希望美國總統柯林頓同意大幅刪減聯邦醫療保險(Medicare)的預算。

相形之下,如今的共和黨領袖拒絕提出任何明確的構想。他們猛烈抨擊赤字;上個月,共和黨籍參議員投票反對提高聯邦預算赤字上限。若不是當時的民主黨握有60席,聯邦政府勢必再度癱瘓。不過另一方面,共和黨也反對任何可能足以降低赤字的構想,包括以更明智之策調度使用聯邦醫療保險預算的努力。

在共和黨推卸協助政務順利推動之責的局面下,個別參議員任意挾持全國,直到個人屬意的計畫獲得資助為止的情形也就不足為怪。

事實上,在當前的美國政治生態下,參院運作的方式已經不再與政府是否如常運作有必然的關係。參議員應該認清這個事實,並全力推動修改這些議事規則,包括取消或至少限制以冗長發言阻撓議事的手段。這是他們在參院下次復會的第一天,利用多數決而可為且應為的要務。

不必緊張。局面說明,民主黨人甚至似乎無法因為彰顯對方的阻撓手段而在政治上占得機先。

訊息應該很簡單(也是麻州的核心訊息):無論你對他的觀感如何,共和黨人投下一票,等於為癱瘓投下一票。不過我們已經知道歐巴馬政府如何應付一味阻撓的人:直取個別當事人。白宮新聞秘書吉布斯指責薛爾比「愚蠢」。是的,這一定能夠引起選民的共鳴。

波蘭瓦解後,一名為拿破崙效命的波蘭軍官譜寫一曲歌。它在波蘭於一次大戰結束後復興時,成為波蘭的國歌。它的第一句是,「波蘭尚未逝去」。

美國仍未逝去,然而參院正在促成它逝去

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