Vague procedure threatens politicsI am the United States Senate.
Although I have only 100 members, I am probably the strongest power to check the federal government. The U.S. House of Representatives, which has 435 members, is my brother, but its power is not as strong as mine. I am the only one with the rights to ratify a treaty and to endorse the president’s nominees for the cabinet and the judiciary.
I am the birthplace of the filibuster, which is also a part of the revised National Assembly Act in Korea. The filibuster might sound complicated, but there is nothing difficult about it.
There is no regulation for a filibuster. There is no restriction in theme or time. It is an enormous privilege. The longest filibuster was conducted by U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, at 24 hours and 18 minutes, in opposition to the 1957 Civil Rights Act.
There is nothing comparable to a minority party being able to check the administration and the majority party. That’s why the filibuster is the counterbalance between the majority and minority parties. When a few senators resist, voting will be delayed and the bill will automatically be discarded unless it is voted on during the session.
I found that the quorum to end a filibuster in the United States was the same as that in the Korean law governing the National Assembly. Korea also requires the support of three-fifths of the legislature to end a filibuster. It is a rare number, so it appears that Korea modeled its system after the American layout.
Korean law also requires a contentious bill to be approved by three-fifths of the incumbent lawmakers.
Hence, the minority party has double-layered protection. In the United States, we only require three-fifths of attending lawmakers to end a filibuster, and passing a bill only requires a majority.
Korean law governing the legislature is also stricter because a contentious bill can only be passed by incumbent lawmakers, and not by those who attended the session. I am amazed that there is a legislature that emphasizes the politics of compromise more than us.
I was told that Korea also has a law governing the National Assembly hearing. I hope the intention of this system will stay unchanged.
And yet, the U.S. filibuster system underwent a big change. The quorum required to end a filibuster on the presidential nomination of a federal judge or an administration official was eased in November from three-fifths to a simple majority. The Democratic Party, the majority party, set this new precedent.
For us, a precedent is a system that we must respect. A small corner of the tight fortress of the filibuster has fallen, although ending one on the nomination of a Supreme Court justice or a vote on a bill still requires three-fifths for approval.
The U.S. Republican Party, the minority party, threatened retaliation. It was a vicious cycle of political confrontations.
Our filibuster system, in fact, has faced immense criticism lately. The public and media have said it has become the axis of a “vetocracy,” rather than serving its role as a safety pin in the politics of compromise. The criticisms grew even more severe as the confrontation between the Democrats and Republicans intensified over fiscal reform, immigration and gun control issues.
Since the American Civil War, sectarianism in the United States never came to a head. Japan used to have a new prime minister once every year because bills could not be passed in its lower and upper houses. The “indecisive politics” from that time period is now the reality of Washington.
In fact, Congress’s performance is extremely poor. Its approval rating is only 14 percent, according to this month’s Gallup poll. Over the last two years, only 165 bills were passed, the lowest number in the last 60 years. I wonder if the Korean National Assembly has fallen into the same vicious cycle. I was told that the legislature has not passed a single bill since the deadly Sewol ferry disaster in April.
Democracy is a procedure, and the legitimacy of the procedure is mandatory. But a thorny legislative procedure threatens the true aim of politics, whether it is in the West or in the East, because a new policy or a new system always requires a final step in the legislature.
We have our next election in November, but Korea will have its legislative election in two years.
Now is a golden time for the legislature, and I should wait and see if the ruling and opposition parties can reach a grand compromise or revise the National Assembly Act.
It would be a tragedy if Korean politics cannot find an answer until the ballot boxes begin operating two years from now. Korea, then, could be pushed outside of the international community amid turmoil.
In this situation, the president must show flexible leadership and listen to the minority parties more carefully for the sake of national competitiveness. I could have never imagined that I would sympathize with Korean politics.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 25, Page 32
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Oh Young-hwan