The Filibuster Blues

Republicans are screaming bloody murder over the potential rules changes on the filibuster being proposed in the U.S. Senate by Harry Reid and the Democrats. A look at the actual proposal shows that it honestly does not amount to a hill of beans, and the Republicans are likely screaming bloody murder in order to make sure that the proposal does not actually go any further. As we take that look we also shockingly find a substantial amount of hypocrisy on this issue from both Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid. I am sure you are as shocked as I am.

Majority Leader Harry Reid has proposed that the filibuster be ended only for motions to bring bills to the floor. The filibuster would remain for the consideration of the bills themselves. Yes you heard that right. The filibuster is being deployed in order to stop the Senate from actually considering bills. Reid’s proposal will leave in place the ability to filibuster the bills themselves, and will not reduce the votes needed to invoke “cloture”. (Stopping the debate). The idea that the filibuster is being employed to stop bills from actually coming to the floor is in my view totally ludicrous. The Reid proposal would also bring back the requirement that those employing the filibuster be required to actually take the floor and speak. I have heard some Republicans actually say they do not have a problem with that (Tom Coburn). I believe that the filibuster should require actual effort, something that is usually absent in the U.S. Senate.

Another Republican objection centers around Reid’s intent to make these rule changes by a simple majority vote, rather than by a two thirds vote. Some of the biggest hypocrisy comes on this question, and it comes from both sides. That hypocrisy, in my view, is one of the fundamental problems with government these days, and shows how little respect is given to the intellect of voters. What we find is that each Party changes their position on these procedural issues depending on whether they happen to be in the majority in the Senate. Many great columns on this in the last few days. Lets look at Ezra Klein’s take on this.

McConnell is referring to the Democrats’ proposal to change Senate rules with 51 votes rather than 67. But his outrage isn’t particularly convincing. As Senate whip, McConnell was a key player in the GOP’s 2005 effort to change the filibuster rules using — you guessed it — 51 votes. As he said at the time, “This is not the first time a minority of Senators has upset a Senate tradition or practice, and the current Senate majority intends to do what the majority in the Senate has often done–use its constitutional authority under article I, section 5, to reform Senate procedure by a simple majority vote.”
Now, Reid, at the time, was steadfastly opposed to changing the rules with 51 votes. He condemned the idea as “breaking the rules to change the rules.” So McConnell isn’t the Senate’s only inconsistent member on this point. But the fact is that McConnell was right the first time: The reason that Republicans believed they could change the rules with 51 votes in 2005 and Democrats believe they can do the same today is that they can.

You remember the “nuclear option”? That was when the Republicans (circa 2005) threatened to end the Democrat’s filibuster rights on Presidential judicial nominations. (The Dems were using the filibuster to block or slow the judicial nominees of President Bush). The Republicans backed off when the “Gang of 14″ negotiated an agreement on those nominations. (Lots of “gangs” in the Senate). Bottom line is the Republicans were more than willing to consider limiting filibusters in the interest of moving along some of the business of President Bush. They were frustrated with dilatory tactics by Democrats. Today it is Democratic frustration with Republican obstruction. And to be fair the Republicans have pushed the envelope hard, vastly increasing the utilization of the filibuster over the past two years (over 100 filibusters according to “No Labels”). The Senate just cannot move, and the gridlock is seriously impacting our ability to respond to issues of vital national importance. Reid’s proposal likely does not go far enough, but it is a start. I believe that is true today, and I would have the same position if the Republicans had the majority. Elections have consequences.

And since we are on the Senate the entire ridiculous process of advise and consent on presidential nominees should be streamlined with the idea of giving Presidents the staff they need, and the judiciary the judges needed, without waiting years in some cases for hearings and votes. Anonymous holds ought to be done away with, and the Senate should actually do some work and get these nominees vetted and voted within 90 days. Tell a Senator that and you would likely hear howls of outrage, and how that time-frame could never be met. And the way they work they might be right. Planning fundraisers, attending lunches, starting work late and leaving early makes it quite difficult to get any real work done. Our dysfunction in the Senate is not entirely due to filibusters, but also has plenty to do with the aversion to work shown by so many Senators. Can you imagine any entity, faced with the fiscal problems coming due on December 31st, leaving for holiday vacation? Spare me the nonsense about staff negotiations continuing during the Thanksgiving break. They are not engaging in serious work despite the pressure facing us as a country. It has become so standard that they are not even criticized for it any longer. That constitutes my Senate rant.

Some pretty good coverage of the filibuster issue for the last few days. All you ever wanted to know about the filibuster:

Ezra Klein takes on Mitch McConnell.

The Caucus blog over at the New York Times looks at the filibuster dispute.

Politico looks at the Republican threats over the filibuster rule change.

The New York Times gives some historical perspective, including the willingness of both sides to “fill the tree”, a euphemism for denying the minority opposition the right to offer amendments to bills. That is a major bone of contention between Reid and McConnell, as Reid has “filled the tree” on more than a few bills. Just as his Republican predecessors have done.

The new website of a group of Democratic Senators, including Elizabeth Warren, that are advocating for “filibuster reform”.

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