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Posted by on Feb 15, 2009 in Politics | 12 comments

End the Filibuster? Careful What You Wish For!

A short note on Steve Benen’s righteous indignation over at The Washington Monthly:

TIME TO REFORM THE FILIBUSTER…. One of the striking aspects of the political process on the Hill is how quickly everyone has adapted to a once-rare tactic becoming routine. Senate filibusters used to be exceedingly rare — a dramatic challenge only to be used under extraordinary circumstances. Only recently has the political world accepted, without so much as a discussion, the notion that literally every key measure must enjoy a 60-vote majority if it hopes to become law.

I could go into a long diatribe on this, but instead we’ll just let BJ at Newshoggers provide a much needed dose of reality, filed under “Be careful what you wish for.” The quote in question comes from Benen’s own comments section.

It is hypocritical in the extreme for Democrats to do an about face on this issue and now advocate changing the system simply because we have power. The filibuster was an important tool during the dark days of the Bush years that we were able to use to block controversial nominees (maybe leglislation as well, I just can’t remember). During those days, we argued and howled at the Republican threats of the nuclear option and arguments about the anti-majoritarian nature of the cloture system. To now argue that the system is in need of reform is completely unprincipled and hypocritical.

Although abolishing or reforming the filibuster system would be advantageous in the near term, there will come again a day when republicans control the White House and a majority of congress, and the only tool that we Democrats will have in our arsenal to prevent bad legislation or horrendous judicial nominees is the power of the filibuster. Let’s not be short-sighted.

Ok, that’s a bit more donkey-centric than I’d have phrased it, but the principle is valid. Listen, Democrats… you didn’t like it when the GOP was running the table on you, stopping all of your agenda and building audition tapes for Legislators Gone Wild. If you didn’t have the filibuster, what judges would be sitting on all the courts right now? What other legislation would be in place? Now take a look at the stimulus (I’m sorry… porkulus) package you just hung around your own necks. If that doesn’t work some miracles in the next 18 months, you may be looking at hard times in 2010. Do you want to hand that kind of power to your opponents?

Be calm. Take a deep breath. You’re going to get to put a lot of your own legislation through for the next two years and President Obama doesn’t look like he’ll be reaching for the veto pen over Pelosi and Reid any time soon. If you get too greedy now, you’re going to regret it down the road, and likely sooner than later.

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Copyright 2009 The Moderate Voice
  • DLS

    Little-R republicans? We could only hope so? These days you don’t even have big-R Republicans who go through the motions of honoring little-R republican principles.

    Never mind the eco-weenies and techno-haters (other than with their toys and future dream objects). Where’s the “precautionary principle” where it matters most, in Washington?

    (Cartoon of Uncle Sam, collapsing onto floor in laughter: HAHAHAHAHA)

  • StockBoySF

    I recall that when the GOP was in charge that the Dems were charged as obstructionists on many items before the Senate. The Republicans said they wanted a “simple up or down vote” and was able to cow the Dems into not filibustering…. The Dems were also painted as being unpatriotic for holding up these bills (which were basically the GOP agenda).

    At any rate I’m all for the power of the filibuster and I hope the Republicans do not misuse this power. Though after every thing I’ve seen from the Republicans the last six or eight months I feel the GOP will continue to act like school children without chaperones. (Yes, I know I’m generalizing, but I’m talking about the majority of the Republicans ganging up to push their agenda, rather than the few who remain intelligent and work towards helping America.)

    Obama was right about elections having consequences and that he won. The GOP seems clueless that American wants policies different than the same old Republican policies that haven’t given the majority of Americans anything useful. If the GOP were smart they’d drop their old policies and come up with fresh ideas, either as an alternative or a complement to the Dems ideas.

    Good, productive ideas for America should transcend political party ties and petty partisan bickering.

    I thought these people (and I include some Dems in this, too) were suppose to be upstanding citizens and leaders of their communities who were adults and had the best interests of the country in mind, not the best interests of their political party.

    Some of the Republicans very basic beliefs, such as lower taxes, smaller government and personal responsibility are universally appealing…. too bad they got off track with the religious nuts… and if the Republicans hadn’t acted completely opposite of these beliefs over the last eight years (or longer) and had credibility then a leader could emerge. Unfortunately the Republicans demand total obedience to their beliefs and aren’t up to the task of having intelligent conversations with an honest evaluaiton of what America wants today and what the Republicans COULD contribute to this debate.

    The loss of a reasonable GOP not only hurts them, but everyone in America too.

    The Dems shouldn’t have all this power and I have been hoping the GOP would just grow up, smell the roses and at least take control of either the Senate or the House in 2010…. but I guess that’s not to be (though a lot can happen between now and then). And I’m beginning to be think that’s probably the best since I don’t want TODAY’S Republican Party in control of anything.

  • DLS

    “if the Republicans hadn’t acted completely opposite of these beliefs over the last eight years (or longer)”

    Longer! The “inside job” of wrecking the Republic that Michael Reagan’s complaint on this site was lamenting (changing it into something else, or more to the point by me, being “me, too” in Washington if and when not more openly Dems Lite) wasn’t just done recently, but since World War II, by the Republicans. They’ve opposed the Dems at times, but right now they really don’t define themselves very much or very well at all.

  • Marlowecan

    This is an fascinating post in two respects:

    (1) It is amazing to see how quickly hubris has swept through the Democratic Party.

    It took what . . . several years of GOP majorities . . . before they started floating the idea of the “nuclear option” to eliminate the filibuster used by “obstructionist” Democrats in the Senate.
    Sanity took hold of the GOP – thanks in part to the moderate influences of the Gang of 14.

    Now Democrats talk of eliminating it…within a month of Obama’s inauguration!
    Unbelivable how short Democrats’ memory spans are.
    Can they not remember using the filibuster in the opposition? They successfully used it to stop a number of more conservative judges being appointed?
    Do they think they will be in the majority forever?

    Amazing how we live in an accelerated political culture. If history is any guide, should the filibuster be “reformed” this will come back to bite the Democrats in the ass sooner rather than later.

    (2) One of fascinating aspects of the posts Jazz links is the “how” — the discourse – by which Democrats are talking of eliminating the filibuster.

    Note the weasely (and historically inaccurate) justifications of Ygelsias and Co. They are not going to eliminate the filibuster . . . merely “reform” it.

    This is VERY similar to the current talking points now coming from the Democrats about the “Fairness Doctrine”:

    They do not intend to re-impose the “Fairness Doctrine” or restrict freedom of speech in any way. Heaven forbid!
    Instead, they merely want to look at reforming licenses and ownership and public responsibility.

    (Remember when Left bloggers dismissed as “paranoia” conservative bloggers’ warnings of precisely this?).

    In both cases…they are attempting to do by the “backdoor” method, in the shadows…what they REALLY want to do:
    Eliminate the GOP filibuster and destroy conservative talk radio.

  • $199537

    It is humorous that Democrats are even considering overturning filibusters and other procedural maneuvers given that they used them so extensively in the past eight years. It just reflects that partisan blinders are not unique to either party.

  • elrod

    Of course, this is mostly just frustrated blogosphere talk. When the leader of the Senate Democrats prances around the room and screams about “up or down votes” and “the Constitutional option” then we’ll know that Democrats are really about to eliminate or weaken the filibuster.

    That said, there is some truth to the point that Republicans filibustered this last Congress more than any other in history – by a ton. Check out the graph on the Washington Monthly page – 104 cloture votes, compared to 50-60 per year when the GOP controlled Congress.

    But that’s because the Democratic Party was too timid to serve as a real opposition party, not because the Republicans are abusing the filibuster nowadays. We haven’t had old-school “read the phonebook” filibusters since the early 1970s; the “gentleman’s filibuster” was available to Reid and Daschle just as it is to McConnell. They just didn’t bother to use it, or couldn’t unite the Democratic caucus the way McConnell does for the GOP.

    Either way, “reforming” or “eliminating” the filibuster is a terrible idea.

    Al Franken will be Senator #59 with a few weeks. The Dems will need ONE GOP vote at that point.

  • pacatrue

    And yet, to play the devil’s advocate, the authors of the Constitution intentionally did not require a 3/5ths majority to pass every single bill in the Senate. But that’s what it’s become. So the current practice of the filibuster effectively rewrites the Constitution. Anyone worried about that? I too defended the filibuster in the last few years because I think the rights of the minority need to be defended. I maintain that opinion. What’s the solution? How does the opposition party keep a legitimate voice and yet not require super majorities on everything?

  • GeorgeSorwell

    California requires a two-thirds supermajority to pass a budget.

    Hi jinks ensue.

    And I’d guess they didn’t have trouble voting for budgets that ran up the deficits in the first place.

  • elrod

    California needs a new state constitution to function.

    • California needs a new state xxxxx to function.

      I fixed your typo for you.

  • Don Quijote

    The problem with the filibuster as it is used right now is that there is no cost to using it. Republicans say that they want to filibuster a bill and the bill is put on hold and business goes on as usual. Now if the Republicans had to stand in the well of the Senate reading War & Peace or the Yellow Pages, holding up the Senate’s business, there would be a cost and they would think about it twice before they filibuster anything.

  • StockBoySF

    In 2004 California voters passed Proposition 58 which amended the CA Constitution to require a balanced budget.

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