Bust the filibuster already

When Harry Reid blames Republicans for obstruction, he neglects to mention that the Democratic majority in the Senate enables it by allowing the filibuster to persist. Now that Democrats kept their majority on Nov. 6, it is long overdue to curtail the power of the filibuster.

More after the jump.
Many factors contribute to our current economic misery — Republican abuse of the Senate filibuster, GOP control of the House of Representatives, President Obama’s inexperience and an overwhelming mess that nobody could fix in four years.

It still boils down to Harry Reid and his merry band of Senate Democrats, or some of them. Tom Harkin, Jeff Merkley and Tom Udall rate credit for attempting to rein in a historically dumb and destructive legislative mechanism.

Some weeks before Obama’s re-election, the Senate majority leader was on television relaying the latest filibuster count — 382 filibusters since the Democrats seized control of the Senate six years ago. I groaned as I listened to Reid whine: “They’ve conducted filibuster after filibuster blocking one bill after another. They’ve blocked judge after judge after judge.”

All true.

“The party trying to defeat President Obama has tried to make the president look bad.”

So far, so good.

Then, standing in the well of the Senate, Reid baldly lied: “For him (an unnamed Republican senator) to come and say the Senate is not working because of the Democrats is a big lie.”

Reid compounded this fib by adding: “Republicans are complaining about a result that they caused.”

No question that Republican behavior pre-Nov. 6 was disgusting. They employed the filibuster to block sensible legislation that they once supported…before they opposed it. Guess who handed them this kind of power, or at least allowed them to hold onto it.

Democrats had three opportunities to eliminate or curtail the power of the filibuster since they were elected to the majority in 2006. A majority of the Senate can change the body’s rules on the first day of the legislative session in early January, though some may dispute this. Democrats could have attempted such a move in 2007 and 2009, and some made a spirited effort in 2011.

Even if it was successful, the 2011 bid probably would not have worked because of Republican control of the House then. However, action against the filibuster in 2007 and 2009 would have likely made a difference then since Democrats also held the majority in the House.

Two of the most prominent measures — tax cuts for the wealthy and the “public option” for health-care reform — were blocked by the filibuster; an independent and a Democrat were among the opponents.

A health-care bill authorizing some form of a government-run health care system, a.k.a. as a “public option,” passed the House in 2009, but could not make it through the Senate.

Without the filibuster, Congress would no doubt have passed far more of its legislation aimed at combating the recession. If those measures succeeded to an appreciable degree, maybe Republicans would have had no substantial issues with which to incite voter wrath – and Democrats would not have lost control of the House in 2010.

Team Udall entered the fray in January 2011 when they proposed that any senator threatening a filibuster must present their arguments on the Senate floor. Not enough takers, even among Democrats.

Behind the scenes, Reid and GOP leader Mitch McConnell reached a deal allowing the Republicans to keep the filibuster so long as they did not abuse this power. The rest is history.

Reid himself liked the filibuster at the time, along with some other Democrats. Yet he reversed himself last May when he vindicated Team Udall’s quixotic bid to curtail the filibuster’s power. He was mad when Republicans blocked a bill to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, Politico reported.

“If there was anything that ever needed changing in this body, it’s the filibuster rules, because it’s been abused, abused, abused,” Reid declared on the Senate floor.

A few days later, Common Cause announced a lawsuit to declare the filibuster unconstitutional because the Constitution “envisioned majority rule except where specifically stated otherwise.”

On Tuesday, Nov. 13, a New York Times editorial urged measures to curtail the filibuster’s powers when the next Senate convenes in early January.

Short-term, the filibuster may not be problematic because the election has left Republicans in a more cooperative, and humbled, mood. Still, the GOP can feel emboldened to filibuster any time, without warning, if the tide turns again.

There is nothing like the rule of law to stop bad behavior dead in its tracks. Please go for it, Sen. Reid.

Bruce S. Ticker of Philadelphia is author of the e-book George Costanza Goes to Washington which describes fault lines in the political system. Ticker can be reached at [email protected].

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