Whenever I write about ending the filibuster, the same question arises: Why doesn't Reid let the Republicans go at it? If you can't end the filibuster, you can at least make sure that the minority actually has to talk for weeks on end, as opposed to simply threatening to do so.Greg explains that attrition -- the strategy for beating a filibuster by waiting out the minority -- just doesn't work under Senate rules. I'm afraid the interview isn't quite as clear as it could be, however. Yes, it's true that Democrats don't want an extended floor debate because they have other things they want to do, but the bottom line here is that you just can't break a determined minority filibuster, no matter how many hours you give it. As Greg explains, only one Republican has to be on the Senate floor at any one time. But the real key here is that after finishing, Republicans can yield the floor to each other, indefinitely. There's no need for any one Senator to speak forever. If the Democrats insist on holding the Senate in session twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, all Republicans have to do is to divide the day into forty-one turns (assuming that all forty Republicans and at least one Dem are for the filibuster, and all are willing to speak) and let each take his or her forty minutes, or whatever it works out to. In reality, GOP Senators would be elbowing each other out of the way for their chance to impress everyone. And by everyone I mean the Tea Party types wondering whether to Scozzafava them, plus the always-important Iowa caucus attendees; how many Senators think of themselves as future presidents?).
At any rate: while it's a massive inconvenience for Democratic Senators, the most relevant point is that it's an inconvenience that doesn't actually achieve anything.
Greg talks about the rules; I'll add some comments about the politics.
It's hard for me to see how that plays out well for the majority party, unless there's overwhelming sentiment in favor of the bill. In the old days, Senators engaged in a filibuster would read recipes or otherwise stray off topic. No need for that now! Not only do Senators have large staffs who could produce content, but there's a whole big internet available. If I were advising the GOP in that situation, I'd tell them to let conservative bloggers know that they can have their big chance for immortality: post something good, and a Republican Senator will read it on the floor of the Senate. Doesn't even have to be about health care! Excellent way to rev up the conservative blogosphere, no? Meanwhile, by forcing Republicans to perform a "real" filibuster, Democrats would transform a 24 hour network that millions of Americans get in their homes into a 24 hour Republican propaganda outlet. How is that possibly good for the Democrats? Granted, CNN coverage of the Big Filibuster would invite comments from both sides, but even CNN would probably go to the Senate floor once in a while, and each time it would be a Republican talking.
Now, Democrats can threaten to keep the Senate in session over Thanksgiving, or even Christmas, without a "real" filibuster; they can just stage an extended debate. That eliminates the need to keep 50 Dems around to avoid quorum calls (although, in my opinion, Republicans wouldn't bother resorting to that except in order to annoy the majority party; Republicans will be all too happy to just keep talking). It keeps the debate two-sided. But, of course, it also gives up on the idea of winning by attrition. Which is just as well, because Greg Koger says, attrition just doesn't work.