Quiz Time! So, the Republicans are dropping their filibuster on the motion to proceed on the banking bill. Was it because:
A. Mitch McConnell needed to get a bet down on Lookin At Lucky.
B. Those wimpy Dems finally threatened a "live" filibuster.
C. Uh...because the Republicans said they were only bluffing to being with.
Yes, the answer is in fact C: they never really had 41 solid votes to begin with.
Now, why the GOP leaders decided to force a foolish filibuster anyway at this stage of the game, even though it wasn't going to succeed, is a pretty good mystery. Remember, this isn't about whether they're going to filibuster passage of the bill; it's about the decision to filibuster against consideration of the bill. I can think of three possibilities:
1. It's part of a long-term strategy to waste Senate floor time, in order to reduce the capacity of the Senate to get anything done. That does make some sense; eating up three days this week could, at least possibly, prevent some judicial nominee from being confirmed later this year. On the other hand, the Democrats still have unused floor hours (Mondays, Fridays, nights, weekends), so they're not running up against any real limits yet.
2. The Republicans are terrified of the talk show hosts and conservative bloggers, who are demanding maximal resistance to the dread socialist Kenyan Obama whether the resisance makes any sense or not.
3. Mitch McConnell is actually an incompetent hack and has no idea what he's doing.
And the answer is...I don't know! I'd like to think that it's a logical strategy (which implies answer #1), but we've seen this before (during Christmas week) when it was clear that delays were not affecting future Senate business. If not that, I'd like to think that it's at least a rational response to political incentives, but I'm not convinced that Rush and Beck and all are really focused on the minutia of Senate procedure. Maybe, maybe not.
I am convinced that if their goal was either amending or defeating the banking bill, the Republicans are going about it badly. I'm not actually concluding that answer #3 applies...but I'm really not sure that it doesn't.