Thursday, March 1, 2012

Preventing GOP Filibuster Reform

I wrote over at PostPartisan this morning about the question of whether Republicans would, if they get unified government in 2013, get rid of the filibuster. I don't think they would, but I do think they'd tinker around the edges quite a bit.

To add to know what would probably make it less likely for Republicans to move against the filibuster? If Democrats, starting with the president, made filibuster reform a major issue this year. The truth is, three years in, Republican Senators have been forced to make shockingly few defenses of the filibuster and their use of it. They've for the most part treated the 60 vote Senate as something more or less as old as the republic, rather than something built in recent decades, with the big steps coming in January 1993 and January 2009.

Now, I do expect majority parties to move over time to an anti-filibuster position (and vice versa). But I also think that politicians tend to feel constrained by their promises, and the most specific and high-profile those promises are, the more politicians are constrained. So given that a Democratic push for filibuster reform this year would almost certainly spark a strong Republican reaction, it would at the same time slow the odds of rapid reform in 2013 if Republicans win big in November.

The flip side argument is that Republicans would, after opposing reform this year, use Democratic rhetoric as an excuse for action after the election. That doesn't sound right to me...if Republicans are ruthless enough to immediately flip as soon as the election is over, I doubt they would care much about the justification.

Of course, this puts aside the possibility that one side might decide they want a more majoritarian Senate, and would be willing to give the other side the first chance at it in order to get that procedural change enacted. Mainly because I think that's unlikely to ever really happen.


  1. I think you overestimate the need of Republicans to take consistent positions. And there is a pretty clear test on a very similar procedural question: when Republicans had the majority, they made a handful of Democratic filibusters into a major issue, and a majority of current GOP Senators took a specific and unambiguous position, that the Senate should be required to bring all judicial nominees to a vote in a short time period. Since obama took office, not one Republican senator has felt constrained to hold to their expressed position. That really deserves some notice: it isn't some Republicans, or a majority, that has walked away from their previous position without apologizing. It's EVERY SINGLE ONE.

    And that's without even going into their hypocrisies on budget deficits, raising the debt ceiling, the individual mandate, and quite a few other issues.

  2. The filibuster makes individual Senators more powerful at the expense of failing to win in the near term on partisan policy fights. The question is, are there enough Senators willing to give up some individual power in order for their party to win important policy fights? My guess is that the most ideological Senators on both sides are willing to get rid of the filibuster to move policy in their favored direction, but the less ideological Senators want the individual power that the filibuster gives them more. So I think there are enough Senators on both sides who prefer individual power over ideology to keep the 60-vote Senate around for many years to come.

  3. Even though they would surely have no problem with getting rid of the filibuster January 20th, 2013, Republicans know perfectly well they would have no need to get rid of it, because Democrats won't take advantage of it to halt or even slow down Republican bills.

  4. The notion that Republicans are going to eliminate the filibuster is a fantasy. They will need the filibuster in the future to block the addition of a public option to ACA, card check, and of course the appointment of liberal Federal judges. What they are actually going to do should they gain the Senate and the White House is use reconciliation to pass huge tax cuts for the rich, the Ryan plan, and repeal or neuter ACA.


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