Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Senate Rules Fight Coming?

Greg Sargent has an important post up this afternoon about the possibility of a strong drive for filibuster reform if, as the polls right now are indicating, we get a status quo election: Barack Obama is re-elected with the Democrats holding the Senate and Republicans keeping their House majority. Greg reports that nine Democratic candidates who are winning or in tossup races are pledging to support Jeff Merkley, who has been pushing Senate reform for a while now.

As I've said before, Senate reform is most likely after a party enjoying unified government is thwarted by the filibuster for some time. When the Senate first flips, the new majority usually includes quite a few Senators who have taken strong pro-filibuster stands only recently. Not only would it be politically embarrassing for them to immediately switch, but the truth is that after defending it for enough years, most Senators will come to believe that it is necessary. It takes a while for veteran Senators to change their minds. And if the Senate or the White House flips, then the momentum for change should be entirely lost; if a veto-proof majority or a deal is needed, then the filibuster isn't a major obstacle. Of course, the second part of that is that if the House and Senate are split, then the filibuster isn't very important on legislation.

What all this means is that a status quo election should increase the pressure for reform, but particularly for nominations (where the Republican House would be irrelevant). Since in my view the most pressing need is for executive branch nomination reform, I'd be glad to see that happen! Reform is also more likely if Democrats pick up seats -- the point of maximum frustration should be when a party has a clear majority, but falls short of 60, probably by enough that easy deals to pick off a couple of moderates won't help. Of course, a larger caucus would also increase Democratic confidence that that their majority will last after 2016, reducing the risk they'll be mostly making things easier for a future Republican president.

I continue to be not particularly impressed with Merkley's particular menu of reforms, but I do think that some change would be a good idea. If we do have a status quo election, I'll be no doubt blogging quite a bit about it soon after.


  1. Bear in mind that there are no longer any Republican moderates in the Senate, so no one to make a deal with. And as long as the Club for Growth happily bankrolls primary candidates to attack sitting senators on the right, it'll stay that way.

  2. As it stands, it merely takes forty Senators to not show up and one to vote against. I'd change that so you have to get all forty to show up. And the Senate needs to publish when things fail via a filibuster, with the party that filibustered printed in big letters at the top. 'Republicans stall legislation' so that we don't get this 'legislation fails to pass' crap - if the Senate says X, the papers will print X, not some middling crap. Take ownership of your actions.

    I know, maybe actual speeches or whatnot. I just want them pushing the damn buttons and taking credit. Right now they do neither.

    1. At the very least, the burden should be placed on those filibustering to sustain the filibuster with affirmative votes to continue it.

    2. Basically. As it stands you have to get 60 Senators on the floor at the same time to wait until the one stops speaking and press their buttons.

      The forty-one only need to have one in the chamber the entire time. The 60 have to keep everyone in the chamber. That's ridiculous.

  3. I continue to scratch my head at our good host's lack of enthusiasm for almost any actual reform of a system that has, for quite a few decades, become increasingly unresponsive to allowing the will of the voters to be expressed and heard.

    Is the system really so wonderful that no fundamental reform can even be expressed or considered? Will it really continue to be wonderful if private companies own the voting process, and the NSA continues to monitor every phone call and email, and every government agency and private actor with some dollars is flying drones over all our backyards?

    18th-Century Poland was able to straggle along for quite a while with a Senate that could be blocked by a single individual, which in practice meant that it was easy for foreign monarchs to bribe or cajole a Polish nobleman to do their dirty work. In a system with hundreds of lobbyists for each elected Congressperson, and a Senate that can be blocked by a single individual, it is easy for plutocratic special interests to bribe or cajole a Senator to do their dirty work. The leading media are very adept at failing to notice an issue if they don't wish to, and/or at coloring an issue so that discussion is overloaded towards the pro-plutocratic side (see the national media discussion of, say, the keystone pipeline, genetically-modified foodstuffs or Israel/Palestine/Iran issues). Social media is, so far, too easily distracted by trivia and nonsense to be an effective organizing tool in the absence of a large institution (capable of buying lots of ads) leading in some direction.

    Poland was not the leading country in Europe in the 18th Century, and the pace of carriage and sailing ship traffic allowed the state to struggle along for most of a hundred years before it was simply swallowed up by a compact of its stronger neighbors.

    America is in a faster-paced world. If we can't get find a way to get Congress-critters to pay more attention to the long-term needs of constituents for an economy that serves the 99% and a defense policy that doesn't bankrupt us and a national security bureaucracy that doesn't become an East German nightmare on us, the internet speculations of political scientists on the nuances of the existing system won't even serve as fuel in the campfires of the survivors. At least newspapers can get a fire started.


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