Thursday, January 24, 2013

Elsewhere: Senate Reform

I have two pieces out on the compromise package on Senate reform -- at PP I say that the package does nothing about the 60 vote Senate, but should help a lot with the problem of filibusters when there is a 60 vote supermajority. That's not what reformers wanted, but it's not nothing.

And at Greg's place, I discussed the factors that led to more major reform fizzling out. One point that wound up getting edited down that I do want to emphasize is that what they're trying to do -- a middle-ground reform is simply very hard to do. It's especially hard to do by rules instead of by norms, which is how it used to be done. The problem is that the current crop of Republicans simply isn't willing to abide by institutional norms; they believe in exploiting the rules whenever possible. That's their right, but it's hard to overcome.

I'm sure I'll link to other things soon, but I'll call Greg Koger's analysis of it to your attention right now.

I'll also say that another big part of whether this will really work depends on whether they really go through with use-it-or-lose-it post-cloture time. If so, it's going to be a lot easier -- maybe I would even say easy - to move non-controversial district judges and executive branch nominations, and even those who have some opposition, but no intense opposition.


  1. It's probably telling that no big-time liberal or Democratic donors put up big time promises of funding if the Democrats backed doing away with the filibuster. Soros or Bloomberg or whoever are willing to put serious promises of funds behind things like gun control or amorphous think tanks, but they're not about to incentivize moderate Democratic senators to support allowing a majoritarian Senate that could pass measures that might hit elites' bottom-line interests.

  2. Norms is the main issue, I think. The Republicans have for some time been acting as a revolutionary party. They simply don't see the Democratic Party has legitimate. In this context, abuse of the filibuster is nothing compared to voter suppression.

    Perhaps I'm too much of a partisan, however. I've always seen the filibuster fight from a tactical standpoint. You wrote over at The Plum Line, "I also continue to believe that the 60 vote Senate this reform package leaves in place isn't stable or viable over the long term." That's the problem! Am I alone in thinking that the moment the Republicans have the White House and Senate that they will eliminate the filibuster altogether?

    And then there is the optics: wimpy Democrats. Earlier, I contrasted what Reid said 9 months ago:

    These two young, fine senators said it was time to change the rules of the Senate, and we didn't. And they were right. The rest of us were wrong—or most of us, anyway. What a shame… If there were anything that ever needed changing in this body, it's the filibuster rule, because it's been abused, abused and abused.

    With what he said today:

    I'm not personally, at this stage, ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold.

    What changed?

    1. Yes, great points. Do these Democratic Senators have any sense of what they'll do once Republicans inevitably retake the Senate? Like with Obama, this is some vague gamble/hope on the part of moderate Senators that the GOP's "fever" will break. But they never really offer a plausible explanation for why the GOP will stop playing norm-destroying hardball, especially whenever the GOP sniffs weakness.

  3. Sad. It amazes me is that the 60-vote-senate will stick around. And the Democratic majority will allow it to stay.

    I really don't understand why the majority would continue to allow itself to be controlled by the minority. Really, what's the point of being a US Senator?

  4. There's a factor in the failure of filibuster reform you didn't mention at Plum Line: it doesn't matter for Democrats being able to pass bills with 51 votes in the Senate as long as Republicans control the House. Anything important and non-crazy (i.e. not repealing ACA or banning abortion nationwide) that passes the House can almost surely find 60 votes in the Senate. If the Democrats had won the House in November, then it would be a different story. But as it is, there's nothing much to be gained by real filibuster reform in the next 2 years. I don't like it, but I can understand why Senators might want to wait on using the Constitutional option to remove the 60 vote requirement for bills until they can actually pass progressive bills that can also make it through the House and then be signed by the President.

    1. Good catch -- I've talked about that in the past, but totally ignored it yesterday. I shouldn't have; it's the context for the entire fight.

  5. I'd still like to hear Harry Reid explain his flip-flop from what he said on the floor of the Senate in May of last year (quoted above in Frank Moraes's post) to what he said yesterday. I think he flat-out lied to the reformers and to the liberal activists, and I think his word isn't worth spit.


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