Republican Party

January: The Perfect Time to Debate the Filibuster

The month was named after Janus-the Roman god who had two faces.

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The longest-running comedy in America is not "The Simpsons," "Cheers," or "M*A*S*H*"—but Congress. Take the Senate (please!), where Democrats are trying to curb the use of the filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised to do just that when the new Congress is sworn in. As he put it this summer, "we have to change the rules. We can't go on like this anymore…. We can [change the rules] with a simple majority at the beginning of the next Congress."

This stands in marked contrast to what Reid was saying a few years ago—when Democrats were in the minority and Republicans were the ones trying to change the Senate rules.

"For people to suggest that you can break the rules to change the rules is un-American" Reid fumed in 2005. "To change a rule in the Senate rules to break a filibuster still requires 67 votes. You can't do it with 60. You certainly cannot do it with 51…. It is illegal. It is wrong, you can't do it…. It is very un-American."

Yet that, hilariously, is precisely what he plans to do now.

Equally hilarious: Republicans now are saying exactly the same sort of things Democrats were saying in 2005. In late November Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Reid of engaging in a "systematic effort to marginalize the minority." Sen. John Cornyn now decries what he sees as "an abuse of power." Sen. Tom Coburn warns that "the backlash will be severe."

There was a time, long ago, when the filibuster arguably served the cause of good government by checking majority power. This is arguable because while the tyranny of the majority is a real danger, majorities are not always wrong.

In any event, those days are shrouded in the mists of history. For at least the past two decades, Democrats and Republicans have used the filibuster far more for petty partisan purposes than to ensure robust debate on the great questions of the day.

A few years ago the Republican majority in the Senate got fed up with Democratic filibustering. McConnell accused Democrats who were blocking Republican judicial nominees of endangering the Constitution itself. Cornyn denounced "this unconstitutional use of the filibuster to deny the president his judicial nominations." Sen. Rick Santorum compared Democrats to Hitler.

So in 2005, Republicans proposed the "nuclear option"—changing the Senate rules with a simple majority vote. They even produced a report justifying what they termed the "constitutional option," on the grounds that "the Senate has always had, and repeatedly has exercised, the constitutional power to change the Senate's procedures through a majority vote."

Democrats and liberals went (pardon the term) ballistic.

"The filibuster," declared Harry Reid, is "the last check we have against the abuse of power in Washington."

"A careful review of the Senate's precedents," said the liberal People for the American Way, "reveals that the Senate has never acted by simple majority vote to force an end to a filibuster or a change to the Senate's rules of debate." Today, you can sign a PFAW petition to "End the Unprecedented Partisan Obstruction: Stop Filibuster Abuse Now."

In 2005, The New York Times somberly warned that the GOP's "deeply misguided" attempt to change the Senate rules "poses a real danger of permanently damaging the system of checks and balances at the heart of American democracy." This past November, the newspaper touted "A New Chance for the Senate": Democrats, it said, "can vastly improve the efficiency of Congress and reduce filibuster abuse with a simple-majority vote. This time they need to seize the moment."

Seven years ago, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne denounced GOP efforts to circumvent the filibuster as "regime change disguised as a narrow rules fight." Now, he terms GOP use of the filibuster "extra-constitutional … obstructionism."

Seven years ago, the Heritage Foundation called for "ending the filibuster of qualified judges." Now, Heritage deems the filibuster "the soul of the Senate" and attempts to reform it a "partisan power grab."

Some of those singing a different tune now try to justify their switch by suggesting that the situation today is different from the situation a few years ago: Today's filibusters are somehow worse (or better) than yesteryear's. A few may actually convince themselves, momentarily, that we have always been at war with Eastasia. But at bottom they're really just blowing smoke. When control of the Senate switches back, so will they.

That's what makes January the perfect time to debate filibuster reform. The month was named after Janus—the Roman god who had two faces.

NEXT: C-SPAN Fiscal Cliff Program Descriptions: "Just Plain Dick," "I Want You to Shut the F#ck Up"

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  1. This is today’s “Dog Bites Man” story, right?

  2. Is it wrong to read the end of Tom Clancy’s “Executive Orders” and become aroused?

    1. I think you mean Debt of Honor actually.

  3. It is just like the constitution. Everyone loves it until their side gets in charge and it prevents them from doing something. The Dem hatred of the filibuster will last right up until the Republicans take over again. And they will totally without any sense of shame or irony tell the world how great and valuable it is.

    1. Just like the Bush tax cuts for the superwealthy that became Obama’s tax cuts for the middle class.

    2. I’m reading Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty right now, and it’s amazing the awful stuff that was going on in the 1650-1750 time frame.

      Religious tests for office; people being locked up for being dissenters; Colonial proprietors fucking over tenant farmers in what we would term as eminent domain abuse today.

      The limits on government built into the Constitution weren’t put in as a theoretical exercise but to counter really nasty historical abuses that occurred within living memory of the guys who organized and fought the war of independence.

      And the abuses were the product of human nature (which is constant) and not because the leaders hadn’t been taught tolerance of minorities in a public school whose curriculum meets national guidelines.

      1. the abuses were the product of human nature (which is constant)

        Not according to progressives. By giving the right people enough power, they can use well intentioned legislation and regulation to cure us of that affliction. It’s that what progress and social engineering is all about?

        1. *Isn’t*

      2. Elizabethan England was a police state. They were terrified of religious wars. So they pretty much set up a totalitarian state to enforce the Church of England on everyone. And a lot of those practices were brought to the early colonies.

  4. I love this comment from Ed Brayton’s post about liberal hypocrisy with regards to the filibuster:

    “The Dems are far from perfect, but look ? if one side uses the filibuster to block a giveaway to billionaires, and the other side uses the filibuster to block payout of earned benefits to the unemployed, are the two sides really equally to blame?”

    1. I liked that one too. I wonder what “earned benefits to the unemployed” are.

      1. “Earned”=born and/or residing in the United States

        1. Earned = voted for Democrats.

          1. Wait, I thought everybody votes for the Democrats. I mean, that’s why Republican victories have to be automatically reviewed, right?

            1. There are no Republican ‘victories’. There are only either Democratic victories or stolen elections.

    2. if one side uses the filibuster to block a giveaway to billionaires of taxpayer money, and the other side uses the filibuster to block payout of earned benefits to the unemployed a giveaway of taxpayer money, are the two sides really equally to blame

      I would have to say, hmm, tough one, lemme think:

      Yes.

    3. Nothing like a fresh new take on the ever classic “have you stopped beating your wife?

  5. The longest-running comedy in America is not ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Cheers,’ or ‘M*A*S*H*’

    But seriously, it’s The Simpsons, which, unfortunately, hasn’t been funny since 1997.

  6. I’m shocked, shocked to learn there is gambling going on here!

  7. I thought Reid just wanted to change it back so that Filibusters required people to actually be up there nattering on. If that’s the case, then what’s the problem?

    1. Still a double standard. Dems were perfectly willing to use the EZ filibuster when they were in the minority.

  8. Sen. Rick Santorum compared Democrats to Hitler.

    Stopped clock? Or takes one to know one?

  9. Speaking of the constitution, didn’t the fiscal cliff bill to raise taxes on those making more than $400,000 originate in the Senate?
    So how does that square with the constitutional requirement that such bills originate in the House? I know, I know, FYTW.

    1. Same way they did Obamacare. Take another bill, cross out everything except the number, amend it with your own stuff, send it back to the House.

    2. “constitutional requirement”

      You think in such three-dimensional terms.

  10. Republicans, should they ever gain a majority in the Senate again, would have absolutely no compunction about using the nuclear option. They’ve long since abandoned any shame with respect to the gentlemanliness of legislating. Whatever Harry Reid may have said in the past, it is a fact now that the filibuster has been abused far beyond reason, though that is hardly the only way in which Congress is dysfunctional to the point of global embarrassment.

    1. Did you seriously say “the gentlemanliness of legislating?” I just laughed at you, personally, very hard. I’m glad I wasn’t drinking anything when I read your little gem about “gentlemanliness.” Wow. Carry on.

    2. gentlemanliness of legislating

      You fucking misogynistic piece of shit!

    3. It’s supposed to be difficult to pass laws. It is supposed to be long and drawn out, with few things headed to the President’s desk…

      The Founders built in these stops to prevent what everyone seems to want these days… a fast-track to get free shit.

    4. Tony said:

      Republicans, should they ever gain a majority in the Senate again, would have absolutely no compunction about using the nuclear option. They’ve long since abandoned any shame with respect to the gentlemanliness of legislating. Whatever Harry Reid may have said in the past, it is a fact now that the filibuster has been abused far beyond reason, though that is hardly the only way in which Congress is dysfunctional to the point of global embarrassment.

      Simultaneously embracing the nuclear option and insulting those who would use the nuclear option, depending on whether there’s a (R) or an (D).

      OK, I have to admit at: for a while, I thought Tony was a real person. However, in the last couple of days, this has to be some long-term gag that’s run out of steam. No one can be this out-of-touch. It would require willful blindness.

  11. If anything I would push the threshold closer to 80 votes to pass anything. More power should be in the hands of the states with a small federal government to manage interstate issues, so if you can’t get a major majority on an issue, it probably shouldn’t pass.

    If people are fed up with the bickering of the two parties, then they should vote for a third or at least vote out the members who support this nonsense.

    The real problem is that the people are divided on these issues, but rather than each side taking turns screwing over the other, we need to force either real compromise or localize the issue so that people have more choices in how they wish to be governed.

    1. Why should 20 Senators representing maybe 5% of the population get to dictate national policy? Not legislating is not the same thing as not governing.

      1. I don’t know, Tony, why should a minority blacks prevent a white majority from legislating them into second class status?

        1. What a totally apt comparison.

          1. Because liberals are the only people who can draw comparisons to past injustices…right?

            1. No Caleb,

              I think Tony is indicating that he is finally at peace with the racism at the philosophical core of his political movement.

      2. We’re in a lot of shit because they are doing something. I’d rather they did nothing.

      3. Why should 20 Senators representing maybe 5% of the population get to dictate national policy?

        Because 5% of the population still has rights which should be respected, regardless of the whims of the other 95%.

        Not legislating is not the same thing as not governing.

        And here’s Tony w/spaces, the misogynistic sockpuppet’s basic philosophy. The people must be governed 24/7, 365. A boot must be firmly applied to their necks, or they might take in their heads that they are free to act as they would like.

      4. Because in our republic when ran as designed, those 20 Senators represent the will of 10 states that voluntarily joined the union under a pre-defined set of rules where most of legislative power remained in those states.

        After joining the union the federal government now steals all of the tax resources directly from the citizens of those states and force the state governments to beg for some back.

        If you don’t see how perverse and corrupted a simple majority in both houses can cause, especially under the two-party system, you are either willfully ignorant, or would rather we have one governmental body for the entire country.

        I’ll agree to a simple majority if we can prevent the feds from taking taxes from individuals and instead send the bill to the states evenly divided by the number of house members.

        1. you are either willfully ignorant, or would rather we have one governmental body for the entire country.

          In Tony’s case, that would be “yes”.

          I like the bicameral legislature in one of Heinlein’s books.

          See if I can find the quote.

          I note one proposal to make this Congress a two-house body. Excellent ? the more impediments to legislation the better. But, instead of following tradition, I suggest one house of legislators, another whose single duty is to repeal laws. Let the legislators pass laws only with a two-thirds majority… while the repealers are able to cancel any law through a mere one-third minority. Preposterous? Think about it. If a bill is so poor that it cannot command two-thirds of your consents, is it not likely that it would make a poor law? And if a law is disliked by as many as one-third is it not likely that you would be better off without it?

      5. So would you stipulate that the 53 Democratic Senators in the 113th Senate represent maybe 13% of the population?

      6. Senators don’t represent people, they represent the States themselves… 5%? You’re thinking House.

    2. I think it would be great if I shot you in the face with a shotgun. What? You don’t like that idea? OK, we’ll compromise. I’ll just blow away your genitals. No? Fine. I’ll shoot you in the foot. What the fuck? Why won’t you compromise?

      Look at this jerk! He won’t compromise! What an ideological obstructionist!

      1. sounds like every “bi-partisan” bill that has ever been passed as described by the majority party.

  12. Cute 1984 reference there at the end.

  13. I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to conflate fillibuster of judges with fillibuster of everything else. It’s not illogical to oppose the first, but not the second. Nevertheless I think it’s more important to distinguish words from deeds. The Republicans didn’t change the fillibuster rules, largely because they foresaw a future change in power. Dems should consider this as well.

  14. “In any event, those days are shrouded in the mists of history.”

    And he doesn’t even bother to begin explaining it. Just leaves it at that.

    That’ll do pig.

  15. So you propose to get rid of Congress?

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