Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

The filibuster's conservative tilt

Megan Carpentier's argument in favor of the filibuster sells itself as a filibuster defense that even liberals can love, but actually shows why liberals should want to rid the Senate of the practice as quickly as possible, and why it's important for people to be really clear on what the filibuster does, and doesn't, apply to.

Commentators like Ezra Klein of the Washington Post have argued that getting rid of the filibuster is the "right" thing to do, because rolling back gay rights, repealing taxes willy-nilly and installing ideological demagogues in lifetime judicial appointments is more democratic-minded than allowing the minority party any right to determine their country's policy agenda. I'd rather let a healthcare reform bill that lacks too much in the way of reform (and a great deal of popular support) fall by the wayside than a Senate rule that meant my friends in same-sex relationships might someday be able to enjoy the federal benefits of marriage.

First, the argument for majority rule in the Senate isn't an argument about the relative worth of health-care reform and gay rights. What makes something "democratic-minded" is whether it's, well, democratic. When 41 senators representing less than 20 percent of the population can block legislation, that's not a democratic state of affairs, no matter the issues involved.

But second, the filibuster is immaterial to two of Carpentier's examples, and the third points towards the benefits of threatening its elimination. According to Wikipedia, the Federal Marriage Amendment was defeated in the Senate because, well, its opponents had more votes. When it was offered in 2004, it lost 50-48. When it came back in 2006, it went down 49-48.

Moreover, an amendment to the Constitution doesn't use the normal congressional order anyway. It requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers. Eliminating the filibuster, in other words, would still have required Republicans to find 67 votes for an amendment that only a minority of the body supported.

As for the estate tax, the budget reconciliation process renders the filibuster mute against changes to the tax code. The estate tax could be eliminated entirely with 51 Republican senators voting for the proposal. It's one of the inequities of the system that the minority can filibuster the Civil Rights Act but is powerless in the face of tax cuts for the rich.

As for George W. Bush's judicial nominees, most of them actually slipped through after Republicans threatened to eliminate the filibuster on judicial nominees. Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor, and Priscilla Owen are all serving as federal judges today, despite the filibusters Democrats mounted against them. Carpentier is spinning that episode as a reason that liberals shouldn't change the rules, but it's very hard to look at that saga as a loss for the Republican majority. What it shows, rather, is that the rules didn't work for liberals because conservatives were willing to do exactly what Carpentier is telling liberals to avoid doing: Credibly threaten to change the rules.

Which gets to another issue with the filibuster: Republicans are focused on tax cuts, which can run through reconciliation without much trouble, and they're less interested in preserving the rules, which means they're better at finding their way around the filibuster. Carpentier's argument is that liberals will eventually be in the minority again, but if recent history is any guide, the benefits they derive from the filibuster are substantially less than the benefits the GOP derives from the filibuster.

That's not necessarily a reason to change the Senate rules. I think the more compelling case is that both parties should be able to govern when they wield a majority, not that one party is slightly more disadvantaged by the current arrangement than the other party. But if you take Carpentier's article as the Machiavellian liberal's case for the filibuster, you end up realizing that, well, liberals should get rid of the filibuster.

And to make one final point on gay rights, it's pretty clear that the filibuster disadvantages the struggle for equality. The legislative status quo is bad for gays. The Defense of Marriage Act, for instance, and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. In a world with a filibuster, those bills require 60 votes to overturn. In a world without a filibuster, you can do the job with 51. So too for any bill making gay marriage, or even civil unions, the law of the land. Historically, the filibuster has been used to delay equal rights for disadvantaged groups, not to secure or protect them. That's because the filibuster is the dear friend of the status quo, and that's as true today as it's ever been.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 19, 2010; 7:09 AM ET
 
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Tab dump
Next: Are we too big for democracy?

Comments

Today a living baby will get one foot out of the womb and some doctor will raise up their hypodermic needle and kill it....all because [gasp] filibuster rules in the Senate did not permit common sense to prevail!

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 19, 2010 7:22 AM | Report abuse

There is nothing magical about a "simple majority." It's the surest path I can think of to complete mediocrity.

Just for fun, could you show me any post you ever wrote demanding a simple up or down vote for, say, Miguel Estrada or Janice Rogers Brown?

If you've got a real principle here, Ezra, then you should have no trouble finding examples of yourself living up to it.

The fact is that you're a frustrated kid seeking any rationalization you can find to continue an ideological agenda without a critical mass in the Senate.

Grow up.

Posted by: cpurick | February 19, 2010 7:30 AM | Report abuse

Here will be Ezra Klein's blog in 2-4 years when Republicans have 59 Senate seats..."Well the filibuster rules have been put in place to prevent mob rule, so that a simple majority can't suddenly come locking up so and so and forcing censorship, and punishing civil disobedience...I have a friend who loves to burn the American flag and back in the Bush days a simply majority of 51 Senators could have sent my friend to Gitmo to be waterboarded until he admits that the Public Option is just a scam to get Single-payer and trap USA into structural deficits and perpretrate a Cloward-Piven path toward communism....."

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 19, 2010 7:54 AM | Report abuse

You'd think that someone writing in a UK newspaper would be less likely to subscribe to the whole "Majority rule leads to wildly oscillating government!" fallacy. I guess she subscribes to the "America is a uniquely conservative nation which needs to be protected from its own voters" fallacy as well.

Posted by: WHSTCL | February 19, 2010 7:59 AM | Report abuse

Is the Economist centrist enough for you guys...or do you guys only read Mother Jones/Nation/Village Voice?

http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?story_id=15545983&source=hptextfeature

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 19, 2010 8:00 AM | Report abuse

Also, FastEddie, Ezra has been completely clear on this: if the filibuster is still a tool in the legislative arsenal, it would be foolish for the Democrats to ignore it when they're in the minority. But there's a difference between asking the Dems to put themselves at a disadvantage relative to the Republicans, and to equally disadvantage both parties by changing the rules.

Other progressive bloggers with views rather similar to Ezra's attacked the filibuster back when the Republicans were in charge (Yglesias, for one), so I don't know why you doubt his integrity on this.

Posted by: WHSTCL | February 19, 2010 8:04 AM | Report abuse

That Economist article commits the mortal sin of all filibuster defenders, which is to fail to to explain how to actually pass legislation in a minority-veto environment.

I mean, think about the absurd sentence "America could have health care reform tomorrow if the House passed the Senate version." That's a bill that passed the Senate when the Democrats had a supermajority. How, exactly, could the Democrats pass a similar bill today, with 61 votes? Olympia Snowe, the sole Republican who ever voted for HCR, actually voted against a bill that is substantially the same as the bill she supported back in September. She's not trying to negotiate, she's leveraging the strategic advantage the filibuster gives her against her opponents. This is not rocket science.

Posted by: WHSTCL | February 19, 2010 8:09 AM | Report abuse

I thought DADT was an executive order rather than a piece of legislation.

Posted by: tps12 | February 19, 2010 8:14 AM | Report abuse

Fixing the filibuster is simple (though maybe not easy to accomplish)....

Those filibustering ought to be able to represent at least 40% of the population in order for a filibuster to succeed.

Thus, with such a rule in place, the actual number of votes needed to successfully filibuster may change from census to census. Indeed, if the majority party had enough representation, then a filibuster may even be impossible with this simple rule change.

Killing the filibuster outright is unwise. Had we done that before 2000, Social Security would now be privatized and bankrupted and the Bush tax cuts would not be soon to expire.

So in summary, keep the filibuster, but weaken the minority's ability to kill the mandate of the majority.

Posted by: Lomillialor | February 19, 2010 8:16 AM | Report abuse

""I thought DADT was an executive order rather than a piece of legislation.""

It was actually drafted as a law when the issue came up under Clinton.

Posted by: tyromania | February 19, 2010 8:26 AM | Report abuse

Obama & Pelosi could end the Filibuster of healthcare if they had the simple decency of kicking out the SEIU Bosses and Trial Lawyers from the closed-door negotiations and allowed a good honest Republican like Paul Ryan to sit-in.


George W. Bush was able to get across-the-board tax cuts passed by kicking out his divisive special interests from negotiations and inviting in John Breaux to help write the legislation.

What you "PROGRESSIVES" refuse to admit is how much of a shill for special interests OBAMA & PELOSI are!!!!

i.e. notice how Pelosi's friend's the Sandlers made off with a billion dollars while the global economy was melting?

i.e. notice how Obama will make general statements bashing bankers, BUT WHEN IT COMES TO THE BIGGEST BANKERS IN THE USA, THEY ARE SKILLED BUSINESSMEN WORTHY OF THEIR BILLION DOLLAR RAISES!!!!


And the SEIU sits in a closed-door meeting on healthcare and write their own 4-year tax exemption and nary much words on these progressive blogs about the evil corruption of special interests.....


AND JUST IMAGINE IF THESE WORDS WERE UTTERED BY NEWT GINGRICH, DICK CHENEY, OR SARAH PALIN.....


http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/02/the_filibusters_conservative_t.html

I'm going to completely lose it if Ezra ever dares cast the leaders of the Tea Party movement like Col Allen West or Angela McGlowan as racists the way Keith Olberman did.....


DOES PROGRESSIVE HYPOCRISY KNOW NO BOUNDS?

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 19, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Woops...I meant this link....

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601070&sid=aGrKbfWkzTqc

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 19, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

AND JUST IMAGINE IF THESE WORDS WERE UTTERED BY NEWT GINGRICH, DICK CHENEY, OR SARAH PALIN.....

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601070&sid=aGrKbfWkzTqc

Somehow when Obama vocalizes the draconian feeling of the federal government monopolistically declaring what medical procedures are "acceptable use of precious resources" you guys are fine....but what would you be saying if you heard this policy vocalized by Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, or Dick Cheney?

How are you Progressive types so easily duped!!!

I can see you guys now smiling dumbly as Mao gives the order to kill all the old farmers standing in the way of progress!

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 19, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse

Eddie, that's not a medical procedure being denied. Since it only adds nominal quality of life at very high expense, the politically correct term for that procedure is "an unnecessary inefficiency."

We're not withholding care, we're eliminating inefficiencies. Think of it that way, and you can sleep like a baby.

Or should I say, like "tissue."

Posted by: cpurick | February 19, 2010 9:12 AM | Report abuse

"When 41 senators representing less than 20 percent of the population can block legislation"

That formula only works if you assume that 100% of the constituents of the 59 Democrats in the Senate are liberal Democrats. Which they are not.

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 19, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Or are the moderate and conservative constituents of Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson not entitled to representation? Or even the moderate and conservative constituents of a liberal Senator?

The country is far more evenly divided than the your false 20% construct would suggest. Which is precisely why the Republicans know they can get away with the filibuster.

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 19, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

People say the strangest things when they start talking filibuster. A majority vote doesn't allow for "representation?" Really?

Posted by: Ezra Klein | February 19, 2010 9:39 AM | Report abuse

The filibuster is a check that moderates the work of the Senate.

The only reason that 41 Senators feel compelled to unite and block the effort of 59 Senators is because the legislation they are passing is such an anathema to the 41.

These 41 Senators blocking healthcare are far from the radical zealots here. Did it ever occur to you that Obama and Pelosi start from the most radical position possible and simply move to the right as little as possible in order to keep things moving forward......they are shills for special interests.....I thought we've established that fact.

The only question is how reasonable do they have to pretend to be to make the filibuster of their legislation seem like the MORE extreme position.

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 19, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

I sometimes forget that I am speaking here inside the Liberal Echo Chamber, so let me repeat:

Obama & Pelosi could end the Filibuster of healthcare if they had the simple decency of kicking out the SEIU Bosses and Trial Lawyers from the closed-door negotiations and allowed a good honest Republican like Paul Ryan to sit-in.


George W. Bush was able to get across-the-board tax cuts passed by kicking out his divisive special interests from negotiations and inviting in John Breaux to help write the legislation.

What you "PROGRESSIVES" refuse to admit is how much of a shill for special interests OBAMA & PELOSI are!!!!

i.e. notice how Pelosi's friend's the Sandlers made off with a billion dollars while the global economy was melting?

i.e. notice how Obama will make general statements bashing bankers, BUT WHEN IT COMES TO THE BIGGEST BANKERS IN THE USA, THEY ARE SKILLED BUSINESSMEN WORTHY OF THEIR BILLION DOLLAR RAISES!!!!


And the SEIU sits in a closed-door meeting on healthcare and write their own 4-year tax exemption and nary much words on these progressive blogs about the evil corruption of special interests.....


So by any objective standard, who are the radical zealots in this process? The Democrats who are defiantly arrogant at putting their special interests above bipartisanship? Or the 41 Senators passively resisting their audacity?

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 19, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

I vote to ban fasteddieO007.

Posted by: luko | February 19, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

**********
Carpentier's argument is that liberals will eventually be in the minority again, but if recent history is any guide, the benefits they derive from the filibuster are substantially less than the benefits the GOP derives from the filibuster.
**********

This is true especially because the GOP as it stands now is a political party determined to show that governing doesn't work. *Anything* that makes it more difficult to govern is a plus for them, and today's Senate (along with the Supreme Court) are the two spots that they can continue this work (if one is willing to call it that).

Posted by: rpy1 | February 19, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Way back when there were many of my conservative friends who were legitimately scared that Rahm Emanuel could make a deal that would allow Olympia Snowe to sign on to Obama healthcare proposals.....

What we didn't know then was just how rigidly radical you guys were. You guys will never give up until the federal government is firmly inserted in between every middle class family and their healthcare provider. On top of all that, you want to make sure you capitalize on every opportunity for a sweetheart deal for your constituent as possible.

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 19, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

FastEddie - the healthcare bill is a perfect example of NOT starting to the left at all! The healthcare bill started out more moderate than ideas that previous republican presidential candidates have proposed and has only moved right (dropping even the tiny symbolic public OPTION). The bill couldn't go much further right without being a wholesale republican plan!

It is a perfect example that the principles involved are not important - it is the politics that count, and republicans have (rightly) deduced that obstruction serves their political interests better than co-operation.

This is the correct move from them because they believe in their ideas, and believe that they will run the country better (of course the problem there is that if they take power the Dems will obstruct in turn!) The resulting paralysis of Americas legislative bodies is plainly BAD for the country, and I am confident that it will lead to more nimble international opponents (pretty much every country on the planet!) eventually overtaking the US, as we are already beginning to see.

Posted by: lazza11 | February 19, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

A Republican plan would NEVER involve a mandate.

A Republican plan would NEVER involve "comprehensive" insurance which completely decouples real world costs from what a consumer pays?

A Republican plan would NEVER involve inserting a Federal Authority in between any family and their doctor.

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 19, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Honestly what turns all you guys off from a plan like Marty Feldstein's?

I only don't like the amount of federal involvement....but other than that it achieves the goal of providing access to all, that is scaled by income level, and keeps the majority of healthcare transactions in the market-driven realm.


Am I an extremist for asking for that kind of compromise.....


Food for thought...if all the supposed compromises aren't garnering any support, maybe they are false compromises and you guys should go back to your originally desired plan.

This whole debate seems to be based on a ponzi scheme where Democrats think they can tell their die-hard supporters of their plans to achieve single-payer, while telling the mainstream press and Republicans how it is anything but.

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 19, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

"There is nothing magical about a "simple majority." It's the surest path I can think of to complete mediocrity."
==

Really? Majority rule is the surest path th mediocrity? Ok. So why not do away with the senate all together. Why not just declare Mitch McConnell dictator. Not charismatic enough? How about Sarah Palin. Of course Dictator sounds bad, so we couldn't use that name. Oh! I know, we could use the name of the first person to do that successfully! Ooh and it has a nice ring to it too! Listen to this: Caesar Sara. Doesn't that sound nice? Cuz it worked out so well for Rome. (Ref. Nero, Caligula, Otho, Galba, Vitelius, Domitian, Comodus, etc.)
Majority rule is for mediocre nations.

Posted by: elijah24 | February 19, 2010 10:17 AM | Report abuse

A Republican plan would NEVER involve... well, anything.

This issue's been widely discussed here for months, and I've yet to see a decent defense of the filibuster.

Posted by: etdean1 | February 19, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Nixon had a universal employer mandate in 74. Bush & republicans expanded a huge, growing, unfunded entitlement and giveaway to the drug companies in medicare part D (not a mandate - MUCH worse!)

More to the point the republicans are not in the majority, so the plan that is passed should be a democratic one - especially with a 59 seat majority! The fillibuster, along with the new partisan culture in Washington will not allow that.

Whichever party the people place in charge of the nation should have the tools to govern - Bush's tax cuts should not expire just because he had to resort to a procedural maneuver. If the tax cuts are good for the country they should continue - if they are bad they should be voted down. Healthcare reform is necessary and should be passed. That is how government is meant to work.

Posted by: lazza11 | February 19, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

"I vote to ban fasteddieO007.

Posted by: luko | February 19, 2010 9:59 AM"

But if fasteddie's comments combined represent 2/5ths of the thread, would your proposal to ban him ever make it to the floor?

Posted by: slag | February 19, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Banning me fits perfectly with how Obama & Pelosi envision bipartisanship to work.....you should put this entire blog behind closed-doors.


You come up with some really productive compromises when you guys talk amongst yourselves.

Ahh. Just as I imagined Obama's post-partisanship Presidency would be.

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 19, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Republicans in states represented by a Democratic Senator are represented by...a Democratic Senator. Just as the President is everyone's President, even those that voted against him, a Senator represents his entire state, even those that voted against him. Similar, there are Democrats in states represented by Republican Senators and they are represented by a Republican Senator. It just so happens that states which have Republican Senators (I'm assuming that states with one Senator from each party split the population in Ezra's 20% number) represent a much smaller portion of the population than states represented by Democratic senators.

Posted by: MosBen | February 19, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

One last thing, the whole point of the Senate is that the Senators represent states, not small groups of people. Small groups are represented in the House, so small pockets of conservatives or liberals in areas with the alternate political drift can get some representation. It's not that way in the Senate by design. We can argue whether that's a good design or not, but Californian Republicans aren't currently unrepresented. They just lost the election.

Posted by: MosBen | February 19, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Bush's tax cuts passed under reconciliation, which means they were not subject to a filibuster.

Bush's social security plan never even came out of committee, nor passed the filibuster-free House (there wasn't even a vote). While it is possible the filibuster played some indirect role in that, it is a very weak case that the filibuster saved Social Security. Much more plausible is that Bush's plan was just wildly unpopular and the longer he barnstormed in support of it, the less popular it became.

If it was popular, the Republicans would have passed in the House, and would have held regular cloture votes in the Senate, bashing the Democrats for obstructing popular legislation.

Posted by: Scientician | February 19, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

***********
Banning me fits perfectly with how Obama & Pelosi envision bipartisanship to work.....you should put this entire blog behind closed-doors.
***********

Here's the thing, FastEddie: a blog is less like a governing body, and more like a *conversation*. And you (along with some other recent participants) are no good at that. You just post huge monologues.

I don't know about banning you (heck, you'd probably sign up under a different ID), but I do know that I've ended up giving up on commenting on other blogs I read because a small number of folks meet up every day to spout out nonsense. There's no communication.

I'm not quite there with this blog's comment section, but I'm getting closer.

Posted by: rpy1 | February 19, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

"Ahh. Just as I imagined Obama's post-partisanship Presidency would be."

This is an excellent point. Fasteddie has singlehandedly proven that bipartisanship can't ever work when one of the parties is a crazy person. QED

Posted by: slag | February 19, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Liberals in support of filibuster reform need to give up on milquetoaste compromises like Harkin's declining-cloture proposal.

While that would allow major legislation like Health Care Reform or Financial Reform to eventually pass, assuming the majority was willing to invest the floor time, it would not address the routine filibustering of everything below the national radar like the dozens of mid level nominations being held up for reasons unrelated to the person nominated for the job.

Filibuster reform has to cover that stuff too - individual senators should not be able to prevent the administration from staffing itself.

The majority just can't spare the floor time to even hold cloture votes on all these people, so even if there are theoretically 80 votes for these people, they won't get confirmed for logistical reasons.

Posted by: Scientician | February 19, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

"People say the strangest things when they start talking filibuster.

Yes they do. Things like 41 Senators only represent 20% of the population.

A majority vote doesn't allow for "representation?" Really?"

I didn't say that. I said that Republicans know they can get away with the filibuster because they know that they represent the views of substantially more than 20% of the population.

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 19, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

""I vote to ban fasteddieO007."

Banning people is lame

The bigger problem is really the quantity of posts mixed with their being full of stuff either that are either readily proven false (like the mandate/Nixon thing) or are just nonsense.

For instance:

"Obama & Pelosi could end the Filibuster of healthcare if they had the simple decency of kicking out the SEIU Bosses and Trial Lawyers from the closed-door negotiations and allowed a good honest Republican like Paul Ryan to sit-in."

Nonsense Part: First off, Paul Ryan is a Representative, so it's really unclear how letting him in would end a filibuster in the Senate. Now, maybe this initiate some sort of signaling game to the Republicans that would lead them to think "hey, maybe we should ignore the electoral incentives facing us and work with the Democrats."

Factual part: On the other hand, it ignores the entire middle of last year. You know when Baucus was attempting to woo a variety of Republican Senators. Why wouldn't that be a sufficient signal? Can reality at least be acknowledged - if you have a counterargument, that's fantastic since argument is the grist of this here mill.

Posted by: y2josh_us | February 19, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Alright...I'll try to play nicer.

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 19, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Bgmma, those 41 senators only represent less than 20% of the population, in that only about 20% of the population lives in the states represented by those 41 senators. Yes, I'm sure that more than 20% of our national population agrees with them, but the excess resides in the minority of the states which are represented by Democrats.

Posted by: elijah24 | February 19, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

"Republicans know they can get away with the filibuster because they know that they represent the views of substantially more than 20% of the population."

For health care, this is likely true. If the Health Care reform bill was more popular, it would be much more difficult to sustain a filibuster against it.

However 40% of the American people do not have an opinion about whether Tom Shannon should be Chief of Mission to Brazil for the State department. Or whether Dawn Johnsen should be head of OLC. Or about all the stuff that had to go in the "Tomnibus" bill to get past Tom Coburn. The filibuster is being used to block a lot of stuff that is well below the national radar.

Posted by: Scientician | February 19, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

"Bgmma, those 41 senators only represent less than 20% of the population, in that only about 20% of the population lives in the states represented by those 41 senators"

Sigh. Yes I know. And of the 20% of the population that lives in the states represented by those 41 senators, probably somewhere around half are Republicans (maybe less), the rest being Democrats and Independents. So, you could actually whittle it down to something closer to those 41 Senators only represent about 10% of the population if you wanted to. But of course, the 59 senators who represent states that contain the other 80% of the population have, in most instances, something around 50% of their constituents who are Republicans or Independents, which means that they in no way shape or form represent the views of 80% of the population.


"However 40% of the American people do not have an opinion about whether Tom Shannon should be Chief of Mission to Brazil for the State department. Or whether Dawn Johnsen should be head of OLC. Or about all the stuff that had to go in the "Tomnibus" bill to get past Tom Coburn. The filibuster is being used to block a lot of stuff that is well below the national radar."

I agree with you. It's a tool that should only be used sparingly, if at all. I happen to like it because I'm a status quo, gridlock loving conservative with a small "c" sort of person. But I wouldn't be overly concerned if it were to be abolished, as long as rules and procedures for abolishing it were properly followed. I've always had full faith in the ability of the American electorate to get that pendulum swung back to the center once they understand what needs to be done. Even the electorate of Massachusetts. :)

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 19, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

As I said above, Mitch McConnell doesn't represent the Republicans in my hometown of Yakima, WA. They are represented by two Democratic senators because they lost the elections which put those senators in place. Republican senators represent the populaces of the states that hired them, which amounts to a smaller percentage of the populace than the percentage of Republicans in the Senate. Again, this was by design to give smaller states outsized power in one body of the government so their concerns wouldn't be completely overridden states with larger populations in the House.

Posted by: MosBen | February 19, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Let me remind "eddie" that the Democrats used the filibuster and threat of filibuster in a lot if issues when they were in the minority. As far as the country being idealogically divided and the two parties became bitter enemies began when a Supreme Court nominee was
"Borked." The Democrats began this rivalry and if I were the Republicans I would use the same tactic on their nominees in the future. How fast some of you forget their sins of the past. If the Dems were in the minority, they would be screaming to used the filibuster. And I am saying this as a good old time southern Democrat.

Posted by: jjeleven | February 19, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

*As far as the country being idealogically divided and the two parties became bitter enemies began when a Supreme Court nominee was "Borked." *

Bork was defeated on a straight majority vote. He was not filibustered. And why Reagan saw fit to nominate the guy who pulled the trigger on the Saturday Night Massacre and didn't accept the previous 20 years of jurisprudence is anyone's guess. I have always found it entertaining that Republicans take the defeat of Bork so *personally*. As far as I can tell, it's not about Bork at all, it's that the Republicans need to find a reason for their hate and people told them that "Bork" should be the reason, so they justified it there.

Posted by: constans | February 19, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

"As far as the country being idealogically divided and the two parties became bitter enemies began when a Supreme Court nominee was
"Borked." The Democrats began this rivalry and if I were the Republicans I would use the same tactic on their nominees in the future."

You're really going with "they started it!" ?

And Bork was defeated in an "upperdown" vote. He was not filibustered. I'm not sure how what happened to Bork was so very unfair: Politicians took stands for and against him, and the Senate voted. Isn't that how it is supposed to work, or is the Senate just supposed to approve all Supreme Court nominations?

Posted by: Scientician | February 19, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

The bottom line is that a politician is much more likely to be held accountable for a policy when he or she actually has the power to do something about it.

A great example of this is abortion rights. George W. Bush had MANY opportunities over his eight years in office to substantially overturn women's right to control their bodies, both through legislative action and court appointments. But the very fact that he might actually be INSTITUTIONALLY able to achieve this policy meant that the political system was really primed against him actually achieving it. When something is a realistic possibility, it suddenly becomes a really fundamental part of our political debate.

Similarly, Democratic politicians ran on the idea of government-provided healthcare for decades. But now that they might actually enact it into law they are totally freaking out.

Politicians say a lot of outlandish things when it's unlikely that they'll actually have to face the real consequences of their positions. If rolling back gay rights or Medicare was a real possibility,

Posted by: NS12345 | February 19, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Er, whoops, premature posting.

If rolling back gay rights or Medicare was a real possibility, the political system would account for that. They would be HUGELY controversial on their own terms, and they would have major political consequences. Voters' behavior would change to take into account the fact that this was a possibility. You don't need a rule to protect this stuff.

Posted by: NS12345 | February 19, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

When the children decide to become completely obstructionist, offer no ideas of their own, and refuse to let the adults get any actual work done, they need to have their toys taken away. At the very least, the rules need changing so a filibuster actually means a filibuster and not just the threat of one.

Posted by: gmarasco | February 19, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Well, I'm a "fix everything that doesn't work", change loving liberal (small "l"), but I can understand your love of status quo. What I don't understand is your love of gridlock. The results perhaps, but surely you want your government to work, right? Perhaps a better way of sayingit would be: surely you want your government to BE ABLE to work, right?
This is what i don't get about so many conservatives: they tend to speak of ideal that I can understand, even if I don't share them. At the same time, they undermine their idealism by justifying an "any-means-necessary" approach to getting their way. Of course this is not true of all conservatives, but as a group this seems to be the attitude. What am I missing here?

Posted by: elijah24 | February 19, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

"The results perhaps, but surely you want your government to work, right?"

Yes, I do. But I don't necessarily define "working" as getting lots of stuff done. I define "working" as getting the right stuff done, with honest budgeting and well thought out funding mechanisms. "Pass it now and fix it later" sends chills down my spine. And I'd rather see nothing get done than the wrong things.

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 19, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Right, I understand that. Thats why I rephrased it to "be able to work". Right now it isn't able to work. Just because you oppose an idea, doesn't make it a bad idea. Not all bills are supposed to pass, but not all should fail either.
"pass it now and fix it later" is a result of the gridlock that comes from the mindset that YOU advocate. If the GOP werent so eager to filibuster everything, we could pass a good healthcare bill, and not have to worry about "fixing it later" You may not like the idea itself, but "pass it now, fix it later" wouldn't be a factor without the minority rule, that we have now. Please explain to me how this is a good thing. I sincerely want to understand.

Posted by: elijah24 | February 19, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,

We are NOT a democracy...We are a REPUBLIC...You need to know the difference.

http://www.tax-freedom.com/ta19007.htm

Posted by: ryan321 | February 19, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Actually, Our forefathers intended us to be a Democratic-Republic. But we aren't that anymore either. We are an oligarchy, governed by the will of the minority, who isn't required to so much as explain their reasons for the decisions they make that hurt the majority of the country. They just have to pound on a podium and shout some nonsense about the founding fathers and family-values. As long as they have that lapel pin on their jacket, enough people concentrated in the right areas will praise them and vote for them. As long as they keep protecting the ability of the uber-wealthy to make more and more money, they will continue to be well funded. And as long as they keep teasing the religious community with un-keepable promises about abortion, it doesn't matter how much the masses may suffer from the legislation that they do pass. The GOP can keep capitalizing on the opiate of the masses. That is minority rule.

Posted by: elijah24 | February 19, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

It's not that I think health care reform is a bad thing, it's that I think the House and Senate bills are both awful. Gridlock has thus far prevented the passage of either or both or some combination. Yay!

You are assuming that Republicans want no healthcare at all, and could and would continue to filibuster in the face of a well thought out, properly funded, honestly budgeted, plan that enjoyed widespread public support because it resolved the problems that are most widely accepted as being in need of reform. I think the Republicans would be scared to death to filibuster such a plan and hope that their intransigence either leads to a return to square one by both parties in a bipartisan effort to produce such a plan or to no plan at all. I'd prefer the former, would would take the latter any day over the House or the Senate bill or any combination of both.

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 19, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

ryan321, that is the most facile justification of just about any anti-democratic feature of any governing system.

Of course America is a democracy. It is also a republic. To steal how someone else put it:

"'Democracy' comes from 'demos' which is Greek for 'people' or 'tribe' and 'kratia' which is Greek for 'power'. A democracy is literally a government in which the people have the power. There have been democratic republics. There have been aristocratic republics. There is no natural tension between something's being a republic and something's being a democracy. In fact you might think that the most natural way for a government to count as a republic is for it to be a democracy. After all the best way to insure that the government belongs to the people as a whole is to let the people as a whole run it. "

http://www.openleft.com/showComment.do?commentId=212386

Posted by: Scientician | February 19, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Bgmma, the house and senate bills suck, because we knew the minority would find a way to prevent us from getting anything better. That is exactly the point.

Posted by: elijah24 | February 19, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

It's a win/win situation for Republicans when government .They DON'T want government to work--remember Grover Norquist's bathtub? According to them, everything from the military on down ought to be given to greedy privateers. They don't want to fix Medicare by controlling costs because that would preserve something they hate. There is no other explanation for the election of/and free rein give to the spending/spying spree of George Bush. The more the Republicans destroy the government, the more they can put the lives of the people into corporate hands.

Posted by: wdague | February 19, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

bgmma, what CBO score did the Republican HCR bill get?

Posted by: MosBen | February 19, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

An interesting letter from an Arizona voter to the local Representative.

Representative G. Giffords:

The media is discussing the President’s intention to attach his desired Health Care Reform Bill to the Budget Bill thus opening the door to treating any disagreement over this monstrosity as reconciliation and overriding opposition in the Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes.

Please understand the depth of disagreement among your constituents with this brazen attempt to override voter opposition on the premise that their elected representatives “know better” than the ignorant peasants west of Washington. This death wish on the part the Democrat LEADERSHIP will ignite a fire storm of opposition among Constitutionalists, Republicans, Conservatives, Libertarians, Independents, etc, as well as Blue Dog Democrats, which you have clearly demonstrated you are not.

In one fell swoop, the leadership will destroy itself and the Democrat party (Pelosi may barely survive but not in a leadership position). Democrats will simply hand this option to their opposition in November who will reverse it at the first opportunity. Worse, Democrats will cease to be an effective loyal opposition, the country will be polarized for generations to come and OR our economy will be shattered. Congress has NEVER once forecasted the correct FULL cost to the taxpayers of ANY Health Care entitlement bill. In this particular case, the underestimate is TITANIC in comparison to all other bills! (Shifting costs to the states in unfunded mandates is a perfect example of the duplicity going on in Congress and you voted for it!)

You personally will become unelectable for any position as a result of your betrayal of your constituents will on this matter. Your war chest could be 10 times as much ($30,000,000) and it will be to no avail. Your only honorable choice is to announce your resignation at the end of this term NOW. This will at least give your party a chance to field a more viable candidate, who will lose in any event.

DID YOU & YOUR PARTY LEARN NOTHING FROM MASSACHUSETTS? Neither Republicans nor Democrats can win any election if the Independents and smaller parties are in opposition. Reconciliation will simply further galvanize MORE and ANGRIER OPPOSITION! Did any of your Party polls show this outcome? Will your party continue to deceive itself with its own blind rhetoric?



Posted by: PRRWRITER | February 19, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

"Bgmma, the house and senate bills suck, because we knew the minority would find a way to prevent us from getting anything better. That is exactly the point."

Actually, at the time the bills passed, Democrats had a filibuster proof majority in the Senate and a commanding majority in the House (although the House bill passed by only 5 votes). It wasn't until the Massachusetts election that the minority was in a position to prevent final passage. So, the bills suck, and for a lot of reasons, but not because the Democrats thought the Republicans could stop them. Quite the contrary, imho. They suck as badly as they do because the Democrats did have those majorities, did think they could fulfill their dreams of universal high dollar coverage for all, and never made a serious effort to produce legislation that Republicans could support.

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 19, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I didn't mean the minority party. I meant the minority of senators who wouldn't vote for cloture without cutting the teeth out of the bill and adding rediculous ammounts of bacon to it. Mary Landreu, Ben Nelson, and Traitor Joe Lieberman to name a few.
I don't mind that some Democrats desent. I mind that 43 senators have a louder voice than the other 57.

Posted by: elijah24 | February 19, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse


"bgmma, what CBO score did the Republican HCR bill get?"

You must be assuming that my support of the filibuster of the Senate bill automatically means I support any of the Republican plans. Now why would you assume that? :)


Posted by: bgmma50 | February 19, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Remember, I like gridlock, not the Republican agenda. :)

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 19, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

PRRWRITER, I'm a St.Louis Cardinals fan. If you ask a Cards fan what happened in the '85 World Series, You'll see a look of anguish come over their face, and hear a profanity-laced diatribe about how we got screwed by a blind ump. You'll likely hear that we won it in game 6 before the ump gave it back to the Royals to win it in 7. If you ask a Royals fan, you'll here "we played a great series, and beat the Cards in 7." How do we know who is wrong here?
Republicans think that Massachusets was an obvious sign that the people don't want health-care. You won't here, one word about how the Democratic candidate was a lousey campaigner, who insulted Red Sox nation. you won't here about the fact that the people of that state have had a govt.-provided health-care system for years, and have never unseated any of the legislators or executives who put it in place because of it. We Dems desperately want people to consider these factors. So how do we know who is wrong?

Posted by: elijah24 | February 19, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Come on, man. If the "filibuster-proof majority" were really all the Dems needed to get their widest dreams into law, we'd have passed single payer, cap & trade, another stimulus bill (or a larger first one), etc.

And it's getting really tired hearing the Republicans talk about how they were shut out of the process when Max Baucus spent the better part of a year playing footsie with the Gang of Six. Was there ever any chance that the bill would be exactly what the Republicans want for HCR? Of course not, they're the minority, they don't get to legislate their dream bills. On the other hand if there was an issue that they wanted in the bill in exchange for committments on votes, it'd be in there.

Aren't we passed the point where we argue about "If the Dems had done X they'd have lots of Republican votes"? The Republicans were never going to help get a healthcare bill passed because it's against their electoral interests to do so. Minority parties do better if the majority "fails". It's just the way the system is set up, which is why so many people are talking about systemic reforms like eliminating the filibuster.

Posted by: MosBen | February 19, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

"Come on, man. If the "filibuster-proof majority" were really all the Dems needed to get their widest dreams into law, we'd have passed single payer, cap & trade, another stimulus bill (or a larger first one), etc."

Yes I know. That's why I disagree with Ezra's characterization that the 41 Republican senators only represent 20% of the people. They may have been elected by a majority of people from states whose populations constitute 20% of the whole, a lot more than 20% of the population agrees with them. They know that, and they pass controversial legislation like cap and trade, single payer and the like at their political peril. As Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson have already discovered.

As you might guess, I have nothing good to say about cap and trade legislation, much less do I want to commit to give away tens of billions of dollars to third world corruptocrats a la Copenhagen. And I'm pretty sure my view is in the majority, despite the current House and Senate majorities. Given a choice between gyrating back and forth between Republicans and Democrats depending on who currently has the majority, I much prefer a system that requires their major differences be ironed out before any legislation passes at all. I believe strongly that the development of alternative energy is necessary for our national security and our economic independence. I also support clean air and water legislation. So there's a lot of common ground there. I just wish that the stimulus package had contained a lot more federal programs for the development of alternative energy, mass transit, transmission lines, etc. and a lot less fulfillment of Dem's other wildest dreams.

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 19, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Based on that logic, you would have opposed the clean-air act, the clean water act, the civil-rights act, the voter-rights act, and the fair-pay act, just to name a few. Do you really think that we should not have passed this legislation?

Posted by: elijah24 | February 19, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

We can't get rid of the filibuster now because thousands of years from now when utopia is the status quo, we're going to want the filibuster to protect that.

Brilliant.

Posted by: zosima | February 19, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

"Ok. So why not do away with the senate all together."

Actually, you're right. If the majority rules, then why not just take direct votes on everything? Requiring 51 senators is to do anything is not much smarter.

Posted by: cpurick | February 19, 2010 6:45 PM | Report abuse

The Civil Rights Act passed the Senate on a vote of 73-27 after a threatened filibuster conducted by BOTH Democrats and Republicans was thwarted by a compromise bill introduced by BOTH Democrats and Republicans.

I rest my case.

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 19, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

Somehow, Ezra's comments section was better when nearly deserted in the first months after the move from TAP to WaPo than it is today.

Posted by: jeffro20 | February 20, 2010 1:01 AM | Report abuse

bgmma50: "Remember, I like gridlock, not the Republican agenda."

In that case, we're going bankrupt. If we have gridlock on health care, then health care costs will overwhelm everything else.

The status quo is not sustainable. But since 60 votes is almost always unachievable, gridlock will doom us. That doesn't sound like something to be "liked." But maybe that's just my crazy talk again.

Really, isn't saying gridlock is a good thing a little too categorical? Would gridlock have been a good thing when a third of the elderly were living in poverty before Social Security?

Again, there has been no good response to the argument that elections should have consequences and that the people should be allowed to judge the results. If the health care reform bills are so bad, and they pass by majority rule, the people can vote in others to reverse it by majority rule. There is no need to require a supermajority to prevent it from becoming law in the first place.

Posted by: dasimon | February 20, 2010 2:06 AM | Report abuse

"I think the more compelling case is that both parties should be able to govern when they wield a majority, not that one party is slightly more disadvantaged by the current arrangement than the other party."

Ok Ezra, you don't want to say you support abolishing the filibuster because doing so would be (far) better for advancing Democratic policy than Republican, over the long run, as I argue here:

http://richardhserlin.blogspot.com/2009/08/key-reason-why-51-democratic-senators.html

But, what about just saying that abolishing the filibuster greatly favors good policy?

As it makes it much more likely that it can be tried and seen, exposing misconceptions and outright lies about it.

And once people can try and see really good policy, like Medicare, Social Security for our seniors, free public schooling at least K-12, single payer universal health insurance, then it becomes hugely popular, and political suicide to take away.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | February 20, 2010 6:43 PM | Report abuse

"In that case, we're going bankrupt. If we have gridlock on health care, then health care costs will overwhelm everything else."

It would be really nice if the Democrat's bilss did something about that, but they don't. Quite the contrary.

Anyway, I think I have already explained more than adequately that I believe gridlock is good because it stops bad legislation and helps to insure that legislation that does pass has broad support. Not that it stops all legislation.

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 20, 2010 6:46 PM | Report abuse

And, I should have added the filibuster also makes try and see more likely for bad policy, but that too will expose misconceptions and lies, only in this case it will tend to make the policy short-lived, repealed, as not just myself, but Jonathan Chait, argues (http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/conservative-sense-the-filibuster).

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | February 20, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

bgmma50: "It would be really nice if the Democrat's bilss did something about that, but they don't."

They are proposing reducing Medicare expenses. But the 60-vote requirement is preventing that.

"I think I have already explained more than adequately that I believe gridlock is good because it stops bad legislation and helps to insure that legislation that does pass has broad support. Not that it stops all legislation."

But it stops legislation that is important an on which neither side will have 60 votes. That will lead to ruin. It is only happenstance that the requirement does not apply to budget measures. Otherwise, you'd never get a supermajority to raise taxes, or enact real spending cuts.

And even granting for the sake of argument that the filibuster blocks "bad" legislation (by the way,who gets to decide what is "bad"?), that has to be balanced against the cost of how it blocks "good" legislation.

And it's not applied consistently. If the requirement can be waived for "important" things like the budget, whether the proposal is "bad" or "good," why not other important measures--like health care reform?

If gridlock is so good, why stop at 60? Why not 70? Unaminity?

And again, the most important unanswered question: why not just let majority rule and let the voters express their approval or disapproval on election day? It's not as if "bad" legislation can't be repealed.

I don't think I've yet heard "adequate" responses to these questions.

Posted by: dasimon | February 22, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

you libtards used the filibuster to block 43 of bush's appointee's when he was president. and now the shoe is on the other foot you don't like it one bit.look folks the filibuster has been in place since the founding fathers put the constitution in place. it is a good tool to stop the majority from railroading the rights of the american people out from under them. you know like the phony bs bills cap and trade and healthcare.the filibusters are a protection for all of us from this insane congress, senate and president.i tell you the truth you liberal socialists are really getting on the nerves of the american public and you won't like the back lash if you keep it up.this is not a threat it is a promise you better straighten up.

Posted by: tswank1 | February 23, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Today a living baby will get one foot out of the womb and some doctor will raise up their hypodermic needle and kill it....all because [gasp] filibuster rules in the Senate did not permit common sense to prevail!

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 19, 2010 7:22 AM | Report abuse

FastEddieO007
give me a break you liberals are killing the unborn at a record pace no filibuster ther pal.
the problem with you liberals is if you are not lying you are inventing some national emergency for your bleeding heart crowd.

Posted by: tswank1 | February 24, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company