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The filibuster and the financial crisis

Megan McArdle thinks progressives should want the filibuster left alone:

[Democrats] risk empowering a Republican Senate majority -- if not in 2010 (which I think is very unlikely) then in 2012. It's absolutely true that Reagan and others had less popularity at this point in their presidency than Obama. Unfortunately for Obama, financial crises take a long time to recover from. The recession that ate away the popularity of Reagan was a classic monetary contraction that led to a boom as soon as Fed Chair Paul Volcker loosened his iron grip. There's a very good chance that in two years, Obama is still going to be trying to explain why unemployment is above 8% and GDP is kind of anemic. If that's the case, the Republicans will hold the house and the senate at the end of 2012.

Mind you, I'm not saying that this chance is above 50%. But a 35% chance is a pretty big risk. Democrats are strategically correct to focus on consolidating and defending the gains they've gotten, rather than risk having all of it undone in order to make a few lesser gains.

I actually agree strategically, though I think that the filibuster should be reformed for broader, small-d democratic reasons, and to ease the general workings of the Senate. But there's no doubt that the financial crisis could harm Democrats beyond this election, and so the implicit analogy to Clinton and Reagan (both of whom lost seats in the midterm but easily won reelection) should be viewed skeptically.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 28, 2010; 1:05 PM ET
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This is an absolutely serious question:

Just how much more dishonest does McArdle need to be before she is no longer linked to?

She's no better than Breitbart, but it seems her fancy degree keeps people from shunning her.

Posted by: AZProgressive | July 28, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

I think most of us keep going back to this:

If the economy is at risk of still being in the tank in 2012, and the GOP has openly stated that they'll continue over the next two years to do what they've done in the past two (which is to help ensure the economy is in the tank to aid their potential political gains), why would the Dems be happy to sit back and let the economy tank?

It's in their best interest to be able to act. If they don't in 2011-2012, even more will be swept out. Ben Nelson has no chance of re-election if the economy is bad. It's Blanche all over again. Blanche's only chance would have been if times were much better in 2010 than they were in 2008 and 2009. The reality is that for a lot of people in Arkansas, times are rough. There's very little Blanche can point to in helping turn around the economy.

But set aside Ben Nelson. The rest of the Dems who might be up for election, and whose president is: Do they really want a bad economy at their back in 2012? Do they really think Magic Ponies are going to make it better? Deficeit reducton will turn things around while putting even more people out of work on a state and local level?

Posted by: toshiaki | July 28, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

The real reason that Democrats, along McArdle's thinking, shouldn't fear filibuster reform is Snowe, Brown, and Collins. Republican "moderates" can't hide behind partisan procedural votes while making noises about being moderates. Same with conservative Democrats.

Posted by: ctown_woody | July 28, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Your strategic advice is that a slender majority of 2010 Senate Democrats should accept 2 years of paralysis in order to make their 2012 minority status more comfortable? How about GOVERNING from 2010 forward and changing the conditions that are projected in 2012? People have agency. Is apathy masking as tradition really a strategy?

Posted by: jamusco | July 28, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Yeah it might not be tactically the perfect move for the Democrats. So what. The country is being paralyzed by procedural game playing. Dems will do the same when it's their turn, they'll just be less organized about it. The system needs fixing.

Without a filibuster, the dynamics will change. Votes will be more meaningful, presidential veto will be more of a factor for the development of legislation, etc. There are tons of unintended consequences we will face. If the senate wants to actually discuss that and try to come up with a better process, fine but the status quo is unacceptable.

If you want, form a commission to think about it and make recommendations then implement those at the start of the next congress. Make it bipartisan at least, include members outside the senate if you have the guts. Probably the Dems will still hold the senate in 2012 and they could change it again then, maybe to something more fair or considered. But if you are not prepared to actually do it, then please let us vote you out so the Repubs can do it and make you regret your inaction.

Posted by: BHeffernan1 | July 28, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

The demographic trends are still strongly against the Republicans, and they're still digging that hole deeper with their lineup of old white guys and borderline-racist rhetoric. They may (though I'm still skeptical) get substantial pickups in a low-turnout midterm election. But I can't see them winning 2012 or 2016 without a big makeover.

Recall that Obama's share of the white vote was just about the same as Kerry's: Kerry lost a squeaker, Obama won a landslide. That was largely due to changes in the demographics of the electorate, and those rapid changes are continuing, while the GOP makes itself more and more unattractive to Hispanics and young people.

Personally, I suspect that Nov 2010 is going to be less bad than feared for Dems: they just have to get those Obama voters out again, and with a solid list of progressive legislation, a batshit-crazy opposition, and a well-organized and well-funded campaign operation, that should be manageable, notwithstanding the Scott Brown debacle.

Posted by: richardcownie | July 28, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Anybody that thinks that the filibuster helps progressives, EVER, is nuts. The filibuster makes it harder to pass legislation. That makes it conservative by definition. So let's say the Republicans do take control of the Senate, and don't have the filibuster to worry about. What are they going to do? They don't have any policies! The tea party has policies, sure, but almost all of them are wildly unpopular with the nation as a whole. Without the filibuster, the Republicans will be forced to choose between policies that are popular with their (ever-shrinking) base and policies that the country will actually accept. Either way, they won't be in power long. And without the filibuster, it will be a lot easier to undo whatever damage they do manage to cause.

Posted by: CynicalJerk | July 28, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Does Megan's outward appearance reflect her inner state?

Just asking......

Posted by: vorkosigan1 | July 28, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

McArdle is seriously one of the dumbest people around. Her piece yesterday on "let's go back to the good 'ol days when doctors didn't tell us we were terminal" was not only a pean to a bizarre and destructive paternalism, but it also showed staggering illiteracy. Gawande's entire point is that doctors DO lie to patients. Instead of telling them what's going on, they run them through procedure after procedure, raising the vain unspoken hope that this time it will work and they'll get better.

And this is another winner.

Listen, either you believe in representative democracy or you don't. If libertarianism wins, I will whine about it as the world collapses, but I have to accept it. But "Let's make government so procedurally inept that it can't get anything done" is a really sick form of libertarianism.

And it doesn't lead to good outcomes--we see this now with policy drift, things like the AMT catching middle income people, the judiciary routinely making decisions that can't be addressed by the legislature (DISCLOSE Act, anyone?).

Not to mention, you can't hold anyone accountable for anything. That's pretty lethal to democracy.

Posted by: theorajones1 | July 28, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

The reality is that 1 piece of legislation that goes into effect is better than 1000 exciting progressive bills that are repealed before they go into effect.

60 is probably too high, but if congress can't get 52 votes for a given bill in the Nth Congress the bill isn't worth passing; it will probably be gone during the N+1th.

Posted by: eggnogfool | July 28, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

The trouble is, the Dems rarely use the filibuster when they're in the minority. The GOP actions most worthy of being blocked are the very ones the Democrats are most likely to be too chicken to stop: (1) measures restricting civil liberties, often under "national security" rationales; and (2) the nomination of right-wing judges. We saw during the last administration how that turned out.
So-called libertarians who now want to leave the filibuster alone did not, as far as I can recall, lend any moral support to its use in the above situations.

Posted by: henderstock | July 28, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

LEAVE THE FILIBUSTER ALONE. I'm guessing it is the main reason that Social Security isn't privatized. You could return it to requiring that Senators actually stay up for 24 hours making speeches, which would make it lots more fun.

The only real way around this is to change the way people think, so they vote for more Senators to do the right thing. If you aren't up for that fight, then changing the Senate rules isn't going to matter anyhow.

Posted by: Lee_A_Arnold | July 28, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

"LEAVE THE FILIBUSTER ALONE. I'm guessing it is the main reason that Social Security isn't privatized."

No, it isn't. The Republicans were too chicken to take a vote on phasing out Social Security, unless and until they could get some Democrats to vote for it. They couldn't, so they never had a vote: not even in the House, where of course they could have passed it without any Dem votes.

Apart from tax cuts, the Republican policy agenda really isn't very popular. I think they're rather keen to keep the filibuster in place: they prefer to keep their base riled up with bold promises, while knowing that if they ever really implemented their policies (e.g. Ryan's voucherization of Medicare ...) they'd be dead meat.

In contrast, the Dem agenda is relatively popular. And usually much more popular after it happens than before - e.g. Social Security, Medicare. And probably ACA: as that outlaws the nastier practices of insurers, people are going to start giving it some love.

Posted by: richardcownie | July 28, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

"I actually agree strategically, though I think that the filibuster should be reformed for broader, small-d democratic reasons, and to ease the general workings of the Senate."

And you will be one of the first to complain, Ezra, when the GOP controls the Senate and the lower filibuster threshold stop Democrats from blocking Republican legislation.

Posted by: NCDevil | July 28, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

"Megan McCardle thinks"

that's a funny one Ezra

Posted by: williamcross1 | July 28, 2010 6:23 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone seriously think that if the Repubs gain a majority in the Senate, they won't push through a rule change at the beginning of the Congress (requiring only 51 votes) either limiting or eliminating the power of the remiaining Dems to filibuster. They have no principled loyalty to the institution or they wouldn't be doing what they are.

Posted by: ncaofnw | July 29, 2010 1:13 AM | Report abuse

Does anyone seriously think that if the Repubs gain a majority in the Senate, they won't push through a rule change at the beginning of the Congress (requiring only 51 votes) either limiting or eliminating the power of the remaining Dems to filibuster. They have no principled loyalty to the institution or they wouldn't be doing what they are today.

Posted by: ncaofnw | July 29, 2010 1:18 AM | Report abuse

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