Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 1:36 PM ET, 01/27/2011

Reid and McConnell agree: There will be no reform of the filibuster

By Ezra Klein

PH2010121802802 (2).jpg

A few moments ago, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell took to the floor of the Senate to announce a five-point agreement on rules reform. But the five-points weren't, well, the point. The real agreement was on the process by which rules can be reformed.

"As part of this compromise," Reid said, "we've agreed that I won't force a majority vote to fundamentally change the Senate -- that is the so-called ‘constitutional option’ -- and he [McConnell] won't in the future." In other words, Reid and McConnell have agreed that the Senate's rules cannot -- or at least should not -- be decided by a simple majority. That was what the constitutional option was about, and that's what Reid explicitly rejected in his speech. Why? "Both McConnell and Reid feared what would happen if they were in the minority," explains a Reid aide.

This agreement is merely a handshake, of course. Either Reid or McConnell could turn around and change the rules with 51 votes at some future date. But note Reid's words: It's not that he'd prefer not to use the constitutional option at some future date, or that he won't do so as long as the Republicans don't abuse the rules. It's that he simply won't. The minority is not on notice that further abuse of the filibuster (and associated stalling tactics) could lead to more significant reforms. Rather, Reid and the Democrats agreed that further abuse of the filibuster (and associated stalling tactics) will not lead to more significant reforms, because they've agree not to use the process that would lead to those reforms.

There is some good stuff in the agreement Reid and McConnell struck. The Senate will vote on eliminating secret holds, ending the timewaster of having the clerk read legislation out on the Senate floor, and cutting the number of nominees who require Senate confirmation by a third (which would free about 400 positions from the process). Reid and McConnell have also agreed, in principle, to avoid filibustering the motion to debate and to grant the other side more opportunities to amend legislation.

All that is laudable, particularly the effort to lower the number of nominees the Senate needs to confirm. But this process kicked off because Democrats were furious at Republican abuse of the filibuster. It's ended with Democrats and Republicans agreeing that the filibuster is here to stay. And the reason is both simple and depressing: Democrats want to be able to use the filibuster, too. Both parties are more committed to being able to obstruct than they are to being able to govern. That fundamental preference, as much as any particular rule, is why the Senate is dysfunctional.

Photo credit: By Alex Brandon/Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  | January 27, 2011; 1:36 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Lunch Break
Next: When commitment is just another word for nothing left to lose

Comments

Why on earth would anyone trust McConnell (or some future Republican leader) to adhere to the bargain?

Posted by: S1VA | January 27, 2011 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Absolutely pathetic.

I sincerely hope the Republicans get rid of the filibuster. I will support them when they do.

Until we fix this, the proper functioning of our government will depend on politicians who are willing to sacrifice their party's ability to regain power for the privilege of adopting the competing party's solutions to problems.

This is a recipe for failure.

The US Senate needs to grow up.

Posted by: theorajones1 | January 27, 2011 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Ezra:
You need to read Atrios more often. You can't tie the hands of any future Majority/Minority Leader.

Posted by: PhilPerspective | January 27, 2011 2:09 PM | Report abuse

The solution is to realise that the Senate is comparable to UK's House of Lords-superfluous, an anachronism needed to pass the Constitution. The Senate should be dissolved and its responsibilities taken on by the house where democratic majority rules.

Posted by: joelgingery1 | January 27, 2011 2:21 PM | Report abuse

The solution is to realise that the Senate is comparable to UK's House of Lords-superfluous, an anachronism needed to pass the Constitution. The Senate should be dissolved and its responsibilities taken on by the house where democratic majority rules.

Posted by: joelgingery1 | January 27, 2011 2:22 PM | Report abuse

The solution is to realise that the Senate is comparable to UK's House of Lords-superfluous, an anachronism needed to pass the Constitution. The Senate should be dissolved and its responsibilities taken on by the house where democratic majority rules.

Posted by: joelgingery1 | January 27, 2011 2:22 PM | Report abuse

As I note in the post, this isn't a binding agreement. But the fact of the agreement shows where Reid, and many of the other Dems, are on this. We'll know more about where the Republicans are when they get into power.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | January 27, 2011 2:35 PM | Report abuse

And thus the United States will continue to swirl down the drain of history because the two parties prize political fighting with each other over governing the country.

Posted by: StopThePlanetPlease | January 27, 2011 2:44 PM | Report abuse

the point is that neither party has the ability to control themselves when it comes to abuse of the filibuster. The fact that Reid blinked on it is because he sees the writing on the wall that come 2012 he's likely to go the way of Pelosi and he'll need to use it.

And i'm fairly certain that Republicans are going to whine just as much (if not more) than Dems did over the last year or two that it was being abused.

The best solution was the one you came up (I believe you came up with it) that we need to take some time long off in the future and set reasonable rules as of that date and then whoever's in control there hopefully will act bipartisanly but there's no historical proof of that.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 27, 2011 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Au contraire, you Constitutionally-illiterate and ignorant whiners. The Senate is not dysfunctional; it is operating precisely as the Founders intended, namely, to achieve consensus, i.e., more than simple majority rule, for legislation to pass.

The Founders intended for the Senate to be the "graveyard of legislation" - the "saucer that cools the coffee" in Washington's words - as a counter to the House, which they knew, as the People's body, would react often to the immediate will of the voters, but not necessarily with due consideration of the wisdom of its proposals.

You seem to have forgotten that the Founders intended the Senate to represent the States, not the "People" -- again, which was intended to be the People's body.

Thanks to the disastrous "Progressive" era that gave us the Fed and the income tax, we also got the 17th Amendment providing for the direct election of senators. This misguided step to turn the Senate into another "People's" body makes the filibuster even more important.

When Repubs regain control of the Senate in 2012, you will be grateful that the grownups retained the filibuster.

Finally, we should go back to requiring 2/3 of Senators to invoke cloture to cut off debate. Three-fifths is not enough!

Posted by: RobBrantley | January 27, 2011 2:55 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure it's true that Senate Democrats would love to be able to use the filibuster if/when they're in the minority again. But I think that identifying this as the only reason they don't really want to change the rules probably doesn't quite capture what is going on. The filibuster rules make every single senator a big wheel. Every senator has the power to put a hold--secret or not--on a piece of legislation or nomination and bring things to a halt. Even if 60 senators will eventually invoke cloture, that takes days and is a huge pain. Better to placate the obstructionist senator and get unanimous consent. Every senator has this power whether in the minority or the majority. I can't imagine that senators of both parties don't love having this power, and their lobbyists/patrons love them having it. The whole system is utterly ridiculous and disgraceful.

Posted by: lpowens3 | January 27, 2011 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Just another ploy to be dysfunctional junction, ridiculous. I am sooooooooo disappointed. We will always have filibusters by the republicans when it does not go their way. I am so tired of the same old same old, what happened to bipartisanship, IT SAILED AWAY WITH THE TITANIC....AND SUnk.
And for Reid to sort of hand shake not to use ‘constitutional option’ which most Democrats wanted..... infuriates me and I want to scream....
aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Ezra what is the problem with the Senate... They are acting more childish then ever be4.

me me me me
mine mine mine mine
you can't have it
don't touch my filibuster.

IDEA: you know what we should do is put them all in Sumo outfits and give them nerf bats and let them bang at each other and the winner is........

Posted by: blurple60 | January 27, 2011 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Now add the future effects of CitizensUnited v FEC and the Senate's small state bias into the mix with this precedent. Any small state senator that does not toe the Chamber of Commerce or Koch Inc line is going to have a funding bomb dropped on them years before the next election. This is the near-permanent foundation of oligarchy. Nothing will get through the Senate without the approval of the international business elite.

Posted by: BobFred | January 27, 2011 2:57 PM | Report abuse

If they eliminate secret holds and cut the number of nominations they have to approve (I'd have hoped for half, not a third) then that's a good deal. The minority needs the ability to filibuster. The filibuster is why, IMO, our democracy has stayed together so long and why we could reunify after the Civil War. Odious as it is and how unfair it is in many ways; it's important for the minority to be able to require a significant super majority on matters that are important to them. Republicans have abused the filibuster; but despite this abuse it's still important IMO for the option to stop a Bork for example to ascend to the Supreme Court.

Posted by: Rhoda | January 27, 2011 3:11 PM | Report abuse

@visionbrkr:
The Senate is not about requiring more than a majority, never has been.

The Senate is about giving less populous states an equal vote against more populous states. Nothing more.

The House is proportional, the Senate is even. The bicameral system gives equal weight to both population and states and is actually a quite reasonable solution to the problems with parliamentary only systems.

The 'filibuster' is not specific to the Senate for any specific reason. There could just as easily be the same requirement in the House as it is just about the rules agreed upon.

The filibuster is something that I do not want removed, but I want a much more arduous process required to wield it. It's too easy now and we've seen how it is abused by the GOP, and could be abused the same way by any minority party. It needs to be hard enough that it is rare and 'hurts' to use it. i.e. their name is publicly plastered in the paper as the reason nothing is getting done. If they are willing to do that, fine. But only if they feel the issue at hand is more important than *anything* else.

Posted by: rpixley220 | January 27, 2011 3:42 PM | Report abuse

There is a reason they call it the Nuclear Option. Revoking the filibuster is the ultimate deterrent.

Posted by: red4ever2 | January 27, 2011 3:50 PM | Report abuse

There is a reason they call it the Nuclear Option. The threat of revoking the filibuster is the ultimate deterrent.

Posted by: red4ever2 | January 27, 2011 3:52 PM | Report abuse

*Democrats want to be able to use the filibuster, too.*

Except that when push comes to shove, they're not going to use it the way that the Republicans use it.

Reid could have made simply reforms like forcing all 40 Senators to vote to continue a filibuster instead of requiring just one. He didn't. And someday in the future when Democrats are in the minority, they're going to refrain from using the filibuster because they're afraid of the namecalling they will face from Republicans.

Posted by: constans | January 27, 2011 3:53 PM | Report abuse

I don't think the persistence of the filibuster is because Democrats want to be able to use it if they are in the minority. Indeed, when the Democrats are in the minority, they hardly filibuster anything.
No, it seems like the Democrats (at least enough of them) want the filibuster to continue to exist so they can continue to blame Republican obstructionism as the root cause for their own inaction.
Many Senators are far more interested in preserving the status quo than they want to admit to their own constituents. So we are treated to the game of "blame the crazy Republicans!" again and again.

Posted by: rick_desper | January 27, 2011 3:55 PM | Report abuse

"The Senate is not dysfunctional; it is operating precisely as the Founders intended, namely, to achieve consensus, i.e., more than simple majority rule, for legislation to pass."

A bald-faced fabrication. The Founders wanted a legislative branch that actually did the job of governing the country. They would be horrified at how the Senate has become paralyzed by the insistence of minority power. The minority was supposed to have the right to debate any legislation. There was no intent to prevent proposed legislation from ever coming to a vote.

Posted by: rick_desper | January 27, 2011 3:59 PM | Report abuse

"The Senate is not dysfunctional; it is operating precisely as the Founders intended, namely, to achieve consensus, i.e., more than simple majority rule, for legislation to pass."

A bald-faced fabrication. The Founders wanted a legislative branch that actually did the job of governing the country. They would be horrified at how the Senate has become paralyzed by the insistence of minority power. The minority was supposed to have the right to debate any legislation. There was no intent to prevent proposed legislation from ever coming to a vote.

Posted by: rick_desper | January 27, 2011 4:00 PM | Report abuse

"The Senate is not dysfunctional; it is operating precisely as the Founders intended, namely, to achieve consensus, i.e., more than simple majority rule, for legislation to pass."

A bald-faced fabrication. The Founders wanted a legislative branch that actually did the job of governing the country. They would be horrified at how the Senate has become paralyzed by the insistence of minority power. The minority was supposed to have the right to debate any legislation. There was no intent to prevent proposed legislation from ever coming to a vote.

Posted by: rick_desper | January 27, 2011 4:01 PM | Report abuse

They disgrace themselves and the country.

Posted by: BHeffernan1 | January 27, 2011 4:07 PM | Report abuse

I must tell you these people are idiots.

Posted by: GBED989 | January 27, 2011 4:07 PM | Report abuse

The triple post was due to an uncommunicative website. I had thought this site was set up to not accept multiple posts from the same poster within 1 minute. Apparently I was wrong.

Posted by: rick_desper | January 27, 2011 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Constans@3:53 is correct. The Dems, including the former senator now in the White House, showed how they used the filibuster to stop such legislation as the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act and to check the nominations of Roberts and Alito. Oh, wait . . . .

Posted by: henderstock | January 27, 2011 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Take THAT, Jeff Merkley! Maybe that'll teach you a lesson!

Posted by: punkiedrewster | January 27, 2011 4:45 PM | Report abuse

This is great news, it is now abundantly clear America will never make any serious progress, at least in the next 6 years while Reid's still around. Caring about America was a real time waster, but it's now clear that's a fool's errand.

Posted by: michaelh81 | January 27, 2011 4:47 PM | Report abuse

"the two parties prize political fighting with each other "

in the Senate? The opposite is the case: the two parties in that body collectively prize the institutional safety blanket that prevents actual political fighting.

World's greatest mass debating chamber.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | January 27, 2011 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Out of curiosity, can we the people, in whose name the Constitution supposedly was written, sue the Senate to enforce a rule of a simple majority votes where a super-majority vote is not otherwise indicated?

Posted by: tomcammarata | January 27, 2011 8:48 PM | Report abuse

This isn't news. 100% predicted.

Posted by: illogicbuster | January 28, 2011 7:33 AM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.




characters remaining

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company