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Posted at 9:47 AM ET, 01/ 6/2011

The Democrats' power give

By Ezra Klein

Dan Foster at the National Review and AllahPundit at both agree: There's really nothing for minority parties to fear in the Democrats' proposed filibuster reforms. And they're right about that.

Compare the provisions that say minorities can't do something to those that say they can do something. In the "can't" category is (1) can't uphold a filibuster without having people debating the bill on the floor, (2) can't place a hold on a bill without disclosing that you've done so and (3) can't filibuster a motion to proceed.

If you read that closely, there's no basic tool Senate minorities have now that they won't have if these reforms pass: They can still filibuster bills, they can still place holds. I cannot think of a single piece of legislation that would've ended differently in the presence of these rules.

Conversely, the reform package also says minorities can do something: They get to offer at least three germane amendments on every single bill. The majority often doesn't let the minority do this because the amendments, if sufficiently well targeted, can split the majority party, adding something that, say, conservative Democrats can't vote against, but liberal Democrats can't stand to see pass. I can think of a few bills where this power would've, at the least, changed the makeup of the final legislation.

As I've said before, for better or for worse, there's no power grab here. If anything, there's a slight power give. That's not meant as a knock on the package, which, as readers know, I consider good on its own merits, but not likely to solve any of the problems of the modern Senate. But there's a reason liberals aren't that excited and conservatives aren't that opposed: This package won't really help liberals, and it won't really hurt conservatives.

By Ezra Klein  | January 6, 2011; 9:47 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Well, it speeds up the process (no fillibusters on motions to proceed, less time after fillibusters on nominations, etc.) The main reason why the minority party the last few years has used the fillibuster so often was to try and fill up the Senate clock with wasted time. As the lame duck session and actual votes on many nominations showed, it wasn't because they were actually opposed to many of the things the majority party was doing, they were just trying to slow everything down. If the extent to which the minority party's can slow everything down is reduced (to enough of a degree), the minority party might not bother using the fillibuster on bills and nominations they are not actually opposed to, thus solving at least a significant portion of the problem.

Posted by: srm4m | January 6, 2011 10:10 AM | Report abuse

They're depriving us of the right to waste time.

Sounds like the perfect Republican talking point

Posted by: fuse | January 6, 2011 10:55 AM | Report abuse

In the alternate universe where you can't block a motion to proceed, and you must hold the floor 24/7 to sustain a filibuster, I think these bills end differently:

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 passes much earlier, maybe in spring 2010, right after the ACA victory, or maybe on 9/11, after Reid cuts short the summer recess by a few days.

The Emergency Senior Citizens Relief Act of 2010 passes without a filibuster, because most of the minority don't really want to block it, and the leadership is reserving the caucus's time and energy to kill the DREAM Act and the Omnibus Spending bill.

The Paycheck Fairness Act passes, because not enough Republicans care to be seen on the floor arguing FOR sex discrimination in the payment of wages. Plus, they had just come off three acrimonious filibusters, of the National Defense Authorization Act (with DADT dontcha know!--successfully blocked), the DISCLOSE Act (successfully blocked) and the Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act (unsuccessful filibuster, because they realized they just couldn't explain hour after hour, day after day why they wanted to KEEP tax deductions and tax credits for the act of sending a job overseas).

The Home Star Energy Retrofit Act (Cash for Caulkers) gets out of committee, to the floor, and passes with no filibuster.

There are probably a lot of other bills in committee that now have a better chance, not to mention some of the hundreds passed by the House that have gone into limbo.

Posted by: andrewlong | January 6, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

One of the big complaints Ezra has been the fact that judicial nominations suffer from the filibuster even when they are not controversial.

Do you think a senator is really going to waste his/her time standing on the floor for hours fighting against a non-controversial nominee. They complain every time they have to work one day into their one of their month long vacations. I doubt they will be so committed to waste time standing on the floor and debating to prevent a nominee like that.

If the filibuster reform takes effect, non-controversial and routine legislation and nominees should no longer suffer from the filibuster. I think we can count on the laziness of politicians for that. They would rather spend their time courting wealthy donors.

Posted by: DeanofProgress | January 6, 2011 2:23 PM | Report abuse

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