Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 10:50 AM ET, 12/31/2010

Here comes filibuster reform

By Jonathan Bernstein

One more time, on the filibuster and what's likely to happen next week.

First, an update: it seems that Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are working towards the possibility of some sort of compromise, which would then be voted in by two-thirds vote, under the current rules and the interpretation of the Senate as a "continuing body."   For a good rundown, see Daily Kos's David Waldman.  Also, Brian Beutler, who continues to do great reporting on this, walks everyone through some of the possible choreography we may see once the Senate session begins.

Yesterday I argued that reformers shouldn't necessarily be thrilled with the Udall/Merkley plan.  David Dayen points out that I didn't mention the proposed elimination of a cloture vote on the motion to proceed, which he calls "the most important" of the three substantive changes that Jeff Merkley and his allies are proposing.  I agree, but in my view that just shows how slight this package really is.  The motion to proceed is already not debatable (and therefore cannot be filibustered) on nominations, so we're only talking here about legislation.  It is true that needing to get cloture on the motion to proceed can slow things down for a few days, assuming the minority fully exploits its possibilities under the rules -- which they sometimes, but not always, do.  However, another three or four days isn't really going to derail major legislation, and while it's true that floor time is valuable and eliminating this procedural step will matter on the margins, it of course doesn't change the fundamental fact of a 60-vote Senate.

By the way, Dayen has a good explanation of Merkley's "make 'em talk" provision, but I still disagree with his conclusion, which is that under that proposal "The incentives are set up properly; painful to hold the filibuster, easy to let it go."  That may be true for filibusters supported by very small groups of senators, but on partisan filibusters -- with at least half of the minority party on board -- the calculus on floor time will not really change.  Senators like talking and are rewarded for doing so, as Bernie Sanders recently demonstrated.   A dozen or more Senators would still easily be able to keep a "live" filibuster going indefinitely.  Therefore, majority leaders would still avoid forcing a minority party talkathon, leading to exactly the situation we have now. 

I'm not exactly against the Merkley package, and presumably the votes aren't there for more significant reforms, but overall it still strikes me as a very modest step.

All that said, if threatening these or more significant rules changes can result in a bit less pure stalling from the GOP, it's well worth it.  In my view, the Democrats should be threatening more serious reform and insisting at least that Republicans drop their objections to non-controversial appointments as the price for keeping the rules more or less where they are.  But again, it's not at all clear that Harry Reid has the support for that sort of deal.

I'll add one thing.  Dayen expresses surprise that reform has picked up this much support.  I'm not surprised.  It's important to remember that we've never had a full 60-vote Senate until 2009, and even the partial 60-vote Senate only dates back to 1993.  It's not a sustainable situation.  Senators have strong incentives for retaining as much individual influence as possible, but majority-party senators also have strong incentives for pleasing their party's constituents, and all senators have an interest in a set of workable rules.  Once it became clear that Mitch McConnell and the Republicans were indeed intent on a true 60 vote Senate --something that never existed before 2009 -- a backlash was inevitable. 

Jonathan Bernstein writes about American politics, political institutions and democracy at A Plain Blog About Politics, and you can follow him on Twitter here.

By Jonathan Bernstein  | December 31, 2010; 10:50 AM ET
 
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Happy Hour Roundup
Next: Is Sarah Palin toast?

Comments

A backlash from voters is something else they may wish to worry about, the reputation of this August body is in the toilet.

Who thought we'd be reading this phrase today, back in October,

"Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are working towards the possibility of some sort of compromise."

Sharron Angle, hahaahaaahahahahahahhaha, the punch line of a bad joke.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 31, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Democrats pretend that the Senate rules are the problem even though the same rules were no problem for the GOP when it controlled the Senate. And now the GOP may actually agree to change the rules to make it easier to repeal what little good Obama has done. Pathetic. What a sham our two-party system has become. There is only one party in this country now: the Republicrats who serve our corporate masters. The arcana of Senate procedure is utterly irrelevant.

Posted by: wbgonne | December 31, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Dear Senator Reid:

I will be DEEPLY disappointed if something doesn't come out of this insipid "reform" process that doesn't GUARANTEE (on the basis of something other than McConnell's word) up or down votes on ALL Obama nominations by Jan 10 and on all future Obama nominations at any time.

Spending 3 legislative years on cloture votes to approve nominees more than half-way through Obama's term -- and not getting anything else done -- is not an option.

Don't f this up Harry. This is real.

Posted by: paul65 | December 31, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

"A dozen or more Senators would still easily be able to keep a "live" filibuster going indefinitely."
'
Yes, but what are they going to do that for? Obviously they would have done it for every major piece of legislation in the past two years: health care reform, wall street reform, stimulus, DADT, and several others. But the thing is--they already did filibuster those. And they passed! (Of course that had a lot to do with Dems having very close to 60 votes in the first place.)

But there were 130 OTHER motions to invoke cloture filed in the past two years. 45 of those didn't even get to a vote, and 28 were voted down.

Will Republicans vote against cloture--and thus be forced to immediately take to the floor and keep 'debating' indefinitely--in all of those 73 instance where they successfully blocked legislation? I strongly doubt it.

Udall and Merkley's proposal would go a long way toward making the Senate a properly functioning legislative body.

Posted by: andrewlong | December 31, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

What about a mandatory retirement age for Senators--- or anyone else paid by the government? I'd like a return to the days when fist fights and gun duels were used to settle differences. I mean outside the 'hood. Didn't Dingy Harry try his hand at boxing about 60 years ago? He and Mitch could settle their differences the old-fashioned way. Before long, we'd get more candidates like Scott Brown---younger people, in better shape.

Posted by: Brigade | December 31, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

not only properly functioning in the sense that bills will get votes on the floor. But there's also the possibility that, with their ability to obstruct diminished, or at least made less palatable, the minority, or at least the half-dozen or so moderate, more reality-based members of the minority, might be persuaded to buy in to the process, and work together with the majority to write good laws that reflect at least some of their concerns.

You know, do their jobs.

Posted by: andrewlong | December 31, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Don't f this up Harry. This is real.

Posted by: paul65 | December 31, 2010 12:17 PM

-------

You've heard the one about the wet dream? The phrase was coined with Dingy Harry in mind.

Posted by: Brigade | December 31, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

What a sham our two-party system has become. There is only one party in this country now: the Republicrats who serve our corporate masters. The arcana of Senate procedure is utterly irrelevant.

Posted by: wbgonne | December 31, 2010 12:17 PM

-------

I'm feeling better all the time. I was beginning to worry that liberals had made some inroads.

Posted by: Brigade | December 31, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

"...gun duels were used to settle differences..."

I've often wondered what would have become of George Washington's Federalist Party, if Arron Burr lets say, had missed. As it happened, the party could not survive the deaths of both its founders in the space of five years. It would be a fun a subject for an historical novel.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 31, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Republicans are capable of nominating someone more ridiculous than Harry Reid. They are capable of knocking off the DuPont's own Mike Castle and replacing him with Chris Coons, the Marxist. I can't wait for the Republican Presidential nomination battles and no, I don't agree with the recently advanced theory of the lockstep Conservative Thing. This is a Party that is literally out of control.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 31, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

wbgonne posted: "The arcana of Senate procedure is utterly irrelevant."

I do not mean to be patronizing, wbg. What I write here may sound that way to you, nevertheless.

All deliberative bodies from the PTA to the US Senate either operate within a framework of rules and procedures or they are unable to operate at all. The 60 vote cloture motion is not an arcane procedure in the US Senate. It is common and central.

I infer that your actual complaint is that Ds do not have party discipline and that Rs do have party discipline. It seems to me that you could make that case. But you cannot make it by arguing that Senate procedure is irrelevant to the legislative process.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | December 31, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

For next year's first program, NBC is going to have Lindsay Graham and Pat Toomey on Meet the Press. CNN is featuring Tim Kaine, but I'd hate to overdose on Peet's on Sunday morning, just to stay awake through that.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 31, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

I predict that Tim Kaine will see his shadow, and go back into hiding for another two years.

Posted by: Liam-still | December 31, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

"I infer that your actual complaint is that Ds do not have party discipline and that Rs do have party discipline"

No, my complaint is that the two parties are interchangeable. The rules are irrelevant because the game is fixed.

Posted by: wbgonne | December 31, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

paul65 | December 31, 2010 12:17 PM


When

Posted by: RainForestRising | December 31, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Hey Liam!

Happy New Year!

Bears-Pats Super Bowl rematch?

Posted by: wbgonne | December 31, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

What is it with people calling for someone else to be executed lately? It isn't just a PL problem

"Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, who substituted last night [12/28] for the vacationing Sean Hannity, thinks the resurgent Philadelphia Eagles quarterback should have been "executed" for his dogfighting crimes.

When a Carlson-led panel discussion turned to President Barack Obama's recent phone call with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, in which Obama commended Lurie for giving Vick a second chance in the NFL, Carlson decided to make his feelings on the matter clear.

"I'm a Christian, I've made mistakes myself, I believe fervently in second chances," Carlson said. "But Michael Vick killed dogs, and he did in a heartless and cruel way. And I think, personally, he should've been executed for that. He wasn't, but the idea that the president of the United States would be getting behind someone who murdered dogs? Kind of beyond the pale."

Lots of places in the general vicinity of China, they raise dogs to be slaughtered and eaten. I mean, being a principled vegetarian is one thing, but I don't think that is what this Fox News Christian is about. Putting dogs on a spiritual plane with humans, nah, just the same plane as Mike Vick? Capital punishment for killing dogs, no way if the perp were white. Reminds me of those Mississippi women who got life in prison for setting up two marks, who got robbed of $11.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 31, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

paul65 | December 31, 2010 12:17 PM


Seriously man When Bush was in, the democrats LOVED the 60 votes

It was then the Republicans wanted the nuclear option


McCain negotiated a COMPROMISE


(something Obama hasnt done in two years)


.

Posted by: RainForestRising | December 31, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Hey Liam!

Happy New Year!

Bears-Pats Super Bowl rematch?

Posted by: wbgonne | December 31, 2010 1:31 PM |

.....................

And a Happy New Year to you and yours.

I would love to see the Bears make it to the Super Bowl, but I doubt if they will. Their win loss record is deceptive. They have been winning ugly, and with an amazing amount of good luck. Take the last second call against Detroit, when they had the first game won, right up to The Vikings defeating Philadelphia this Tuesday.

What the Pats did to them was no fluke. Compare what the Pats did to both the Bears and The Jets, and then notice how The Jets and Bears stacked up against each other, in the last game, and you will see what I mean.

I would say that the Pats are the odds on favorites to make it to the Superbowl, and probably win it. I expect that they will face either Atlanta or New Orleans. Atlanta should be able to learn from their recent defeat, and make adjustments, should they face The Saints again, so they will probably be the team that The Pats will meet.

Of course in a one and done situation, even the Pats could suffer an upset, in the playoffs. The Packers played them very tough, and might have won, if their QB had not been knocked out of the game, just because he still had not learned how to go into a proper give up slide.

Posted by: Liam-still | December 31, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of animal abuse (yep a slow work day, I don't "party" so this is just a regular Friday, but no one is feeding me problems, so I make them up here), I don't think Americans get out much, I mean out of this country or out of the resort/tour areas in other countries.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/31/us/31horses.html?hpw

What, do people think these horses were destined for a life well led had they not been sold into the drug trade?

One day in Indonesia, I was walking in the Jakarta zoo with some college students (I handled a White Tiger cub, defanged cobras attacked me while the crowd laughed, what a place...). As we passed a lion exhibit, one of the girls picked up a feral kitten begging from us and threw it into the exhibit where it was promptly devoured. Everyone was astonished at my horror.

They throw live chickens with broken wings into the Komodo Dragon exhibit at scheduled times for the crowd - as close to Jurassic Park as real life gets I imagine. People throw so much snack food into the Orangutan exhibit, it piles up and rots, they are obese. I watched food bouncing off the head of an orangutan who didn't seem to notice.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 31, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

How Beautiful the Turning of the Year

By:Turlough O'Carolan 1670-1738 A blind harpist, composer and singer. The poem is an translation from the original Gaelic language which he composed in.


How beautiful the turning of the year!
A moment artificial yet profound:
Point upon an arbitrary chart
Passing like a breath upon the heart,
Yearning with anticipation wound,
New hope new harbored in old-fashioned cheer.
Even when the boundary line is clear,
We recognize the oneness of the ground.
Years, like circles, do not end or start
Except we lay across their truth our art,
Adjusting dates as they go round and round
Revolving to a tune long sung and dear.

Posted by: Liam-still | December 31, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

NYT has a piece on airports hiring private security firms instead of the TSA.

I hope the TSA doesn't let airports hire Blackwater/Xe for this purpose, just to make people want their Federales back.

"Badges?" "Badges?" "We non't neeno stinkin' badges!"

Posted by: shrink2 | December 31, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

liam-still writes
"even the Pats could suffer an upset, in the playoffs. The Packers played them very tough, and might have won, if their QB had not been knocked out of the game, just because he still had not learned how to go into a proper give up slide."

It is true the Bears' record is deceptive; however they are better now than they were at the start - or midpoint - of the season. Having said that, I expect the Packers to beat them handily this weekend. Speaking of whom, Rodgers was out for the whole Patriots game - backup Flynn started the game & kept up with Brady for 4 quarters.

Posted by: bsimon1 | December 31, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

andrewlong writes
"Will Republicans vote against cloture--and thus be forced to immediately take to the floor and keep 'debating' indefinitely--in all of those 73 instance where they successfully blocked legislation? I strongly doubt it."


I tend to agree. And given the disfunctionality of the Senate under the existing rules, what's the harm in trying?

Posted by: bsimon1 | December 31, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Moron of the Year


Goes to Ezra Klein

.....for his comments about the Constitution.

.

Posted by: RainForestRising | December 31, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

These downwardly mobile people should just keep voting for Republicans. After all, the rich can't get richer if someone else isn't working for $24k a year instead of $30k. Downward mobility leavens the cake.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/01/business/economy/01hires.html?hp

I don't think Republican voters know any rich people. They know Ayn Rand's theory of the rich (simply put, they earned it), but they don't actually know real rich people. Republican voters think this is funny, rich people have someone to put their pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else. Republican voters are also rigid ideologues. They believe people looting the wealth producing engines of the economy is the way things should be.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 31, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

shrink2,
"Lots of places in the general vicinity of China, they raise dogs to be slaughtered and eaten."

---

And caothien9 says they're quite delicious.

Posted by: Brigade | December 31, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

shrink2:
"As we passed a lion exhibit, one of the girls picked up a feral kitten begging from us and threw it into the exhibit where it was promptly devoured. Everyone was astonished at my horror."

---

And they would've probably been surprised at my total lack of horror had someone then picked up the girl and tossed her into the same exhibit. I might even have clapped.

Posted by: Brigade | December 31, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Andrewlong has it right; Bernstein and Klein, who I usually agree with, don't seem to be gaming this one out in a very realistic way.

Posted by: billy_burdett | December 31, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

And they would've probably been surprised at my total lack of horror had someone then picked up the girl and tossed her into the same exhibit. I might even have clapped.
---------------------------------------------------
I'm going to read in your comment what you meant. I recognize another animal lover, especially kitties. Am I right?

Posted by: 12BarBluesAgain | December 31, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

shrink2, you don't think that rich people vote Republican.

Posted by: clawrence12 | December 31, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Obviously. Rich people are a tiny minority of the electorate, how they vote does not matter.

On the life and death in the "developing" world topic. It was a strange thing. She spoke English well, she was a college student, cheerful and curious. She just picked up this little cat and threw it, a long way across the moat. It was one of those unforgettable moments. She really thought it was funny. I've been in villages where the kids play with puppies they have for dinner. Now, I am a tough guy. I grew up around guns and have played with ducks and chickens I've had for dinner, never even thought about it...but now we have a Fox Christian calling for Mike Vick's execution and a PL person thinking the girl who killed a kitten for fun should have suffered the same fate. People scare me.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 31, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

"how they vote does not matter" unless they get on TV to do it.

They vote with their "free" speech. They don't vote for Republicans, they buy Republicans.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 31, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

The point I am making is that some rich people do vote for Republicans. You can argue about what else they do, but I am simply pointing out that truth.

Posted by: clawrence12 | December 31, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

"don't think Republican voters know any rich people. They know Ayn Rand's theory of the rich (simply put, they earned it), but they don't actually know real rich people. Republican voters think this is funny, rich people have someone to put their pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else. Republican voters are also rigid ideologues. They believe people looting the wealth producing engines of the economy is the way things should be."

You nailed. We're really that 2 dimensional.  Less so. 

Just out of curiosity though, what is "rich?"

Palin/Rubio (or Cheney/Cheney) 2012

Posted by: TrollMcWingnut | December 31, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

New thread, this time: "Is Sarah Palin toast?"

Posted by: clawrence12 | December 31, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Troll, if you have to ask, you don't know any rich people.

But since you people want simple answers, I'll say, rich people are families with $50,000,000. or more. $10m if they own it all outright, could convert it to gold bars overnight, $100m if they are way out there in the blue. Satisfied?

Posted by: shrink2 | December 31, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

No.

Posted by: TrollMcWingnut | December 31, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

And they would've probably been surprised at my total lack of horror had someone then picked up the girl and tossed her into the same exhibit. I might even have clapped.
---------------------------------------------------
I'm going to read in your comment what you meant. I recognize another animal lover, especially kitties. Am I right?

Posted by: 12BarBluesAgain | December 31, 2010 4:11 PM

---

Yes. Critters in general. I know all kinds of animals, including humans, have to eat, but I can't abide plain cruelty.

Posted by: Brigade | December 31, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Let's get rid of the filibuster and holds too. Straight up or down vote - 51 votes carries the day.

None of these rules are in the Constitution and can be changed by a simple majority vote in the Senate.

Posted by: Otiose1 | December 31, 2010 7:18 PM | Report abuse

"I can't abide plain cruelty."

Obama's plan is working! I can't either. The mentally ill were the people the Nazis used to develop their scheme. No one cared whether they lived or died.(Kevin, $1 in the Godwin charity jar, it is just that I am rereading Ian Kershaw's biography). I'm not post modern. I don't think history is written by the winner. I don't think values are semiotic transactions.

But seriously, earlier someone said political positions might not exist on a continuum, liberal versus conservative etc. I agree. The unintended consequence of having two parties, everything becomes binary. We are smarter than that, but we have not acknowledged that fact.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 31, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse

Right on with the pigskin analysis, Liam (though bsimon is correct about the Packers-Pats game). I think we're looking at the Pats versus either Atlanta or New Orleans (with the Packers an outside shot). But as the Packers game and the Browns games showed the Patriots do have significant weaknesses especially against a good running game.

To be honest, i thought the Pats would have 9 wins this season, 10 if things went well. Bellicheck is a great coach, no other way to say it. And, oh yeah, having a healthy Brady at QB doesn't hurt either. It's the Pats to lose and their chances at Foxboro in the dead of winter are pretty good so I see them in the Super Bowl. I don't know if Atlanta can recover from that beat-down the Saints gave them at home but we'll see. Anyway, I already got a lot more out of this football season than I anticipated so it's all good.

Happy New Year to Shrink (expect more patients in 2011) and to the rest of the PLers.

Keep the faith.

Posted by: wbgonne | December 31, 2010 7:57 PM | Report abuse

Thank you wbg, I don't want more. I just got off the "phone" on a complicated failed-to-respond to Rx case. She is so terribly ill and so young. We do the best we can. Best to be cheerful, we are all so lucky.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 31, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

It is picking up support because the Republicans know that with the Democrats defending 23 seats to 10 and 11 of those seats in McCain/Bush states ...
that come 2012 THEY will have the majority.

If they keep the house, and Pres Obama is indeed a one-term President ...

the only thing holding them back from full repeal of the health care laws is ...
a Filibuster.

Posted by: chromenhawk | December 31, 2010 8:21 PM | Report abuse

I've often wondered what would have become of George Washington's Federalist Party, if Arron Burr lets say, had missed. As it happened, the party could not survive the deaths of both its founders in the space of five years. It would be a fun a subject for an historical novel.

==

Harry Turtledove could pull it off.

Posted by: caothien9 | January 1, 2011 6:11 AM | Report abuse

I'm with you shrink on the animal cruelty thing. Walking home after class one day in college I ran into some freshman kid throwing rocks at a squirrel for the amusement of two girls who thought it was funny. Wouldn't have been long before he broke the squirrel's spine.

I had something of a blackout and next thing I knew I had the kid on the ground and his arm twisted back at an angle arms don't go. Don't think the girls were amused. I'd popped his throwing arm out of the socket.

I walked home a different way for the next few weeks and didn't wear the same jacket anymore.

Cruelty to animals? Better not.

Posted by: caothien9 | January 1, 2011 6:29 AM | Report abuse

There's the makings of a movement to reform the Senate rules. A petition is circulating amongst historians and legal scholars calling for reform: http://www.hnn.us/articles/135002.html

Posted by: walsh245 | January 3, 2011 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Some Democrat prominent apologist(s) should "explain" why the Dems didn't change this rule when they had the mandate of 2008 with 60 Senators, or 59, or...

Posted by: robertcogan | January 5, 2011 12:27 PM | 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