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Posted at 8:30 AM ET, 01/ 5/2011

Is there consensus emerging on filibuster reform?

By Jennifer Rubin

The filibuster-reform minuet has begun. Democrats have been talking "reform" for a little while -- namely, a three-part proposal from New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall to modify, but not eliminate, the Senate filibuster. But all of the sudden, now that it's time to vote on a Senate rule change and not just talk, the push for a filibuster revision appears to have lost steam. As has been widely reported, there is not yet agreement among Democrats on the specific type of filibuster reform proposal to offer. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected to delay a vote while Democrats consider their options.

A senior Republican advisor with whom I spoke last night predicts that the Democrats will "hold off until the 24th [when the Senate reconvenes]. My guess is they'll try to find something in the interim that doesn't require the nuclear option." The nuclear option, that is a rule change by bare majority vote which would touch off an inevitable backlash by the opposition, has long been decried.

Indeed it was the "nuclear option" that concerned the Post editorial board back in 2005. In the context of Bush judicial nominees, the board wisely cautioned:

The Democrats, after having proclaimed throughout the Clinton years the need for a fair process for nominees, showed no compunction about shifting gears and escalating the conflict -- using not only the procedural tricks that they once denounced but making the filibuster a routine tool in an already degraded process. What's more, they have shown no ability to distinguish between nominees genuinely worth opposing -- such as Justice Brown, whose philosophy really is outside the mainstream -- and conservatives, such as Justice Owen, whose records should not preclude service.

So we root essentially for both sides to lose and the Senate to win -- which is what the nascent compromise would provide for. The nuclear option would effectively circumvent accepted Senate procedures for changing Senate rules and is therefore unacceptable. But the nuclear option's defeat could be seen as legitimizing Democratic filibusters and encouraging future obstruction.

And indeed, the potential for a similar blow-up draws a warning from the editorial board some six years later: "[T]here are potentially dangerous consequences to changing the rules by majority fiat. In the short term, the maneuver would end any prospect, however slim, of continuing the type of bipartisan cooperation that emerged during the lame-duck session. Further poisoning the partisan atmosphere is the last thing the Senate needs at a time when lawmakers will be asked to tackle critical fiscal issues."

In a similar vein, Ruth Marcus warns Democrats that they are wading into dangerous territory: "If Democrats succeed in establishing that the rules are open for change by majority vote, what happens if Republicans win a Senate majority in 2012? Democrats have 23 seats to defend that year compared with 10 for Republicans. Anyone want to bet the mortgage money on the outcome?" It is precisely such fears that have caused some Senate Democrats to rethink the wisdom of the maneuver.

It is remarkable that the spirit of caution is so widely in evidence. Not to be left out, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also takes to the Post opinion pages to argue that there is mischief on both sides (there is "the Democratic majority's repeated use of a once-rare procedural gimmick that has kept Republicans from amending bills that are brought to the floor") and to remind Democrats that many of their senior members joined Republicans in 1995 to defeat a rule change by simple majority. Sounding much like Ruth (with whom, it is safe to say, he shares few views on anything else), he writes:

A change in the rules by a bare majority aimed at benefiting Democrats today could just as easily be used to benefit Republicans tomorrow. Do Democrats really want to create a situation where, two or four or six years from now, they are suddenly powerless to prevent Republicans from overturning legislation they themselves worked so hard to enact?

And have those pushing for these changes forgotten how their party used the rules of the Senate to block legislation when Republicans were in the majority? Given the ease with which majorities can shift these days, Democrats might want to be careful what they wish for.

Well then, can we all agree to step back from the ledge? Alas, there are plenty on the left egging on the Senate Democrats to disregard all this sage advice, so it remains to be seen whether the impulse to ram through a rule change for temporary gain can be squelched. For those of us who marveled at the outbreak of comity during the lame-duck session, we can only hope for the best.

By Jennifer Rubin  | January 5, 2011; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Senate Democrats, Senate GOP  
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Next: Why doesn't the left like 'ObamaCare'?


"I'm a labor-lawyer-turned-blogger who believes in limited government, in free markets and that nearly all wisdom can be found in the Godfather movies and the Torah." - Jennifer Rubin

With approximately 5 million members of the Tribe in the U.S.A. we must every damn one of you get a turn at the op-ed pages of the Washington post?

Everything we need to now about you is written in your own smarmy bio here.

Quoting Ruth

Pumping up the slug Magoo McConnel..priceless (when is the guy who started squashing his head gonna return and finish?)

Posted by: mot2win | January 5, 2011 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Keeping it classy, mot2win, aren't you?

Posted by: timInCT | January 5, 2011 9:59 AM | Report abuse

this comment reeks of ignorance and prejudice

"Everything we need to now about you is written in your own smarmy bio here."

One might say anything anyone will ever need to know about "mot2win" is contained in the phrase "every damn one of you" but this is obviously false. Its possible "mot2win" has many other bad traits not yet manifested here

Posted by: mikem23 | January 5, 2011 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Got news for you zionists, I was for years a defender of Israel, and foolishly assumed its corrupt position on the middle east reality. But I know better now. You made a huge mistake helping the war profiteers into 9/11-less Iraq and have on your hands the blood of many thousands of real americans (defined as putting america before some funky foreign power as you do).

Gee tim, I see you are in Ct? What a surprise that so many have moved there to hide under wimpy Lie-berman's skirt, hangin' out with the trashers of american culture, Maury Povich and Jerry Springer.

The truth is out baby and the word spreads. Now jump over to another article by this prefer-a-caracature-to-a-photo opiner on letting the poor Israel spy out of jail.

As always when one attacks corrupt Israel we can expect an attempt at silencing criticism with ye ol' "anti-semite" charge. Well it has lost it's sting and isn't true anyway. As I've said often here and elsewhere (and will continue to), a majority of American jews vote liberal/progressive/democrat. There are countless jewish voices striving to be heard above your clamour. Sensible voices like Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky and the late Howard Zinn.

You are moles, traitors. You hide here and suck up all the advantages then betray America by lying it into wars and draining it for the indefensible defense of a chunk of wasteland you claim g-d himself gave you though you haven't occupied it for several hundred years and gained control of it by introducing into modernity the tool of terrorism.

It's nearly over, you didn't help dumb us down fast enough and daily people see this Israel for what it is.

Now return to your assignments of convincing hillbillies that Israel is needed for those end times you dance us towards and pleading donations from hypochristian (or xtians to you) fundies.

Your arrogance has overreached your abilities.

"Definition of a Semite: Semite is a genealogical term defining a descendent of the tribe of Abraham who was an Iraqi and had children with his wife Rachel and his maid Hagar, an Egyptian; that means the entire Arab people are the original semites."

Kinda makes you ziocons anti-semite no?

Posted by: mot2win | January 5, 2011 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Could some prominent Democrat apologist(s) please "explain" why they did not fix the filibuster problem when they got the popular mandate in 2008 and had 60 Senators, or when they had 59, or... Were the seats "saved" in 2010 worth all the misery of the unemployed, the foreclosed, the bankrupted from 2008 -2011, the risk of damage to the already badly flawed health care law?

Posted by: robertcogan | January 5, 2011 12:56 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: katehall123 | January 6, 2011 3:54 AM | Report abuse

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