Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 18, 2010

BAYH SEEMS SERIOUS ABOUT FILIBUSTER REFORM.... It was encouraging yesterday when Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) appeared on MSNBC and voiced his support for lowering the filibuster threshold from 60 to 55. What was arguably even more heartening was evidence that he seems to mean it.

Last night, Bayh's press office sent out a press release with the headline: "Bayh Calls for Filibuster Reform ." It included a link to the senator's MSNBC interview, and referenced remarks Bayh made on the air:

"The minority needs to have a right. I think that's important. But the public has a right to see its business done and not routinely allow a small minority to keep us from addressing the great issues that face this country.

"I think the filibuster absolutely needs to be changed."

Now, Bayh obviously isn't seeking re-election, so his office has no one to impress with press releases like this. Maybe Bayh means it and intends to actually work on this during his final year on the Hill.

What's more Greg Sargent raises a good point about the media: coverage on Bayh's criticism of "partisanship" and political "dysfunction" has been pretty intense, but major outlets have generally ignored the senator's call for a solution that would actually make a difference. "I get that filibuster reform looks like a non-starter," Greg noted. "But given that Bayh's every pronouncement about the evils of partisanship is getting so much attention, it seems odd that his recommended solution to the governmental paralysis created by it is getting no attention at all."

This matters. The media is holding Bayh out as some saintly centrist, but news outlets are only reporting the parts of the senator's comments that fit into their preferred narrative -- "both parties" have created a bitter, toxic political environment -- instead of what the senator actually wants to do to help fix the problem.

Bayh's support for reforming the process Republicans broke can make a real difference -- his endorsement makes changing the filibuster rules seem like a necessary, mainstream idea. And it is. But this will only gain traction, and the Senate will only be able to function again, if the public hears about it.

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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Comments

The clearest explanations I've heard of how filibuster reform would work suggest it has to happen at the beginning of a Senate session. Bayh will be gone by then. Ho hum.

Bayh's supposed to be this super moderate bipartisan guy, right? You know what would be really helpful? Is if he could do that "reach across the aisle" trick that centrists are supposed to be useful for, and convince some Republicans to stop obstructing 100% everything just because the leadership told them to. If he did that-- hell, if he convinced one Republican to start acting for their state and their nation instead of pure politics-- then we wouldn't need to reform the filibuster. But I guess he can't or won't do that.

Posted by: mcc on February 18, 2010 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Now, Bayh obviously isn't seeking re-election, so his office has no one to impress with press releases like this.

This doesn't make any sense. First, if his office is issuing press releases then Bayh is, by definition, trying to "impress" someone. Press releases, in of themselves, are not legislative tools. If he doesn't care about taking credit for his position, he needn't advertise it.

Second, just because Bayh is not currently running for office does not mean that he won't in the future. It is highly likely that Bayh anticipates being asked in the future, if he felt that Congress was broken, what if anything he did to fix it. Fortunately, as he heads out the door he appears to be making a symbolic gesture of reform.

Posted by: square1 on February 18, 2010 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder what the principled justification for 60 is over 55? It seems completely arbitrary and therefore stupid.

The filibuster is a problem for 3 reasons:
1. It's gotten procedurally easier to do.
2. It's now accepted to filibuster even bills from your own party and is now the de facto floor vote.
3. One of the parties is voting en bloc, making a mockery of the founder's liberal post-parliamentary designs.

And when the senate composition changes, 55 will be like 60 is now. I mean, it's very rare to have 60 senators in one party. So bringing the number down to 55 will ultimately preserve the gridlock and the conservadem monkeywrenching.

But excellent point on the media attention. "Pox on Both Houses" is a more appealing story. What needs to happen is that people need to feel safe about hating Republicans, the same way they felt safe about hating terrorist-coddling libs; only then will the media be willing to point vaguely at the truth. And for that to happen, Democrats, official in-party Democrats, need to start slinging some mud. And that's not going to happen.

Posted by: inkadu on February 18, 2010 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

The Senate is a system which gives the greatest power to the last necessary vote. If it takes 55 to end debate, somebody will maneuver to be the 55th vote and hold out for some related or unrelated concession. 51 to end debate is the only way to have majority rule. If I had a vote, I would take 55 as Bayh proposes, but have no illusions that it represents systemic reform.

Posted by: tom in ma on February 18, 2010 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

inkadu's comment is right on. Dodd's handwringing this week apply to Developments 2 and 4 of inkadu's list, and handwringing is probably all that can be done about them.

Development 1 is a different matter, and I'd like the Senate consider measures that would make a Senator think twice before starting (or voting to continue) a filibuster: Limit a single Senator's filibuster to one per term, bust the Senator down in seniority for the term, move the Senator's bills to the bottom of the agenda ...

Posted by: scott_m on February 18, 2010 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

On a related subject:

Brent Budowsky is taking seriously the idea of drafting John Cougar Mellencamp to run for Bayh's Senate seat.

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/26847

Posted by: anomaly on February 18, 2010 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

"the public hears about it." The MSM has a stake in the drama of 60 votes and political failure. It's better for ratings. The old plane lands safely problem. What's the agony of potential defeat if all of Obamas' agenda had sailed through the Senate without any tension? Ho Hum... Boring! So there is no profit in ending the filibuster drama. Let the planes crash.

Posted by: E L on February 18, 2010 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

What's good for TV is bad for America.

Posted by: anomaly on February 18, 2010 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

If I understand it correctly, it is only when the Senate organizes at the beginning of the new session in 2011, that the filibuster rules can be changed with a simple majority. But Bayh won't be in the Senate then. So why does he count?

Posted by: eastburbguy on February 18, 2010 at 8:23 PM | PERMALINK

"A person doesn't have to wear a brown shirt to be a fascist". Lyndon LaRouche noted that bit of wisdom years ago.

And an elected democrat need not really be one in order to dance to the GOP's tune.

Posted by: JW on February 18, 2010 at 9:13 PM | PERMALINK

"If I understand it correctly, it is only when the Senate organizes at the beginning of the new session in 2011, that the filibuster rules can be changed with a simple majority. But Bayh won't be in the Senate then. So why does he count?"

Posted by: eastburbguy

He's looking good on his way out. As has been pointed out, he might run for governor.

The test will be what he does now, in the Senate, when he's not running for re-election, and is free to piss off his collegues.

Posted by: Barry on February 19, 2010 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK
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