Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 1, 2010

GOP OBSTRUCTIONISM REACHES 'ASTONISHING' LEVEL.... For Americans who wonder why it seems like nothing gets done in Washington, the answer couldn't be more obvious.

The frequency of filibusters -- plus threats to use them -- are measured by the number of times the upper chamber votes on cloture. Such votes test the majority's ability to hold together 60 members to break a filibuster.

Last year, the first of the 111th Congress, there were a record 112 cloture votes. In the first two months of 2010, the number already exceeds 40.

That means, with 10 months left to run in the 111th Congress, Republicans have turned to the filibuster or threatened its use at a pace that will more than triple the old record. [emphasis added]

Political science professor Jim Riddlesperger told the AP, ''The numbers are astonishing in this Congress."

That's absolutely true. The scope of this abuse is unlike anything we've ever seen in the United States. A discredited minority decided that elections no longer have consequences, and that blocking the Senate's ability to vote on the majority's agenda is entirely acceptable.

Of course, our political system encourages this misconduct -- the less than gets done, the angrier the public. The angrier the public, the more likely the majority party loses. Ergo, the minority has a powerful incentive to make sure nothing gets done.

I suspect the frustration felt by President Obama must be pretty intense. The country has effectively told him, "We need you to rescue an economy in freefall, oversee two costly wars, fix a deteriorating job market, address a crushing debt, and fix health care, energy policy, immigration, a housing crisis, a collapsing U.S. auto industry, the Gitmo mess, and America's reputation around the world. Oh, and for the first time in American history, literally every measure and nomination of any significance will be blocked by a Senate filibuster. Good luck."

And the great irony is, the party that's responsible for the gridlock and unprecedented obstructionism is poised to be rewarded for their ridiculous behavior.

I continue to think observers should characterize Republican filibuster abuse for what it is: an extraordinary political scandal that undermines the American government's ability to function.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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How long till we start calling it a "government shutdown"

Posted by: disasterman on March 1, 2010 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Blanket this subject in email to everyone@everyone.usa; Public service announcements... sigh... no - the brick/mortar media will not assist - some liberal bias.

Posted by: sduffys on March 1, 2010 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

Why exactly these rules exist to make the Senate completely non-functional eludes me. Why should the Republicans stop? They effectively block all Dem policy plus reap the rewards at the voting booth. Win-win.

Posted by: ckelly on March 1, 2010 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

You left out respond to two major earthquakes.

Posted by: bigtuna on March 1, 2010 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

If you can't pass real filibuster reform, at least try for a something. How about a limit of 50 cloture votes a year? Republicans are so gridlock-voracious that they'd vote against that? How about at least pushing the legislation through and forcing them to cast that vote?

Posted by: Steve M. on March 1, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

I'M incredibly frustrated and I'm not the president! This "obstructionism" has to be pointed out continuely to the American voters over and over again. I don't want voters to think it is the Dems who are pulling this shit.

We Dems have to fight back.

Posted by: phoebes-in-santa fe on March 1, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

As frustrating as it is to see this, that is less frustrating than seeing Democratic voters blaming Democratic politicians for all this, since this is unprecedented and we don't have institutional traditions and procedures for dealing with it.

And as frustrating as both of those are it is nothing compared to what I will be feeling if the Republicans sweep back into power and start enacting stuff, and democrats go along with some of it (A) because republicans have a powerful noise machine and are good at cranking it up, and (B) because it is not the Democratic nature to sit by and let people suffer just to score political points. At that point, all the pundits will be complimenting republicans on skills at getting things done and their ability to bring bipartisanship back to Washington. THAT will be frustrating.

Posted by: N.Wells on March 1, 2010 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

Just heard the top of the hour CBS news. Reporter noted Senate failed to pass the unanimous consent legislation this past week. No where did I hear the name of Republican Jim Bunning uttered to explain to the national radio audience who is to blame for the problems created by such obstructionism!

The media is not an honest broker for our democracy! Laisse-faire politics is ruining our nation! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on March 1, 2010 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

Several points:

A. It's been obvious for the past decade or more that the GOP is no longer a mainstream political organization. It's now a reckless band of ruthless extremists whose worldview is divorced from reality and which will do anything to take power for itself. Reaching out to them and hoping they would put aside their own ambitions to do what is right for the country is ludicrously naive.

B. The President, in a misguided attempt to foster comity, has failed to forcefully point out the malfeasance of the opposition both now and when they were last in power, allowing a vacuum where his opponents seized the public narrative to spread their fantasies nearly unopposed.

C. The Democratic Leadership in the Senate has allowed outdated rules of the body to be used by the opposition for unprecedented obstruction. Given that the Republican leadership can't be bargained or reasoned with, the only path forward is to obliterate the rules and roll over the opposition. We are in a time of all-out partisan warfare. Continuing to pretend that we aren't means forfeiting the responsibilities of government to a band of authoritarian fanatics, at a time of national crisis.

Posted by: jimBOB on March 1, 2010 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

since this is unprecedented and we don't have institutional traditions and procedures for dealing with it.

wrong. there are plenty of procedures to deal with this, what is lacking is the political will to utilize these procedures. Majority Leader Senator Jellyfish has zero intent to solve the problem in his final ten months in office. How sad.

Posted by: some guy on March 1, 2010 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Here's one idea, that maybe can be adopted as a Senate rule: No individual senator can put a hold on without the consent of the party leader and the whip. Is a disgrace that Bunning can hold up the unemployment benefits and transportation extension ALL BY HIMSELF. If McConnell had to also agree to it, then maybe we might see some moderation; failing that, it'd be possible to say that it's the leadership position also.

Posted by: artsmith on March 1, 2010 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

The sad part is that Mitch McConnell said over a year ago that this would be his strategy. How did Democrats respond? By clinging to "bipartisanship."

Steve M.: "How about a limit of 50 cloture votes a year?"

That's not a bad idea. Kinda like the limited number of peremptory challenges during jury selection.

Posted by: Grumpy on March 1, 2010 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

as always the key is the electorate. why isn't this common knowledge in the general public?

Posted by: anon on March 1, 2010 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

Some guy is right on... except its not only Reed who has lots of genes in common with a jellyfish-- but also Obama and lots of Blue-Dog Dems. Obama, in particular is simply a more articulate jellyfish. Just like Europe in the 1930s, the eventual disaster took not only intransigent demands from the Adolph's and Benito's, but also jellyfish responses from a host of others.

Posted by: gdb on March 1, 2010 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Don't worry, the filibuster/cloture problem will go away when the Democrats return to minority status.

Posted by: qwerty on March 1, 2010 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

qwerty is right, this is totally a theoretical problem, as the Jellyfish are unwilling to change the rules, and when the Sharks take control of the Senate in November they won't need to change the rules.

Blanche and Harry will have their new cushy lobbying gigs (maybe Tom Daschle can hook them up with a sweet job lobbying for AHIP) and the game will continue.

Posted by: some guy on March 1, 2010 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

If the bluff was called and senators actually had to filibuster, I bet you the American people would come to understand pretty quickly. I realize the problem is the energy draining requirement of keeping a quorum on hand, but still i think public would tire fairly quickly. the best time to call the bluff is on the eve of a recess- keeping the senate going for a holiday week would cause the filibuster to collapse pretty quickly, wouldn't it?

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on March 1, 2010 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans actually win two ways, thanks to a pathetically inept press.

First, as mentioned, ill-informed voters blame Democrats for the fact that government is dysfunction, because they are in charge.

But Republicans actually win a second way when Democrats are accused of trying to "ram" things through in a "hyper-partisan" way when Republicans refuse to allow the government to operate like its suppsoed to, by majority rule.

That is what makes folks like Candy Crowley of CNN so exasperating when she says Democrats are using reconcilation to "avoid the 60 votes needed to pass things in the Senate." Techically, she is correct, but only because Republicans have essentially institutionalized Minority Rule by requiring 60 vote super-majorities on everything.

Nevermind those bogus charges against ACORN. The fraud committed by Republicans is on far grander a scale. What they have done is essentially stolen the 2008 election after the fact.

Posted by: Ted Frier on March 1, 2010 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

I listened to Cokie's Frank Luntz tested story of the use of reconciliation this morning and realized 3 things. First, there is no way the American people are going to hear the truth about the current crisis from the MSN. Second, NPR is decidedly unserious about doing any indepth analysis of the news. Third, the highest and best use of Cokie's time is worrying about the shortcomings of the President's social secretary.

Where is it written in the constitution that the Senate has to pass routine legislation by a 60% vote? Where is it written that a majority vote is a bad thing? Given the current situtation why wouldn't the Democrats use the one tool left to them?

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 1, 2010 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

Under the guise of celebrating that elusive and mythological 'bipartisanship,' our elite villagers are convinced that this is all the Dems fault for filibustering a handful of Bush's judicial nominees. A handful of judges, vs anything committed to ink. It is the exact same thing to Dean Broder and his class of imbeciles.

Nevermind that it is the same equivalence as an expired parking meter to vehicular homicide. Pointing that out makes you a mean spirited partisan.

Posted by: JoeW on March 1, 2010 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

There has to be a way to force their hand. Come up with a bill that reauthorizes VA benefits, and add something else, and force the R's to hold it; then force the debate + the filibuster?

Shelby caved pretty quickly when his ploy was made clear ...

By the way - two projects that have been stopped are in ID and MS :)) Someone must be thinking. Also, the trucking industry is concerned [and yes, I read trucking industry newsletters] as there are trucking safety funds being held up, which may affect state safety programs, which may affect some trucking companies ....

the hits keep coming. Thanks Jimmy B.

Posted by: bigtuna on March 1, 2010 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

Ridicule is probably the best weapon for the Dems. Put together a bunch of "ramming it through..." quotes and then explain that ramming a bill through takes a year's worth of public and private negotiations, passing several congressional committees, winning a majority vote of the House, winning 60 senate votes on the original bill, winning another majority vote in the house and winning a freakin' MAJORITY vote on some amendments in the senate.

What is it about majority rules that they don't understand? Do they believe in democracy or not? Are they against the constitution?

Ramming it through is BS and people understand that when the facts are available.

Posted by: danimal on March 1, 2010 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

What the Republicans are demonstrating is just how fragile a constitutional republic is. The Founding Fathers they are always paying homage to built the system with the implied assumption that anyone who would participate in the government would hold the overall well-being of the republic as being more important than any short-term partisan gain. However, since Republicans are the boys and girls who slept through "How A Bill Becomes A Law" in public school (nowadays most of them never got that in their home school), they have no clue about this, and the fundamentalist propaganda they took for "history" books only told them this is "God's country" and they must do what is necessary to defend it.

Basically, letting them into government is the functional equivalent of giving a 2-year old a cut crystal vase as a toy.

Posted by: TCinLA on March 1, 2010 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

It is the irony of democracy-the people are unfit to govern themselves.

Posted by: jcp on March 1, 2010 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

This is just an excellent post, and I think, now and then, it's a good idea all around to sit back and admire the neat crisp sentences Steve churns out with mind-boggling speed, and the incredibly useful range of subjects he covers, and say thanks.

Posted by: SF on March 1, 2010 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

The Senate Democrats could end this nonsense in a day if they wanted to. Just call the Republicans' bluff. If the Republicans "threaten" a filibuster, fine. Make them do it. Make them go on national TV, hour after hour, day after day, and stand up in full public view and block legislation that is important to the lives and well-being of the American people. Don't rush them or pressure them -- let them go on and on and on as long as they like.

The American people don't see, or hear, or know about, or understand what the "threat" of a filibuster is, or why it should matter. And it shouldn't matter. The "threat" of a filibuster has no standing or actual existence in law or in the Senate rules. It's nothing but BS.

But when the American people get to watch one corporate stooge Republican after another go on C-Span for days on end, screeching and whining about what their corporate owners want, blocking what the American people need, they will understand what's going on.

The problem is not the Republicans' empty "threats". The problem is the Senate Democratic leadership that is hiding behind the Republicans' empty threats.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 1, 2010 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

Why don't the Democrats just force the Repubs to filibuster? I can understand, on certain high-profile things like health care, why you don't want the Repubs to gin up a media circus. Fox News will urge Tea Party supporters to go to Congress and support the GOP.

But why not force them to filibuster the small, routine appointments? I don't think the Repubs are willing to stand and read the phone book for those things. So at least, the basic things get done.

Can SOMEONE please explain WHY Harry Reid doesn't force them to use the filibuster? Can't someone ask him, or the Democratic leadership?

Posted by: Naveen on March 1, 2010 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

What's a filibuster? Is that when cowboys try to break wild horses?

Posted by: J. Q. Public on March 1, 2010 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK



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