Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 4, 2011

WHAT LAMAR ALEXANDER DOESN'T UNDERSTAND ABOUT SENATE REFORM.... As talks continue on how (and whether) to improve the way the Senate does business, it's inevitable that reform efforts are going to generate some pushback. That's fine, of course, since there are credible arguments raised by critics to consider.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, however, continues to rely on wildly unpersuasive arguments.

In a speech prepared for a Tuesday appearance at the Heritage Foundation, Mr. Alexander reiterated his position that Democrats would be making a mistake. "Voters who turned out in November are going to be pretty disappointed when they learn the first thing Democrats want to do is cut off the right of the people they elected to make their voices heard on the floor of the U.S. Senate," he said in his planned remarks.

This really doesn't make any sense. Putting aside the misguided take on public opinion -- does Alexander really think voters are fans of Senate obstructionist tactics? -- there are no proposals under consideration that would silence Senate voices. Hell, the notion of eliminating the filibuster and allowing the Senate to operate by majority rule isn't even on the table.

The main proposal being pushed by reform-minded Democrats has three main provisions: (1) prohibiting filibusters on motions to proceed, which prevent senators from even having a debate; (2) ending the practice of secret holds; and (3) forcing those filibustering legislation to actually stand on the floor and talk endlessly.

If Lamar Alexander believes implementing these changes "cut off" Senate members and prevent "their voices" from being heard, he's deeply confused about the nature of the debate.

On a related note, many observers have been waiting anxiously for Jan. 5 (i.e., tomorrow), with the expectation that major decisions will be made about these reform efforts. It's worth noting, then, that's extremely unlikely the issue will be resolved this week.

Senate leaders, seeking more time for bipartisan talks aimed at avoiding a potentially disruptive showdown on the Senate floor, are preparing a tactic that would let negotiations continue while maintaining the ability of Democrats to press ahead with their changes if talks prove fruitless.

In essence, Democrats could put the Senate in recess at the conclusion of Wednesday's mainly ceremonial proceedings to be highlighted by the swearing in of 13 new senators.

As a result, the Senate would technically still be in the same legislative day when lawmakers returned on Jan. 24, and the backers of the rules changes could proceed at that point if they were not satisfied.

Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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Comments

i'm sure alexander can point us to lots of data about how the american public is just thrilled as can be that it now requires 60 votes to pass anything in the senate: i'm sure he's got plenty of evidence that they do, it's just hidden away from the rest of us.

Posted by: howard on January 4, 2011 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, requiring Senators to stand on the floor and filibuster does shut down the debate, because those proceedings are only on CSPAN. Requiring somebody to stand in the chambers and debate prevents them from taking the debate to the American people through news shows, or even giving an interview to a newspaper reporter. The American people therefore will be deprived of hearing directly from a filibustering Senator. Therefore, Alexander is right.

Posted by: Alejandro on January 4, 2011 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

What does this register on the Orwell Meter? A nine?

American citizens may be idiots but it's not entirely our fault. When you have political communication this brazenly disinformative there's not much incentive to make sense of anything.

Posted by: walt on January 4, 2011 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not being paid $174K a year to keep up on legislative developments in our nation's capital, and yet I know more about the proposed changes than Lamar Alexander. How is that possible?

Either he's ripping off the taxpayer, or he's lying, and he knows full well that the proposed changes would actually force debate, not curtail it.

I'm guessing it's both.

Posted by: biggerbox on January 4, 2011 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

" and the backers of the rules changes could proceed at that point if they were not satisfied."
-And Lucy McConnell will hold the football for Charlie Reid. . .

Posted by: DAY on January 4, 2011 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

I guess I've missed the parade of senators on news shows talking about their secret holds and we all know how acccurately senators portray their reasons for filibustering on cable news. I suggest that actually standing on the floor as Sen. Sanders did in his unofficial filibuster is how this republic is supposed to work, make them earn their salaries during the taxing 2 1/2 days of work a week, The implementation of the current system by the GOP is obviously used to gum up the works, keep necessary appointments from reaching their jobs and damage the efficiency of the government. The fact that many appointments are unanimously voted in after all the delay should be a clue that's it's all a game.

Posted by: Kathryn on January 4, 2011 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

I'm guessing that when Alexander refers to having their "voices heard" he is referring to the secret hold.

Posted by: Mudge on January 4, 2011 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

Putting aside the misguided take on public opinion...

Oh, but that puts aside so much! For instance, Alexander seems to be saying that, because the 2010 election gave Republicans control of the U.S. House, therefore Republicans should also control the U.S. Senate, even though the same voters gave Democrats control of that chamber.

Posted by: Grumpy on January 4, 2011 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

"Bipartisan talks" scare the hell out of me. McConnell and associates can't be trusted, and I'm afraid that they might manipulate Reid and associates to agree to something that we'll come to regret.

My advice? The starting point for Reid should be eliminating the filibuster. Unfortunately, they're starting with the reforms that those of us following this already have our hearts set on. Any significant change, I suspect, will lead to disappointment.

Posted by: Chris on January 4, 2011 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

Why can't Steve Benen simply write something like

I've been wondering what the GOP's position on filibuster reform would be. On one hand, they can't like the idea of having their obstructionist tools taken away. On the other hand, there are few legitimate arguments for preserving the filibuster rules that would appeal to the tea partiers, in principle.

Lamar Alexander seems to have settled on an argument that the GOP takeover of the House was a message sent by the people to preserve the Senate's deliberation rules.

That argument doesn't make sense for a variety of reasons and I doubt that average Americans will be persuaded by the "logic."

Instead, Benen treats us to yet another bizarre post in which Republicans are "misguided" and "confused". I just don't understand the need for the phony head-scratching. Obviously Alexander isn't "confused"; he's been around long enough to understand how the filibuster work.

And, quite frankly, this isn't an area where I would expect any Senator -- Democratic or Republican -- to be completely candid (i.e. "Well, we sure like blocking the majority agenda even though we are in the minority. Obviously it isn't democratic, but who wants to give up that power?")

Posted by: square1 on January 4, 2011 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

"What Democrats don't understand about Senate Reform messaging..."

The question of whether Alexander understands any of these issues is irrelevant. His messaging as usual very effectively paints the reformers as the villians of the piece. Is our strategy to wait until the opponents of our positions explain our goals clearly to the public?

I'd prefer to see proponents of reform making the case as aggressively as an idiot like Alexander makes his case.

Posted by: hoipolloi on January 4, 2011 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, he's not confused. This is the first salvo in the framing contest.

This idiotic drivel will be repeated ad nauseam on Fucksnews for the next three months.

Sarah Palin will "refudiate" on her twitter adding that folksy "you betcha" the tools at CNN love so much.

Boner will cry about it.

McInsane will take to the floor during the debate and tell Harry Reid and the rest of the gay loving, military destroying Democrats to go fuck themselves. He'll refuse to apologize.

Scalia will opine that the Constitution does not allow the senate to change its rules.

By July it will be conventional wisdom with 60 percent of Gallup poll respondants believing that the socialist DemocRAT majority in the Senate is "ramming these radical changes down the throats of real Americans."

By August you'll be posting exasperated blurbs about it and LIEberman and Nelson will be siding with BPublicans, adopting most of their talking points.

By September gutless Senate Democarats will be racing to the "center" and publicly pleading with the caucus to cease and desist this unprecidented assault on the noble traditons of the world's most deliberative body.

Game over.

Posted by: Winkandanod on January 4, 2011 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

If only Democrats were that clever. Not everyone can be a republicant.

Posted by: Trollop on January 4, 2011 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

There would be a lot of bipartisan support for reform of the rules if the cons thought the Democrats would ever use these same subterfuges to the same extent they themselves have used them for the last two years..

Posted by: CDW on January 4, 2011 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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