Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 5, 2011

THE CHANGES BEN NELSON MAY NOT HAVE NOTICED.... About a month ago, Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska seemed frustrated by Republican efforts to block the 9/11 health bill. He told MSNBC that GOP obstructionism on the bill was "outrageous" and blocking a vote on funding U.S. troops was "ridiculous."

Reflecting on additional Republican threats to block bills the GOP doesn't like, the conservative Democrat added, "It may have worked as a good tactic ... to win the last set of elections, but I don't think it can hold for the next two years."

Given Nelson's track record, the remarks were encouraging. Indeed, two weeks later, he joined every other returning Democratic senator in signing a letter to the leadership, urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to pursue changes to the chamber's filibuster rules. If Nelson was on board with changes, it suggested the drive for reform was stronger than predicted.

I guess he changed his mind?

The Senate shouldn't change its rules to undercut the filibuster, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said Wednesday.

Nelson told a local media outlet that he has reservations about efforts by his Democratic colleagues in the Senate to change rules surrounding the filibuster, a key procedural tactic used by Republicans to slow down or block pieces of legislation.

"The last thing we need to do is start changing rules, with 51 votes and simple majority, and make the Senate a smaller version of the House," Nelson told the Omaha World-Herald.

I often find Ben Nelson hard to figure out, but even for him, this is odd. It was just one month ago that the Nebraskan said something had to be done about Senate dysfunction. Now he believes changes are "the last thing we need"?

As for the notion that simple majority-rule -- a proposal that isn't even on the table -- would make the Senate a "smaller version of the House," Nelson may not realize this, but for two centuries, the chamber did not have to deal with filibusters on every bill, and Senate majorities were allowed to pass legislation without a minority veto. Throughout that time, no one confused the upper chamber for the lower -- the qualities that make the Senate unique are not dependent on mandatory supermajorities and secret holds.

Indeed, Nelson isn't just fundamentally confused about this, he has it backwards. "The last thing we need to do is start changing rules"? Here's a tip, senator: by allowing recent abuses to continue unchecked, you're allowing the minority to change the rules, just in a gradual and informal way.

Harry Reid offered a fascinating summary this morning: "There were about as many filibusters in the last two Congresses as there were in the first six-and-a-half decades that the cloture rules existed. There were nearly as many filibusters in just the last two years as there were in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and half of the 1970s combined. In the entire 19th century, the Senate saw fewer than 12 -- a dozen filibusters. Now we see that many in a single month."

If Ben Nelson thinks that's an acceptable institutional change, fine, I'll gladly listen to his case. But his comments to the Omaha paper make it sound as if the status quo needs protection. That's absurd -- the status quo is dysfunctional mess, thanks to obstructionism that has no precedent in American history.

This isn't how the Senate used to work, this isn't how the Senate was designed to work, and this isn't how the Senate should be expected to work.

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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Bill Nelson always waffles to make himself the center of attention and feel important, so this is to be expected. Also, he becomes much less important if the changes pass.

Posted by: Dan on January 5, 2011 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Senator Nelson, like too many of his colleagues, is simply past his "Sell By" date.
For the safety of the public he needs to join the similarly marked milk and meat and bread .

Posted by: DAY on January 5, 2011 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

I'm too lazy to look it up, but Nelson was on Maddow's show early in '09, and she made him look like a complete fool by simply asking questions that any competent legislator should now.

The fact that Nelson mistakenly thinks the proposed changes would turn the Senate into a larger version of the house(which actually wouldn't be that bad considering the Senate is already under-representative) tells you all you need to know about his opinion.

That said, Nelson certainly isn't the only clueless person in congress.

Posted by: Holmes on January 5, 2011 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe that is why the Senate needed TWO WEEKS to school stupid Senators in the REAL meaning of the bill and what it will do. Evidently, the written word is foreign to many of these guys and they 'DON'T GET TIME TO READ THE BILLS!'...this way it can be EXPLAINED to them. I wonder what the percentage of congresscritters with ADD is...

Posted by: SYSPROG on January 5, 2011 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

When I see a politician change his position like this, the first thought is "who got to him?"

If the changes are adopted and he becomes less important, though, so much the better.

Posted by: VaLiberal on January 5, 2011 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

I posted two weeks ago that keeping
Ben Nelson
Kent Conrad
Max Baucus
Mary Landrieu
and Jim Webb,
together, and on the SAME side as the DFH's would be a huge challenge.

I also left out Mark Warner.

Posted by: catclub on January 5, 2011 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

I often find Ben Nelson hard to figure out, but even for him, this is odd. It was just one month ago that the Nebraskan said something had to be done about Senate dysfunction. Now he believes changes are "the last thing we need"?

I'll help you, Steve!

Ben Nelson is a lying whore. The only people he works for are the corporations who give him money. Once HCR was going to contain insurance company friendly mandates and no public option, he was all for it.

Now that filibuster reform might help real people in the face of a Senate that is otherwise known as "The Rich Person's Club", he is against it.

Let me know if I can be of further service.


Posted by: ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© on January 5, 2011 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

actually, he's just not very bright, even by us senator standards, which are rather low.

Posted by: howard on January 5, 2011 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Nelson suddenly remembered how nice it was for him to vote with the Repubs against the cloture and nobody the wiser or calling him to account for it, because most people only pay attention (if at all) to the final, floor, vote. Which, thanks to him and his Repub buddies, never happened.

As for his charge that the Senate would become like a smaller version of the House, it only proves that, even in his time, math education in the States was not a priority. As long as the number of Senators is fixed -- 2 for Nebraska same as for California -- rather than based on the population numbers, pricks like him will always have a disproportionate clout, unlike the House Representatives.

Can't stand the guy. He looks like an ill-preserved Omaha steak, and acts like it, too. I guess DAY, @14:19 is right, and the guy is well past his Sell Date.

Posted by: exlibra on January 5, 2011 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats have sure changed their minds about the filibuster since they were blocking Manuel Estrada from an appeals court appointment. The whole thing is pretty transparent.

Posted by: Mike K on January 5, 2011 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Oh well, who cares, the rules change only needs 51 votes. Bye Ben.

Posted by: Steve Simitzis on January 5, 2011 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

He's just trying to get something for his vote. It's his usual slimy modus operandi.

Posted by: jjm on January 5, 2011 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

Ben's only chance at re-election in '12 is if he retains his leverage and positioning as the anti-Democrat Democrat. Changing the rules gives him less leverage; being against changing the rules makes him the anti-Democrat Democrat.

Posted by: bruce k on January 5, 2011 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

I just don't see what the problem is in making someone come to the floor and defend their filibuster. For dems as well.

Nelson is a dick. kaithxbai

Posted by: fourlegsgood on January 5, 2011 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Holmes, I think this is what you're referring to:


Posted by: TooManyJens on January 5, 2011 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

[Comment removed by moderating staff.]

Posted by: gdb on January 5, 2011 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

Ben Nelson's (and the rest of the Lieberdems) only power in the Senate comes from being tiebreaking votes, because they can use this positioning to extract bribes. Remember the Cornhusker Kickback that Nelson got for being the 60th healthcare vote?
When there was 60 Dems, it made sense for all these clowns to jostle to be the 60th most liberal Senator. Now that there are 53 Dems, I am really surprised they aren't scrambling to set up more 50/50 votes, so they can take that 50th vote hostage.
I think Manchin sees this dynamic (he signed onto Udall's reform proposal), Nelson is too stupid to see why reform is to his advantage.

Posted by: flounder on January 5, 2011 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

Man gdb, that's pretty hard to do, I know, I've tried!! Nelson has the right to remain silent.. Permanently!

Posted by: Trollop on January 6, 2011 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK



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