Political Animal


March 20, 2013 5:08 PM Stop Whining and Act on Filibuster Reform

By Ed Kilgore

Yesterday at the Plum Line Jonathan Bernstein succinctly described the need for a serious filibuster reform in the face of what appears to be increased Republican obstruction:

The big picture here is that by setting the bar at 60 for every single nomination — something that was never done until January 2009 — Senate Republicans are in effect filibustering every single nomination.
Two points about this.
One is that the press should keep in mind constantly just how radical the GOP’s filibuster-everyone policy is. Treating this level of obstruction as normal misses an incredibly important story about how the government works — or, rather, how it isn’t working.
And the second is that Harry Reid and the Democrats need to make clear that they are willing, if necessary, to change Senate rules in order to prevent this kind of dysfunctional obstruction from continuing.

Today Brother Benen contrasts this big picture with Harry Reid’s whining over Jerry Moran’s filibuster of the CR:

“It is things like that that will cause the Senate to have to reassess all the rules because right now they accomplish so little,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “I’m disappointed.”
OK, but how disappointed is he?
It’s been a couple of months since Senate party leaders struck a very small deal that tweaked the chamber’s procedural rules, and proponents said the reforms would improve how the Senate did business. They were, we now know with certainty, completely wrong….
Roughly once a week or so, it seems we’ll hear some new whispers about “preliminary discussions” to revisit filibuster reform in light of the increasingly ridiculous abuses. But so far, those whispers haven’t led to any real action….
How much more will Reid tolerate before more substantive reforms are back on the table?

Now it’s possible Reid’s hands are tied by old-school Democrats who either cherish the crusty Senate of yore (though in truth it has never been this easy to manipulate by a minority party), or want to protect their own power to obstruct in the future. But it’s also possible Reid is among them, and has put himself in front of the “filibuster reform” parade to slow it to a crawl.

But in any event, it’s getting to be time to put up or shut up. As Bernstein aptly said:

Empty threats make Dems look weak and do nothing to discourage continued GOP obstructionism. If the status quo is really acceptable enough to Democratic leaders to forestall further action, they shouldn’t bother pretending otherwise. If this is the Senate we’re going to have to live with, Dems should just level with their voters on this point. No more feints and hints without real action.

This needs to become a consistent message to Reid from progressives or anyone else who thinks the current Senate is becoming a parody of its most atavistic traditions.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on March 20, 2013 5:24 PM:

    So, not only do we have Republican trolls at the DC gates of any action, let alone progress, in the Senate, but we have House trolls INSIDE the gates of the city.

    And my question is, "How long before our modern Rome, falls?"

    Harry Reid, and the Whoreporatist Conserva-Dems (aka: DINO's), need to make a decision.
    Do you want to sit for the next 2-4 years with nothing, NOTHING!, being accomplished, so that you can then, if the Republicans don't change the Senate rules if they get control again (highly unlikely), hopefully continue further the new tradition of NOTHING being accomplished?

    I'm at the point where, if we can get SOMEthings accomplished now, I'm willing to take the pain of when Republicans work to accomplish their complete destruction of any progress made since 1850.

    Let the people experience the consequences of their own actions!

    Can you imagine President Obama being able to nominate anyone to the left of Scalia, if a Conservative SC Justice passes away?
    And what are the odds of having that seat filled?
    With the filibuster, it'll only take less than 60 to keep him/her off the bench!!!

    Jesus, if you think President Obama can get someone to the left of Roberts or Kennedy on the SC, all I can say is, at Woodstock, you were specifically warned about that brown acid!

  • Anonymous on March 20, 2013 5:37 PM:

    Call Harry Reid's office (I just did): 202-224-3542 and demand he change the filibuster rules NOW.

    #1 if the Repubs get into the majority they'll just abolish it anyway
    #2 if the Dems aren't able to get anything done because of the filibuster they're going to get blamed by voters and then voted out of office

  • JMG on March 20, 2013 5:41 PM:

    My guess is that if Reid tried to abolish or even limit the filibuster by majority vote, he couldn't get 30 Democrats to vote for it. It allows them to duck the responsibility for governing. If forced to be part of a Democratic working majority, I'll bet six or seven of the current 55 would defect to the Republicans or become "independents." They're moochers off the party's national base.

  • Ken in Madrid on March 20, 2013 5:48 PM:

    Reid is blowing smoke. What can he do about filibuster reform now? My understanding is that Senate rules can be changed at the beginning of a new Congress (i.e., every 2 years) by majority rule. Reid had the chance, but couldn't get his cats rounded up. I don't know how the Senate's rules can be changed now. Do we wait until January 2015?

  • jim filyaw on March 20, 2013 5:51 PM:

    "...want to protect their own power to obstruct in the future" ??? good luck with that. if the republicans ever take over the senate, do the democrats think for a second they'll hesitate to squash this kind of shenanigan as if it was a cockroach? this is not, repeat, not your granddaddy's g.o.p. hell, its not even as moderate as it was when bill frist was more than ready to pull the trigger. if they expect quarter from the likes of ted cruz, they're dumber than i thought.

  • gdb on March 20, 2013 6:05 PM:

    Senate rules can be changed at any time. Read the nuclear option.. takes 50 votes plus the VP (or 51 otherwise). Repubs will do it as soon as they control the Senate and need to do so. BHO and Reid should have made filibuster reform job1 over 4 years ago. They still don't get it. I suspect it will take a true electoral disaster to get changes in the insane Repubs or inadequate/indecisive Dems. It's not clear who first get a disaster (52-48 Prez vote and control of the House and effective block of the Senate is not enough of a disaster to reconfigure EITHER party. And don't bet too much on voters NOT blaming Dems if the US economy collapses with the sequester and/or an EU collapse.

  • Doug on March 20, 2013 6:10 PM:

    According to Sen. Bernie Sanders there were only 46-47 votes to change the filibuster at the beginning of this session, so even if Reid *is* one of those not wanting to change/abolish the filibuster, there just wasn't enough votes anyway.
    However, as Sen. Reid has already employed the "nuclear option" (changing the rules mid-session) back in October of 2011, I see no reason not to expect something similar occurring in the next month or so. In October 2011, Reid got 51 votes for the measures out of a caucus of 52, I would think that for any changes made during a session, he'd want something similar in numbers; ie, 52 or 53 out of a caucus of 55.
    I also keep remembering all those claims made at the beginning of this session about how there *were* enough votes to change the filibuster and wonder if those votes were only available once McConnell had again demonstrated his inability to keep his word.
    This does *not* mean we shouldn't be keeping the pressure up on the Senate Democrats; who can then keep putting pressure on Sen. Reid and any others reluctant to change.

  • sjw on March 20, 2013 6:12 PM:

    I've got a two word answer: Obama; leadership.

    In other words, Obama needs to push, whether that be push Reid and others behind the scenes or push publicly. (That also means not leaving it to Jay Carney.)

  • Josef K on March 20, 2013 7:16 PM:

    My vote is for Democrat's nostalgia/delusion of the Senate still having some moral authority/position, plus a good bit of craven politicking to avoid having to take an unpopular position, plus a cushy sense of entitlement that comes from belonging to the most exclusive gentleman's club in the country.

    Of course we can expect things to be different under Majority Leader McConnell. I'm not looking forward to the consequences of that, but I'm sure the new Reign of Terror it invites will make for entertaining pay-per-view events.

  • Milt on March 20, 2013 8:44 PM:


    The President has no power in Congress, none. He can ask, plead, cajole and threaten but at the end of the day they will do whatever they want.

    Reid lost me and I suspect a bunch more as dyed-in-the-wool Democrats when no action was taken at the beginning of the session. Think how much could have been accomplished by now if only he and the other professional double-talkers had done their duty. Instead, they are playing the same games they played last year with no end in sight.

    The Republicans are worried about the conservative faction breaking away and forming a third party. Well, Democrats can do the same thing if real action is not taken right now.

  • Curtis Stranathan on March 20, 2013 9:43 PM:

    Harry Reid is a sell-out, plain and simple. "They deserve a vote."

  • RaflW on March 20, 2013 10:51 PM:

    This whinging refusal to take on the GOP and filibusters, and the utter collapse of Democrats to deal with assault weapons, is why I cannot really ever call myself a Democrat.

    I was yelling at the radio today wanting to know who the 14 or more Dem cowards are who won't stand up to the NRA, leaving Reid with less than 40 freakin' votes on assault weapons a few months after Sandy Hook. I want to help primary those bastards from the left.

    Seriously, the Democratic party is a bunch of fainting twits. Now, the Republicans are insane, and highly dangerous, so I'm not at all interested in going there.

    But I feel high and dry as a progressive who sees so much timidity in the face of raving wingerism. Blerg!

  • superdestroyer on March 21, 2013 7:53 AM:

    The Democrats discussing filibuster reform is just a sign that the Democrats believe that the demographic changes in the U.S. will give them such a tremendous advantage that the Republicans will never have a majority in the Senate again or hold the White House again.

    Filibuster reform is just a sign that the U.S. will soon be a one party state where they will be few restrictions on what the Democrats can do.

  • Th on March 21, 2013 10:44 AM:

    My guess is that Senate Democrats don't change filibuster rules because House Republicans will blow up the government completely if they do. There is no way Boehner doesn't have McConnell's back on this.

    That said, I will take that if we get a completely staffed federal judiciary with 35-40 year olds.