Political Animal


May 14, 2013 12:10 PM Glimmer of Hope For Filibuster Reform?

By Ed Kilgore

Underneath the current “scandal”-frenzy is the continuing scandal of Senate Republican obstruction of the basic functioning of government via routine filibustering of executive-branch appointments. And according to The Hill’s Alexander Bolton, sentiment is again building for an effort to do something about it:

Senate Democrats frustrated with the GOP’s blocking of a string of President Obama’s nominees are seriously weighing a controversial tactic known as the “nuclear option.” The option — which would involve Democrats changing Senate rules through a majority vote to prevent the GOP from using the 60-vote filibuster to block nominations — was raised during a private meeting Wednesday involving about 25 Democratic senators and a group of labor leaders….
The labor groups expressed frustration over future nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, as well as Obama’s nomination of Thomas Perez as secretary of Labor. Democrats’ anger also boiled over last week when Republicans stalled Gina McCarthy, the president’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, by boycotting a meeting of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Reading between the lines, it looks like more of the “anger” was being expressed by the labor leaders than by the Senators (with the exception of Bernie Sanders, who is not exactly a typical Democratic Senator). But Harry Reid does keep bringing up unilateral filibuster reform now and then, and has never taken it entirely off the table.

Now if Reid did move in that direction, you could anticipate not only shrieks of rage and victimization from the Senate Republicans who came close to implementing the “nuclear option” themselves a few years ago (Mitch McConnell is hilariously whining that “the minority’s out of business” in the Senate), but warnings from MSM types and other Democrats that this is a bad time to play heavy power politics. You know: Obama’s under constant attack right now for allegedly running an oppressive political machine that deploys the IRS to persecute his enemies, so maybe it’s not the right time to implement filibuster reform on a party-line vote on the pathetically inadequate grounds that it would be nice to have a functioning federal government.

Progressives need to push back as hard as is possible against this timorous approach. Think about it this way: if the really bad thing about the IRS “scandal” is that it involves the intersection of incredibly arcane tax and campaign finance laws, which nobody in his or her right mind should expect the public to understand, that’s also true of Senate procedures. We’re not going to see mass demonstrations in defense of the filibuster, which is making progressive legislation and competent day-to-day management of government increasingly impossible. Harry Reid should go for it, and ensure that he is remembered for something other than his brief glory days of 2009-2011.

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 May 14, 2013 12:17 PM:

    If you're gonna do it, THEN DO IT!!!

    Jayzoos H. Keerist, don't give the Republicans another bone to chew on right now, unless you can make them figure out a way to choke on the Benghazi, IRS, and AP, ones they're already gnawing on - and then warn any Democratic Senator who tries to apply the Heimlich Maneuver, with expulsion!

  • JackD on May 14, 2013 12:33 PM:

    Harry can't do it by himself even if he wanted to. Yeah, Carl Levin, I'm lookin' at you.

  • walt on May 14, 2013 12:33 PM:

    The scandal here, of course, is not the ordinary fog of governance but the intentional sabotage of Republicans against government itself. Failing to see this, Democrats becomes complicit in the bully's strategy. We're already losing so there's not much to gain from continuing to do nothing. Yeah, maybe we'll eventually win once the nutty and demented legions of Fox News viewers go to their blessed reward. But in the meantime, the paralysis is literally killing this nation.

  • Citizen Alan on May 14, 2013 12:50 PM:

    I think I am more likely to see Harry Reid regenerate into the 12th Doctor and run off to fight the Cybermen than to every see him do anything that might possibly advance a progressive agenda.

  • PeakVT on May 14, 2013 1:05 PM:

    Levin and the other Dems who blocked filibuster reform are morons. This exact outcome - total constipation of the Senate - was predicted.

  • OKDem on May 14, 2013 1:12 PM:

    The advise and consent power, Art.2 Sec.2, is constitutionally separate from legislating, Art.1 Sec 8. The subordinate tribunals beneath the Supreme Court are created by Congress, also Art. Sec 8 but a different enumerated power.

    Note also that treaties are under Art 2, Sec 2 and along with amendments, are the only specified super majorities required in the Constitution. Filibusters are an invention of the Senate and solely of the Senate.

    The filibuster is an artifact of the rules on bringing a motion to debate but there is no constitutional reason that the advise and consent motions have to follow the same rules.

    There is good reason both politically and constitutionally to separate the advise and consent rules to require only a 51 vote majority to pass the motions.

    This may be an argument that those Democratic Senators that support keeping a filibuster could accept as a compromise.

    After all, the House will kill any legislation anyway.

    There is a constitutional argument to treat final approval Supreme Court nominees by a different standard, say 60 votes or 51 or 53.14159 for that matter. It would rest on the fact that the Supreme Court is created by the Constitution but the inferior courts are created by Congress.

  • JR on May 14, 2013 5:50 PM:

    This is why, in the wake of all the AP brouhaha, I've been concerned that Holder would be pushed aside. Could any AG replacement get confirmed? I doubt it.

  • dweb on May 15, 2013 7:57 AM:

    Time to practice writing a few headlines from the GOP just in case the Dems decide to attack cloture rules:

    The heavy handed thugs in the Democratic party, shaken by revelations that their leaders have engaged in lies about Benghazi, lies about the IRS treatment of patriotic American advocacy groups, and tapped the phones of hard-working AP stenographers are now facing threats of impeachment hearings by the only thing left to defend American principles.....the US House of Representatives and courageous Congressman Daryl Issa.

    So what do the Democrats do? They try to snuff out this effort to get at the truth by ramming through new rules to cut off debate and take over the Congress to protect the Muslim caliphate known as the Obama administration.

    It's easy stuff. Anyone can write it, and in fact, I'll betcha dollars to coal mines that Mitch McConnell already has a draft sitting in his desk should such an occasion arise. He better put it where he can find it though, because it's right in there with all of Harry Reid's sternly worded letters about how he's had enough and if it happens again, he just might allow the nuclear option.