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June 18, 2013 1:40 PM A Beneficial Escalation Over the Filibuster

By Ed Kilgore

For once, I’m happy with an utterance by Mitch McConnell (per TPM’s Sahil Kapur):

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Tuesday starkly warned Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) not to eliminate the filibuster on presidential nominations, warning that he’ll end the 60-vote threshold for everything, including bills, if becomes the majority leader.
“There not a doubt in my mind that if the majority breaks the rules of the Senate to change the rules of the Senate with regard to nominations, the next majority will do it for everything,” McConnell said on the floor.
With at least half a dozen key judicial and cabinet nominees pending, all of whom Republicans have problems with, Reid has threatened to invoke the so-called nuclear option to change the rules of the Senate and eliminate the filibuster on nominations — but not anything else.
Backed up by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who echoed his warnings in a floor colloquy Tuesday, McConnell said his hypothetical majority would take it a step further.
“I wouldn’t be able to argue, a year and a half from now if I were the majority leader, to my colleagues that we shouldn’t enact our legislative agenda with a simple 51 votes, having seen what the previous majority just did,” he said. “I mean there would be no rational basis for that.”

McConnell went on to thunder about the various things “his” Senate majority would do, if not restrained by the filibuster—beginning with the repeal of Obamacare.

This would be a more frightening prospect had not McConnell been preparing just seven months ago to do the same terrible things with a spare Senate majority via reconciliation (the same process Republicans used to pass the Bush tax cuts) had Mitt Romney won. The power of McConnell’s threat also depends on the belief that he will himself forego filibuster reform as Senate Majority Leader if it’s in his interest to move in the opposite direction.

The truth is that the biggest fans of the filibuster in both parties are a dwindling handful of senior senators who want to preserve their own personal power, sometimes at the expense of their own party’s agenda. Do you want to rely on that crumbling dam to prevent enactment of the conservative movement’s priorities in the event the GOP wins a trifecta in 2016 (not terribly likely anyway, since the Senate landscape in 2016 is going to tilt heavily Democratic that year, buttressing the built-in turnout advantage Democrats enjoy in presidential election years).

I can see an argument against escalating the filibuster reform wars based on the theory that Democrats aren’t likely to control the House before Barack Obama leaves office. But is sacrificing or radically curtailing Obama’s nominating powers a price Democrats should pay for a marginal reduction in the retaliatory intentions of the GOP? I don’t think so, but then I don’t like the filibuster no matter who is wielding this fundamentally anti-democratic weapon.

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.

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