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July 11, 2013 11:57 AM Filibusters Aimed At Paralysis

By Ed Kilgore

As Senate Democrats meet to discuss filibuster reform today, an exchange on the floor between Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell made it abundantly clear where the battle lines are likely to settle, per this report from the New York Times’ Jeremy Peters:

After a tense exchange on the floor with his Republican counterpart, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, planned to recommend to his fellow Democrats at a private lunch meeting that they should vote to take the exceptional step of barring the minority party from filibustering presidential appointees.
The step that Mr. Reid will endorse, which drew strong objections from Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, would not affect filibusters of legislation or judicial nominees. But it would prevent Republicans from being able to require a supermajority of 60 votes for the confirmation of people the president appoints to cabinet level posts or other executive-branch positions….

Mr. McConnell and his fellow Senate Republicans, have signaled in recent days that they were willing to relent on some nominees that remain held up, including Gina McCarthy to be director of the Environmental Protection Agency and Thomas E. Perez to be secretary of labor.

But Mr. Reid and Democratic leaders have rejected that compromise as unsatisfactory, aides said. Several other nominees remain in a Republican holding pattern, including ones to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board, which is of considerable importance to the labor unions that are so crucial to the Democratic Party.

The CFPB and NLRB nominations, of course, are distinctive in that Republican obstruction is aimed not at preventing any particular nominee from being confirmed, but at keeping the agencies involved from functioning at all. GOPer do not have the power to repeal or radically undermine the powers of the CFPB, much less to revoke the authority of the NLRB to enforce labor laws that Republicans now consider some sort of socialist plot against free enterprise (or, in the case of public sector employees, against the right to make employees the brunt of ham-handed fiscal exercises).

Much as I dislike the idea of making filibuster reform disposable if Republicans make specific concessions on individual nominations, these are the right nominations to emphasize if that is going to happen anyway. It would be even more helpful if Reid were to insist that future filibusters against nominees aimed at paralyzing agencies or out of opposition to their authorized purpose are out of bounds as well. There is no sacred Senate tradition of enabling the minority to pursue the repeal or modification of existing laws by preventing their implementation or enforcement. And yes, I’d feel the same way about it if Republicans held the majority and the White House.

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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