Why the Dems should eliminate the filibuster on Motions to Proceed NOW

Given the current state of play over Wall Street reform, I think the Dems are blowing an opportunity right now to exercise their authority under Article I, Section 5 to determine what the Senate rules are, and set a valuable political precedent, establishing its authority for being able to change the rules by majority vote.

The argument for waiting for January to rewrite the Senate rules is that the incoming Senate won't have given its implied consent to the pre-existing rules by operating under those rules.

The arguments against waiting for January are fourfold:

1) Regardless of the argument for waiting for January, what it takes to change the rules is the same at any time: the votes of 50 Senators, and the willingness of the President of the Senate to overrule the inevitable ruling by the Senate Parliamentarian that a 2/3 majority is required; and

2) there won't be as many Dems in January as there are now, so finding 50 votes will be more of a challenge.

The Dems could find themselves with as few as 50-51 Senators in their caucus in January, two of whom will be Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson.  The Dems simply may not have 50 votes for changing the rules, come January.

3) If the Dems lose 6-8 seats in November, any effort to change the rules to make it more possible to govern with a bare majority will be portrayed as an effort to undo the results of the election by changing the rules.

I know it's unfair, but it'll happen, it'll be echoed by the Villagers, and it'll be a PR disaster.  We all know how this game is played, and we can expect the GOP to play it with its usual ruthlessness, and for the pundits to be worse than useless.

4) Finally, the Dems have a real opportunity now.  If there's any sillier aspect of Rule 22 than allowing filibusters of a Motion to Proceed - i.e. voting to keep debating whether or not a bill should be debated - I can't think of it.

It may not be the silliest thing in the Senate rulebook (the need for unanimous consent to hold committee meetings after 2pm is certainly sillier), but it's the silliest one that gets regularly invoked.  And the Dems are going to force the GOP to invoke it all week.

So NEXT week, the Dems should vote to change the rule so that a motion to proceed can't be filibustered.

With 59 Senators, they have at least a decent chance to get 50 votes for the rule change.  And there'd be no really good PR argument against their doing so - sure, it's a bit of strong-arming, but no matter how much fuss Fox News or Rush Limbaugh or even the Villagers raise over the change, most people will have no idea what the fuss is about, and any effort to get people riled up about it will be doomed to failure.  Not to mention, this is exactly the bill that you want to do this with: the public wants Wall Street reform, and the party that's blocking it is the one that will look steadily worse as more attention is drawn to their efforts to block it.

That's what the Dems SHOULD do.  But sadly, they won't.  Sigh.



Tags: Filibuster, Senate, Senate Rules, FinReg, Wall Street, reform (all tags)



isn't this hypocrisy?

we railed against the GOP's "nuclear option" a few years back, and they paid for it. Do we really wanna be in the same spot?

by Lakrosse 2010-04-27 11:40AM | 0 recs
RE: isn't this hypocrisy?

1) Many in the lefty blogosphere said at the time that it would be a good thing if the GOP succeeded.  (I had mixed feelings, myself.)  The real travesty was the Gang of 14 'compromise.'

2) There's a strong argument that judicial nominations should be filibusterable even if everything else isn't, given that Federal court appointments, once done, are for life and can't be undone.  So it's hardly hypocritical to oppose the effort to repeal judicial filibusters while supporting an end to filibusters on everything else.

3) Ending the ability to filibuster a Motion to Proceed would still leave in place the right of the minority to filibuster a vote on the bill after it's been debated on the floor of the Senate.  Ditto judicial nominations.

by RT 2010-04-28 11:46AM | 0 recs
short sighted

If we go down to 50-51 Senators, we have no business making these sort of changes with that in mind. At the rate its going, the Senate will be no different than the House. Now, you may say great, but would it have been great in 2002-2006? 

by Jerome Armstrong 2010-04-27 12:54PM | 0 recs
RE: short sighted

Jerome: like you, I'm against changing the rules on filibustering once the Dems' majority is down to 50-51 Senators.  Hell, it would even feel less than legitimate to me if their majority fell to 53-54 Senators; anything less than 55 would, IMHO, really smack of trying to undo the impact of a shrunken majority through changing the rules.

As far as shortsightedness is concerned, two things:

1) It's not like the Dems got much advantage out of the filibuster during the Bush years.  Bush got most of what he wanted anyway - the Dems were afraid to filibuster stuff that should have been filibustered, and of course there was the Gang of 14 'compromise' where the GOP got the judges confirmed that the Dems had filibustered earlier.  The only real filibuster-based victory I can remember from the Bush years was that the Federal estate tax wasn't repealed.  And it would be a hell of a lot easier for the Dems to reinstate something like that if they only needed a majority to do so on returning to power.  So I'd say the 2002-06 argument is still a win for abolishing the filibuster.

2) The GOP will surely get rid of the filibuster anyway if they ever again control the Presidency and the Senate.  They won't feel constrained by niceties, or even the worry that eventually the worm will turn.  I'd like to hear a counterargument to this if you've got one; I haven't heard one yet.

by RT 2010-04-28 11:58AM | 0 recs


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