sparked a few thoughts...
Republican strategy: Filibuster everything, win in November
Since Barack Obama became president nearly 13 months ago, Republicans have made it clear that 60 votes - the number needed to cut off debate in the 100-member Senate - are required to pass not only major Democratic programs, but also many routine proposals.
"Republicans have ratcheted use of the filibuster up to completely unheard of levels. Look at the things that the House (of Representatives) has passed that can't make it through the Senate. The list just keeps growing," said Norman Ornstein, an expert on Congress at the American Enterprise Institute, a center-right policy organization.
Obviously, the filibuster should be done away with. The founders did not intend for the Senate to act in this way: The filibuster was always a constitutional loophole -- a bug, not a feature.
Just as obviously, asking Democrats to get rid of the filibuster is asking them to divest themselves of the primary weapon they will hold when-or-if they lose one or both houses in 2010. I admit that giving unbridled power to the new Republican majority will be disastrous: The GOP will not allow any further investment in jobs creation, the only thing which can save this economy.
Nevertheless, I would argue that now is the time to change the rules on filibusters.
Why? First, because the 60 vote majority requirement sucks. Second, the Republicans have signaled that they will do away with the filibuster when they get back into power -- see, for example, here
. So it makes no sense to refrain from taking that step now.
The Democrats need to do something dramatic to win back the faith of alienated liberals (such as myself) and to convince the independents that Dems possess vertebrae. They need to engage in a bit of political theater. Boys and girls, let's put on a show.
Force the filibuster issue now
. Allow the Senate to operate with a simple majority. Then pass some popular -- populist
-- measures in the summer and fall of 2010.
I see no other way to stave off (or at least to ameliorate) disaster.
How to bell the cat? Here's the part that no-one seems to understand, even though I've made the point on several previous occasions. (No-one has ever corrected me.)
Remember, the entire point of a filibuster is to make life miserable for the opposing party. Sure, the person doing the actual filibuster must talk non-stop under physically challenging circumstances. We've all seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
. But in order to keep the show going, a quorum must be present, which means that all members of the opposing party have to stay in the room, or at least nearby.
Of course, those
guys can be more comfy. They don't have to stand up. They can bring in cots. They can eat and drink. They can set up laptops with internet connections and play Farmville.
Harry Reid can force the Dems to to stay in the building by force of arms. Yes, he has that authority.Once a filibuster has started, the rules governing how the Senate operates can be changed easily.
Unfortunately, both the pundits and the senators themselves seem unaware of the actual wording of the Senate rules. I've posted the relevant section
before. The subject here is cloture:
...he [the Senate Majority Leader] shall lay the motion before the Senate and direct that the clerk call the roll, and upon the ascertainment that a quorum is present, the Presiding Officer shall, without debate, submit to the Senate by a yea-and-nay vote the question:
"Is it the sense of the Senate that the debate shall be brought to a close?" And if that question shall be decided in the affirmative by three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn -- except on a measure or motion to amend the Senate rules, in which case the necessary affirmative vote shall be two-thirds of the Senators present and voting -- then said measure, motion, or other matter pending before the Senate, or the unfinished business, shall be the unfinished business to the exclusion of all other business until disposed of.
Read the words in boldface again and again until the implications sink in.
To change the rules, you don't need two-thirds of all Senators. You need only two-thirds of the Senators present
. That's a key difference.
As I said, the whole point of a filibuster by a Republican is to force all the Democratic senators to stay in the damned room. But the Republicans will be free to go. And they will. That means most of the people in the room will be Democrats.
They can vote to change the Senate rules. That means that they can end the entire concept
of the filibuster in governance.
Previously, I've said that I wanted to see a filibuster, a real
filibuster, on health care. I did not like the reform package, but I did want to see the Senate rules changed. Besides, if the 60 vote requirement were reduced to 50 votes, we might be able to get a more acceptable health care bill passed.
But now I am thinking differently.
Since the Republicans are threatening a filibuster on everything, even the most minor piece of legislation or appointment, I say that the time has come to make them bet all their chips or fold. Make them bet on a pair of dueces. Make them mount an actual filibuster on something small, foolish and low
Doing so will demonstrate to the nation that Republicans -- not Democrats -- are being obstreperous.The world will see that the Republicans place partisan advantage over good governance.
Hell, let's make the scenario even sweeter: Do it more than once. Here's the process which I envision:
1. First, make the Republicans filibuster some minor appointment.
2. After a sleepless night, the Dems fold. Senators go home, allowing the filibuster to end because no quorum is present.
3. Will the Republicans be able to spin that to their advantage? Sure. They will pretend, in the media, that they were fighting for a matter of important principle. The Dems must be ready with a counter-message: The Republicans were fighting just to be partisan.
4. Repeat steps 1 through 3 the very next week, and perhaps the week after that. Make sure that the issues under debate are absurdly trivial. Force the Republicans to play "Mr. Smith" over some matter that no-one really gives a damn about.
5. Win the media wars. Make sure that the public sees Republican obstructionism for what it is.
5. On the final iteration, choose a particularly inane issue. The Republicans will be cocky. That has always been their downfall: Arrogance. But on the final go-round, wait until the Republicans have left the room -- and then change the rules
No more filibuster.
If the change is made at a suitably dramatic moment, the Dems will look like sensible leaders while the Republicans will look (even to many other Republicans) like assholes.