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The Filibuster Is Preserved – Progressives Lose

Moe has a good post on the demise of so called “Filibuster Reform” from earlier today.  The Senate voted on a package of rules reform proposals, but the filibuster is safe from an attempt by a simple majority of Senators to expunge it from the rules of the Senate.  The minority party and individual Senators will retain the right to force an extended debate and participate in the legislative process.  The left wing partisans seeking to seize total control over the Senate’s agenda for the next two years have lost.

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post reported on the demise of the liberals plan to gut the filibuster rule:

“As part of this compromise,” Reid said, “we’ve agreed that I won’t force a majority vote to fundamentally change the Senate — that is the so-called ‘constitutional option’ — and he [McConnell] won’t in the future.” In other words, Reid and McConnell have agreed that the Senate’s rules cannot — or at least should not — be decided by a simple majority. That was what the constitutional option was about, and that’s what Reid explicitly rejected in his speech. Why? “Both McConnell and Reid feared what would happen if they were in the minority,” explains a Reid aide.

This is a wise move for the left who may be 2 years away from Republican control of the Executive Branch and both chambers of Congress.  Cooler heads have prevailed and Senators avoided a move that would have destroyed the traditions and unique nature of the Senate.

What has passed is S.Res. 28, a resolution banning so called “secret holds,” and a resolution from Senator Udall of Colorado that waives a reading of an amendment if it has been online for 72 hours.  There is reportedly an agreement to expedite some nominations and a handshake agreement to for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to stop filling the tree if Republican Leader McConnell (R-KY) stops filibustering motions to proceed to bills.

Senator Tom Harkin’s resolution to change the threshold for a cascading numbers of Senators needed to shut down a filibuster from 60 to 57 to 54 to 51 votes failed with only 12 Senators supporting the idea. 

The crying towels must be in short supply over at the Washington Post.  Greg Sargent writes:

There’s a larger point here worth pondering. The mere prospect of changing the rules via a simple majority vote was the only thing that could force the Senate as a body to even begin to debate rules changes that would dilute the power of individual Senators. By removing that option, Reid and McConnell have effectively insulated that power. Super-majority rule not only enhances the power of individual Senators; it also makes that power virtually untouchable. The Senate’s undemocratic features are self reinforcing. And that pretty much sums up what the Senate is all about.

Why would you want to dilute the power of individual Senators?  The Senate is all about the rights of the minority and individual Senators to actually participate in debate.  The Senate is not a pure majoritarian body, Mr. Sargent, and you shall be very happy about this in two years.  It is funny that Sargent claims that the filibuster equals “super-majority rule” when all it actually does is preserve the right of the minority to use the threat of extended debate to slow legislation and nominees.

David Waldman at the Daily Kos didn’t like the reforms because they were too small.

In terms of real reform, it’s next to nothing. But, still, next to. One-third of all executive nominations is one-third of 1400+. Eliminating the “secret” part of secret holds is… nice, though we were all hoping that they’d do something about the “hold” part. Being able to waive the reading of amendments — including substitute amendments, which is the real problem — so long as they’ve been publicly available for 72 hours is just good sense.

He then went on to urge his readers to fight on.  You will not hear another word about “Filibuster Reform” in 2 years if the likely scenario plays out that Republicans take back over the Senate and the executive branch.

Is it a “win?” No. But it should also be understood in context. Senate rules reform fights have never been won right out of the gate. The successful reforms of the past have all required several attempts, spread out in two-year intervals, sometimes stretching out over decades. In “blogging years,” that’s an eternity. In the United States Senate, where many members serve for 30 years or more, that can be the blink of an eye.

Klein closed his blog post with the following:

It’s ended with Democrats and Republicans agreeing that the filibuster is here to stay. And the reason is both simple and depressing: Democrats want to be able to use the filibuster, too. Both parties are more committed to being able to obstruct than they are to being able to govern. That fundamental preference, as much as any particular rule, is why the Senate is dysfunctional.

I believe the opposite to be true. The Senate is actually a much better institution because of the filibuster.  The filibuster empowers every last member to be a player in the process.  You can’t ignore Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders when you try to pass tax cuts, because he will filibuster.  Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) has pledged to filibuster an increase in the debt limit, therefore he will play a significant role in that debate. 

The filibuster empowers individual members to help craft legislation and to make sure that the concerns of all Senators are not ignored by a bullying majority.  If the filibuster was removed from the rule book, the Senate would be much like the House.  Individual members would have little power, much like members of the House minority party. 

For a more detailed explanation on the merits of the filibuster, please read my paper published by The Heritage Foundation titled “The Filibuster Protects the Rights of All Senators and the American People.”

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