Saturday, December 01, 2012

Real Filibuster Reform? Nah


Thursday Boehner tweeted his drunken rage at the audacity of the Democrats to attempt to reform the Senate rules that have seen the Senate virtually shut down for several years-- something Boehner and his henchmen never ceasing whining about. So now the imperious little twerp in threatening to refuse to take up any bills that come out of the Senate if that body passes new rules, as Senates always legitimately do on their first day in session.

But Boehner isn't the only problem-- nor is Miss McConnell, who's predictably apoplectic over the new rules. The real problem is that the only rules changes coming are half-assed and not even close to being able to deal with the magnitude of the treasonous Republican obstructionism that has defined the Senate since they decided to refuse to allow anything without 60 votes to move forward. So far in the current session there have been 110 cloture motions meant to shut down their effortless filibusters. They don't actually filibuster; they just say no and that's that unless 60 senators say yes. The session before, there were 137 cloture motions and the session before that there were 139. Is that a lot? Harry Reid has had 386 filibusters from these assholes to deal with. When LBJ was majority leader he only had one. Or, as CREW pointed out this week, "there were more filibusters between 2009 and 2010 than there were in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s combined."

Reid's reform proposal doesn't do much. All it means is that one degenerate Republican-- be it McCain or DeMint or Inhofe or whichever prima donna takes it on himself, for whatever reason, to halt consideration of a bill or a nomination-- will no longer be able to use the threat or a filibuster as an actual filibuster. If Reid's modest proposal passes, if one of the prima donnas wants to filibuster, it means dragging his tired old white ass up to the podium and speaking-- in front of the cameras-- for hours and hours and days and even weeks. Republicans likely to drop dead on the floor of the Senate while trying a real filibuster are 113th Congress octogenarians Chuck Grassley (IA), Orrin Hatch (UT), Richard Shelby (AL), Jim Inhofe (OK), Pat Roberts (KS) and John McCain (AZ). Which one (or two or more) would you prefer to see writhing on the floor gasping for air in agony?

Does Reid have enough Democratic votes in his own caucus to reform the rules? One thing is sure: he has a lot of members who look for every chance they get to vote with the GOP either because they are as conservative as the GOP or because they're corporate whores who smell where the money is or because they come from red states and want to show voters they're just like a Republican. In fact, there are 9 like that now and reactionary Blue Dog Joe Donnelly-- the accidental senator from Indiana-- will be joining that group in January... and working hard to prove he's the most right-wing Democrat in the Senate. But this problem goes beyond just the usual reactionaries who like to vote with the GOP like Mark Pryor and Max Baucus, and into the realm of assholes who aren't driven by ideology per se, but just but their personal psychologic limitations as human beings, like Dianne Feinstein.
The three most reluctant Democrats are Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), and Carl Levin (Mich.).

“I think that’s a mistake at this time but I’ll listen to arguments,” said Feinstein, when asked about the prospect of using the constitutional option to change filibuster rules.

Feinstein said she could support the more modest step of eliminating the ability to filibuster motions to proceed to new business. Changing the rules to make it more difficult to block votes on bills’ final passage would be bigger step.

Feinstein is not certain whether less-ambitious reforms could be accomplished under regular order, which would require 67 votes and at least 12 Republicans to sign on to reform.

Pryor voted against a package of filibuster reforms at the start of 2011. He expressed reservations about implementing them through a simple majority vote that would break from Senate tradition.

“I’m very reluctant to support it as a 51-vote threshold,” he said. “My preference would be to not change the rules and just have the internal discipline we need to conduct the nation’s business like we should.”

But he acknowledged it might not be realistic to rely on the good nature of his colleagues to solve Senate gridlock. He said he would study the issue.

Levin said he does not want to use the constitutional option, which Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) calls “breaking the rules to change the rules.”

“I am very leery about changes to rules, except by the use of the rules,” Levin told the New York Times, “and the rules require two-thirds of votes to change the rules. I prefer not to use a mechanism which I believe is dubious.”

Two other senior Democrats, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.) and Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), have yet to be persuaded.
Maybe Pryor will go back and consult the talking snake.

The other day President Obama threw his weight behind reforming the filibuster. Keep in mind that after Jon Kyl pledged to obstruct the judiciary the day after Obama was first elected, fewer of his first term judicial nominations have been taken up than any other president's since JFK, who was murdered (probably at the behest of plutocrats who were never punished) and only served a partial term. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer: “The President has said many times that the American people are demanding action. They want to see progress, not partisan delay games... and the President supports Majority Leader Reid’s efforts to reform the filibuster process.” As Greg Sargent pointed out Thursday, "now that there will be a massive spin war over the meaning of reform-- Mitch McConnell railed today that Dems are planning a “naked power grab”-- it’s worth reiterating that there is a set of actual facts about GOP filibustering and the Dem response to it that shouldn’t get lost in all the false equivalence BS we’re certain to hear:
1) The extent of GOP filibustering is unprecedented. This chart shows that cloture motions (a rough measure of filibustering) suddenly spiked during the Obama years. Yes, they also spiked in 2007-2008, but according to Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein, the vast majority of those filibusters were mounted by Republicans, presumably to block legislation designed to embarrass George W. Bush. (Indeed, the motions to end filibusters during that period were filed mostly by Dems.)

2) The nature of GOP filibustering is unprecedented. Ornstein says this is true in two ways: First, in the extensive blockading of what used to be considered routine Senate business. And second, much of the filibustering is part of a concerted party strategy. “You’re not just looking at filibusters done by rogue senators or factions, like southern Democrats in the 1950s,” says Ornstein. “It’s the first time we’ve had a wide range of filibustering by a whole party.”

3) Filibuster reform would not do away with the minority’s ability to filibuster. The “talking filibuster” reform and the nixing of the filibuster on the motion to proceed would only make it harder to use procedural tactics, under cover of darkness, for the explicit purpose of stalling the Upper Chamber’s business. The minority would still be able to block the will of a simple majority on the vote to end debate. These are not very meaningful restrictions on the “rights” of the minority.
Something to look forward to in January!



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