UPDATED: Blame GOP, not Reid for Filibuster!

There is an update at the end of this post. 

I am continually fascinated by the number of “progressive political junkies” who want to blame someone for everything that doesn’t go their way; especially those who continuously blame the wrong people. 

Latest example; filibuster reform. Be careful what you wish for, folks.

If you’re blaming Harry Reid because he wasn’t able to transform the filibuster into a “Mr. Smith”-style waste of the Senate’s time, then I suggest you turn in your “political junkie” card, because you're blaming the wrong people. It’s not his fault. I mean, if you imagine 60 Senators rushing to him to demand it, then you're not thinking in real-world terms. And make no mistake; to make monumental changes in the filibuster with 51 votes could have dire consequences. If not now, then in the future. 

As real “political junkies” will recall, we last fought this fight back in 2004. Only then, it was Republicans who wanted to kill the filibuster altogether, and Democrats and liberals who were foursquare against it. Then-Majority Leader Bill Frist wanted to impose a “nuclear option” to stop Democrats from filibustering Bush’s judicial nominees. That would have required just 51 votes for cloture. Sound familiar? Liberals were up in arms about it then. It was the worst idea in the whole wide world. Now? A lot of them are excoriating Reid for not doing the same thing. 

Reid knows what he’s doing. Let me explain.

in 2006 and 2008, Democrats scored huge electoral victories. HUGE ones, to the point that they had 58 Senators. For about a month and a half, Democrats technically had 60 seats, if the ailing Ted Kennedy and the ailing Robert Byrd both happened to show up on the same day. Al Franken was the 60th vote, and he finally took his seat in early July, about six weeks before Ted Kennedy died. Plus, one of those 60 was Joe Lieberman, who was almost John McCain’s running mate and who owed GOP voters for his reelection. In other words, it's a fantasy to believe the Democrats ever had 60 votes in the Senate. Hence the sheer volume of filibusters. 

Yet, for all of 2009 and 2010, that’s all anyone heard from the professional left; “Democrats suck!” “Democrats can’t do anything right!” “Democrats are sell-outs.” Progressives should have seen a red flag when a Republican teabagger won Ted Kennedy’s seat. But many did not. The Republicans’ main strategy in every election is to drive down turnout, and the progressive blogosphere, as Arianna is fond of calling it, seemed more than willing to help.

As a result, after two elections in a row of amazing momentum, Democrats were perhaps 2-3 Senate seats away from dominating the government for a cycle or two. But they fell flat on their asses.

While some progressives don't seem to remember this, Harry Reid does. That’s why he’s none too keen on giving up the 60-vote cloture option quite yet.  He doesn’t trust progressives.

Why would he? The solution to the filibuster problem in 2010 was to keep the House and gain 2-3 seats in the Senate. Instead, when told their choice in every election was between “stupid” Republicans and “incompetent” Democrats, plenty of voters stayed home, allowing Republicans to regain control of the House and to come within a few close races of taking the Senate.

Imagine if we had been smarter, politically, and we’d have given Democrats 62-63 votes in the Senate. Guess what? They could have changed the filibuster rules without invoking the “nuclear option” at all.  Instead, we have Harry Reid realizing that changes have to be made, but well aware of what happened in 2010, and realizing it's possible it could happen again, with even worse results. Democrats have 55 votes right now. In a few months, we could be down to 54, if Scott Brown manages to beat Ed Markey for John Kerry’s seat. So many states have Republican governors, it's possible to lose another seat or two before 2014. That year, there are 23 Senate Democrats up for election, and only 10 Republicans. Like 2012, it is a good bet that we could lose a few seats, perhaps enough to lose a majority.  And we won't have a hot presidential race to drive people to the polls.

If you were Harry Reid, would you take that gamble? Imagine the current GOP in charge of the House and the Senate, with zero threat of a filibuster. Does that sound like a great deal to you?

There’s another thing to consider, and that is the "be careful what you wish for" factor. The filibuster, as portrayed in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is not just a fantasy; it's also a product of a bygone era, before C-SPAN. If you can’t imagine a teabagger using filibusters to make a name for himself back home, fighting, say, an assault weapons ban, then you haven’t been paying attention. Not only that, but a filibuster essentially renders the Senate useless for several days or weeks; however long they can hold the floor. And if they filibuster that way a number of times, the Senate becomes as useless as the House. What will prevent them from using that as a campaign issue, blaming Democrats for changing the filibuster rules and causing it? 

This is the problem with too many people. They think about things now, and they throw in some idealism, but they fail to factor in possible changes in the future, as well as the reality of such a situation. 

We are about to see reasonable filibuster reform.  Among the changes rumored to be on the plate:

  • A limit of four hours of debate on motions to proceed, which means they can't be filibustered.
  • The ability to bring a motion to an immediate vote if a cloture petition garners the signatures of majority and minority leaders, as well as 7 senators from each caucus, then cloture is invoked. 
  • No more anonymous or secret holds. If a Senator wants to filibuster anything, s/he must do so on the floor, in front of everyone
  • An expedited process for most nominations.
  • A decrease in the number of cloture motions required to go to conference with the House. 
  • Limited post-cloture time for nominees.

These are reasonable changes, which should streamline the process in many cases; they will probably eliminate a third or more of filibusters. But don’t be surprised if there aren’t many major changes forthcoming as a result.  While these changes should help get more nominees through the pipeline, when it comes to passing laws, Republicans don’t need a filibuster, because they have the teabagger-led House.

If you really want thorough filibuster reform, elect more Democrats. That means running effective campaigns and making sure Democrats win every election going forward. Take back the House and gain a couple of Senate seats in 2014, and Democrats will have the advantage in 2016, when more Republican than Democratic seats are up for election. We can elect a good Democrat as president and give her/him a 63-64 vote Senate. Then, the filibuster can be changed however we want.

This is why 2010 was such a disaster. It takes six years to recover from a beating like that. We can’t let it happen again. You want Harry Reid and every other Democratic leader in the future to do what progressives want? Then stop letting him down. Progressives, especially the professional left, are the reason he has to reform the filibuster in the first place. And we’re the reason he can’t ditch the 60 vote rule right now; he can’t trust us to deliver him the election victories he needs to prevent a Majority Leader McConnell in 2014.

UPDATE: Okay, so it's three weeks later, and OMG! The Republicans filibustered something! They fiibustered Chuck Hagel! OMG! OMG!

Immediately, the professional left went into full attack mode… 

… on Harry Reid. Not the Republicans, 41 of whom voted against cloture (I'll get to that in a moment), but Harry Reid.

See, here's the problem with this approach, folks…

This is  the same approach we used in 2010, when we lost the House and came within a hair's breadth of losing the Senate, after being so close to 61 votes, we could taste it. And this is exactly why a number of Democrats failed to support filibuster reform; because they're afraid of not having the filibuster in 2015, if Republicans manage to eke out a majority in the Senate. 

In other words, instead of allaying the fears of those Democrats who refused to support filibuster reform, by trashing Harry Reid for not reforming the filibuster the way you wanted, you've actually reinforced their fears. 

Remember one thing; the number one strategy by ALL Republicans is to depress turnout. They want fewer people showing up at the polls. They already hate right wing Republicans and don't want to vote for them. If we make Democrats sound just as bad as them, they will be discouraged from even showing up. Often, elections are decided by who decides to show up at the polls and who doesn't, not just who votes for which party. This is what happened in 2010; Democrats and progressives had tons of momentum, and we frittered it away, based on some expectation of perfection that should have been seen as obviously unattainable. For some stupid reason, progressives started going after Democrats, instead of obstructionist Republicans. As a result, turnout was lower than even most off0year elections. 

I'm seeing a lot of progressives talking about momentum, and assuming that Democrats have it and Republicans are self-destructing.  This is a bad assumption to make. Democrats had TWO record election wins in 2006 and 2008 and still managed to blow it big time in 2010. Politics is about strategy, and maintaining said strategy. Anyone who assumes Democrats have the upper hand for 2014 is just being foolish. We have to keep the pressure on Republicans for two years, and then two years after that and so on, until they start acting sane again, as a party. There are no Republicans in the federal government right now who are better than even the lowest Democrat. That includes Harry Reid, and it includes the 8-10 Democrats who didn't want to vote to kill the filibuster.

Harry Reid didn't give up on filibuster reform last month, and the proof is in what happened yesterday. Did you even notice there was a cloture vote yesterday? How often have you seen that in the last couple of years? While many of you were busy screaming and pointing and blaming Harry Reid for being a wuss, that "wuss" was working to get those votes he needs to reform the filibuster. He stood before the cameras and declared that he was disgusted and then filed for a cloture vote, which is what many of your screamers said you wanted, right? You wanted accountability? You wanted them "on the record"? 

Well, there they are, on the record. Their names are there, having voted to support the filibuster. And yet there you are, screaming at Harry Reid. Harry Reid orders a cloture vote, gets them on the record, and you're screaming about what you claim he didn't do three weeks ago? 

He didn't have the votes. 

If you don't believe me, then listen to Dick Durbin, the Democratic Whip. Reid just SAID he had them to force McConnell to the table. Without his declaration, we would have gotten zero filibuster rules changes. He got the GOP to agree to things they didn't have to agree to. 

Reid isn't finished yet. The more the GOP breaks its own agreement and filibusters, the more Reid can file for cloture, and the more convinced those Dems who are worried will be that they have to do "something" now. Also, as the GOP's nominees for the 2014 Senate races become known, late this year and early next, if they are as lame as we expect, those Democrats will also feel more confident in getting rid of the filibuster. And it could happen. 

For now, though, they're nervous. In 2014, there will be 23 Democratic seats up for election, with only 10 Republican seats. Already two prominent Democrats have announced their retirement, and more are coming. Their fear of the unknown is ruling the day, and we're not making things easier for them by attacking Democrats like Reid. Reid is fighting for reform as well as he can. He just didn't have the votes when the time came. If you want him to have the votes, you need to support him and the Democrats, and show them you have their backs, not "criticize" them incessantly.



UPDATED: Blame GOP, not Reid for Filibuster! — 21 Comments

  1. Go learn about the filibuster. You just sound clueless. There can be no time limit on a filibuster, or it wouldn’t be a filibuster.
    Also, if a change in rules passed with 51 votes it WOULD effectively end the filibuster. That’s why they call it a “nuclear option.”