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.


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  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.”

  2. One more thing. I never said that I wanted to end the filibuster, I want it fixed.
    I DO want to put an end to the silent filibuster. I Do want to put a stop to the cowards silent filibuster.

  3. PS I had also recommended a maximum 2 days to talk and express their side, their thoughts which would make it more what it was meant to be. That way they could not tie up the vote. This of course could have been extended if the subject matter that they presented were pertinent and more time was needed to put forth their case. If they simply wanted to obstruct they would have 2 day to do it.

  4. RE; You know how I can tell you’re lying about your incredible involvement in 2010? Because you’re NOT PISSED at the left wing.
    How the hell do you think you know what I am pissed off about or not? Good luck with the reading people’s minds and making your conclusions based on it. It shows that you have no credibility. You are just as bad as the illogical tea twits.
    As to accountability they are being held accountable although only by those who pay attention but only when the news reports their stupidity and dirty tricks.
    AND RE; So, you’re lying if you claim you worked your ass off for Democrats in 2010, because there is no way you could do so and not be pissed. We got Scott Walker because of it. I’ve spent every free moment trying to counter his attacks on Wisconsin and countering the BS coming from the rest of the Right Wing. I have spent the majority of my free time since 2008 working against the onslaught of lies and deception from the right.
    Since you are asinine enough to call me a liar ” based on your extensive research” I will respond at your level. You are full of shit!
    RE filibuster; As far as talking and they can say nothing intelligent I don’t give a shit what they say as long as a vote is taken after they waste their own time.
    Even if the 60 vote was left in place at least at the conclusion of the yak fest they would have to vote, not continue the same game that they got away with for the last 4 years.

  5. You know how I can tell you’re lying about your incredible involvement in 2010? Because you’re NOT PISSED at the left wing.
    I WAS very active in 2010. I worked my ass off for my Congressman at the time, who was tagged as a Blue Dog by the professional and Emo left and lambasted for supposedly not voting for Obamacare. Yeah, he was a bit conservative, but there was no way a progressive could win my district. Not possible. My district was roughly 65% Republican.
    So, in 2008, he beat the teabagger by about 450 votes. In 2010, with liberals trashing him incessantly, he lost by about ten percentage points. And then, after the election, many on the far left patted themselves on the back for getting rid of so many Blue Dogs.
    So, you’re lying if you claim you worked your ass off for Democrats in 2010, because there is no way you could do so and not be pissed.
    Now, you call me naive? How naive are you to think the minority party (which the GOP is) would EVER get rid of the filibuster. EVER.
    It was the threat to use the nuclear option that forced Mitch McConnell to the table because, in reality, over the next, say, 50 years, the GOP will likely be in the minority far more often than Democrats. They would be idiots to scrap the filibuster.
    Also, the changes Reid got will reduce the umber of filibusters, and certainly eliminate most of the excuses they’ve been using. They can’t just filibuster; they have to show up. And there is an alternate method of cloture that means moderate Republicans can bring reasonable bills to debate without having to kowtow to the teabaggers.
    As for the talking filibuster, you seem to think that’s some sort of magical thing. Your use of the word “accountability” also makes you sound suspiciously like a right winger. “Accountability” for what? Have you not noticed that the right wing GOP “base” LOVES it when one of theirs “sticks it to the liberals”? Have you not noticed that the more red meat Republicans throw at Democrats, the happier it makes their most fervent supporters? Given what you have seen the last four years, do you see any Republican giving two shits about “accountability”?
    Your naivete knows no bounds. You also seem to think the Senators filibustering would have to talk about the subject matter of the bill. They don’t. They could use the time reading Rush Limbaugh’s books. You could have five teabagger Senators hold up the Senate with a filibuster for five weeks each, and essentially shut down the Senate for six months. Meanwhile, their teabagger constituents will love them even more.
    I would also point out — again — that even if you got rid of the filibuster tomorrow, we still have the GOP House to contend with. Therefore, even without the filibuster, nothing the GOP doesn’t want to go through is going through, except appointments. And the new rules should prevent most appointments from being filibustered.

  6. Wow you put words in my mouth and professed a lot of inaccurate actions for me. Thank you so much for assuming what my intentions are and what my involvement has been. Good to see that you could give yourself a few pats on the back while doing so.

  7. RE How about whiny emo progressives like you, who effectively helped the goddamn Republicans win in 2010? I voted and I was involved in trying to get people to the polls just as I was in 2008.
    When you assume some things it can show how out of touch and wrong you can be. Also if you are so wrong about this because you assume to know me perhaps you should re-evaluate the rest of your conclusions. As far as the 51 vote thing, are you so naive that you think that they won’t change that rule and screw us all at the first chance they get if they have the majority?
    In my world when someone breaks a promise or states that they are going to fix something then they don’t when given the opportunity I consider that a betrayal.
    If nothing gets brought to the floor then nobody is held accountable when elections are held which is in essence the only way the American people have a clear vision of each member’s priorities. This makes their choice at the ballot box more uninformed.
    Even at 60 votes for SOME things these members would have to cast a vote and be held accountable if we have a talking filibuster that when they were done talking a vote would be called for and counted. This in my opinion is the only acceptable reform. 60 votes on everything only allows the minority to rule. This is not democracy. While there may be occasions for 60 votes “like going to war” it is not a good common practice for everything. It is a detriment to progress.
    Without the talking filibuster there is no accountability. Make them talk. Let’s see how much more stupid stuff they will say that we can use at election time.

  8. I used to like Ed a lot. It is ENTIRELY his fault we have the Baggers – “show the Dems and don’t vote” was his 2010 mantra, and it’s weak, dangerous, and look at the results.
    If you follow Ed and his ilk, you will constantly lose. He is good on ISSUES but lousy on Civics. Things don’t just happen because you want them to. The biggest divide on the Left is between people such as Ed and people such as Lawrence O’Donnell. Both are progressives but only one gets what works inside democratic processes. It ain’t Ed.
    You’d be on much more firm ground understanding INCREMENTAL change and how the Right – esp. the Religious Right – took over while the Left ignored them and laughed at them. The Right took from 1964 to 1980 to come back to positions of authority and power, and from 1980 to 2007 to show they were totally bankrupt to the point where the Left FINALLY noticed. Oh sure we pounded the pavement against war – and ignored the changes in the economic system, electoral politics, and money. Sorry – go re-read “What’s the Matter with Kansas” and LEARN those lessons. The Left offered mainstream Americans NOTHING.
    If this is disgusting to you, tough. It’s fact. We on the Left have done a horrible job building a base, and now we just whine. The Progressive Caucus is 14.2% of Congress – that does NOT bode well for our views.
    Before you pound one more table, learn once more how democracy WORKS and then stop getting mad at the people who DO understand it. We take the time to assess what we have achieved, however meager, and then build more.
    We could use some help – if only you were humble enough to think you did not have all the answers. And please – like Ed all you want but do NOT rely on him for insights on process and voting. He’s just not the best guide.

  9. I suppose you can explain why Barbara Boxer was one of the votes AGAINST reform as we preferred it?
    I am not thrilled with this. But I am a lobbyist and do understand that SOME progress beats total defeat, that Mitch McConnell is like Boehner bragging on his ‘win’ when it’s no such thing.
    I’d have preferred to see some of the suggestions for declining numbers of votes to end ALL filibusters, did not get my way, and am prepared to see how this works and what will happen.
    One thing I will NOT do is stamp my feet, blow raspberries, whine, pout, and threaten to “show the Dems” by not voting in 2014. If you LIKE giving aid and comfort to the enemy, fine. You’ll accomplish that by not voting. If you think you’re “too good” to vote for imperfect candidates – then you think you’re better than the rest of us, and we’re here to say you’re WRONG.
    Get over it. None of us likes this, we are all tired of the Right, but unlike your fave movie download, we do NOT create change in 2 hours – or 2 years, 4 years, even a decade. Where were you when this was all going south? If you have no track record of opposition to the right for the last 50 plus years, shut up. Too late. Now you have only to help us rebuild what lazy progs allowed to happen.
    Get with the program and get over your ego.

  10. “[…]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[…]”
    I’ll take that and say “Thank You Very Much!”

  11. Problem is Harry UNDERESTIMATES Progressives. If he would STOP doing that & show more faith in us, he’d see that we’ve been the “New” Democratic Party since AT LEAST 2008 (If not earlier) & realize that some of his OLD SKOOL tactics just don’t work with this generation of Republicans (And Mitch McConnell KNOWS it)
    THAT is why you see the heads of people like Ed Schultz simply EXPLODING while other people like Rachel Maddow are left trying to use THEIR highly-educated brain cells to figure out & explain the chess game that Harry THINKS he’s winning with Mitch McConnell in a way which people on Main Street like me can understand
    So excuse me if I look more like Ed Schultz does in his Facebook video & a lot less like you seem to be because I too am BAFFLED by Harry’s actions
    Having said all that, I’ll go subscribe to your podcast now & give it a listen/view. It should be interesting 🙂

  12. Amen to all of that. There are more of us; if we can’t win elections, we’re doing something wrong. The pro lefties can’t see they’re the problem.

  13. Harry Reid basically took a few moments and realized that Super Majorities can stop a lot of nonsense from happening. The problem is that its been abused by a Tea Party Soaked GOP who are beholden to Rush Limbaugh.
    Imagine if the change the majority rule with Boehner holding the gavel and the Ryan budget gets passed again. The Republicans would just need a few terrified blue dogs to doom poor people.
    The issue isn’t the rules of the Senate, gerrymandering, the electoral college or what ever procedural boogie Professional Lefties want to scare people about so they don’t take constructive action.
    The real issue is that while we hold the White house and (barely) the Senate – the Tea Party runs the Congress, and with it the government checkbook. Clean out the ‘Tea Baggers’ in 2014 and the filibuster issue becomes mute.

  14. Thank you. If he had 62-63 Democrats (67 would be better) in his caucus, he could do almost anything he wanted. But to expect him to perform miracles with 55 votes or less is just not real world politics. We need to operate in the real world.
    And this soap box is for you guys… feel free anytime.

  15. Thankyou Milt. I’m so tired of hearing the constant whine of “progressives” who bellow and clang the alarm when their magic pony doesn’t show up. We all have seen this before. This is how the sausage gets made folks. And as you have pointed out Milt he has done it by working with the people around him.
    If you want change you gotta get dirty and HAVE TO go out and VOTE and not SIT ON YOUR ASS at home!!!! Think about this in 2014 and do all you can do elect a DEMOCRAT or at least someone who is at the least a Centrist and isn’t a right wing nut job.
    Allright. Stepping off my rant box now. Good job Milt.

  16. Things without the requisite number of votes NEVER go to the floor. Throwing everything that sounds good onto the floor for a losing vote is how you kill good ideas. So, tell us, genius. If he puts it on the floor, and it gets 48 votes, what do you think that does to the filibuster? It KILLS ANY REFORM.
    And take the word “betray” out of your vocabulary, because it just makes you sound whiny. Reid can’t reform the filibuster without the votes. What do you imagine; that he can just order the filibuster changed and voila!, it changes? He promised to try. He did. He got as much as he could get 60 Senators to vote for.
    Two things you refuse to even consider. Changing the rules with 51 votes effectively kills the filibuster, even with Dems in the minority. Imagine a GOP/TP president, and teabagger majorities in the Senate and House. You want that without a filibuster?
    You wanna talk betrayal? How about whiny emo progressives like you, who effectively helped the goddamn Republicans win in 2010? I wouldn’t call you a traitor. Who the hell are you to call Reid one?
    If Reid had 62-63 Democrats, he wouldn’t even have to deal with McConnell. Got it, genius? We had 58 seats before 2010. Gain 4, we’d be dictating terms on filibuster rules. We went from 58 to 53 and we’re now at 55. There is no choice but to deal with the GOP.
    And whining and pissing and moaning about the Democrats, when all of this is the goddamn Republicans’ fault, will just serve to make 2014 just like 2010. Which is what worries Reid, and what worries enough Democrats that he probably couldn’t even get 51 votes, let alone 60.
    Put every bill on the floor? Seriously?

  17. Really? Thank him for lying to us about reform. Everything needs to be brought to the floor for a vote PERIOD!
    If things never get brought to the floor, debated when opposed and then voted on then there is no record of how they vote! There is no accountability at the next election!

  18. I’ve been trying to make people realize this for many years. Some folks seem to think, because they’re motivated by being pissed off, everyone else is exactly the same way. In some ways, far lefties are just as narcissistic as far righties, albeit with nobler intentions.
    Of course, they’re wrong. Most voters want to vote FOR something. Most people are DE-motivated by fear. That’s why the GOP loves stoking fear so much; low turnout is the only way they can win. The left has to learn this at some point.

  19. Milt, I tried to tell someone on Twitter the very same thing as you: treating everything as some crisis isn’t smart political strategy and removes folks of agency. Being outraged about everything and using Twitter to just vent nonsense ain’t very effective at informing, mobilizing and organizing against the GOP, which is what we should be doing, instead, some want to just attack Dems and tweet defeatist bullshit about losing the senate cuz of Reid. Can’t folks see this turns folks off who don’t live this shit night and day?

  20. This is the problem, in a nutshell.
    We really have to get off this outrage of the week thing. It’s getting old. Now, we’re supposed to get upset about a few states allocating electoral votes by congressional district. Funny, but a couple of years ago, after we blew the 2010 election, the solution was to develop more “third parties,” and move toward a parliamentary system. Now, we’re supposed to be scared to death of a move that might actually lead to a parliamentary system if it spreads enough.
    The problem is, too many progressives attack every problem with now in mind, and refuse to consider the future in their evaluation. They also seem to think scaring people is the way to motivate them, which is just plain crazy. People tend to be DE-motivated by fear.
    It’s going to be a long, hard slog to 2014, 2016 and beyond.

  21. Logged into Twitter earlier today just in time to see a tweet attacking Sen. Reid for his “failure” and also stating that this will keep Dems home in 2014. This attitude is getting old and it’s worthless.
    Someplace along the line some people have the idea that everything must go their way or life just sucks. Apparently “Progressives” think their contributions are limited to sitting on Twitter setting their hair on fire and quitting. Anything worth having is worth working for, maybe they should try that before shooting off their mouth?
    Twitter is a great source of information. Unless someone is willing to put that info to good use by using it to choose the kind of candidates they want to work to get elected, it’s not worth the powder to blow it to Hell. Oh, unless it’s only purpose is to get more followers? I’m tempted to insert the following: (hashtag, just sayin’) right about now. *grin*

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