**Posted by Phineas
“Ready to shoot his own foot off?”
For reasons that that amount to pique and pettiness (both qualities the Senate Majority Leader possesses in abundance), Harry Reid has decided that this upcoming week would be a good time to gut the filibuster, the procedure that allows a determined minority to block legislation or a nominee it doesn’t like by threatening to keep talking and prevent a vote. (In modern times, the threat is all that’s really been needed, Rand Paul’s filibuster aside. Real talk-until-you-drop filibusters have become quite rare.) To move to a vote, the majority has needed at least 60 votes to tell the other side to, well, shut up and vote. Republicans, having the temerity to act like an opposition party and often filibuster the administration’s agenda and appointees (both of which actions I heartily approve), have incurred Darth Reid’s wrath. And so, he wants to break the filibuster:
On Monday, Reid informed President Barack Obama about his intention to use the nuclear option if no deal is struck, sources said, and Obama signaled he would support the effort.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is trying to head off the high-stakes fight, privately reached out to Vice President Joe Biden, but it’s expected that Biden would vote with Democrats in case there’s a 50-50 tie.
The crisis could still be averted. Reid signaled that he would drop the threat of the nuclear option if Republicans ended their filibusters on pending Obama nominees.
But senators in both parties agreed Thursday that if Reid moves to change the rules by 51 votes, it would be used by the majority in the future to further weaken the filibuster, potentially eliminating the potent procedural weapon altogether one day. While Democrats said they were willing to roll the dice on the nuclear option, believing the GOP would go that route anyway when they get back in the majority, Republicans said Reid’s move all but assured a continued weakening — and eventual demolition — of the filibuster.
While Reid claims he was “Mr. Bipartisan Comity” back when the filibuster was a serious issue in 2005 over Bush judicial nominees (Harry put it much more colorfully in the article), the truth is far different.
Why Reid needs to fear having his name cursed for all time by future Democratic caucuses is something pointed out by Democrats and Republican senators quoted in the Politico piece: if Reid make the Democrats do away with the filibuster for Cabinet and other Executive Branch appointees, there’s nothing to stop a future Republican majority from eliminating it for judicial appointments and legislation. Think not only of Supreme Court appointees; the Republicans have a whole laundry list full of items they’d love to ram through with only 51 votes:
[Senator Lamar] Alexander, a longtime institutionalist, agrees, saying now it would be far harder to tell future Republican majority leaders to forgo eliminating the filibuster if Reid acts next week. Alexander claimed it would allow future Republican-led Senates to easily approve a laundry list of GOP dreams: national right-to-work laws, finishing the Keystone XL pipeline, repealing Obamacare and altering Dodd-Frank financial rules.
“We’ll take our case to the people, we’ll argue for a new majority and then Republicans will be in a position to do whatever Republicans with 51 votes want to do,” Alexander said. “The more we think about it, the more attractive it becomes.”
And when that happens –and it will– current and future Democrat senators will rue the day ol’ Pinky Reid came out of Searchlight, Nevada.
On my own part, I oppose eliminating the filibuster. While nowhere a part of the Constitution, it evolved as a natural and fitting part of our Madisonian system of government, which is designed to make the passage of major legislation difficult and slow. The filibuster assures that the minority’s concerns are taken into account and major legislation is passed with something approaching a consensus. (Remember the ire generated by the tricks used to ram Obamacare through?) And if concerns aren’t addressed and consensus isn’t reached, then the bill is blocked, as it should be.
Do away with that, effectively turning the Senate into a smaller version of the House, and you’ll wind up with something akin to the British parliamentary system, where the majority in Commons has, in essence, a legislative dictatorship.
But, if Harry wants to torpedo his own future minority caucus, far be it from me to stop him. We, after all, have a list.
RELATED: Conservative analyst Avik Roy argues that Republicans should support reform of the filibuster, for many of the reasons Sen. Alexander mentioned. I don’t agree with him, but it’s an argument worth considering.
(Crossposted at Public Secrets)