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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Filibustering the 2008 Elections

When Democrats were in the minority, Republicans complained about the filibuster. In 2005, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist wrote an op-ed complaining about dem filibusters of Bush's judicial nominees, which included this bit of fun:

... I have sought to address Democrats' grievances while holding true to the core principle of an up-or-down vote. So far, my Democrat colleagues have rejected all efforts at compromise, and continue to insist on a new, 60-vote standard.

Meanwhile, where are we today?

McClatchy Newspapers:

Seven months into the current two-year term, the Senate has held 42 "cloture" votes aimed at shutting off extended debate -- filibusters, or sometimes only the threat of one -- and moving to up-or-down votes on contested legislation. Under Senate rules that protect a minority's right to debate, these votes require a 60-vote supermajority in the 100-member Senate.


Nearly one in every six roll-call votes in the Senate this year has been a cloture vote. If this pace of blocking legislation continues, this 110th Congress will be on track to roughly triple the previous record number of cloture votes -- 58 each in the two Congresses from 1999-2002, according to the Senate Historical Office.

In other words, where Democrats fiilibustered Bush's favorite insane judicial nominees, Republicans are filibustering just about everything. The GOP use of the filibuster has been unprecedented in Senate history.

It's hard for me to complain about the use of a rule that I think is a good idea. The filibuster exists in the Senate to keep the majority party from steamrollering the minority party. But that's not what Republicans are using it for. They're using it to embarrass Democrats, make them look ineffective, and leverage that into taking back the Senate. It's not a legislative use of the filibuster, it's making it a campaign tool.

And, unlike when the Republicans faced filibusters, the media is hardly ever using the word 'filibuster' to describe what's going on. Most commonly, you'll read or hear that 'Democrats failed to get the 60 votes necessary' to move whatever legislation forward, as if that's just the way the Senate works.

In fact, some in the media go to ridiculous lengths to paint the Democrats as the problem here.

Media Matters:

On the July 22 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace cast the Democrats, rather than the Republicans, as the party that is obstructing legislation on Iraq, asserting that "after Democrats failed to win a vote to pull troops out, Senator [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid [D-NV] pulled the defense authorization bill, blocking votes for any other ideas for how to deal with Iraq." In fact, Republicans blocked an up or down vote on a Democratic amendment on withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq -- which is why "Democrats failed to win a vote." Also, as reported in a July 20 New York Times article on the vote, following the defeat, Reid "proposed that the Senate take up a series of Iraq proposals and make them all subject to a simple majority vote, including the withdrawal plan that had just failed." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) objection to that proposal prompted Reid to pull the legislation altogether.

OK, it's FOX. So what do you expect, right? But how different has the rest of the media really been? One sixth of all roll-call votes have been to break filibusters and, if it weren't for McClatchy's article, it's likely that you'd never know it. It's likely that the average person still doesn't know it.

The problem with all of this -- at least as it strikes me -- is that using the filibuster as a campaign tool is a really bad idea. Bills that have been filibustered have been bills dealing with Iraq, energy legislation, and prescription drug legislation. These sort of votes might fly for House members, who often represent little pockets of crazy, but being a Senator is a statewide office. They'll come back to face campaign ads listing off everything they voted against -- and a lot of the bills have been damned popular.

The idea that voters prefer effectiveness over everything is ridiculous. It's hard to imagine a less appealling candidate than the one with really lousy ideas and an ability to get things done. With Bush and the war in Iraq scraping bottom in the polls, it's hard to see how being really good at supporting the war and Bush is supposed to pan out on election day. Wouldn't that practically be the definition of 'sucks?'

In fact, recent history backs me up here. Did people vote Democrats into a majority in both houses because they'd been so effective up to then? Obviously not. It was the GOP who were so effective, getting lots and lots of stuff done, but nearly all of it really lousy ideas. Most people aren't fans of lousy ideas and the Grand Ol' Party got the Grand Ol' Boot.

The GOP use of the filibuster is just electioneering -- and wrongheaded electioneering at that. Not only will it fail, it serves the nation very poorly. While Republican Senators rack up a huge series of really boneheaded votes that'll come back to haunt them in November, the war in Iraq rages on, people still make the decision between food and prescription drugs, and Bush is still doing whatever the hell he wants. Stem cells have gone nowhere, immigration has gone nowhere, workers rights bills have gone nowhere. What the GOP has proven themselves so effective at is maintaining an extremely unpopular status quo.

If that's what they want to run on in November, they're welcome to it.


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