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Monday, April 08, 2013

Harry Reid Needs to Put Up or Shut Up on Filibuster Reform

Stop sign
File under "I wouldn't get my hopes up"; ThinkProgress' Ian Millhiser reports that Senate majority leader Harry Reid is talking filibuster reform again, after the last stab at it turned out to be a completely inadequate joke. In an interview with a public radio station, Reid threatened once again to bring democracy to the US Senate.

“All within the sound of my voice, including my Democratic senators and the Republican senators who I serve with, should understand that we as a body have the power on any given day to change the rules with a simple majority, and I will do that if necessary,” Reid said on Nevada Public Radio.

...“I’m a very patient man. Last Congress and this Congress, we had the opportunity to make some big changes. We made changes, but the time will tell whether they’re big enough. I’m going to wait and build a case,” Reid said. “If the Republicans in the Senate don’t start approving some judges and don’t start helping get some of these nominations done, then we’re going to have to take more action.”
 Yes, Harry Reid is a "very patient man." In fact, on the issue of Republican obstructionism, Harry Reid has been far too patient.

Greg Sargent:

By my count, this is at least the third time a Dem Senate leader has threatened to revisit rules reform. Yet the obstructionism continues with no action on Reid’s part.

Reid needs to stop threatening to revisit the filibuster unless he actually means it. Empty threats accomplish nothing. Indeed, they’re counterproductive. They make Dems look weak. They inflate expectations among Dem base voters — and supporters who worked hard to reelect Obama and Dems to Congress — that we may soon enjoy a functional Senate.
I couldn't agree more. Something needs to be done. And talking about doing it is counterproductive. GOP filibustering over the past decade has gotten so bad that the media has taken to reporting failures to break one as if the filibuster didn't even exist. "The Senate failed to reach the 60-vote threshold today..." has become a routine opening sentence, as if this is all so very normal and democracy in the Senate is supposed to be a sham. As if the filibuster were some grand constitutional design -- part of the founders' "checks and balances" -- instead a mere obstructionist tactic that could easily be reformed or even done away with.

I understand the concern very well: if Democrats lose the Senate and there's no filibuster, things could get ugly. Take it from a guy from a state where Democrats can only offer token resistance at the moment.

But that's only a real worry if there's a Republican president who won't veto crazy GOP bills and who'll nominate terrible candidates to courts, cabinet positions, and ambassadorships. And that doesn't seem very likely for the foreseeable future. Demographically, the major qualification required to become president right now is that the candidate not be a Republican. So if dems own the White House, they own the veto. It takes a 2/3 majority to override a veto, so that's virtually the same as overcoming a filibuster in the Senate, plus the additional hurdle of a 2/3 majority in the House; i.e., a "super-filibuster" of sorts.

In fact, the current political landscape makes this the perfect time to reform the filibuster. Personally, I'm torn on whether or not to do away with it altogether (leaning toward no, the minority party should never be completely powerless) . But there's no reason just to leave it as it is. Washington is deeply, deeply broken and dysfunctional and the Senate filibuster has a lot to do with that. If there's one thing I'm not torn about, it's that the current version of the filibuster must die -- preferably painfully and with a stake through its heart.

Harry Reid should stop with the threats and grab up a hammer and that stake.


[photo by Steve A Johnson]

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