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Thursday, January 24, 2013

 
Baby steps on the filibuster

by digby

Following up on David's post below, here's the deal:

Progressive senators working to dramatically alter Senate rules were defeated on Thursday, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and his counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), set to announce a series of compromise reforms on the Senate floor that fall far short of the demands. The language of the deal was obtained by HuffPost and can be read here and here.

The pressure from the liberal senators, led by Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley and backed by a major coalition of progressive groups, created the political space for Reid to cut the deal with McConnell, which does include changes to how the Senate operates, but leaves a fundamental feature, the silent filibuster, in place.

The deal would address the filibuster on the motion to proceed, which had regularly prevented the Senate from even considering legislation and was a major frustration for Reid. The new procedure will also make it easier for the majority to appoint conferees once a bill has passed, but leaves in place the minority's ability to filibuster that motion once -- meaning that even after the Senate and House have passed a bill, the minority can still mount a filibuster one more time.

Reid won concessions on judicial nominations as well. Under the old rules, after a filibuster had been beaten, 30 more hours were required to pass before a nominee could finally be confirmed. That delay threatened to tie the chamber in knots. The new rules will only allow two hours after cloture is invoked.

The two leaders also agreed that they will make some changes in how the Senate carries out filibusters under the existing rules, reminiscent of the handshake agreement last term, which quickly fell apart. First, senators who wish to object or threaten a filibuster must actually come to the floor to do so. And second, the two leaders will make sure that debate time post-cloture is actually used in debate. If senators seeking to slow down business simply put in quorum calls to delay action, the Senate will go live, force votes to produce a quorum, and otherwise work to make sure senators actually show up and debate.


Better than nothing, but still not much. The story of our time.

That story was written by Grim and Stein over at HuffPost and I think they make a good point in the second paragraph about the liberals making the political space for a deal. This used to be the norm at one time --- the left and the right would stake out positions to which neither could agree which meant that the compromise would fall in the middle between the two poles. But at some point in the last few decades, the Democrats became afraid of appearing "unserious" and worried excessively about appearing to be too extreme or two passionate about anything so they eagerly seize the center or center right while the Republicans take the right and far right. The result is obvious. This might be changing with the addition of some more strategic liberals. As David says below, we're only a few seats away from a more progressive Democratic majority and that's when we may start to see some real change.

I have always been skeptical of the idea that the Senate would truly reform the filibuster simply because the majority always knows their hold on the majority is tenuous and they might want to block something someday. (I can certainly imagine things I would want a Democratic minority to block.) Still, if the GOP filibuster abuse of the last decade isn't enough to force a change, I don't know what would. And it did sort of, albeit a small, insignificant one. Baby steps. Tiny baby steps.


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