Democrats, filibusters, and briar patches.

Let’s set the (somewhat stylized) scenario, here:

The Senate on January 5, 2011 – as per the apparent wishes of Senators Tom Udall of New Mexico and Tom Harkin of Iowa, neither of whom are up for reelection in 2012 – votes to change the rules so that a simple majority may short-circuit the filibuster.  Cheers and applause from the progressives; silence from the Republicans.  The cheering dies down as progressives realize that the Republican silence is not from stoicism; it is more anticipatory.  What do they anticipate? Why, a knock on the door! It is a courier from the House of Representatives, with the freshly-printed text of HR 1 (“Repeal of Obamacare”), ready for the Senate’s perusal.

All forty-seven Republicans sign off on that bill.  Immediately.  So does Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who campaigned on Obamacare’s repeal.

Then eyes turn to:

  • Kent Conrad of North Dakota. Blue Senator, Red State. Up for re-election in 2012.
  • Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Blue Senator, Red State. Up for re-election in 2012.
  • Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Blue Senator, Red State. Up for re-election in 2012.
  • Bill Nelson of Florida. Blue Senator, Red State. Up for re-election in 2012.
  • Jon Tester of Montana. Blue Senator, Red State. Up for re-election in 2012.
  • Jim Webb of Virginia. Blue Senator, Red State. Up for re-election in 2012.

What do you think the odds are that the GOP can get three of those Senators to panic? You don’t know? – Funny; neither does the Obama administration, which is why they’d be insane to sign off on making it easier for Republican Senators to pass legislation, not harder. 

As usual, the Democrats are far behind the decision curve: this gambit should have been tried in 2009, not 2011.  In 2009 the Republicans had only 41 Senators, which not only meant that it required rock-hard internal discipline to Hold The Line on key votes (and a fairly ruthless system of triage); there was no chance of Republican legislation passing, either.  That’s how it works when the numbers are 59/41.  But when the numbers are 53/47, then any move to change the filibuster rules aids the minority party.  Lower the threshold to, say, 55, or punish ‘filibustering’?  Fine! Nothing will pass without the House’s blessing, anyway.  Make it all simple-majority-vote? Excellent – because in the 111th Congress the GOP needed to find 19 Democratic votes for cloture and 10 for actually passing legislation, which is why we didn’t pass any legislation.


Having to only come up with 4 to pass various House bills sounds like a big step up, actually.

Moe Lane (crosspost)

PS: This assumes, of course, that the trick would even work.  As I was reminded in a private email, there is the ‘continuing body’ argument regarding changing the rules of the Senate, which would make the original gambit dead on arrival.  Said argument has been the subject of some controversy lately, but then, so has everything else.

PPS: See also Brian Darling’s posts here and here on the subject.  He’s less sanguine than I am on this.



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