The awful terrible no-good #SchumerShutdown is in full swing, and I think it might be time to nuke that filibuster. Let me explain.
I apparently have the masochist gene, because I sometimes listen to National Public Radio. As I drove home yesterday, I was literally yelling at the radio because this happened:
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
And we’re going to stay right here, right on this same topic for our Friday politics discussion. Here in the studio with me – columnist David Brooks of The New York Times and Matthew Yglesias, co-founder of Vox. [I almost turned off the radio at this point. — Ed.] Welcome to you both to – I guess we’ll call it the special shutdown edition of the week in politics.
Start with this. And David, I’m going to throw this one to you first. If the government shuts down at midnight – if – it will mark the first time ever that that has happened when one party controls the Senate, the House and the White House. So David Brooks, persuade me. If we see a shutdown, how is this not all Republicans’ fault?
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah. First, what I’m about to say I don’t actually agree with. They don’t pay me enough to be a Republican shill.
KELLY: (Laughter) Yeah, a useful preface, OK.
BROOKS: But I think that the strongest argument they’ll make to voters is that listen; we tried to prevent you – present you with a government that was functioning for American citizens, that had defense spending for American citizens, that had a new – this health care program for American citizens, and Democrats want to block it on behalf of illegal immigrants. And so who’s really in favor of Americans, us or them?
I have bolded the parts that made me want to stop the car, yank my radio out of the dashboard, throw it on the ground, and beat it with a Louisville Slugger, Office-Space style. (Damn it feels good to be a gangster!)
Because of course that’s not the strongest argument Republicans can make to voters. In fact, the strongest argument they can make to voters is that they don’t control the government! When it takes 60 votes in the Senate to get a funding bill passed, Republicans can’t fairly be said to “control” the Senate at all! And — get ready for a shock — this Best Argument Possible was actually made from the podium at the White House yesterday! Here’s Mick Mulvaney confronting showboat Little Jimmy Acosta, who tried to make the same stupid argument:
ACOSTA: You made a comment at the beginning of this. You said that this was the Schumer Shutdown. How can it be the Schumer Shutdown when Republicans control the White House, the House and the Senate?
MULVANEY: Come on, you know the answer to that as well as anybody. I laugh, I have to laugh when people say that, “Oh, we control the House, the Senate, the White House, why can’t you get this done?” You know as well as anybody that it takes 60 votes in the Senate to pass an appropriations bill. Right? You know that.
ACOSTA: I know that.
MULVANEY: OK, so, so, when you only have 51 votes in the Senate then you have to have Democrat support in order to keep the government, to fund the government. So that’s the answer to your question.
Boom! Mulvaney is right on target.
Or is he?
See, then I got to thinking further — and here’s the thought that probably saved my radio: Mulvaney is wrong. He’s right under current rules, of course — but those rules can be changed. Republicans do control the Senate. They can do anything they want to with 51 votes — as long as they have those 51 votes. In fact, if they want, they can change the rules so they can pass an appropriations bill with 51 votes.
It’s a little thing called The Nuclear Option.
There are reasons to be wary about this. Specifically, there are very good reasons to be concerned about losing a way to obstruct Democrats in the future. Just to take one reason that may not be that far off in the future: we’re likely looking at a wave election this year. Democrats could retake control of both houses of Congress. Republicans may well want to have the filibuster in their toolbox.
And it’s by no means certain that there would be 51 votes to put the final nail in the filibuster’s coffin. John McCain is a question mark, for example, both for health reasons and because if he participated in such a vote he might oppose the elimination of the filibuster.
But the more Democrats try to advance the bogus argument that Republicans, under current rules, control the Senate — and the longer the Democrats drag out this shutdown fight — the more Republicans will be motivated to say: you want to say we control the Senate? You know what? You’re right. We do. And we’re about to show that to you.
Whether this is wise is open to question. But the Democrats are pushing the GOP in that direction. And the longer this goes on, the stronger that push will be.
UPDATE: It’s worth noting that commenter Beldar had this idea before I expressed it today, and indeed scripted it out in detail. Take a look.