The Filibuster Briar Patch
posted at 1:36 pm on December 23, 2010 by Jazz Shaw
I can still remember quite well the period in 2004 which spurred the feeling of deja vu that hit me this week. Republicans not only held the White House, but majorities in both houses of Congress as well. The problem, of course, was those pesky Democrats who were gumming up the works on everything from judicial nominations to controversial pieces of legislation. Then the not very subtle whispering began… “maybe we should just get rid of the filibuster and get down to business.”
“Be careful,” I said. “The American people are fickle and sooner or later you’re going to wind up back in the minority. You way want to keep that particular card in your pocket.”
Well, sooner rolled around even more quickly than many imagined, shoes switched over to other feet and the GOP was back to vigorously employing the filibuster at every turn. And now the Democrats – never being ones to let a little thing like history boss them around or inform their thinking – have signed on to a letter proposing the same brilliant plan.
So should Republicans be trying to instruct their colleagues across the aisle about the folly of such a move? The 2004 version of myself would no doubt be saying so, but some interesting observations by William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection have me questioning the strategy.
With a solid Republican majority in the House, the filibuster takes on less importance for Republicans. The threat of a filibuster still will play into the politics of judicial nominations, but not much else. With so many Democrats in the Senate up for reelection, the “centrist” block of Democrats may make a filibuster unnecessary in most events.
So if Democrats change the filibuster rule, will they be shooting themselves in the foot?
In 2012 there is a reasonable likelihood of a Republican majority in both houses of Congress. If Obama loses, and Republicans find themselves in the position Democrats have been in the past two years, things could get very interesting with relaxed filibuster rules. Even if Obama wins, the ability of a Republican Senate to pass on legislation to Obama — requiring a veto — will be an important political tool.
What goes around, comes around. Senators, having the long memories they do, understand this, even if the rabble in the left-wing blogosphere do not.
It’s a bit of an All-In bet, if we want to think of beltway politics in terms of no-limit hold’em poker, but the man has a point. If you truly believe that the 2010 wave hasn’t fully washed up on shore yet and that the Republicans will take back the majority in the Senate next time around, it would make for an interesting couple of years whether Obama wins a second term or not.
“So, Democrats, you made a very good point about the problems with the filibuster. Let’s just keep it out of your hands too.”
The dangers over the next two years indeed seem minimal given the unusual period where each party controls one chamber in Congress. The one exception to that is judicial nominations, but that’s not a food fight that ever ends well for either side under the best of circumstances.
The real problem comes much further down the road. Nothing has changed in terms of the fickle public and the day will come again when Democrats control both the House and the Senate. If the filibuster goes away and people become used to the idea of government functioning without it for the better part of a decade it will be exceedingly hard to get it put back in place.
But in the short term it could be sauce for the goose, at least in terms of entertainment for the chattering class. Will it happen? Much like Jacobson, I rather doubt it. But then, I’ve seen quite a few things in the last couple of years which I never thought would happen.
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