No, really: Is it time to get rid of the filibuster?
posted at 8:20 pm on January 5, 2011 by Allahpundit
Well, maybe not “get rid of,” but how about reform? Three Senate Democrats rolled out their compromise proposal this morning and at least one writer at National Review (Dan Foster) says … it doesn’t sound half-bad. I’m inclined to agree. The specifics:
–End the filibuster on motions to proceed (since this amounts to unlimited debate on whether to allow debate at all).
–Make all filibusters on substantive measures “talking” or “Jimmy Stewart” filibusters; Senators much actually stand and hold the floor. (How it works now is senators essentially jutannounce their intention to block proceedings and then go grab a sandwich.)
–When cloture is secured on judicial and other nominees, post-cloture debate is limited to two hours instead of the present 30 (since nominations aren’t subject to the same amendments that bills and other measures are)
–Eliminate secret ‘holds’, requiring senators to attach their names to efforts to block nominees
–Force the majority to allow the minority to offer at least three germane amendments to any bill (rather than the majority ‘filling the tree’ to shut out the minority, a Harry Reid specialty).
The threshold worry is that the GOP is still in the minority and therefore stands to lose some leverage if this goes through. True, but that’s meaningless with a Republican House. Anything nutty that Reid passes will die on Boehner’s desk. Think ahead to 2012, when the House will almost certainly stay red and a slew of red-state Senate Democrats will be fighting for their political lives in November. That chamber could flip to the GOP too. If filibuster reform passes now, thereby setting a precedent for the next Congress, and Obama loses his own reelection bid, then the filibuster would be the Democrats’ last means of preventing the repeal of ObamaCare. They could still do it if they’re willing to talk — and talk and talk and talk until the GOP gives up — but this package would weaken their hand. Plan ahead!
As for the particulars, please do read Foster’s thoughtful post. I think he’s right that the “talking filibuster” would be a big enough weapon for a committed minority to kill important legislation on the floor (Democrats had better hope so per my point above about ObamaCare repeal). And the GOP has complained for ages that Reid hogs all the amendment opportunities for Democrats, effectively leaving the party with no options on a bad bill except to filibuster. McConnell grumbled about that in an op-ed just this morning, in fact; under this new package, he’d be guaranteed at least three chances to tempt the Testers and Pryors and Nelsons of the world into siding with the GOP on amendments that could potentially kill the underlying bill. In fact, Foster thinks that because there are likely to be more centrist Democrats in the chamber than centrist Republicans, the ability to dangle amendments at fencesitters in the other caucus would favor the GOP permanently. I’m not so sure about that — between Brown, Snowe, Collins, Murkowski, Kirk and whoever’s elected in 2012, there are actually plenty of RINOs there with maybe more to come — but it’s worth considering.
Exit question: What am I missing here? The big structural concern, obviously, is that this will make the Senate run faster, and faster government tends to be bigger government. I wonder, though, if rolling back the filibuster won’t make both parties more open to the idea of repealing legislation they dislike down the road instead of thinking they have to stop it dead on the Senate floor before it passes in the first place. There are problems with that scenario too — if laws are bouncing on and off the books, it becomes a logistical nightmare for people to plan around them — but there are no ideal options here. The question is, which is better?