Is the Wonk Blog making the right case for filibuster reform?

posted at 1:01 pm on December 7, 2012 by Dustin Siggins

Earlier this week, Washington Post Wonk Blog staff reporter Dylan Matthews posted about 17 bills that passed the House and were held up by filibuster in the Senate since 2009. From the post:

Arguments over the filibuster tend to devolve into relatively esoteric debates about minority rights and majority rule. But let’s ground this conversation in real-world consequences: In the absence of the filibuster, what laws would have passed the Senate that didn’t?

In order to limit the size of the search, we begin the clock with the 111th Congress, which began in January 2009. We’re looking for bills that got more than 50 votes in the Senate but that didn’t make it to the president’s desk. In most cases, bills that failed due to a filibuster in the 111th Congress had already passed the House, so they would be law today. In the 112th Congress, the Republican House was less aligned with the Democratic Senate, and so passage in the Senate does not mean the bills would gave been passed into law.

A disclaimer: If there was no filibuster, the two parties’ strategies would be different. The bills they pushed would almost certainly be different. No examination of roll-call votes will reveal the bills that would’ve been passed in a world without the filibuster, but which the majority party didn’t bother pursuing because they recognized they would be filibustered.

Matthews’ list is pretty substantive, covering the DREAM Act, the Employee Free Choice Act, the public option, the American Jobs Act, the Buffett Rule, and judicial nominees.

When I first saw this, I was a bit taken aback that Matthews stopped at 2009, and assumed he wanted to talk about policies only liberals wanted, which is what most of his list consisted of. In a brief phone conversation this afternoon, Matthews explained why his post examined only bills stopped in the Obama era:

We stopped in 2009 somewhat arbitrarily, because people noticed bills weren’t getting through the Senate in that year. Also, there weren’t bills of the same magnitude and scale that passed the House and were held up by filibuster in the Senate in the prior four years. I am certainly open to going back and doing more research on that, however.

Now, the Wonk Blog is pretty liberal, and of course what Matthews considers major legislation I may consider minor, and vice-versa. I also am glad pretty much everything in his list got stopped. Either way, though, I thought perhaps this liberal bias is why Ezra Klein, who runs the Wonk Blog, has focused so much on filibuster reform in the last couple of years. In an e-mail conversation, however, Klein informed me that his stance against filibuster reform is relatively recent, and directed me to a 2010 blog post showing his intended reforms would actually have a non-partisan angle to them:

We are, however, getting closer and closer to the day when someone does change the rules. Republicans tried to protect judges from the filibuster under Sen. Bill Frist. Democrats are talking about changing the rules at the start of the 112th Congress. And now that they’re talking about it, are they really confident that if Republicans take the Senate back in 2012 or 2014, that they won’t do what the Democrats couldn’t and change the rules in their favor?

My oft-expressed preference is for Republicans and Democrats to figure something out jointly and set it into motion such that it either phases in over the next few years or begins six years from now, when we don’t know who’ll be in control. But if that’s not going to happen, then members of both parties have to be thinking: Do they really want to be the side the rules get changed on, rather than the side that changes the rules?

Unfortunately, while Klein’s stated intent is to defend democracy and democratic change, I think his case (and the Democrats’ case today, and the Republicans’ case in 2005) case misses the fact that our system of governance was not designed to be fast. It was not designed to be a democracy; it was designed to be a democratic republic. This is why we have a separation of powers, and why we have federalism, and why Senators were originally picked by state legislatures.

Do both parties use the filibuster as weapons against what they don’t want for purely political reasons? Absolutely. And the push for filibuster reform now is being promoted by the party (and some of the same people) who opposed it in 2005. But regardless of the party in power, to dilute the power of the filibuster is to forget that the Founders intended change to be slow, to be carefully examined, etc.

Off the top of my head, it occurs to me that some of the major pieces of legislation that have passed in a bipartisan manner in the Senate and become law in recent years have really been bad laws. No Child Left Behind, TARP, the stimulus (okay, that one was barely bipartisan), and the Patriot Act are a few examples. Do we want a system where even more legislation can be pushed through even more quickly? I don’t think so.

Dustin Siggins is the principal blogger for the Tea Party Patriots, a national grassroots coalition with more than 3,500 local chapters. He is also a co-founder of LibertyUnyielding.com, and the author of a forthcoming book on the national debt. The opinions expressed are his own. 


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Remember, a lynch mob is a kind of majority rule. 30 people want to hang the guy, one doesn’t.

Red Cloud on December 7, 2012 at 1:03 PM

Unfortunately, while Klein’s stated intent is to defend democracy and democratic change, I think his case (and the Democrats’ case today, and the Republicans’ case in 2005) case misses the fact that our system of governance was not designed to be fast. It was not designed to be a democracy; it was designed to be a democratic republic. This is why we have a separation of powers, and why we have federalism, and why Senators were originally picked by state legislatures.

this

Joey24007 on December 7, 2012 at 1:04 PM

“No Child Left Behind”, horrid law! Means that you cannot fail a child that is not prepared to go to the next grade, you must pass him along to be a burden on the next teacher and students – that is Bush’s legacy, kicked the black and brown cans down the road instead of trying to educate them.

rgranger on December 7, 2012 at 1:08 PM

The Hot Air

Capitalist Hog on December 7, 2012 at 1:08 PM

Wasn’t the split 60-40 Dem in 2009 ?

Can’t blame the minority if the majority could not unify.

Jabberwock on December 7, 2012 at 1:08 PM

We stopped in 2009 somewhat arbitrarily, because people noticed bills weren’t getting through the Senate in that year. Also, there weren’t bills of the same magnitude and scale that passed the House and were held up by filibuster in the Senate in the prior four years. I am certainly open to going back and doing more research on that, however.

LOL, yeah right. As if Social Security reform wasn’t a big issue at 2006 or that people didn’t notice that bills weren’t getting through the Senate when Bush was president.

Liberal Media POS.

Maybe Klein can do some research on how Reid and Obama criticized any reform to the filibuster rule back when Bush was president.

sentinelrules on December 7, 2012 at 1:12 PM

Democrats believe that they discovered a magic way to routinely win contested elections. Unfortunately for the country, they might be correct. Not only because they are the bigger Santa Claus is a room full of spoiled children. Unless the vote-counting programs is made public and thoroughly examined by experts from both sides, it is ridiculous to assume it isn’t rigged – and even then, chances always are that the publicized and installed versions could be different. Until Voter ID law and paper ballot are the law of the land, Dems will hold the majority.

Archivarix on December 7, 2012 at 1:13 PM

We stopped in 2009 somewhat arbitrarily, because people noticed bills weren’t getting through the Senate in that year. Also, there weren’t bills of the same magnitude and scale that passed the House and were held up by filibuster in the Senate in the prior four years. I am certainly open to going back and doing more research on that, however.

They purposfully stopped in 1009, not because they were noticing that bills were being stopped in the senate, but because, this time, the dhimpcraptic librul bills were being stopped. Also, including earlier bills would probably have shown that the threat of filibuster by the minority dhims was vastly overused. This librul shill also did not note that the question about filibusters came up in earlier years, particularly concerning appointment of judges, which is a different Constitutional requirement than bills. In this case, the Republicans deliberately opted not to do away with the filibuster because they didn’t think it was right to do so and would not be fair to the minority party. Does anybody here (Mathews and Sigins) see any difference between the rationale for those decisions and the rationales by the libruls and their captive journolists?

You guys are either educated in the IV league, have incredibly short memories, or no attention span.

Old Country Boy on December 7, 2012 at 1:27 PM

wait a minute….2009 dems had a filibuster proof senate…what am i missing here…

cmsinaz on December 7, 2012 at 1:30 PM

LOL, yeah right. As if Social Security reform wasn’t a big issue at 2006 or that people didn’t notice that bills weren’t getting through the Senate when Bush was president.

sentinelrules on December 7, 2012 at 1:12 PM

Use of the filibuster doubled, from 60-70 per year in the Clinton and Bush years to around 140 after Obama took office. He’s not claiming that there were no filibusters during the Bush years, just that there has been a dramatic increase since that time.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/post/the-history-of-the-filibuster-in-one-graph/2012/05/15/gIQAVHf0RU_blog.html

cam2 on December 7, 2012 at 1:42 PM

Use of the filibuster doubled, from 60-70 per year in the Clinton and Bush years to around 140 after Obama took office. He’s not claiming that there were no filibusters during the Bush years, just that there has been a dramatic increase since that time.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/post/the-history-of-the-filibuster-in-one-graph/2012/05/15/gIQAVHf0RU_blog.html

cam2 on December 7, 2012 at 1:42 PM

Except that Klein is highlighting only a select number of bills that have been filibustered….through 2009.

If he goes back, let’s say to 2000, it would put another perspective about this “reform.”

sentinelrules on December 7, 2012 at 1:50 PM

Dishonest morons.

rayra on December 7, 2012 at 1:54 PM

Except that Klein is highlighting only a select number of bills that have been filibustered….through 2009.

If he goes back, let’s say to 2000, it would put another perspective about this “reform.”

sentinelrules on December 7, 2012 at 1:50 PM

His earlier chart goes back to 1919.

cam2 on December 7, 2012 at 1:55 PM

His earlier chart goes back to 1919.

cam2 on December 7, 2012 at 1:55 PM

I’m talking about the front page of the article. 17 highlighted bills.

sentinelrules on December 7, 2012 at 1:58 PM

The true solution to the problems of the broken filibuster system is twofold:

1. Reform the filibuster so that it remains an available parliamentary tactic in the midst of highly objectionable legislation, but one which is more difficult to use (think having to actually hold the floor), and therefore not invoked on every single bill the other party doesn’t like.

2. Repeal the 17th amendment and return the Senate to its original purpose of being the voice of the states in the federal government, rather than just a smaller version of the House of Representatives.

Shump on December 7, 2012 at 2:01 PM

Whoa whoa whoa…you mean filibuster isn’t something that was passed during the last days of the Bush presidency to go into effect in 2009?!?

Wait, and we’re also not a “pure democracy”?

And what is this separation of powers you speak of?

My teachers never informed me of ANY of this!

nextgen_repub on December 7, 2012 at 2:02 PM

Here’s the answer. You bring back the speaking filibuster. If its about slowing down democracy as Ed says, then fine. But otherwise Ed is essentially arguing that only parties with 60 seats should be able to pass laws. Is that truly whats best in a democratic republic?

libfreeordie on December 7, 2012 at 2:35 PM

Dylan Mattews, the guy who wrote that long piece, denying that ‘free will’ exists.

narciso on December 7, 2012 at 2:53 PM

libfreeordie on December 7, 2012

…as always!…STFU!

KOOLAID2 on December 7, 2012 at 9:24 PM

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FlatFoot on December 7, 2012 at 11:37 PM