And not on confirmations, either, but on legislation. Peter Orszag, Barack Obama’s budget director, says the White House won’t take off the table an option to push through its legislative agenda using the “reconciliation” process. It would keep Republicans from stopping bills on taxes, budgets, and global warming:
The White House budget director said Tuesday that the Obama administration may take advantage of a rarely used congressional rule that would strip Republicans of their filibuster power to get some controversial proposals through the Senate by simple majorities.
Peter Orszag told reporters that the White House would prefer not to use the “reconciliation” process, which allows measures to pass on simple majority votes, a tactic that’s being considered for global-warming and health-care proposals.
But he added that the rule has been used on controversial tax bills going back to Ronald Reagan. “We’re not taking it off the table,” he said.
When the Republicans tried to roll this out in 2005 and apply it to judicial confirmations, Democrats promised blood in the streets on Capitol Hill, and only meant it somewhat figuratively. They pledged to dismantle the Senate by parliamentary procedure and make sure nothing got out of Congress. In the end, Bill Frist didn’t have enough votes to win and never pulled the trigger.
Now that they have a majority, Democrats want to eliminate the filibuster for legislation — a different kettle of fish. I still think that the filibuster is inappropriate for presidential appointments, but for legislature, it has a long and varied history. While it got used to block significant reforms in civil rights for decades, it also kept Congress from getting taken over by extremists and forced compromise that kept the legislature from whipsawing on policy.
If Democrats try trotting that out, Republicans have to deliver on the threats from Democrats in 2005. They should insist on all bills getting read on the floor in their entirety, which will bring Congress to a halt in short order. Every motion should get an objection and a forced vote. But if the Republicans do fight it, they’d better be prepared to win the media war over it as well, explaining that the Democrats want to force through radical legislation that would never get through otherwise. If the GOP doesn’t prepare to win the media war, get ready for a backlash on obstructionism.
I’d bet that the Democrats back away from this threat, but if they don’t, we’d better see John McCain in the forefront of this fight after his Gang of 14 nonsense in 2005.