A few days ago, Jazz Shaw reported that Democrats and liberals seem suddenly interested in ending the filibuster in the Senate, or at least some of them do. Now that the Democrats have the majority, the filibuster — so important just three years ago — now is the nadir of Beltway power abuse. Steve Benen makes that argument for Washington Monthly:
TIME TO REFORM THE FILIBUSTER…. One of the striking aspects of the political process on the Hill is how quickly everyone has adapted to a once-rare tactic becoming routine. Senate filibusters used to be exceedingly rare — a dramatic challenge only to be used under extraordinary circumstances. Only recently has the political world accepted, without so much as a discussion, the notion that literally every key measure must enjoy a 60-vote majority if it hopes to become law.
BJ at Newshoggers calls Benen a hypocrite, though, for his majority-era conversion to filibuster reform:
It is hypocritical in the extreme for Democrats to do an about face on this issue and now advocate changing the system simply because we have power. The filibuster was an important tool during the dark days of the Bush years that we were able to use to block controversial nominees (maybe leglislation as well, I just can’t remember). During those days, we argued and howled at the Republican threats of the nuclear option and arguments about the anti-majoritarian nature of the cloture system. To now argue that the system is in need of reform is completely unprincipled and hypocritical.
Jazz, meanwhile, reminds Democrats of the inevitability of political karma:
Listen, Democrats… you didn’t like it when the GOP was running the table on you, stopping all of your agenda and building audition tapes for Legislators Gone Wild. If you didn’t have the filibuster, what judges would be sitting on all the courts right now? What other legislation would be in place? Now take a look at the stimulus (I’m sorry… porkulus) package you just hung around your own necks. If that doesn’t work some miracles in the next 18 months, you may be looking at hard times in 2010. Do you want to hand that kind of power to your opponents?
Like BJ and Jazz, I support the filibuster for legislative purposes. It allows the minority in the Senate to have an opportunity to block bad legislation. If the practice has grown in the last couple of decades, that relates more to the polarization of both parties and the inability to give the minority a voice in legislation in the first place. Democrats howled at that practice when in the minority, with Nancy Pelosi howling the loudest and promising reform if given a majority. She got get majority two years ago, and if anything, she’s worsened the situation. One look at how Porkulus came to the floor shows that far from wanting reform, Pelosi just wanted absolute control of legislation. That’s what the filibuster prevents, and more cooperation on the front end (from both parties when in power) would make the filibuster much less necessary on the back end.
Presidential appointments, to the judiciary or the federal bureaucracy, are a different matter. Having participated in the “nuclear option” debate in 2005, I still think that a filibuster on presidential appointments is inappropriate and should be discarded. A president should have the presumption of choosing his own Cabinet and advisors as well as judges. Elections have consequences, and as Republicans and Democrats point out in every campaign, that’s one of the biggest.
I’d go even farther and say that the Senate should only vote down an appointment on the basis of competence, ethics, or violations of the law, and not on policy, for which a President receives his mandate from the people. Tim Geithner should have never been approved, for instance, and neither should Leon Panetta, but both should have gotten a floor vote (which they did). Any President deserves an up-or-down vote on his appointments, and the Senate has a duty to provide the actual “advice and consent” and not withhold a floor vote for these appointments. If the President bears the responsibility for the performance of his subordinates, then the Senate should give the President the courtesy of an actual vote.