When is a filibuster not a filibuster?

Anyone who reads the nation’s largest fish wrap publications already knows the deal with Republicans. They are a bunch of obstructionists. And the most powerful tool in their evil arsenal is the filibuster. This is well established lore in the mainstream media. But now that the two teams in the Senate will be changing jerseys today, what will happen if Democrats employ the same tactics to get their own way? According to the New York Times, it goes something like this.

Because the House has been in Republican hands since 2011, the real test comes in the Senate, where the new majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is armed with a 54-46 majority. He will still have to find a way to make legislation passed by the House attractive to enough Democrats to assemble the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural obstacles and send them to the president’s desk.

In case you missed the key phrase in that last sentence. Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg brings it into focus.

“Procedural obstacles”???? What the article is talking about are (likely) Democratic filibusters. Without a filibuster, any bill needs only a simple majority to pass the Senate. There’s no need for a supermajority in the Senate rules — unless the minority makes the once extraordinary decision to filibuster. Only then does the majority need 60 votes to invoke cloture, which has become the standard way to try to defeat a filibuster.

It’s wrong to imply that the normal need for 60 is inherent in Senate rules and procedures, and not a response to tactics by the Senate minority.

In case the bizarre nature of the Gray Lady’s description isn’t obvious enough yet, the complaint was taken up by Ed Kilgore at the Washington Monthly, an outlet so liberal in nature that they’ve never seen a Democrat initiative they didn’t like.

I think this is just media laziness rather than a deliberate policy preference, but in any event, it’s wrong and needs to stop: a filibuster is a filibuster, and at a minimum needs to be treated as the freakish (and perhaps some day extinct!) incident it used to be.

In this one case I can overlook Kilgore’s knee-jerk response of attributing the Times’ description to laziness rather then normal, business as usual bias. But it is yet another reminder of the challenge that Democrat supporting media outlets are going to face over the next two years. As we’ve discussed here before, the double edged sword of governmental obstruction charges turned around 180 degrees after the midterm elections. The shoe isn’t just on the other foot here.. it’s a steel toed boot.

For several years the press has developed an entrenched level of comfort in blaming the low approval ratings of Congress on the fact that they steadfastly refused to get the work of the people done. It was the do nothing Congress. It was the least productive Congress in history. And despite the fact that the House passed literally hundreds of bills which Harry Reid refused to put up for a vote, the overwhelming message broadcast to the American people was that it was Republican obstructionism.

Well, this is the reward for all the work that went into winning historic gains in the midterms. There are now only two tools remaining in the obstructionist work shed. One is for the Democrats in the Senate to filibuster everything that the GOP puts up for a vote. The other is for the President to wear out a few veto pens. And this opening salvo from the New York Times aptly demonstrates the difficulty they will face in trying to pin all the nation’s ills on the Republicans.

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