Wednesday, November 5, 2008

ON FILIBUSTERS

James Taranto, Wall Street Journal - While abolishing the filibuster would be in the short-term interests of the Democratic Party, in the long run it could backfire. Republicans are unlikely to regain the majority in 2010, when they will again be defending more seats than the Democrats will. But a Republican majority after 2012 is a real possibility, and under those circumstances the remaining Democrats surely would like to retain the ability to filibuster--an ability that, once lost, is gone forever. A future Republican majority would have no reason to restrain itself with a supermajority requirement, especially in the expectation that the next Democratic majority would overturn it again.

Further, the interests of each Democratic senator do not necessarily coincide with those of the party as a whole. If Democrats have 57 or 59 seats, the party could lose several of its members and still muster a majority, but every Democrat's vote would be crucial in stopping a filibuster. Thus more-moderate Dems would see their influence decline under a simple-majority system. Also, not all majorities are party-line majorities; some senators may wish to reserve the ability to block legislation that draws both bipartisan support and opposition.

The last time the Democrats changed the filibuster rule, in 1975 (when the number of votes required for cloture shrank from 67 to 60), they'd had a majority for 20 years and did not expect to lose it. In the past 20 years, by contrast, the Senate majority has flipped four times, an average of less than once per Senate term.

There is a case to be made on the merits against the filibuster, a supermajority requirement that is entirely extraconstitutional. But leaving it in place would be prudent for the Democrats--and it would have the added advantage of forcing Republicans to expend a lot of energy maintaining party discipline to block Democratic initiatives.

Glenn Greenwald, Salon, January 2008 - Harry Reid -- who has (a) done more than any other individual to ensure that Bush's demands for telecom immunity and warrantless eavesdropping powers will be met in full and (b) allowed the Republicans all year to block virtually every bill without having to bother to actually filibuster -- went to the Senate floor yesterday and, with the scripted assistance of Mitch McConnell and Pat Leahy, warned Chris Dodd, Russ Feingold and others that they would be selfishly wreaking havoc on the schedules of their fellow Senators (making them work over the weekend, ruining their planned "retreat," and even preventing them from going to Davos!) if they bothered everyone with their annoying, pointless little filibuster.

To do so, Reid announced that, unlike for the multiple filibusters from Republican colleagues, he would actually force Dodd and company to engage in a real filibuster. This is what Reid said:

"If people think they are going to talk this to death, we are going to be in here all night. This is not something we are going to have a silent filibuster on. If someone wants to filibuster this bill, they are going to do it in the openness of the Senate."

That is what Democrats have been urging Reid to do to the filibustering Republicans all year -- in order to dramatize their obstructionism -- but he has refused to make them actually filibuster anything, generously agreeing instead that every bill requires 60 votes. Instead, he reserves such punishment only for the members of his own caucus trying to take a stand for the rule of law and the Constitution, those who are trying finally to bring some accountability to this administration.

Wikpedia - In 2005, a group of Republican senators led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), responding to the Democrats' threat to filibuster some judicial nominees of President George W. Bush to prevent a vote on the nominations, floated the idea of making a rules change to eliminate filibusters on judicial nominees with the justification that the current Senate rules can be changed with a simple majority based on the Constitutional stipulation that each Congress can set its own rules. This idea, called the "constitutional option," had been used to defeat filibusters in a few select cases in the history of the Senate, including passing continually filibustered Civil Rights legislation in 1959. Senator Trent Lott, the junior Republican senator from Mississippi, named the plan the "nuclear option." Republican leaders preferred to use the historical term "constitutional option," though opponents and some supporters of the plan continue to use "nuclear option.". . .


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