Thursday, January 24, 2013

Fili Busted

The good news is that Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell finally reached an agreement on filibuster reform; the bad news is that Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell finally reached an agreement on filibuster reform.

Okay, so the cynic in me is a little suspicious about this deal. And for good reason, which I will get to in due time. But to be fair, there were a number of good things in it.

First off, it lowers the number of votes needed to overcome a filibuster from 60 to 51. Secondly, it requires senators to actually go down to the floor to start one - no more phone-ins from home. And last, but most importantly, it severely limits the minority party - that would be the GOP - from gumming up the works with an endless barrage of amendments designed to keep a bill from being passed.

If you look at the deal objectively, you could say both sides got something they wanted. Republicans can still filibuster without doing the whole Jimmy Stewart, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington thing and Democrats can get bills passed without having to die of old age while waiting.

But the real question that begs to be answered is why didn't Reid just go "nuclear" and compel Senate Republicans to return to the good old days when filibusters had to be done not just in person but by talking non-stop. All he would've needed is 51 votes and, with a little arm twisting here and there, he could've easily come up with them. The answer is simple: Reid no doubt feared that if he did that, it could come back to haunt Democrats should they one day become the minority party.

And while that may be a valid concern, it doesn't prevent the GOP from doing just that if they win control of the Senate in 2014. That's the problem with a reasoned and proportional response. It doesn't preclude the possibility that your adversary won't turn the tables on you anyway. Reid is gambling that his gentleman's agreement with McConnell will be the focal point for the dawning of a new day in the Senate, where everyone agrees to disagree but bills are allowed to go their merry way.

Forgive me for being overly pessimistic, but I'll believe that when I see it. Show me one sign that the Republican Party is capable of being trusted to do the right thing. Yes, I know, McConnell's crew isn't nearly as bad as John Boehner's. Thank goodness for small favors. But let's not forget that prior to the Tea Party take over of the House in the 2010 midterms, the Senate was where bills went to die. Despite a rare exception or two, I have seen no evidence that things have changed considerably. Being one step ahead of the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is no reason to celebrate.

My guess is Harry Reid will rue the day he put the pin back in the nuclear hand grenade. Opportunities like this come along once in a blue moon. I smell a rat, and this time the majority leader brought the cheese.


1 comment:

Peter Fegan said...

A correction is in order. I originally stated that the number of votes needed to overcome a filibuster had been reduced to 51.

That was not true. The number remains at 60. Additionally, the "silent" filibuster also remains intact.

In other words, nothing much changed.