Filibuster For Me But Not For Thee

by John Fund

There’s an old Washington saying that “where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit.” With no issue is that more true, in a sense, than the Senate filibuster, on which the two parties completely reversed their position over the course of less than a decade.

Democrats are thrilled that Senate Republicans retreated on their opposition to a number of executive-branch nominations based on the 60-vote requirement to overcome any filibuster. Majority leader Harry Reid trumped the Republicans by getting them to agree to votes on key nominees without having to pull the “nuclear trigger.”

Ezra Klein, a Washington Post columnist, quoted one key Democratic Senate staffer who noted his side was getting a vote on every nominee and agency they wanted: “This has to be the new normal and we reserve our right to change the rules if the change doesn’t stick.”

Democratic opposition to filibusters wasn’t always “normal.” A Washington Post/ABC News poll in 2005 found 64 percent of Democrats supporting retention of the filibuster rule for judicial nominees, with only 20 percent opposed. Of course, back then Democrats didn’t have control of the White House or the Senate.

Only five short years later, Democrats had the White House and control of the Senate. A Quinnipiac poll found that 60 percent of Democrats suddenly agreeing that it was “not justified” for senators to use a filibuster to prevent judicial nominations from coming to a vote; 66 percent of Republicans said it was “justified.”

It seems there are two consistent points when it comes to filibusters: Each party is capable of abandoning principle to secure a short-term advantage, and it’s almost impossible to convince the public to care about the issue. Only about a fourth of those surveyed by pollsters even know what a filibuster is.