Save the Earth, Recycle the Opposition’s Filibuster Arguments

The Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt features unprintable words about San Diego mayor Bob Filner, new fundraising numbers in Virginia’s Senate race, a thought on stereotyping after the George Zimmerman trial, and then this thought on the “nuclear option” before the Senate . . . 

Save the Earth; Recycle the Opposition’s Old Arguments on the Filibuster

Ah, filibuster debates. So predictable.

Every Republican who wants to keep the filibuster and the current rules in place, just cite the arguments of this guy:

What [the American people] don’t expect is for one party — be it Republican or Democrat — to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet.

The American people want less partisanship in this town, but everyone in this chamber knows that the majority chooses to end the filibuster. If they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse.

We need to rise above the “ends justify the means” mentality because we’re here to answer to the people — all of the people — not just the ones that are wearing our particular party label.

If the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party, and the millions of Americans who asked us to be their voice, I fear that the already partisan atmosphere in Washington will be poisoned to the point where no one will be able to agree on anything. That doesn’t serve anyone’s best interests, and it certainly isn’t what the patriots who founded this democracy had in mind. We owe the people who sent us here more than that – we owe them much more.

Those words are from then-Senator Barack Obama, speaking April 13, 2005.

Then again, maybe they can point to the arguments of this other guy:

The filibuster is not a scheme and it certainly isn’t new. The filibuster is far from a procedural gimmick. It’s part of the fabric of this institution we call the Senate. It was well-known in colonial legislatures before we became a country, and it’s an integral part of our country’s 214-year history. The first filibuster in the United States Congress happened in 1790. It was used by lawmakers from Virginia and South Carolina who were trying to prevent Philadelphia from hosting the first Congress.

Since then, the filibuster has been employed hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times. It’s been employed on legislative matters, it’s been employed on procedural matters relating to the president’s nominations for Cabinet and sub-Cabinet posts, and it’s been used on judges for all those years. One scholar estimates that 20 percent of the judges nominated by presidents have fallen by the wayside, most of them as a result of filibusters. Senators have used the filibuster to stand up to popular presidents, to block legislation, and, yes, even, as I’ve stated, to stall executive nominees. The roots of the filibuster are found in the Constitution and in our own rules.

That, of course . . . is Senator Harry Reid of Nevada back in 2005.

Come on. We all know that any Senate Majority Leader with more than 50 votes but less than 60 votes is going to want to get rid of the filibuster, and any minority leader is going to want to keep it. Neither party has held 60 or more U.S. Senate seats since 1979. Democrats came close in the 111th Congress (the delay in Al Franken’s swearing-in, and the deaths of Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd, all complicated the Democrats’ effort to control 60 seats) ; the Republicans had 55 in the 109th Congress. For the foreseeable future, most Senate majorities will have between 50 and 60 votes.

If you’re Harry Reid, the current intolerable situation means you need to hold your 53 votes together, keep Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine on board, and then get five Republican senators to go along. That may not be easy, but it’s hardly “Mission: Impossible.” Put simply, pick five out of the following: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Susan Collins of Maine, Jeffrey Chiesa of New Jersey, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. As we all know, John McCain of Arizona, Marco Rubio of Florida, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, and Orrin Hatch of Utah have been known to buck the party line, depending on the issue.

The 60-vote threshold makes sense depending upon the piece of legislation or the importance of the nominee; it’s usually a bad idea to have a sweeping change rammed through, over sizeable objections, by a bare majority. Call us when the minority demands 60 votes for renaming a post office.

Don’t listen to me, listen to Thomas Jefferson: “Great innovations should not be forced on a slender majority.”

Or for a more modern assessment, try Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

Back in 1993, when Hillary Clinton first tried to reform the nation’s health-insurance system, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned about the difficulty of getting such a gargantuan bill passed: “The Senate has its own peculiar ecology,” he told me. “Something like this passes with 75 votes or not at all.” Moynihan was then chairman of the Finance Committee, the Senate’s natural choke point for big social-engineering schemes. He was worried that the Clintons, especially the First Lady, were being stubborn, trying to jam their bill through with a bare majority rather than build a bipartisan consensus.

Of course, if you subscribe to President Calvin Coolidge’s belief that “it is more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones,” the filibuster is a beautiful, noble tool.

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