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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Bowers: Filibuster Reform Has Little Downside for Progressives

Continuing our coverage of the ins and outs, pros and cons of filibuster reform now (Jan. 5th), Chris Bowers, a TDS advisory board member, opines on the topic in “Answering Progressive Fears About Filibuster Reform,” the first installment of a two-parter from his perch at Daily Kos.
Bowers offers two overlooked insights that merit more consideration. First, he emphasizes that “It will still take 60 votes to pass legislation or confirm nominations,” and:

…Many casual observers of the current rules reform fight have conflated this campaign with an attempt to put an end to the 60-vote threshold and go to a simple-majority Senate. This prospect worries quite a few people, especially now that Republicans have increased their number in Congress.
However, this campaign, even if successful, will not end the 60-vote Senate. Of the rules changes being discussed, none of them will prevent 41 Senators from blocking any nomination or legislation. Whether or not you want to see the 60-vote threshold lowered, the 60-vote threshold will not be lowered by this campaign. Period.
…New rules may shift the burden of a filibuster away from those seeking to break a filibuster, and toward those wishing to continue one. That is, 41 votes will be required to continue a filibuster, rather than the current 60 to break one…New rules will also require Senators to show up and engage in a televised talk-a-thon if they wish to filibuster. This will enact a public price for obstruction. Right now, Senators don’t even have to show up to filibuster–it’s painless. Together, these two changes would not end the filibuster, but they would make it a real filibuster.

This may not give much comfort to Dems who would like to see the filibuster threshold number reduced to 55 or so, but it does assuage the worries of those who are concerned that Dems will lose leverage if and when the GOP gains a Senate majority.
Bowers second often-overlooked insight is that “Republicans will change Senate rules no matter what we do,” — it is always a safe bet that Republicans will abuse the process in pursuit of their agenda, while Dems are more prone to agonize about it, often to the point where it stifles our efforts. Bowers amplifies:

…Republicans are going to change Senate rules the next time they are in charge no matter what Democrats do now. Lest we forget, in 2005 Republicans attempted to entirely abolish filibusters on judicial nominations. The GOP acted first on this one, not Democrats. And, as part of their general tendency to more aggressively apply unusual parliamentary procedure to further their goals, Republicans will act to change the rules again, no matter what we do now.

In his third point, Bowers weighs in against the progressive fear that “Senate obstruction helps conservatives more than progressives,” explaining:

Again, no. The only way making it more difficult to filibuster would reduce the ability of Senate progressives to block legislation is if there was actually a bloc of 41 progressive Senators willing to filibuster non-progressive legislation. There is no such bloc now, and there won’t be in 2011-2012 either.
In the short-term, no one will ever get 41 Senate Democrats to oppose any nomination or piece of legislation that is supported by both President Obama and a majority of the incoming House and Senate. Even during the inevitable times when President Obama will face significant opposition from Congressional Democrats over deals he cuts with the Republican leadership, 41 of the current 53 Senate Democrats will never, ever rise up in opposition to those deals. All of 12 returning Senate Democrats opposed the tax cut deal, for example. Senate Democrats are simply not a rambunctious enough bunch to find 41 of their number to oppose a Democratic President on anything.

Bowers concludes with a pitch to “sign up to make the filibuster a real filibuster.” There is no question that filibuster reform will have a major impact on Democratic prospects going forward, and this petition is a quick and easy way for supporters of the campaign to get involved and help the cause.

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