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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Bowers: Filibuster Reform Can End Appointments Obstruction

In his second Daily Kos post on filibuster reform, “The Progressive Benefits of Rules Reform,” Chris Bowers makes the case that the chief benefit of the filibuster reform proposals now being considered is ending GOP obstruction of presidential appointments.
Bowers argues that under the proposed Democratic reforms, “Most notably, the legions of vacancies in our federal judicial, regulatory, law enforcement and diplomatic departments would be nowhere as severe.” He offers Center for American Progress estimates of the large numbers of appointments being held hostage by the Republicans and the time it would take to get them confirnmed under existing filibuster rules. Bowers also cites alarming statistics from Ed Brayton’s post, “GOP Increases Control of Courts” at Dispatches from the Culture Wars:

A determined Republican stall campaign in the Senate has sidetracked so many of the men and women nominated by President Barack Obama for judgeships that he has put fewer people on the bench than any president since Richard Nixon at a similar point in his first term 40 years ago.
The delaying tactics have proved so successful, despite the Democrats’ substantial Senate majority, that fewer than half of Obama’s nominees have been confirmed and 102 out of 854 judgeships are vacant…
When Bush left office, Republicans had appointed just under 60 percent of all federal judges. Twenty months later, the number has dipped only slightly to a shade under 59 percent, according to statistics compiled by the liberal Alliance for Justice. Because of retirements, the percentage of Republican-nominated district judges actually has gone up.

Bowers has a pretty convincing closing argument about the importance of filling the appointments through filibuster reform:

Making the motion to proceed not subject to filibuster, and ending post-cloture debate time on nominations, would put an end to this. Nominations would only be blocked when there were 41 Senators opposed to the nomination. This would fill hundreds of these vacancies very quickly, making for a larger victory than any legislative accomplishment reasonably within the reach of Congressional Democrats in 2011-2012. The people enforcing and interpreting laws and regulations are just as important as the laws and regulations themselves, after all. Further, a government riddled with vacancies becomes a self-fulfilling conservative prophecy of a government that doesn’t function well.
None of this is to discount the potential political and messaging benefit of making the filibuster a real filibuster. It is entirely possible that by making the filibuster real, its use will be significantly reduced and attention to Republican obstructionism will be greatly heightened. However, relative to the concrete benefits of plugging hundreds of holes in the federal government, it is just more difficult to predict what impact the real filibuster will have.

In a couple of the comments following Bowers second post on the filibuster, respondents take issue with his assertion that “…it must be admitted that the current reforms being discussed, making the filibuster real and reducing opportunities for obstruction on nominations, would not have altered the outcome of any of the major legislative fights of 2009-2010.” As one respondent put it, “On first glance, yes, unless you take into account the way a talking filibuster can affect public opinion. The debate over the Civil Rights Act forced opponents to look ridiculous.”
For a more detailed understanding of the likely run-of-show on January 5, also check out Brian Beutler’s post, “The Senate’s Long, Twisted, Bumpy Road To Filibuster Reform” at Talking Points Memo. Main Street Insider also has an in-depth look at “S01E15 – The Merkley Proposal” up at MyDD.

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