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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Filibuster Could Be Dead in a Week

On January 5th, it appears that a majority of the Senate will vote to change its rules, barring unforseen GOP shenanigans, followed by another vote in which a majority of senators vote to reform the filibuster. The reason it seems like a done deal one week out is that all 53 returning Democratic senators have signed on a letter urging Majority Leader Reid to take up filibuster reform on that day, and they are not likely to settle for anything that preserves the status quo.
It is possible that some kind of weak compromise will keep the filibuster functionally alive, but crippled. But it is quite possible that Dems are ready to shred it, given the damage it has done and the way it has been abused by Republicans. Katrina vanden Heuval explains it exceptionally-well in her Washington Post op-ed:

…Back when Lyndon Johnson was majority leader in the Senate, he needed to file for cloture to end a filibuster only once. During President Obama’s first two years, Harry Reid filed for cloture 84 times. To put that in perspective, the filibuster was used more in 2009 than in the 1950s and 1960s combined.
Even as we acknowledge the progress we’ve made these past two years, we must never forget the policies that lie dead on the Senate floor at the hands of the filibuster. We got a Recovery Act, but a filibuster prevented it from being sufficiently large. We got health-care reform, but a filibuster killed the public option. We got Wall Street reform, but a filibuster killed provisions to break up the big banks. We got an extension of unemployment benefits, a payroll tax cut and more, but the threat of the filibuster killed our chances to do that without giving handouts to the wealthy.
……The filibuster was never intended to be wielded as a weapon of obstruction. Its current abuse was not contemplated by those who created it. Used this way, the filibuster does not just check the power of the majority; it cripples it. It is the very definition of minority tyranny, a concept as antithetical to democratic principles as any in the republic.

vanden Heuval then nails the case that now is the time to put a stop to it:

There is only one day in the year when the Senate can make changes to its rules without the fear of that process, itself, being filibustered – and that day is fast approaching. Jan. 5, 2011, will be the first day of the 112th Congress and, as such, the only day where a simple majority can vote to change the Senate rules (on all other days, 67 votes would be required)……The chances for reforming the filibuster may be the best in a generation.

And while it is unclear at the moment exactly which of the reforms proposed by Democratic Senators will be implemented, all of them are designed to end the present tryanny of the GOP minority, as vanden Heuval explains:

The options they offer are simple and unquestionably reasonable. Sens. Udall and Merkley have put forward what has become known as the “constitutional option,” a basic two-step process in which 51 senators first agree to adopt new rules, and then 51 senators agree on a reform package. Their package probably would not end the filibuster altogether. But it wouldn’t need to. Procedural changes – such as preventing a filibuster on the motion to proceed, shortening the amount of debate allowed between cloture motions and ending the unconscionable practice of anonymous holds – have the potential to remake the Senate.
These reforms would prevent a single senator from wielding the filibuster against the entire body and would allow the majority to challenge the minority without wasting precious floor time. Perhaps most important, the act of revising the rules in response to abuse may in itself serve as a check on the minority, a warning that the overreach of the type the GOP perfected during the 111th Congress will not be tolerated in the future.

If everything goes according to plan, we’ll have to redefine the GOP acronym meaning from “Gridlock, Obstruction and Paralysis,” at least for senate Republicans, to something like…”Game Over, Pachyderms.”

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