Axelrod: Changing Senate rules to allow 51 votes for passage "a worthy discussion"

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Jan 28, 2010 at 18:26

This afternoon, I took part in a roundtable discussion with Senior White House adviser David Axelrod  and various progressive media types. The discussion hit on a wide range of topics, but was particularly focused on procedural matters in the Senate.

Axelrod said that because Republicans have decided it requires 60 votes to pass anything in the Senate, they now share responsibility for governing.  As such, the White House will make a big push in 2010 to increase public awareness of Republican obstructionism through the use of the filibuster.  "They get to work with us, or they have to pay a price,' Axelrod said.

Mixing lobbying with journalism, I told Axelrod it was not think it was possible to make Republicans pay a political price for their egregious use of the filibuster.  I told him about the Pew poll released today showing that only 26% of the country knew it took 60 votes in the Senate to end a filibuster.  I also told him about Pew polls during the nuclear option fight back in 2005 showing that the public never really took an interest in news about the filibuster, even when it was the top political news story for a couple weeks.  Concluding, I told him that, given how few Americans know what the filibuster is, given how little interest they have shown in the past when it became a big political story in the past, there is no way that the White House can engage in a public education campaign large enough to ever make Republicans pay a meaningful political price for their use of the filibuster.  As such, wouldn't it be easier to for 51 Senators to change the Senate rules on the first day of Congress in 2011, so that only 51 votes are required to pass anything through the Senate?

Axelrod responded that was "a worthy discussion."  While he indicated the White House was mainly focused on passing legislation in 2010, rather than on what happens in 2011, in no way did he dismiss, challenge, or denigrate the idea.

Further, later on in the discussion, David Waldman of Daily Kos asked Axelrod if the White House would assist a campaign to change the Senate rules in 2011, if such a campaign started to take off on its own.

To that, Axelrod responded, "we have an interest" in such a campaign.

While Axelrod again emphasized that the White House would be focusing on 2010 for now, and on attempting to make Republicans either work with them or pay a political price for obstructing them, he offered no pushback against the idea of changing the rules of the Senate to eliminate the filibuster.

From my vantage point, the implication was very much that the White House would be working on educating the public about how Republicans are using the filibuster to defend the status quo, and that the White House would be very interested if a campaign to end the filibuster altogether if it began to take off concurrent with their efforts. Perhaps, toward the end of 2010, the White House would even be interested in helping such a campaign if a coalition of Senators, progressive groups, progressive media types, and progressive grassroots could push the ball far enough down the road.

A very encouraging meeting.  A campaign to end the filibuster should now be considered a viable option.

Chris Bowers :: Axelrod: Changing Senate rules to allow 51 votes for passage "a worthy discussion"

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Why wait? (0.00 / 0)
Wasn't it changed in mid-session down to 60 votes to allow Civil Rights to pass?  We can get 51 votes tomorrow if we have the guts.  Believe me, the Republicans 1) would have leaned on the conservadems so hard they got curvature of the spine and 2) changed the rules.

No (0.00 / 0)
It was changed in 1975.  It was mid session but it was done with 2/3 support.  There's some literature though that suggests the reason the minority went along with any modification of the filibuster is because they know that ultimately the majority can just impose it, all of the "rules" requiring more than a majority to do something can ultimately be changed by a majority.  

[ Parent ]
It was changed (4.00 / 1)
In part because liberals were running too many annoying filibusters against the Vietnam war.  Filibustering body armor for troops in Afghanistan would help immensely in killing the filibuster.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
Good for PEW (4.00 / 3)
I had been looking for someone to do a polling question to find out how many Americans are at all aware of this issue.

The converse of this result is that no one will care if Republicans screetch and moan about the demise of the filibuster.  3/4 of them didn't even know it was there to begin with, how will they miss it?

exactly (4.00 / 5)
I tried to get that point across. Republicans pay no price for using it, because people don't know about it. And the white house can't really change that--people's eyes glaze over when they hear about it.

However, dems pay a big price for not getting rid of it. They look weak, and can't pass legislation that will help people.

Getting rid of it is easier than educating people about it. And you don't pay a price for it, because people don't know about it. All you get is upside, because then you can pass more and better legislation.

Anyway, I tried to make that point. Spent two days figuring out how to use my five minutes to talk to axelrod. Decided this was the best thing to say.

[ Parent ]
Thanks for this, Chris (nt) (4.00 / 1)

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
Its simpler for them to make their case than us (0.00 / 0)
Because when the filibuster is eliminated they can say 'You're changing the rules in the middle of the game!' (nevermind the inaptness of the metaphor).  What Democrats have to say is 'Republicans are filibustering more than any minority party ever has.'  The Republicans get to use a talking point that they trot out all the time (I am sure we will hear about flipflopping too), while the Democrats have to actually refer to the procedure in question and make all sorts of comparative claims that can only be backed up by numbers and facts and things like that.  Maybe I am being elitist, or a cynic, or both, but this is where the fact that the Republicans are simple-minded helps them.  Their message is necessarily easy to communicate.

So I think there might be a cost, but I agree that the benefits far outweigh the costs.  Majority rule would be such a nice change of pace in America.  I think the real question is whether it makes more sense to wait to do a rules change at the beginning of the next congress, or to go the point of order route and do it now.

[ Parent ]
And the very fact. . . (4.00 / 1)
that the public knows so little about the details of Senate rules makes it all that much easier to change them without political repercussions. I say full steam ahead.

[ Parent ]
Encouraging, indeed, but the wasted opportunity is still sad. (0.00 / 0)
Imagine if the president had used the SOTU to present the horrible data about the obstructionism to the public! Now, that would have been a real kick of for the campaign.

Any support of this will... (4.00 / 1)
evaporate once Rs take over the Senate again, which is becoming more and more likely if the economy doesn't start picking up real soon.

That's a point. The window of opportunity is closing. (4.00 / 1)
If the Dems don't get rid of the filibuster asap, there won't be enough time left to pass some bills that could turn the public opinion around. Like Kucinich just said, either Dems act bold now, or they'll lose the nation.

[ Parent ]
which of these is more likely: (4.00 / 3)
1) They are preparing the public for this in advance of Jan. 2011 and want Axelrod to help spread the word it's coming and/or get bloggers/press to put it out there.

2) They are bluffing in the hope of getting some Repubs to play ball in 2010 (i.e. Olympia Snowe).

I think it's 2. I think, a la the nuclear option threats from 2005, they are looking for a gang of 1 to help pass health care and other legislation. In other words, start being constructive or get nuked.

I thought of that too (0.00 / 0)
But at least it is a strategy for getting a couple republicans on board that has a shmick of hope for success.

Even threatening to have the majority take away the filibuster is an improvement in spine for the Democrats.  

[ Parent ]
Why can't it be both? (4.00 / 1)
I think Frist and the R's in 2005 made the right play, for the wrong reasons.  Frist set a date for a cloture vote on some of Bush's judicial nominees and clearly indicated that if cloture did not pass the very next piece of business was going to be the Nuclear Option to blow up the filibuster.

The Gang of 14 got together to prevent this and pass a few judges and preserve the filibuster.

Too bad.

Why can't the Dems threaten to do away with the filibuster if HCR and Jobs bills are obstructed?  If some R's (Snowe, Collins, whomever) come over on cloture (then vote against the bills even) we still get something passed and the filibuster is preserved.  If nothing changes then blow it up and pass the legislation (or even better ones) with a simple majority.

Win/win, no matter which way it goes.

[ Parent ]
Two words. (4.00 / 2)
Harry.  Reid.

Basically a failure of imagination on the Dem side.

I predict that, once Republicans retake the Senate, the filibuster will be nuked in fairly short order.

[ Parent ]
I would be proud of them either way (0.00 / 0)
More proud if it is (1), but would still get a kick out of (2).

[ Parent ]
"A worthy discussion" (4.00 / 8)
Sounds like a 'sternly worded letter' to me...

Self-refuting Christine O'Donnell is proof monkeys are still evolving into humans

Magic Pony? (4.00 / 2)
Rather than rely on the White House, I'd like to see progressives get a campaign together, including 1-2 approaches like the Harkin/Lieberman graduated filibuster, and get high-level Democratic Senators willing to push for this when the next Congress is in place. Especially if Reid goes down this fall. Otherwise, this sounds like waiting for a magic pony to show up.

I thought that's what Chris is proposing. (4.00 / 2)

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

[ Parent ]
I'm Not Sure (0.00 / 0)
Chris tends to be wonky so I'd believe there will be a specific proposal with sponsors all ready to go at the end of this year. But getting the White House involved in any way sounds like it will delay, water down, and maybe nuke what progressives can get on their own.

[ Parent ]
Obama victim of Senate rules? (4.00 / 3)
Obama is going to claim he cannot keep his promises because of a Senate rule.

He should have put that disclaimer out when he was campaigning (when he did not expect 60/59 votes in the Senate).

Obama claiming that he is victimized by 41 Republican votes in the Senate is disgusting.

new to America? (0.00 / 0)
McCain campaigned on his plans even though his party didn't have any prospect of controlling either House.  So did every candidate from Goldwater to Nader.

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

[ Parent ]
McCain also said that he could cut taxes and balance the budget (0.00 / 0)
merely by eliminating 'waste'

[ Parent ]
Interesting encounter Chris (4.00 / 2)
And thanks for being there to express the netroots POV so well. I'm really puzzled by Axelrod's role in the WH. One would expect that he would serve a Rove-like influence because he played the same role that Rove did in getting a presidential candidate elected. But such is not the case I feel, as Obama seems to defer to a consortia of ex-Clintonians. Maybe that's changing? After all why did Axelrod even bother to schedule this roundtable?  

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The roots need to demand Reid steps down.. (0.00 / 0)
I counted three different occasions when in the SOTU Obama praised the House's action. Obam and the party as a whole are seen as failures because Reid is too weak - too Moderate of a leader to push through his/our policies. Republicans have nothing to do with his capitulations.  

We have one chance, and one chance only of firing up the base this fall.
We need to shake up the Senate enough to let the public know we mean business.  The Senate Majority Leader must step down.

The party and the public want blood.  They want accountability for the messes Harry Reid is responsible for and all the work left undone -100 House bills sit idle in the Senate, the August firestorm, his delaying tactics and his negligent handing off the responsibility for HCR
to Baucus, Lieberaman and Nelson and above all else his horrendously poor judgment in treating Lieberman since day one like a God.

With a leader like Fiengold, Boxer or Udall of New Mexico the sole Senator to come forward on how to change the Senate.

Since Obama refuses to give them Summers or Geithner, we should at the very least hold Reid accountable for a long list of unnecessary failures and debacles.  

Nationalism is not the same thing as terrorism, and an adversary is not the same thing as an enemy.

[ Parent ]
geek activist question (4.00 / 1)
I'm tweeting and message pushing whenever I get the chance on this topic--I firmly believe our only hope for progressive policy is re-forming the Senate (double-meaning intended).

Any ideas on a hash tag to start using for 51 vote cloture  / filibusterer Senate reform related tweets?



They call me Clem, Clem Guttata. Come visit wild, wonderful West Virginia Blue

Okay... (4.00 / 1)

[ Parent ]
even better (0.00 / 0)
I like both of those.

They call me Clem, Clem Guttata. Come visit wild, wonderful West Virginia Blue

[ Parent ]
60 votes was just an excuse for Dems not to do anything (0.00 / 0)
and that's all there ever has been to it.  

If Dems in the Senate had ever intended to do anything, the spectacle of Republicans conducting an old-fashioned 1950s Dixiecrat-style filibuster against the Employee Free Choice Act or some other choice piece of legislation Democrats claim they want but won't really go to the wall for, reading from the phone book and pissing down tubes strapped to their legs would have been the best PR Dems could have asked for.  Remember when the House Dems under Newt threatened to bring government operations to a halt?  It was a decisive turning point in public opinion against Newt and his crew.

But the current generation of Dems really doesn't want to do what Democratic voters send them to DC to do.  The 60 vote thing is the cover they hide behind.  If they wanted to pass anything, they could muster fifty-some votes and score big time inpublic opinion if and when Repubs actually dared to try a filibuster.

But they won't, because in the end, their careers are financed by the same deep pockets that finance the Repubs.

"If you want that good feeling that comes from doing things for other people, then you have to pay for it in abuse and misunderstanding..."
Zora Neale Hurston


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