Filibuster reform whip count: not just for liberals and progressives

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Feb 17, 2010 at 14:45


On the first day in is in session in 2011, the Senate will be able to change its rules with a simple majority vote (51).  As such, we have been tracking support in the Democratic caucus for reforming the filibuster.

To date, 11 members of the Democratic Senate caucus--all of whom are 99%+ certain to return in 2011--support a majority-controlled Senate requiring only 51 votes to pass legislation.  Further, 9 other members of the caucus support some other, often unspecified, type of reform to the filibuster rule.  That is already 20 in favor of some type of reform.

Evan Bayh and Chris Dodd, two Senators who won't be in the Senate for the crucial vote next year, have also come out with their positions.  Since they are leaving the Senate this is purely academic, but it still demonstrates an interesting lesson: filibuster reform is not supported only by progressives.  In this case, the famously centrist Evan Bayh favors filibuster reform, while the more progressive Dodd opposes any change.

Dodd:

"I totally oppose the idea of changing filibuster rules," Dodd said during an appearance on MSNBC. "That's foolish, in my view."

Bayh:

I think it's something we need to do, perhaps looking at changing the threshold once again, down to 55. Perhaps saying that, Administration appointees, other than the very highest ones, should not be subject to the filibuster. Because it's just brought the process to a halt, and the public is suffering. So the minority needs to have a right. I think that's important. But the public has a right to see its business done. And not routinely allow a small minority to keep us from addressing the great issues that face this country. I think the filibuster absolutely needs to be changed.

The campaign for filibuster reform is proving to be less dominated by progressive Senators than the original campaign for the public option:  

  • 21 current and future Senators have now come out in favor of some sort of reform. Seven of those 21, or 33%, are either members of Evan Bayh's "Moderate Working Group" (Conservadems) or of the Senate New Democratic caucus. That is roughly the same percentage of Conservadems and New Dems in the overall Senate Democratic caucus (22 of 59, or 37%).

  • By comparison, among the original 28 supporters of the public option in the Senate, only three were either Conservadems or New Dems.  That is only an 11% representation for those two groups, far below their overall percentage of the Senate caucus.
Filibuster reform has diverse ideological support within the Democratic Party.  Don't assume that just because a Senator is on the right-wing of the party that s/he will be opposed to this campaign.
Chris Bowers :: Filibuster reform whip count: not just for liberals and progressives

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Where's the breakdown, then? (0.00 / 0)
If support/opposition for filibuster reform doesn't break cleanly along progressive/conservative lines, then where does it break?  It'd be interesting to do a comparison of a senator's length of time spent as senator vs whether he/she supports reforming the filibuster rules.  Would older senators who long for the good ol days of comity in the Senate be reluctant to change the filibuster, while the new kids on the block who aren't wearing blinders see what a clusterfuck the filibuster has become?

John McCain <3 lobbyists

I have to say that your post raises instinctively raises red flags... (0.00 / 0)
...in my mind.  It's like that scene in It's a Wonderful Life where Jimmy Stewart recoils after shaking Potter's hand, and then renounces the idea of working for Potter.

John McCain won't insure children

I think this is wrong (0.00 / 0)
The constitution gives each House the power to determine their rules. Current Senate rules require 67 votes to change the cloture rule.

Is there some court precedent that precludes a House of Congress from changing its rules in the middle of a session? Because there certainly is nothing in the Constitution about it, which means, in my view, that the 67-vote rule lasts as long as the majority wants it to. So I think the Senate can abolish the filibuster as soon as 50 Senators agree to it, and they don't need to wait for the start of a new session.

Yeah, pretty much (4.00 / 2)
The nuclear option can be used at any time, for example.

However, changing the rules at the start of the session is the least painful route. It flies under the radar, is part of Senate tradition, and allows for precise rule changes that would take care of counter-measures a minority party would use in the event of something like the nuclear option.

But, yes, in short, the filibuster could be destroyed at any time if 51 Senators wanted to do so.


[ Parent ]
Yeah, pretty much (0.00 / 0)
The nuclear option can be used at any time, for example.

However, changing the rules at the start of the session is the least painful route. It flies under the radar, is part of Senate tradition, and allows for precise rule changes that would take care of counter-measures a minority party would use in the event of something like the nuclear option.

But, yes, in short, the filibuster could be destroyed at any time if 51 Senators wanted to do so.


[ Parent ]
I have to say this surprises me. (0.00 / 0)
Of the right-of-50 club, who I would expect to oppose filibuster reform because it diminishes their own power, both Bayh and Lieberman have now come out in support of it. Though I guess you can dismiss Lieberman as always having been something of an odd case, and Bayh because he's retiring, but still. I'll be interested to see what develops.

This one... (0.00 / 0)
... needs to be structured properly.

Dodd and Bayh aren't relevant unless the GOP is scared of reform happening with the new Congress in January.  Neither of them will be around to cast a vote.

There's a small option that the GOP may worry of the remaining Dems pushing through a straight majority reform.  But that's running up against two strong forces:

* the GOP doesn't want to agree with the Dems on anything

* the GOP sees obstruction as a path to victory

On the second, they're not getting pretty heady about it with Bayh's seat open, and with Biden Jr. not running.  They're likely drinking the Kool Aid that they can beat Boxer out here.  That means:

They think they will have the majority come January

It's not likely that they see any incentive in agreeing to a change now when they believe they have a shot of shooting the moon in winning the chamber.

So it's really only worth polling the Senators who:

* will be back in 2011 (i.e. not running)
* could be back (incumbents running for re-election)
* maybe will join (newbies running)

If the Dems were smart, they'd make this an issue in the election.  It's possible that a lot of folks would like to see 40% of the Senate be able to prevent anything from being done.  I'm sure that will play in pure Red States.  But in others, it might help a Dem over the hump.

John


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