Since Democrats took control of the Senate in 2007, Republicans have smashed all previous records for the number of cloture votes required to pass legislation. Last month, a few Senators, led by Jim Bunning, used procedural moves to block an extension of unemployment benefits for a couple of weeks. Now, in response to Democrats using reconciliation to pass legislation with 51 votes, which is apparently THE MOST TOTALITARIAN MOVE EVAH, Republicans are using procedural moves to limit committee hearings two only two hours a day:
Jim Manley, a spokesperson for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), objected to the objection. "For a second straight day, Republicans are using tricks to shut down several key Senate committees. So let me get this straight: in retaliation for our efforts to have an up-or-down vote to improve health care reform, Republicans are blocking an Armed Services committee hearing to discuss critical national security issues among other committee meetings? These political games and obstruction have to stop -- the American people expect and deserve better."
Without unanimous consent, committees are allowed to meet for two hours following the opening of the Senate session -- which on Wednesday was 9:00 a.m. The committees need consent to continue and consent again to continue after 2:00 p.m. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, had his hearing shut down abruptly at 11:00 Wednesday morning, in the middle of a discussion on the effort to end veteran homelessness in the next five years.
Republicans are now using whatever procedural means at their disposal to block not only virtually every Democratic piece of legislation, not only virtually every Obama administration nomination, but now even Democratic committee hearings. While the GOP uses these procedures with political impunity, because few voters either care about or understand Senate procedure, there is only one way that this is all going to end. In just a few years, the filibuster will be abolished, and by the end of the decade there will be a wave of rule changes that will make the Senate pretty much just like the House.
The three Democrats who could be Senate Majority Leader in 2011--Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin are already promising changes to Senate rules in 2011--are all already promising procedural reform next year as long as Democrats are still in charge of the Senate. Further, given their track record on the filibuster (came close to abolishing it in 2005) and their use of any and all available procedural roadblocks now, if Republicans ever take back both the Senate and the White House, you can bank on the GOP changing any rules necessary to prevent Democrats from blocking any Republican legislation or nominations at all. After all, not only have they already shown a willingness to use whatever procedure they can to achieve their ends, but Republicans have already told their base that Democrats have engaged in totalitarian procedural tactics. As such, their base will demand a disproportionate response once Republicans are back in charge.
The days of the Senate as a slower-moving, "deliberative" body are coming to an end. They will be gone entirely in 11 years or less. While I never bet on politics, or really anything, I kind of wish there was an intrade market where I could bet on the end of the filibuster by 2021. It's going to happen.