Biggest mistake of the Obama admin? Not getting rid of the filibuster

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Jul 29, 2010 at 16:00


In a quick discussion of a New York Times article about a pending shift in Federal Reserve culture toward expansionary monetary policies, Matthew Yglesias states:

The President's failure to make these nominations and secure their confirmation in a timely manner will, in retrospect, prove to have been his biggest mistake.

This is certainly possible.  The President's failure to change the culture at the Fed by filling these vacancies earlier may well prove to be his biggest mistake.  The dire condition of the economy is by far the top political problem facing the Obama administration.  

Taking more effective action to reduce, in the short-term, the economic grief facing most Americans would have resulted in a very different political environment than the one Democrats now face.  This means a larger stimulus, a foreclosure reduction program that actually reduces foreclosures, tackling Wall Street reform in the Spring of 2009, or appointing a different set of economic advisors (ie, not Summers and Geithner), are all contenders for the biggest mistake, alongside the failure to change the culture of the Fed.

But really, going back further, not allowing Republicans to destroy the filibuster back in 2005 is the biggest mistake made by not only President Obama, but by the Democratic trifecta as a whole (and, I admit, my biggest mistake too).  This would have resulted in a wide swatch of changes, including a larger stimulus, the Employee Free Choice Act, a better health bill (in all likelihood, one with a public option, and completed in December), an actual climate / energy bill, a second stimulus, and more.  If Democrats had tacked on other changes to Senate rules that sped up the process, such as doing away with unanimous consent, ending debating time after cloture is achieved on nominations, eliminating the two days between filing for cloture and voting on cloture, and restricting quorum calls, then virtually every judicial and administration vacancy would already be filled, as well.

Playing the "what if" game can be painful, because there is no way to go back in time and change what happened.  However, it is also useful in that it gives us a roadmap on how to do better in the future.  In this case, that means focusing our efforts on changing Senate rules for the next Congress.  Right now, it is hard to imagine any more important effort in order to achieve more effective governance.

Chris Bowers :: Biggest mistake of the Obama admin? Not getting rid of the filibuster

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Thank you. (4.00 / 2)
But really, going back further, not allowing Republicans to destroy the filibuster back in 2005 is the biggest mistake of not only President Obama, but also of the Democratic trifecta as a whole.

I felt this very strongly at the time, and feel quite vindicated by subsequent events. The arguments against are bogus. The Republican majority of that time, thanks to its Blue Dog fifth column, never needed to dispose of the filibuster to get its way, but would have had no compunctions about doing so had that not been the case, nor will they have any such compunctions in the future (though again they can probably just rely on turncoat Dem votes.)

The record is clear: the filibuster exists to prevent progressive change. Progressives who defend it out of craven defensiveness are misguided.


Did the Republicans honor the Gang of 14 deal? (0.00 / 0)
My memory is that there was some sort of agreement to keep the filibuster but restrict its use, and that Democrats basically honored the agreement when they were in the minority, while the Republicans ignored it as soon as they went into the minority. Certainly their practice of filibustering everything whatsoever is new and not part of that deal.  

Nothing could be more important (0.00 / 0)
than filibuster reform at this point.  If the Senate is now almost completely paralyzed when the majority has nominal 59 votes, how can anyone expect any legislation whatsoever to pass in the next two years when there will be a nominal 55 D votes, with 60 needed to do anything?

Anyone who is hoping to get any progressive legislation passed in the next two years has no need of Proposition 19 passing in California.


The Senate Dems need that rule for cover. (4.00 / 4)
That's the bottom line here. As long as they can blame those mean Rethuglicans for their legislative failures, they have an excuse with their respective electorates for basically supporting the GOP position without being seen doing so. This is why I basically don't trust this crowd to reform anything at all.

Here's a story in The Hill about this:

Five Senate Democrats have said they will not support a lowering of the 60-vote bar necessary to pass legislation.

Another four lawmakers say they are wary about such a change and would be hesitant to support it.

A 10th Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), said he would support changing the rule on filibusters of motions to begin debate on legislation, but not necessarily the 60-vote threshold needed to bring up a final vote on bills.

(snippety snip)

Senior Democrats say Reid will not have the votes to change the rule at the beginning of next year.

"It won't happen," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who said she would "probably not" support an effort to lower the number of votes needed to cut off filibusters from 60 to 55 or lower.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) echoed Feinstein: "I think we should retain the same policies that we have instead of lowering it.

"I think it has been working," he said.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said he recognizes his colleagues are frustrated over the failure to pass measures such as the Disclose Act, campaign legislation that fell three votes short of overcoming a Republican filibuster Tuesday.

"I think as torturous as this place can be, the cloture rule and the filibuster is important to protect the rights of the minority," he said. "My inclination is no."

http://thehill.com/homenews/se...

So given this situation, why is Reid going around saying he's going to reform the filibuster now, when he can't even get 51 votes, much less than the 60 required right now?

It seems to me, that if he's serious, he would simply wait until the beginning of the next congress, when only 51 votes are required and do it then. Instead, he says he's going to do this when he's got nowhere near enough votes. That only works if the intent is to simply throw up one's hands and say, "Well, I tried. I tried really, really hard and those darn Republicans wouldn't let me get to 60."

So this only makes sense as an election year ploy to keep Dem activists on board for his re-election and little else. After all, Harry's been punching hippies without pause for the last 18 months. Why on earth does he suddenly have credibility now?

Believe me when I say I'd love the 60-vote "rule" to be abolished. It's undemocratic to say the least. But who was it that put the rule in place? It was the Democrats, when they got the Senate majority.  It gives them cover for screwing over their own electoral bases. Since they intend to do nothing other than engage in that screwing, they actually need this rule to protect themselves.

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates


but we still gotta maintain that Democratic majority, right fellows? (0.00 / 0)
I mean, there's so much they can* do

*can, but will not


[ Parent ]
um, yeah (0.00 / 0)
as the majority, they control the agenda. I'd rather be losing fights on the public option, etc. than fighting off flag burning, new wars and Arizona-esque immigration laws.  

[ Parent ]
Well, we're going to get the wars anyway. (4.00 / 1)
Also, Obama has already beaten Bush's deportation record by 10% and  it's only July. Oh, as I recall, the flag-burning thingie was Hillary Clinton's little hobby horse.

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates

[ Parent ]
If you go back (0.00 / 0)
to that debate, you will see some bloggers are the time defending the filibuster.  

Obama's biggest mistake was failing to clean house at treusury and the fed.  That tied him to the previous administration.  The second biggest was the size of the stimulus package.  Taken together they represent mistakes from which he may never recover, and which may doom Democrats for a while.


What would the size of the stimulus have been (0.00 / 0)
if it only needed 50 votes for passage?

[ Parent ]
Probably as big as the House wanted (0.00 / 0)
but that's really moot...the filibuster wasn't why the stimulus needed 60 votes, it needed it because it spent on a deficit.  

[ Parent ]
where does the insurance mandate rank on this theoretical list? (4.00 / 1)
because, seriously, goddamn

Not exactly (4.00 / 2)
This would have resulted in a wide swatch of changes, including a larger stimulus, the Employee Free Choice Act, a better health bill (in all likelihood, one with a public option, and completed in December), an actual climate / energy bill, a second stimulus, and more.  If Democrats had tacked on other changes to Senate rules that sped up the process, such as doing away with unanimous consent, ending debating time after cloture is achieved on nominations, eliminating the two days between filing for cloture and voting on cloture, and restricting quorum calls, then virtually every judicial and administration vacancy would already be filled, as well.

When Democrats didn't have the White House, they all lined up behind EFCA.  When they won it along with large majorities, they started slowly peeling off.  It was very clear that a number of Senators were lying about their support.  A number claimed that provisions that were in the bill all along were suddenly objectionable, pretending they were new.  A similar dynamic held with the more progressive elements of HCR.  Democrats in Congress have largely made no noise over conservative appointments by the White House. And on and on.

I agree with the claim up thread that ending the filibuster would remove a tool that Senate Democrats use to provide cover.  It would also remove one (albeit important) procedural tool for Republicans to stop legislation or appointments.  But it would leave many more procedural tools that could serve similar functions, would not eliminate the vast power held by conservative Democrats in the caucus, provide Democrats will or change the united front of the Republican Party.

I'm all for it, but it is no magic bullet.

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.


Wrong... (4.00 / 1)
Even when Obama had 60 votes he chose "bipartisanship" because he knew he wouldn't get it and his corporate funders would be tickled pink.

Nothing is going to change until we have public funding of campaigns. What is it about political bribes do we not understand?

If politicians are going to be beholden to their funders, those funders should be the taxpayers. And at $5 per taxpayer per year it would be a bargain. Even at 100 times that. We MUST lobby our senators and representative to co-sponsor the bill at:
http://www.fairelectionsnow.or...

Jack Lohman ...
http://MoneyedPoliticians.net
jelohman@gmail.com

Jack Lohman

http://MoneyedPoliticians.net

http://SinglePayer.info


Not a mistake for Obama (or Senate Dems) (0.00 / 0)
Everyone knows that, war or depression aside, the first year of a prez's term is his best chance to get radical legislation passed: momentum is with him, he's got the honeymoon, he's personally on a high.

So the opening of the 111th would have been the time to 'do the 51 vote thing' (one version or another) to get rid of the filibuster.

There were two impediments: first, as shown by his performance in office, he does not want to get radical legislation passed; second, even if he had done, there wasn't a hope in hell that 51 Dems would have voted to kill the filibuster (there never has been).

The reasons for Senate Dems reluctance include cultural conservatism, the need for an 'alibi' for mediocre legislative output, fear of what might happen when the GOP regain control of the Senate.

On 2005, the GOP proposal was to abolish the filibuster for judicial appointments only - this always seemed nonsensical to me, but that what was on the table.

In other words, to get full abolition in 2005, the Dems would have needed to take the initiative and persuade some GOP. Or, if abolition on judicial appointments had passed in 20o5, the Dems would still have had to push through complete abolition in 2009.

Any plan that relies on 51 Dem senators to take the initiative on anything controversial is doomed to failure - so we're stuck with the filibuster until a GOP majority decide to take it on.


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