Tuesday, March 16, 2021

WSJ's Kim Strassel Is Wrong: Reforming The Filibuster Isn't The Same As Killing It Outright- Reeps Just Have To Work Harder

 Senator Kyrsten Sinema recently said (NY Times, Mar. 11):  The filibuster "is meant to protect what the Senate was designed to be,.  Debate on bills should be a bipartisan process that takes into account the views of all Americans, not just those of one political party.”

In fact,  the filibuster not only fails to ensure extended debate on a bill,  it also curtails the opportunity for any debate at all. A single senator can signal he or she intends to filibuster by typing an email and hitting send. No need to stand on the Senate floor to make your impassioned case.   But this is way too easy and why the filibuster rule - if not outright revoked- at least needs to be changed so the obstructionists have to work.

Two weeks ago, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1. The bill, a similar version of which the House passed in 2019, is a comprehensive and desperately needed set of reforms that would strengthen voting rights and election security, ban partisan gerrymandering, reduce big money in politics and establish ethics codes for Supreme Court justices, the president and other executive branch officials.

The legislation has the support of at least 50 senators, plus the tiebreaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. President Biden is on board and ready to sign it. So what’s the problem? Majority support in the Senate isn’t enough. In the upper chamber, a supermajority of 60 votes is required to pass even the most middling piece of legislation. That requirement is not found in the Constitution; it’s because of the filibuster, a centuries-old parliamentary tool that has been transformed into a weapon for strangling functional government. 

 It actually had its origins with the "grandfather of the Confederacy", John C.  Calhoun,  see  e.g.

The Filibuster Was Grounded in Slavery and Now Threatens All Life

As the author of the piece notes:

It’s not even in the Constitution; the Founders were horrified by the thought of such a thing, because it allows a 2/5ths minority of senators to block any action by the senate majority.

According to Politico, Sen.  Joe Manchin seemed to suggest requiring “the minority to come up with 41 votes to sustain” a filibuster, acknowledging that the obstructionists "had it too easy" the way things stand.. That’s interesting given Manchin's earlier total refusal to budge position vis--vis the filibuster.

 The way the filibuster works now, you need 60 senators to break it, but only one senator to sustain it.  The full onus then is on the bill proponents. That makes filibusters far more painful for the majority, which has to amass all its forces, than the minority. 

The congressional scholar Norm Ornstein has offered perhaps the best alternate plan of flipping the burden, so that a filibuster requires 40 senators to sustain it. Ornstein described the possible result in The Atlantic in September, and again on Lawrence O'Donnell's  'Last Word' two weeks ago. imagining a situation very much like the one we’re in now with H.R. 1 and 4 on the line:

If, for example, Democrats introduced a sweeping package of democracy reforms and Republicans filibustered them, the majority could keep the Senate in session around the clock for days or weeks and require nearly all the Republicans to be present constantly, sleeping near the Senate floor and ready on a moment’s notice to jump up and get to the floor to vote — including those who are quite advanced in years, such as Jim Inhofe, Richard Shelby, Charles Grassley, and Mitch McConnell. It would require a huge, sustained commitment on the part of Republicans, not the minor gesture now required. The drama, and the attention, would also give Democrats a chance to explain their reforms and perhaps get more public support — and eventually, they would get a law.

Of course this proposal has raised the hackles and hair of the WSJ's top harpy and rhetorical bomb thrower, Kimberly Strassel.   This is not surprising given Strassel has been foursquare for blockage of any positive bills since the Cares Act last year when she condemned "Moscow Mitch" and the Repukes for not being sufficiently obstructionist.  She called it basically a "surrender to the socialists".   In a FOX News "Editor's Notebook" on Saturday (with Paul Gigot and Dan Henninger) she again let loose her venom against the American Rescue Plan, shouting: "It used to be we got people to WORK for their money, but the Democrats just want to give it away now!"

Her latest WSJ op-ed tirade ('Parsing Joe Manchin',  March 12, p A13)  was against doing anything to halt or reform the filibuster, while fretting that Manchin might cave on his earlier resolve to "never  waver under any circumstances.". 


 "This past Sunday Mr. Manchin modulated the word 'never'  and said on NBC's 'Meet The Press' he was open to changing the process, maybe to bringing back the 'talking filibuster' which requires senators to stand on the floor to keep a bill from moving."

Her knuckles likely went white when she then repeated Manchin's next words: "Now, if you want to make it a little more painful, make him stand there and talk.  I'm willing to look at it any way we can."   

Voila! Kim's nerve was struck, as she blabbered:

"Mission accomplished.  Liberal Democrats several weeks ago abandoned efforts to get Mr. Manchin to abandon his 'no busting' position.... The new strategy was to give him a way to bust by anther name, to turning the discussion to filibuster reform."

 Kim in waxing forth with her fretful ruminations on Manchin was correct on one aspect of the talking filibuster: If allowed the Dems would still need to have all 50 Senators - as well as VP Harris - around to prevent the minority from ending debate.  This would tie up Senate business, including confirming any more of Biden's nominees.  (Five are left to confirm as of this writing,)

Hence, Norm Ornstein's ingenious proposal as articulated above, and Kim's hysterical reaction (ibid.):  "This proposal would be a death knell to minority rights, which is what Mr. Manchin claims to oppose.  Will he go there?"

Why not, given the filibuster is still there, merely in another format that makes more rational sense?  (Especially given it's not in the Constitution anyway, having been created by a Confederate traitor.)  So Kim ought to be ecstatic that Manchin is open to keeping it in any form!  All it means for her side is they have to work harder, be more committed to their infernal obstruction.  Also this has nothing to do with "bipartisanship" which I said in other posts is not a self-destruction pact for the majority party.   

Kim in her piece is clearly on tenterhooks as Schumer likely brings the critical voting rights bills  (H.R. 1, 4) to the floor - which Strassel describes as "radical".   But what would really be radical is a Democratic failure to go all out to revise the filibuster to get these bills passed. That's because of the ongoing, massive Repuke legislation to gut our electoral system and make voting nearly impossible for minorities. Even to the point they plan to make it a felony - a felony!  (in Georgia)- for an outsider to bring water or food to a voter standing in line for hours.  

Insane!  What is equally insane is Strassel's claim that just making the Reepos work harder to obstruct is killing "minority" rights.  

See Also:

by Heather Cox Richardson | March 10, 2021 - 7:44am | permalink


Here’s the key to overcoming resistance to filibuster reform


by Robert Reich | March 10, 2021 - 7:38am | permalink


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