Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Filibuster Frustration

By Paul Scott

Yesterday on NPR I heard a report that Nebraska Democrat Senator Ben Nelson will join with Republicans to oppose the nomination of Craig Becker to serve on the National Labor Relations Board. Purportedly this means that it is likely that "Democrats cannot find the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster of the nominee."

I honestly don't know a thing about Craig Becker and why he should or should not be appointed to the NRLB. But hearing this filibuster talk yet again focused for me how pathetically weak are the Democrats.

My question for the Democrats is a simple one. Why are you conceding defeat on this - and more importantly on Health Care - without actually forcing a filibuster? It is not as if the Republicans can just say "the Democrats don't have sixty votes, so they lose." Actually carrying out a filibuster is a painful process that, among other things, essentially involves living in the Senate Building. So make them do it.

22 comments:

leaf said...

This is a common misconception. My understanding is that a rule change in the 1970s made it possible to have a filibuster without an actual floor vote. This rule change was accompanied by a reduction in the number of votes needed for cloture from 67 to 60, and was an effort to make filibusters less likely. Apparently, it had the opposite effect.

heathu said...

See "The Myth Of The Filibuster: Dems Can't Make Republicans Talk All Night" February 23, 2009, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/02/23/the-myth-of-the-filibuste_n_169117.html

michael a. livingston said...

I know Craig Becker from law school. I haven't seen him for years, but I would bet a lot of money that he's (i) very well qualified, and (ii) very liberal. I don't know what this tells you about a filibuster, but it's certainly not based on his being incompetent.

Michael C. Dorf said...

leaf and heathu are right that a filibuster itself is not the painful thing it once was, but paul is also sort of right that the Dems could impose some pain on the Repubs by forcing them actually to vote against cloture. The pain that the less-than-60-reliable-vote majority can impose on the minority is not the pain of having to stay up all night reading the phone book into the Congressional Record but the political pain of being portrayed as obstructionist. When Senate minority Dems were slowing consideration of some Bush judicial appointees, Senate Repubs, the Administration, and their allies in the chattering class constantly hammered this theme.

Sam Rickless said...

I completely agree with Michael here. The Dems are afraid of their own shadows. They are happy to dare the Republicans to vote against cloture on jobs bills and the stimulus, but when it comes to issues that they worry might cost them a few seats at the next election, they cave. When they were in the minority, they used to say that it wasn't worth being obstructionist. Let's just wait until we have a majority and the Presidency. Well, it's time to wake up. The Dems control both houses of congress and the presidency. It is a JOKE that they are still unable to govern, or dare the Republicans to put obstacles in their path. If the tables were turned (as they were under Dubya early on), you can bet that the Republicans would be screaming and hollering all the way to the polls about how the Democrats wouldn't let them pass the legislation that they were elected to pass. Paul Krugman is right on this. If Shelby can put a blanket hold on 70 of Obama's nominees and the result is that Gibbs calls the hold "silly", then we have a problem on our hands. The Dems should be out there on the airwaves screaming bloody murder, daring the Republicans to vote against health insurance reform, and so on. That's what the voters elected them to do. It's no surprise that they're tanking in the polls. It's not because the country is turning to the Tea Partiers; it's because the Dems are showing themselves to be incompetent wimps.

Bob Hockett said...

Hear hear to this post and the comments. I'd add one additional consideration: It would seem to me that at a time when Republicans and Teapot crackpots continually hammer away at the fatuous motif of Obama's putative authoritarianism, they'd be particularly vulnerable to a relentlessly repeated charge that they are the most relentless enemies of democratic governance that we've seen in this country in the last 100 years or so.

It is one thing to recognize that democracies must be constrained to prevent certain forms of tyranny that majorities might foist upon minorities. (That's part of what motivates 'constitutional' democracy, of course.) But it is quite another thing to say that one and only one minority -- the Republican congressional caucus -- ought be permitted to obstruct virtually every significant measure favored by a near supermajority -- the non-Republican members of Congress.

At some point that latter position morphs into a near functional equivalent of minority rule -- i.e., of authoritarian rule. I think the Dems must begin hammering at this theme. A simple slogan, something like "here in America, the majority rules,' seems to me apt to get serious traction -- particularly in light of how simplistic much of the public's preferences seem to be these days where political discourse is concerned.

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