What Killed Filibuster Reform?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator McConnell reached an agreement yesterday that will be called "filibuster reform" by some reports. But as The Washington Post's Ezra Klein summarizes it, "The deal is this: The filibuster will not be reformed." There were some minor changes in the deal that will streamline the confirmation process for nominees to federal district courts (although not appeals courts), but overall the deal is a fizzle for supporters of filibuster reform.

The failure to reform the filibuster is a very bad thing. The question is why so many Democratic senators—including some blue-state representatives like Vermont's Patrick Leahy and California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer—showed so little inclination to act in the interests of progressive values.

One issue is that some senators may not accurately perceive the damage that the filibuster does to Democratic interests. One Senate staffer wrote Talking Points Memo to defend the non-reform:

I have not see anyone show how these rules will help advance the progressive cause and lack of reflection about how rules reforms under the constitutional option could be used to hurt us someday when President Rubio teams up with Speaker Cantor and Leader McConnell. Is the progressive community oblivious about what happens when the minority has no tools to prevent majority excess?

First of all, history strongly indicates that the filibuster is much more likely to be used to stop good legislation than to stop "majority excesses." But more important, the obvious answer to the question about what would happen if Republicans were able to control all three branches without the filibuster is "what happens in pretty much every other liberal democracy: elected majorities are able to govern." Losing elections is bad, but the solution is not to prevent the winners from governing effectively.

The larger problem, however, is that even for senators who understand the history of the filibuster and its inherently reactionary effects, the filibuster represents a disjuncture between the interests of progressives as a whole and the individual interests of Democratic senators. Collectively, the filibuster makes it harder to advance policy goals. But on an individual level, the filibuster and the Senate's other arcane minority-empowering procedures give senators far more power than ordinary members of a typical Democratic legislature (including the House of Representatives). This helps to explain why even relatively liberal senior members tend to be more reluctant to abandon the filibuster than newer Democratic senators; once you get used to power, it's hard to give it up.

The fact that giving up the filibuster requires that most senators give up power means that real filibuster reform will probably require a galvanizing issue (like the filibusters of civil-rights bills that caused the supermajority requirements to be reduced). With Republican control of the House of Representatives making legislation that is both good and important a non-starter for this term, reforming the filibuster would mean senators giving up concrete powers for gains that are abstract and longer-term. Filibuster reform probably won't happen until a major political battle—such as the serial filibustering of Supreme Court nominees—makes the policy costs not worth the institutional advantages to the majority party.

Comments

The question is not "what" killed reform, but "who." What senators in the D majority refused to support real reform? We need names.

This is argument by assertion, not evidence. The current GOP is extremist. It's perfectly rational to fear what the party would do w/ Senate/House/Prez control -- in which case I guarantee you the filibuster will not be used to stop "good legislation. " Our problem is an extremist GOP that will twist whatever norms and rules we have more than the rules themselves.

Those who want to protect the filibuster are more worried about things getting worse than they are committed to making things better. In other words, they are relatively comfortable with things as they are (as opposed to those below the median income, who are decidedly UNcomfortable).

You should be ashamed of yourselves.

you need the filibuster it is the soul of the senate. it can be beaten by having 3/5th of the senate. BUT. the problem is where do find 60 yahoos that can agree on anything

"The question is why so many Democratic senators—including some blue-state representatives like Vermont's Patrick Leahy and California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer—showed so little inclination to act in the interests of progressive values."

The answer is they don't want to be disadvantaged should they lose power to the other party.

it comes down to this: the Senate Dems are worried about losing seats in 2014 and agreed easily to the "compromise";
the problem is the motion to proceed rule is now just a promise
in exchange for the myriad of amendments from Coburn and his
crushing of every vote in the past so far.

Will the Repubs keep the promise or will it be more of the same?

Here are the names of the Democrats who didn't want to see filibuster reform:
Max Baucus.... MT.....40 years serving
Patrick Leahy VT 39
Dianne Feinstein CA 21
Barbara Boxer CA 30
Joe Manchin WV 2
Mark Pryor Ark 10

Replace them the first chance you get!

If Leahy, Feinstein, and Boxer were truly "progressive" they would have been tireless and vocal advocates for impeachment when the Dems took over the House in 2007, pushing Pelosi to investigate the criminal Bush administration. I know they are senators and the House has the power to investigate, but their power and position in the Democratic Party would have carried a lot of weight.
They clearly are part of the owner class and have no interest in making this country better or returning it to any semblance of fairness anytime in the future.

I believe that Harry Reid does not deserve the blame as I have seen posted in many quarters. The "honest" filibuster was not revived because the votes were not there to do it, so give Reid credit for doing the little that he did. This article is one of the few that did not put blame squarley on Harry Reid's shoulder.

Here is the problem with the more senior Democratic Senators not supporting the filibuster revival.They are playing defense when they should be on offense. They are afraid they will lose the Senate in 2014, so instead of going for the long ball where they force the Republicans to either let them pass some bills or be show as the idiotic blunderers that they have been the last 4 years. This only strengthens the Republican mid term chances, just as it did in 2010. That the Democrats have been complaining that the Republicans have not honored the election results and then turn around so they can do the same should the people vote for Republicans shows a lack of confidence in both the American people and in their beliefs. Sad.

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