Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (R) attend the unveiling ceremony of a statue of former U.S. President Gerald Ford in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in Washington May 3, 2011. REUTERS/Joshua Robe
Say what, now?

Politico reports on one of the latest across-the-aisle exchanges of fire over the looming filibuster reform fight, under the headline "GOP warns of shutdown over filibuster."

Well, what else is new, right? Not only is partisan disagreement over, well, just about anything now a matter of course, but it can hardly be said that a Senate shutdown constitutes any departure from the norm.

But if you read this story backwards, you'll get to the bottom of my own headline much faster.

Here's a digest of what you'd see, reading the story the traditional way. That is, from the beginning:

A partisan war is brewing that could bring the government to a screeching halt as early as January — and no, it’s not over the fiscal cliff.

It’s all about the filibuster.


Here’s what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is considering: banning filibusters used to prevent debate from even starting and House-Senate conference committees from ever meeting. He also may make filibusters become actual filibusters — to force senators to carry out the nonstop, talkathon sessions.

And Republicans? Well:
Republicans are threatening even greater retaliation if Reid uses a move rarely used by Senate majorities: changing the chamber’s precedent by 51 votes, rather than the usual 67 votes it takes to overhaul the rules.
Says who?
“I think the backlash will be severe,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the conservative firebrand, said sternly. “If you take away minority rights, which is what you’re doing because you’re an ineffective leader, you’ll destroy the place. And if you destroy the place, we’ll do what we have to do to fight back.”

“It will shut down the Senate,” the incoming Senate GOP whip, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, told POLITICO. “It’s such an abuse of power.”

So there you have it. Democrats are threatening to change the rules, and Republicans are threatening to strike back, because Democrats are taking away minority rights.

How so?

What Reid appears most likely to do is push for an end to the filibuster on so-called motions to proceed, or the beginning of a debate on bills or nominations. If Reid goes this route, senators could still filibuster virtually any other aspect of Senate business, including any movement to end debate and call for a final vote on a bill.

And Reid is strongly considering pushing for other filibuster changes, too — most notably requiring senators to actually go to the floor and carry out an endless talking session, rather than simply threaten them as they do now.

So, the rights the minority is outraged about losing are: 1) the right to block debate from beginning on bills or nominations, though they can still filibuster those bills once debate begins, and; 2) the right to block all Senate action without actually having to go to the Senate floor and say anything at all.

Life's tough!

Still, isn't it a genuine loss for Republican senators not to be able to block bills and nominations simply by waving a hand at them? Wouldn't it be wildly unpopular with them to force them to actually take the floor and talk about what they're doing?

Well, here's where reading backwards comes in. Here are the two final paragraphs in the story:

But Democrats don’t think the changes will prevent the minority from exerting its rights. And if Democrats push through their “talking filibuster” plan, both Barrasso and Coburn say they’d be willing to go to the floor and make their objections heard.

“I’ll filibuster any way I can,” Coburn said. “If you want to filibuster, you ought to be willing to get out and earn it. I don’t have any problems with that.”

Wacky, isn't it? Democrats propose changing the rules so that Republicans will still have the right to filibuster any bill or nomination, only they'll have to actually go to the floor to do it. And Republicans say they're willing to do exactly that.

Obviously, that's terrible, and the Senate is going to be destroyed. Too bad. We were once so close to finding bipartisan compromise. And then, tragically, we found it.

Clearly, this must be stopped. Let it never be said that Republican obstructionism was reflexive and pointless.

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