Well, as most of us cynics expected, the Senate didn't fix the filibuster/cloture mess. Thus the Obama presidency will continue to be stifled by McConnell and his crew. More good bills will die or be watered down on account of the extra-constitutional requirement for 60 votes. More judicial seats and executive branch positions will remain vacant.
The American people will suffer. Even though Democrats "control" the upper chamber.
But not to worry, my fellow cynics! Over at TPM, an anonymous Senate staffer writes to say everything is rosy. The only problem is we progressives don't get it:
All Senate Democrats agree that rules reform is essential. Now we appear to be on the brink of that, and the “fix the Senate crowd” is dismayed. Unlike last time Reid isn’t proposing just a “gentleman’s agreement,” these are real changes to Rule 22. And these appear to have minority support. This is a big deal.Yay! A big deal! Real rule changes! Only problem is they don't accomplish anything significant. Per Tom Harkin:
"It's a baby step. Really, it's a baby baby step," Harkin told reporters Thursday before heading into a caucus meeting on the filibuster plan. ... "I said to President Obama back in August ... and I said to him the night before the election, I said to him, 'Look, if you get reelected, if we don't do something significant about filibuster reform, you might as well take a four-year vacation,'" Harkin said. "This is not significant."
But what does Tom Harkin know, anyway? Sheesh.
An examination of the arguments by our anonymous staffer as quoted on TPM against real reform is educational. So I'd like to walk through a few of them here.
First up: Dems may one day be in the minority, and the filibuster will protect us:
I have not see anyone show how these rules will help advance the progressive cause and just as troubling is the 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.Right. We'll need that filibuster one day ... My biggest problem with this argument is it's for losers. Because we're gonna lose one day, we should cut off the possibility of doing something good today.
I'd say if Democrats do good things today those future defeats will happen less often.
Our TPM mystery correspondent carries on with another popular trope among filibuster apologists, the "protection of minority rights":
Is the progressive community oblivious about what happens when the minority has no tools to prevent majority excess? What happened this week in Virginia much less Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin the past several years should make progressives more circumspect about the value of mechanisms, like the filibuster, that preserve minority rights.This statement contains so much BS it would take a long time to deal with it all. Let's focus on three points.
Yes, it's true that when Republicans take over the state government things will suck. But this happened on the national level 2001-2006 even though we had the vaunted filibuster to protect us. We still went to war for no reason, we cut taxes, we let Wall Street run wild. We passed special rules to de-regulate hydrofracking. Roberts & Alito still got to the Supreme Court. The real check to such excess is voting out Republicans, not the filibuster.
And what happened in Virginia this week? The GOP legislature voted on redistricting. I think we are smart enough to see that the mechanisms of how people get into office (districting, voting rules, etc.) should be carried out differently from regular legislation. The recent Virginia episode is not a convincing argument that every Senate action should require 60 votes.
Finally, the "minority rights" argument gets really tired. Legislatures should protect their members rights to participate in debate, to serve on committee, to make amendments, to do all the parliamentary stuff, whether they are in a majority or not. That is fair. But what the filibuster-lovers really mean by this little phrase is that a legislative minority can block everything. It means an intransigent minority caucus has equal power to the majority. It means electoral victories - the people's choices - don't matter. To claim that we must accept stalemate in order to protect "minority rights" is perverse.
Our correspondent then amplifies his argument for minority rule:
The talking filibuster and Sen. Franken’s proposal are not the same as what we have now and that isnt good. Senate Rules shouldn’t be based upon a movie and the filibuster should not be changed to shift the burden on the minority — that is the opposite of its purpose. The filibuster is to force the majority to work with the minority. Waiting out the minority is not the same thing.Heh heh ... again, so much misinformation in so few words! Some people have the knack ...
First, the movie reference. Requiring a talking filibuster is merely requiring what was Senate SOP years ago. The famous anti-civil-rights filibusters (gotta protect those minority rights, ya know) of the 1950s featured actual talking. Apparently the only Senate history our staffer knows is from movies.
Second, the "purpose of the filibuster" ... what IS the purpose of the filibuster, anyway? As we know, it appeared in the Senate rulebook by accident, not on purpose. This rulebook quirk was not exploited for another 30 years. The very name "filibuster" comes from the Dutch word for "piracy," indicating that people saw its purpose as allowing a minority to steal a vote they could not win fairly.
There is no honest purpose to the filibuster. It's true purpose is to subvert democratic governance.
If indeed our staffer, along with his or her DC fellows, really thinks we need Senate rules that "force the minority to work with the majority," we're in trouble. What that means in today's world is that the disciplined, unified, intransigent, highly conservative GOP Senate caucus will ALWAYS have the last word. Even though the voters chose Democrats.
The GOP doesn't care whether the government works of not. They don't care what the majority wants. Yet our staffer, and the Levins and Schumers and Feinsteins, think it essential that our Democratic majority "work with" these people, despite the fact that there is nothing forcing the GOP minority to work with them.
They say, "screw the voters, let's give McConnell, Inhofe, and Sessions power they couldn't honestly win at the polls."
Real progressives want government that works. The filibuster is more sand in the gears.