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Bring Boring Back

In the wake of the Senate’s failure to pass the bailout for the “Big Three” automakers due to a threatened Republican filibuster, I’d like to expand on an excellent point made by Josh Marshall over at TPM.

What I do think makes sense is for the majority to actually require the minority to filibuster — as in talk and talk and talk. We’ve arrived at a point in which it’s become standard, even in the most contentious of cases, for the minority to be allowed merely to signal the intention to filibuster rather than doing the actual thing itself. Filibustering is a tool of obstruction. It’s a critical right of the minority in the senate. But it is, by definition, obstruction. So it makes sense to put the obstructionists to their task, make them do it publicly. I don’t know why the Democrats are not doing that in this case.

Image has not been found. URL: /wp-content/uploads/2008/12/filibuster-chart-100708-164x300.jpgSenate Cloture Votes (97th - 110th Congress) *courtesy of Campaign for America

I couldn’t agree more. As the bar graph at right (courtesy of Campaign for America’s Future) clearly shows, the Republican legislative strategy since slipping into the minority in 2006 has been obstruction. Republican senators threatened a filibuster and forced a cloture vote more than 100 times and counting during the current 110th Congress — breaking the previous record of 62 filibusters in a two-year legislative session in less than one year. Is it any surprise that Congress’ approval rating fell, as Sen. John McCain liked to say on the campaign trail, to just nine percent, and the Republicans subsequently took a walloping at the polls last month.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the Republicans out on their threat and forced a traditional all-night “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”-type filibuster only once during the current session, on a proposed amendment to a 2007 defense authorization bill that would have mandated the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. In many cases, the mere threat of a filibuster was enough to effectively kill a piece of legislation.

If Reid forced the Republicans to actually go through with all, or at least some, threatened filibusters, chances are pretty good we’d see a lot less of them. GOP leaders might pick and choose their battles a bit more strategically if they knew there’s a good chance they’d have to make good on their promises and stay up all night.

Of course, it would suck for the Democrats as well, as nobody likes to stay up all night to listen to politicians ramble on and on, but do it a few times on key issues just to show you mean business. With Democrats holding 58 or 59 Senate seats, a few real filibusters with the threat of more might be enough to wear down one or two moderate Republicans and separate them from the pack once in a while.

At the very least, it would be a symbolic gesture that would let the American people see clearly why its so difficult to pass legislation, and who is responsible for gumming up the works — and might help solidify a 60-seat filibuster-proof super-majority in 2010.

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