Ending the Filibuster


Tim Fernholz says Senate Democrats should eliminate the filibuster when they open the 112th session of Congress in January:

Of course, the advantage for Democrats is that they will be able to have more control of the one chamber where they possess a majority, making it easier to pass their own priorities — rather than have the House pass a lot of bills and the Senate take no action, you could see a dynamic where the Senate and the House pass a lot of competing versions of bills, creating both more contrast between the parties and making the possibility of actual legislation more likely.

The funny thing is that this would actually be a pretty good time for Republicans to go along with this. Contra Tim, the fact that the GOP controls the House means that Democrats won’t find it easier to pass their own priorities if they ditch the filibuster. But it might set up the contrast Tim mentions, and Republicans seem to think this contrast would be entirely in their favor. What’s more, if Republicans genuinely think they can win control of the Senate and the presidency in 2012, getting rid of the filibuster now would serve them pretty well.

But they won’t go along anyway. And I doubt very much that Harry Reid can find the votes to do this in the Democratic caucus even if he’s inclined to try. He’d need 51 out of 53 votes and Obama’s OK (in order for Biden to make the appropriate rulings), and I don’t see him getting that.

But what about something narrower? The least defensible use of the filibuster is against executive branch appointments, and I wonder if Republicans couldn’t be talked into supporting a change here? Maybe something that does away with the filibuster but puts in place some specific and limited ways that executive branch appointments can be delayed instead. This runs up against the hideous (and bipartisan) ego-driven nature of the Senate, where every member prizes their ability to hold up appointments in order to extort favors of one kind of another from the White House, but still — you never know. With only two years left in Obama’s term and Republicans feeling like history is on their side, it’s not completely out of the question.