Will Democrats Kill the Filibuster Entirely Next Year?

| Tue Feb. 11, 2014 4:25 PM EST

After the 2000 election, with the Senate divided 50-50, Democrats demanded a power-sharing agreement in which both parties would have the same number of committee members and the same budget. Even though Dick Cheney provided the tiebreaking vote in favor of Republican control, Democrats got their way by threatening to filibuster the organization of the Senate.

So what if this happens again after the 2014 election? Joe Biden will provide the tiebreaking vote this time, but Republicans will threaten to filibuster unless they get equal representation. Richard Arenberg thinks this could lead to the end of the filibuster:

Here’s the interesting question. Last November the Democratic majority used the so-called “nuclear option” to eliminate the filibuster for presidential nominations (with the exception of the Supreme Court). This established the principle or at least demonstrated the means by which any rule could be changed at any time by a simple majority. In the wake of a hard-fought election to determine control of the Senate, would the temptation to eliminate the filibuster in order to gain clear control using the simple majority (with the vice president’s vote) be irresistible?  Would the Democratic base tolerate any less?

I have long argued that the use of the nuclear option would place the Senate on a slippery slope. I believe that the elimination of the filibuster on legislative matter is close to inevitable.

A tied Senate could be the test.

Maybe! But I'm not sure that either party has much motivation to kill the filibuster entirely at this point, regardless of what their bases demand. Let's examine the two parties separately.

Democrats: Killing the filibuster for presidential nominees made sense because nominations require only Senate approval. But what's the value of killing the filibuster for legislation? With the House under Republican control, it wouldn't do them much good. Nor would it be worth it just to avoid power-sharing during the last two years of Obama's term, when little is likely to be accomplished anyway. That simply isn't a big enough deal. And as unlikely as it seems, Democrats do need to be concerned with the possibility of complete Republican control after 2016. It's a slim possibility, but it's a possibility. If that happens, why hand over the rope to hang themselves?

Republicans: Suppose Republicans win the Senate outright in 2014. A lot of liberals take it as an article of faith that they'll immediately kill the filibuster completely. But why? With Obama still in office, it wouldn't do them any good. And they have to be deeply concerned about complete Democratic control after the 2016 election. It's not just a slim possibility, it's a very real possibility. If that happens, why hand over the rope to hang themselves?

Bottom line: There's nothing new about the procedure Harry Reid used to kill the filibuster for nominations. It's always been available, and everyone has always known it. But it hasn't been used before because both parties have always been afraid of what the other party would do in a filibuster-less world. That fear would continue to far outweigh the negligible benefits of killing the filibuster while government remains divided.

But what about after 2016? What if one of the parties wins total control of Congress and the presidency? That's harder to predict. I still think that fear of what the other party could do without a filibuster runs deep, and may well prevent either party from axing it. But I wouldn't bet on it. Both Republicans and Democrats will be chomping at the bit to break the grinding deadlock of the post-2010 era, and either party might decide to finally take the plunge.

But if it happens, it will be after 2016. The benefit of killing the filibuster after the 2014 election is just too slim to make it worthwhile.

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