The Senate Really Can’t Get Much More Dysfunctional at This Point


The New York Times reports that the Democratic change to the filibuster may turn Republicans even more obstructionist than in the past:

The rule change lowered to a simple 51-vote majority the threshold to clear procedural hurdles on the way to the confirmation of judges and executive nominees. But it did nothing to streamline the gantlet that presidential nominees run. Republicans may not be able to muster the votes to block Democrats on procedure, but they can force every nomination into days of debate between every procedural vote in the Senate book — of which there will be many.

And legislation, at least for now, is still very much subject to the filibuster. On Thursday afternoon, as one Republican after another went to the Senate floor to lament the end of one type of filibuster, they voted against cutting off debate on the annual defense policy bill, a measure that has passed with bipartisan support every year for decades.

The Senate is such a bizarre institution that there’s always something more the minority party can do to gum up the works. But honestly, it’s hard to see what it is at this point. Sure, legislation is still subject to filibuster, and Republicans have been filibustering every piece of legislation they can. What can they do next? Filibuster everything twice? And nominees can be slowed down in committee, but Republicans are already doing that too. I suppose Republicans can start making a fuss over every single assistant deputy sub secretary, but hell, they’ve done that too. All that means is that the executive branch will end up being more understaffed than it is now.

Besides, there’s a point at which this stuff goes beyond the traditional (filibusters, blue slips, holds, etc.), which the press mostly ignores as boring procedural issues, and turns into antics (refusing to let committees meet, filibustering post offices, threatening the credit of the United States, etc.). Right now, I think Republicans don’t have much left in their obstructionist toolkit except antics, and that could backfire. The press will pretty gleefully report this stuff, and it makes the GOP look childish, not principled.

But we’ll see. As long-time readers know, I just flatly oppose the filibuster, and I think the only thing Democrats did wrong yesterday was not getting rid of it completely. Majority rule is fine. It works for presidential elections, it works for the House, it works for the Supreme Court, and it works in every other country in the world. “Senate tradition” is just a euphemism for “weird historical accident,” and I’d sweep the whole rulebook clean if I could. I’m keenly aware that this means the other party can do stuff if it wins elections, and that’s OK. That’s what elections are for.

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