NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Filibuster reform might really, actually, finally be on the verge of happening in U.S. Senate

Great news from Greg Sar­gent:

With Sen­ate Repub­li­cans block­ing a third Oba­ma nom­i­na­tion to the pow­er­ful D.C. Cir­cuit Court of Appeals, a senior Sen­ate Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­er­ship aide tells me Reid is now all but cer­tain to move to change the Sen­ate rules by sim­ple major­i­ty — doing away with the fil­i­buster on exec­u­tive and judi­cial nom­i­na­tions, with the excep­tion of the Supreme Court – as ear­ly as this week.

At a press­er today, Reid told reporters he was tak­ing anoth­er look at rules reform, but didn’t give a time­line. The senior lead­er­ship aide goes fur­ther, say­ing it’s hard to envi­sion cir­cum­stances under which Reid doesn’t act. “Reid has become per­son­al­ly invest­ed in the idea that Dems have no choice oth­er than to change the rules if the Sen­ate is going to remain a viable and func­tion­ing insti­tu­tion,” the aide says.

If this is true, then hal­lelu­jah. Democ­rats have tol­er­at­ed Repub­li­can obstruc­tion­ism and abuse of Sen­ate rules and pro­ce­dures for so long that many peo­ple have despaired of fil­i­buster reform ever becom­ing a real­i­ty.

But it appears that Har­ry Reid and Sen­ate Democ­rats may have final­ly, final­ly, final­ly had enough. In fil­i­bus­ter­ing Pres­i­dent Oba­ma’s high­ly qual­i­fied nom­i­nees to the Court of Appeals for the Dis­trict of Colum­bia Cir­cuit — for no rea­son oth­er than because they want the vacan­cies to go unfilled so the court leans ide­o­log­i­cal­ly to the right — Repub­li­cans have suc­ceed­ed in con­vinc­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors pre­vi­ous­ly opposed to vot­ing to change Sen­ate rules to curb fil­i­buster abuse to jump on the reform band­wag­on. Even long-serv­ing sen­a­tors like Dianne Fein­stein:

Sen. Dianne Fein­stein (D‑CA) said Tues­day she sup­ports a rules change for nom­i­nees via the nuclear option after “uncon­scionable” GOP fil­i­busters of three con­sec­u­tive indi­vid­u­als to D.C. Cir­cuit Court of Appeals.

“I do now,” she told TPM in the Capi­tol. “It is uncon­scionable for a pres­i­dent not to be able to have his cab­i­net team, his sub-cab­i­net team, and not be able to appoint judges.”

“I’ve been very shocked by the way very qual­i­fied nom­i­nees, par­tic­u­lar­ly for the D.C. Cir­cuit, have been fil­i­bus­tered,” Fein­stein said.

And Patrick Leahy:

Sen­a­tor Patrick Leahy, the chair­man of the Sen­ate Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee, said yes­ter­day that he’d seen enough.

The fil­i­buster of Judge Wilkins, he said before it inevitably hap­pened, “will be a tip­ping point.”

“I fear that after tonight the talk about chang­ing the clo­ture rules for judi­cial nom­i­na­tions will no longer be just talk,” Sen. Leahy said. “There will be action.”

Fein­stein and Leahy’s will­ing­ness to change Sen­ate rules is huge. They’re among the most senior mem­bers of the cau­cus, and have in the past expressed strong reluc­tance to pur­sue what’s alter­nate­ly been called the nuclear option and the con­sti­tu­tion­al option. Bar­bara Box­er is on board too:

“I am very open to chang­ing the rules for nom­i­nees,” Sen. Bar­bara Box­er (D‑Calif.) told The Huff­in­g­ton Post. “I was not before, because I felt we could work with them. But it’s got­ten to an extreme sit­u­a­tion where real­ly qual­i­fied peo­ple can’t get an up-or-down vote.”

Extreme, indeed. These days, Repub­li­cans abuse the fil­i­buster in a very robot­ic way, to block any­thing and every­thing. Nom­i­nees. Leg­is­la­tion. Amend­ments to bills.

"I have the Senate bogged down in procedures..."

Michi­gan’s Carl Levin, among the biggest hold­outs to fil­i­buster reform, says he sup­ports chang­ing the rules, but only through a super­ma­jor­i­ty vote, as opposed to a major­i­ty vote. But that’s not an option.

If the rules are to be changed, it will have to be by major­i­ty vote.

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus con­sists of fifty-three sen­a­tors plus the two inde­pen­dents who cau­cus with Democ­rats (Angus King and Bernie Sanders). King and Sanders are known to be sup­port­ive of fil­i­buster reform, so aside from los­ing Levin, Reid could prob­a­bly afford to lose four oth­er Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors and still have the votes to change Sen­ate rules. Of the Pacif­ic North­west del­e­ga­tion, Jeff Merkley is per­haps the most sup­port­ive of fil­i­buster reform, while Max Bau­cus is the most luke­warm.

NPI ful­ly sup­ports a major­i­ty vote in the Unit­ed States Sen­ate to end Repub­li­cans’ out­ra­geous abuse of the fil­i­buster. There is no rea­son not to make the change. If Repub­li­cans ever get the White House and the Sen­ate back, they won’t hes­i­tate to change the rules them­selves to over­come Demo­c­ra­t­ic fil­i­busters of nom­i­nees. Democ­rats should go ahead and change Sen­ate rules so Con­gress’ grid­locked upper cham­ber can begin oper­at­ing demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly, at least some of the time.

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