Wonkblog: Senate

Federal Reserve nominees clear key hurdle

Federal Reserve nominees clear key hurdle

The White House’s three nominees to join the Federal Reserve cleared a key hurdle Tuesday and will move to the full Senate for confirmation.

The Senate Banking Committee voted unanimously to approve economist Stanley Fischer and former Treasury official Lael Brainard for seats on the central bank’s influential board of governors. Jay Powell, a hedge fund manager who worked under President George H.W. Bush, was approved for a second term. Powell currently sits on the board, though his term technically expired in January.

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Interactive: When women inherit their husbands’ Congressional seats

If Debbie Dingell succeeds her husband John in Michigan's 12th Congressional district - as seems likely - it will mark a slightly odd milestone: She'll be the first woman to take over her husband's seat while her husband is still alive.

Plenty of women have inherited their husband's seats before - 47 to be exact, 8 in the Senate and 39 in the House. But according to Debbie Walsh of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, in all those instances the woman took over the seat after her husband had passed away. The mechanics are slightly different for the House and Senate - empty House seats are filled via a special election, while Senate seats are typically filled via appointment. "Widow's succession" or the "widow's mandate" is the technical term for when an empty seat is filled by the spouse of the deceased legislator.

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Don’t blame the Founding Fathers for California having 66 times the population of Wyoming

Don’t blame the Founding Fathers for California having 66 times the population of Wyoming

This morning, I noticed traffic spiking to an August Wonkblog post on Urban planner/artist Neil Freeman's effort to redraw the United States as 50 states with equal population. It's a fun, beautiful thought experiment:

I posted the map on Twitter again. No reason people who weren't reading Wonkblog on Aug. 21 should be deprived. The Washington Examiner's Byron York, however, was not amused:

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Wonkbook: Harry Reid’s bid to save the Senate

Wonkbook: Harry Reid’s bid to save the Senate

Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's morning policy news primer. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Gmail dot com. To read more by Ezra and his team, go to Wonkblog.

Fifty years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas, Texas. But a bit over 52 years ago today, Kennedy changed American politics forever.

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Everything you need to know about Thursday’s filibuster change

Everything you need to know about Thursday’s filibuster change

In the wake of GOP filibusters of all three of President Obama's nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Senate Thursday changed its rules to bar filibusters against all judicial nominations (except those for the Supreme Court) and all executive branch nominations. Here's what you need to know.

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The world’s leading filibuster expert on what happened today and what to expect next.

The world’s leading filibuster expert on what happened today and what to expect next.



Gregory Koger is an associate professor of political science at the University of Miami. He has written numerous articles about the filibuster, and literally wrote the book on the subject. We talked on the phone Thursday afternoon; a lightly edited transcript follows.

So, uh, big day for you huh?

[Laughs] Once upon a time, even my fellow Congress scholars said, "That's kind of a stupid topic, who cares about how a simple majority could hypothetically change the rules of the Senate?"

What did you make of the specific way in which the filibuster for nominees was abolished?

In a paper I'm writing with Sergio Campos, we lay out five illustrative options for how a majority could work its will. It's not exhaustive, because there are dozens of ways you could do this. What the Democrats did today was our option four. You bring up something, have a cloture vote, and after you lose say, "It takes a simple majority to win this one." We're not the only people who had this idea but we did anticipate this possibility.

The change was limited to executive nominations and non-Supreme Court judicial nominations. How did that limitation come about? Who decided upon it?

It was in the nature of the objection that Harry Reid raised in the first place. They had the floor debate on the nominee, and the cloture vote, and then the chair's decision is announced that cloture was not invoked, and Harry Reid raises his objection to the ruling of the chair and says he objects because it only takes a simple majority to invoke cloture on all executive nominations, and all judicial nominations except the Supreme Court. So the "rule" is articulated by the objection he's raising, and the only reason that it [SCOTUS nominations] was carved out is that Harry Reid said so.

So there's nothing stopping someone in the future from raising an objection and saying cloture can be invoked on all judicial nominations, including the Supreme Court, in the future.

Or doing that for legislation.

Ezra's conclusion was that this means that the next time a big piece of legislation faces a filibuster, the whole thing is gone. Do you agree?

My point all along has been that a simple majority can achieve this sort of reform whenever you want to.

The question is whether a majority would stick together on the floor to further restrict obstruction. I would guess that some Democratic senators would not vote the same way on restricting filibusters against legislation. I can imagine, actually, a filibuster against a Supreme Court nominee being broken this way. But I'd note that, in the past, it hasn't been necessary. Clarence Thomas was confirmed by a 52 to 48 vote, which means Democrats could have filibustered him but chose not to. If there was a similarly controversial nominee in the future, I would guess he or she might also pass with 50 votes.

A lot of the frustration you hear from Democrats on the Hill isn't about filibusters per se but about the use of procedure as a stalling tactic: you filibuster both the underlying nomination and the motion to proceed to the nomination, you wait a day or two for a cloture motion to "ripen," etc. Does this change that at all?

Not directly. It is possible that Democrats frustrated enough to vote for reform today might also be frustrated enough to adopt further reforms without completely eliminating the right to filibuster.

But it's hard to make fine-tuned reforms. If you're coming up with procedural arguments, it's easier to come up with arguments to completely get rid of filibustering than to come up with parliamentary justifications for tweaking the rules to, say, shorten the ripening period. It's not easy to come up with convincing rationales for small tweaks, though honestly, a simple majority can do it if they want to.

Well, Reid didn't seem to present a principled rationale for limiting the change to non-SCOTUS nominees, so that might not be an impediment.

Right, as he was doing it, at least, there wasn't any of that chin music. It was, "Here's what we want to do and we're going to vote on it."

I suppose you could think of one if you had to, though.

Indeed. The case for executive nominees would be, "You can't elect a president and then keep him from having his own team in place." For judicial nominees, you can't make exactly the same argument but can use roughly the same reason.

Anything else notable about how this went down?

One minor note is that the Republicans didn't seem to fight very hard against it. If you go back to 1975, when there was an effort to rule the Senate was not a continuing body and change the rules by a simple majority, there was one senator from Alabama, James Allen, who fought the reformers tooth and nail, raising all kinds of complex procedural obstacles to it. Today's fight was over in an hour and a half, total. McConnell called for a revote, but there was no attempt to drag it out, which was interesting.

If nothing else, today seems to have killed the idea that you can only change the rules by majority vote on day one.

Personally, I appreciate that. I thought it was a needless straightjacket. It was an excuse for other senators not to think about this for the rest of the Congress.

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Nine reasons the filibuster change is a huge deal

Nine reasons the filibuster change is a huge deal

1. The change the Senate made today is small but consequential: The filibuster no longer applies to judicial or executive-branch nominees. It still applies to bills and Supreme Court nominations.

2. Well, technically it still applies to all bills and Supreme Court nominations. In practice, legislation that mainly uses the government's tax and spending powers can evade the filibuster using the budget reconciliation procedures. That's how George W. Bush's tax cuts passed, and how Obamacare was finished. As for the Supreme Court, it's very hard to believe that Democrats or Republicans would accept filibusters of qualified Supreme Court nominees, either. And, as Democrats proved today, they don't have to.

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It’s official: The Senate just got rid of part of the filibuster

It’s official: The Senate just got rid of part of the filibuster

That's it. The Senate finally went nuclear.

A majority of Democrats voted on Thursday to modify the Senate's rules on filibusters for the first time since 1975. From now on, judicial nominees to federal courts can be confirmed by a simple majority vote. So can the president's executive-branch nominations.

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Mitch McConnell delivers some real talk to House Republicans

Mitch McConnell delivers some real talk to House Republicans

Robert Costa of National Review, who has aced coverage of the fiscal showdown over the last three weeks, has a new interview with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. It offers an uncommonly blunt assessment of what went wrong for the Republicans in the most recent standoff, and with it comes hints of where the party's leaders are going from here.

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The 10 most revealing moments in the Senate’s big Syria hearing

The 10 most revealing moments in the Senate’s big Syria hearing

On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a four-hour hearing on Syria with Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

If you don’t have the patience to wade through the whole transcript, here were 10 crucial questions raised at the hearing, and note that administration officials didn’t fully answer them all.

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This map shows what the United States would look like if life were fair

This map shows what the United States would look like if life were fair

Congratulations, 50 states: You might be getting a new sibling! The new hotness is North Colorado, a potential state that conservative activists in Unitary Colorado have started agitating for. "The activists started pushing after this year's legislative session, when Democrats who control the Colorado legislature passed new laws regulating firearms and oil exploration," The Washington Post's Reid Wilson reported Monday. "The new measures, conservatives believe, are the latest steps taken by an overbearing legislature that's Denver-centric, to the exclusion of the state's rural areas."

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Trade with developing countries just got more expensive, thanks to Tom Coburn

Trade with developing countries just got more expensive, thanks to Tom Coburn

The United States has a few ways to help out poor countries. It can just give them money, in the form of direct aid. It can give them stuff -- such as food, technology and weapons. Or it can simply stop taxing the goods they sell us, allowing their industries to grow and elevate the country on its own.

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The Senate has a student loan deal. Here's what you need to know.

The Senate has a student loan deal. Here's what you need to know.

The Senate appears to have reached a deal to avoid hiking interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans, which make up about a quarter of all student loans the federal government issues each year. The deal ties the interest rates for all student loans to the 10-year Treasury rate, a change that Republicans in Congress, as well as the White House, have embraced for a while. Moreover, it keeps the subsidized Stafford loan rate for next year from spiking to 6.8 percent, which will happen in the absence of any Congressional action (and has already happened as a matter of law).

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Does the Senate really need to confirm 1,200 executive branch jobs?

The Senate has been bickering all day over how to confirm President Obama's nominees for various executive-branch positions. And it's worth taking a step back and asking: Why are there so many jobs that require Senate confirmation, anyway?

Let's start with the raw numbers: There are somewhere around 1,200 to 1,400 positions in the executive branch that require Senate confirmation, according to an estimate by the Congressional Research Service. That means several hundred nominees have to get scrutinized by the Senate each year.

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The Senate didn't go nuclear. But, actually, it kind of did.

The Senate didn't go nuclear. But, actually, it kind of did.

This is a game of chicken," Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute told me on Monday night. "But having seen 'Rebel Without a Cause' many times, sometimes games of chicken don't go down the way you expect."

In this case, though, the game of chicken played out roughly as Harry Reid expected, or at least hoped. Today, Reid backed down from changing -- or "reinterpreting" -- the Senate's rules, which he didn't want to do anyway. In return, Republicans let Rich Cordray's nomination to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reach the Senate floor. The National Labor Relations Board will get two new nominees picked by organized labor, which means the board gets a quorum and its full powers back. Tom Perez will get a vote to lead the Department of Labor and Gina McCarthy will get a vote to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

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The Senate might go nuclear today. Here's everything you need to know.

The Senate might go nuclear today. Here's everything you need to know.

Today's the day. This afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) might finally detonate the "nuclear option" and abolish the filibuster on executive nominations. Ot maybe he won't. This morning, he says a deal might be near "that will be good for everybody." A tentative compromise has apparently been reached. Update: Richard Cordray is being confirmed as a part of the deal, so no nuclear option today. Keep reading for more background on how we got here.

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One Senate staffer's theory: Mitch McConnell actually wants to get nuked

One Senate staffer's theory: Mitch McConnell actually wants to get nuked

A Senate Democratic staffer e-mails with an interesting -- and off-message -- theory:

I always thought that McConnell is actually giddy about being nuked. I know there are Rs who are concerned for the right reasons health of the institution, retribution that would make it hard to pass much of anything, etc.

But if you're McConnell wouldn't you want Reid to nuke you? It helps you raise money with the base, it means you don't have to negotiate these nominations that your base doesn't like, and it leaves the door wide open to nuke us back and worse if they take over.

I know there's this theory that McConnell and Reid are doing the dance and you reported that. And I hope that's the case. But if I were Machiavellian about things, and I sort of am, I'd want to get nuked because all it does at the moment is allow Dems to proceed with nominations. Once they're in the majority and they nuke the filibuster, then they can pass all kinds of crazy stuff. You could argue that there might be some Republican divisions that would prevent a small GOP majority from passing truly awful things, but Republicans are way better at falling into line than Democrats are, and we all know what kind of stuff the House is passing.

Reid is in an awful place and understandably frustrated, but I think McConnell gets off easy in some sense if we nuke them. He won't have to negotiate on much of anything or bridge the gaps between conservatives and the Rs who want to get stuff done. He can throw his hands up and say, well, they nuked us, so I can't stop their nominations, and he can spend more time raising money. Nuking the Rs makes McConnell's job easier, not harder.

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Federal courts are understaffed. It's everybody's fault.

When Harry Reid took to the Senate floor Thursday to set the stage for filibuster reform, he mostly focused on executive branch nominations. But any changes he makes will almost certainly have a big impact on judicial nominations as well. After all, there are a lot of vacancies in federal courts. More, in fact, than there were when Obama first took office. He inherited 55 vacancies and, as of the May publication of a Congressional Research Service report on the subject, had built that number up to 88.

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Mitch McConnell's problem: How can he threaten to obstruct the Senate even more?

Mitch McConnell's problem: How can he threaten to obstruct the Senate even more?

There's a reason the Senate majority rarely goes through with filibuster reform: The minority can make the aftermath hellish.

Robert Dove, who served as Senate parliamentarian from 1981 to 1987 and then from 1995 to 2002, recalls the aftermath of the 1975 filibuster reforms. "My reaction was I don't ever want to see that again. The repercussions went on for years. People felt they had been rolled, which they had, and they were going to look for holes in the rules, and they found them," Dove said. Remember, he says, "you can stall in the Senate in lots of ways besides debate."

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Wonkbook: Will Harry Reid really go nuclear?

Wonkbook: Will Harry Reid really go nuclear?

Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's morning policy news primer. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Gmail dot com. To read more by Ezra and his team, go to Wonkblog.

There are two theories of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's threat to go nuclear and limit or even eliminate filibusters against executive-branch nominees.

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The GOP doesn't oppose Richard Cordray. It opposes his whole agency.

The GOP doesn't oppose Richard Cordray. It opposes his whole agency.

Harry Reid could go nuclear this summer.

Reid is looking to take dramatic action to get Richard Cordray confirmed as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). And according to reports this week, he's likely to push for a major battle over the filibuster this summer once immigration reform is finished, but before the fall budget battle heats up. Although the massive increase in the use of the filibuster in recent years is a general problem, it's of particular concern for financial reform. Instead of just disapproving of a candidate, Senate Republicans are explicitly blocking Cordray in order to rewrite important parts of Dodd-Frank they don't like.

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Sorry, Chuck Grassley. Obama isn't 'packing the court.'

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Sri Srinivasan won unanimous approval Thursday by the Senate. But before he did, his nomination led to one of the more amusing moments on C-SPAN in recent memory.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) used a hearing on Srinivasan's nomination to accuse the Obama administration of trying to "pack" the D.C. Circuit. And then repeated the accusation another five times.

The only problem, as his colleague Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) gently pointed out, was that the term does not mean what Grassley thought it meant:

How we broke the Senate without breaking any rules

How we broke the Senate without breaking any rules

There was a moment on the Senate floor on Monday when Sen. Harry Reid could've done pretty much anything he wanted. There was nothing the Republicans could've done to stop him. And he knew it. He just didn't take advantage of it.

"This afternoon, I offered a consent agreement dealing with the budget," he said. "I withdrew that because we didn't have anyone here to object, and I had an inkling that there would be an objection if a Republican were here." At that point, a Republican was there. Sen. Ted Cruz, to be exact. And he objected.

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Ron Wyden is wonkish, optimistic, idiosyncratic -- and about to be very powerful

Ron Wyden is wonkish, optimistic, idiosyncratic -- and about to be very powerful

Sen. Max Baucus's (D-Mont.) announcement that he'll retire in 2014 clears the way for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to become chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. If Baucus annoyed Democrats for being too cautious, Wyden will annoy them by being too ambitious -- and too ceaselessly interested in brokering big, bipartisan deals.

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You can't understand what's happened to the Senate without these two graphs

You can't understand what's happened to the Senate without these two graphs

As Ezra noted Thursday morning, the senators who blocked the Manchin-Toomey background checks bill represent about a third of the country's population.

The Senate has always disproportionately represented small states, but the bias hasn't always been extreme. One good proxy for the disproportionateness of the Senate is the ratio of population between the largest state in the Union and the smallest state. I went back through every Census from 1790 and 2010 and found that ratio. In 1790, Virginia, the largest state, was 12.65 times the size of Delaware, the smallest. In 2010, however, California, the largest state, was fully 66 times the size of Wyoming, the smallest. The Senate is now about five times less proportionate than it was at the country's founding.

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This is not your founding fathers' Senate

This is not your founding fathers' Senate

In today's Wonkbook, I noted that of the senators from the 25 largest states, the Manchin-Toomey legislation received 33 aye votes and 17 nay votes — a more than 2:1 margin, putting it well beyond the 3/5ths threshold required to break a filibuster. But of the senators from the 25 smallest states, it received only 21 aye votes and 29 nay votes.

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Harry Reid had a good reason to vote against the gun bill

Harry Reid had a good reason to vote against the gun bill

On Wednesday, Harry Reid voted against the Manchin-Toomey gun bill as it failed to break the 60-vote cloture threshold to get an up-or-down vote. But he supports the bill, strongly. So, why'd he vote no?

The same thing happened a few months ago. Forty U.S. senators voted to block a final vote on Chuck Hagel's nomination to be defense secretary. Of those, 39 were Republicans opposed to the nomination, at least for the moment. The other was Harry Reid. It wasn't that Reid opposed Hagel — far from it. Reid denounced the filibuster as "one of the saddest spectacles I have witnessed in my twenty-seven years in the Senate."

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Wonkbook: The gun bill failed because the Senate is wildly undemocratic

Wonkbook: The gun bill failed because the Senate is wildly undemocratic

Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's morning policy news primer. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Gmail dot com. To read more by Ezra and his team, go to Wonkblog.

The gun vote didn't fail because a couple of red-state Democrats bolted, or even because too many senators are afraid of the National Rifle Association, or even because Sen. Pat Toomey couldn't bring along more Republicans.

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The Senate immigration bill: Here's what you need to know

The Senate immigration bill: Here's what you need to know

Months after their Jan. 28 announcement of a tentative compromise on immigration reform, the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" has finally unveiled its bill, or at least a summary of the proposal. It includes sweeping changes in treatment of both existing undocumented workers and aspiring immigrants. Here are the key points, culled from summaries in the Post and Politico as well as the actual bill summary, posted by Talking Points Memo here.

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In 2011, only 15 senators backed same-sex marriage. Now 49 do. UPDATE: Now 51!

In 2011, only 15 senators backed same-sex marriage. Now 49 do. UPDATE: Now 51!

Today, Mark Kirk and Tom Carper became the latest senators to endorse same-sex marriage, as members of the chamber seem to be falling over themselves to do in recent weeks. Just in the past month, nine members, including Kirk and Carper, have reversed course on the issue. The changes followed both Rob Portman's announcement that he supports same-sex marriage, and the Supreme Court arguments on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

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Wonkbook: What we learned from the Senate Democrats' budget

Wonkbook: What we learned from the Senate Democrats' budget

Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's morning policy news primer. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Gmail dot com. To read more by Ezra and his team, go to Wonkblog.

Shortly before 5 a.m. on Saturday, Senate Democrats passed a budget for the first time in four years.

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Senators are proposing hundreds of "deficit-neutral reserve funds." What gives?

Senators are proposing hundreds of 'deficit-neutral reserve funds.' What gives?

Vote-a-rama has officially begun.

The annual ritual (or supposed-to-be-annual, anyway), in which amendments are offered to the Senate budget resolution and the world's greatest deliberative body takes forever to vote on all of them, is underway, with amendments on everything from the Affordable Care Act to drones. Many of them promise to establish "deficit-neutral reserve funds."

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What I got wrong about the Senate Democrats' budget

What I got wrong about the Senate Democrats' budget

A conversation with a Senate Democratic aide Thursday persuaded me that I shortchanged Sen. Patty Murray's budget in an important way.

On Wednesday, I criticized Murray's budget because neither its spending cuts nor its tax increases are specified. But to evaluate it in terms of its spending cuts and tax increases, the aide argued, is to miss Murray's point, which is that Ryan's framework, in which deficit reduction stands above all, is the wrong framework.

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Patty Murray vs. Paul Ryan, in one chart

Patty Murray vs. Paul Ryan, in one chart

The Ryan budget wasn't the only spending document released Tuesday. The Senate Budget Committee, led by Patty Murray, released the topline numbers of their budget as well.

It includes $100 billion in stimulus spending on infrastructure projects, $975 billion in new tax revenue through cutting expenditures, $493 billion in domestic cuts (including $275 billion in health cuts), and $240 billion in defense cuts (all numbers over 10 years). Together with the $242 billion that it saves in interest payments, it adds up to a $1.85 trillion package, split evenly between taxes and spending cuts.

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If you're from California, you should hate the Senate

If you're from California, you should hate the Senate

As part of the grand compromise that created the United States of America, the Senate overrepresents small states and underrepresents big states. That's common knowledge. What's less well-known is that the malapportionment of the Senate is much worse today than it was at the time of the nation's founding.

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A great day for the filibuster, and for filibuster reform

After watching Republicans mount filibusters against three presidential appointments in the month-and-a-half since the filibuster deal, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin thinks it might be time to take another look at that compromise. "I hate to suggest this, but if this is an indication of where we're headed, we need to revisit the rules again," he said. "We need to go back to it again. I'm sorry to say it because I was hopeful that a bipartisan approach to dealing with these issues would work."

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Yes, Chuck Hagel is being filibustered. Yes, that's unprecedented.

Yes, Chuck Hagel is being filibustered. Yes, that's unprecedented.

Thursday night, a vote was called to invoke cloture on Chuck Hagel's nomination to become secretary of defense, and thus move to a final confirmation vote. The cloture vote failed. Only 58 senators voted yes, short of the 60-vote cloture threshold, with Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joining a unified Democratic caucus in voting yes. The rest of Hagel's former Republican Senate colleagues voted against him. Given that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) voted no for procedural reasons (it allows him to bring another cloture vote in the future), that puts Hagel only one vote short of breaking a filibuster.

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Why filibuster reform failed, and where it might go next

A few thoughts on filibuster reform:

1. The reason there wasn't root-and-branch reform of the filibuster is that most Senate Democrats didn't want root-and-branch reform of the filibuster. "Do not underestimate how much appreciation for the filibuster there is among senators who have been in the minority of this body and have been able to hold up legislation," one Senate aide told me. "Remember, estate tax repeal got 59 votes in 2006."

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Harry Reid: 'I'm not personally, at this stage, ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold'

Harry Reid: 'I'm not personally, at this stage, ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold'

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have come to a deal on filibuster reform. The deal is this: The filibuster will not be reformed. But the way the Senate moves to consider new legislation and most nominees will be.

"I'm not personally, at this stage, ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold," Reid (D-Nev.) told me this morning, referring to the number of votes needed to halt a filibuster. "With the history of the Senate, we have to understand the Senate isn't and shouldn't be like the House."

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READ: The Senate Democrats' internal budget memo: 'Revenue Must Be Included'

READ: The Senate Democrats' internal budget memo: 'Revenue Must Be Included'

Sen. Patty Murray's got her work cut out for her. It's been less than a month since the Washington Democrat took the top spot on the Senate Budget Committee. But in that month, House Republicans used their debt-ceiling bill to highlight the fact that Senate Democrats haven't passed a full budget resolution since 2009.

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Senate Democrats to Obama: Ignore the debt ceiling!

Senate Democrats to Obama: Ignore the debt ceiling!

In a letter co-signed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, majority whip Dick Durbin, vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus Chuck Schumer, and budget committee chairwoman Patty Murray, the four Democrats, presumably on behalf of their caucus, ask President Obama to ignore the debt ceiling when the time comes:

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The date for filibuster reform: Jan. 22. Probably.

The date for filibuster reform: Jan. 22. Probably.

Technically, you need a two-thirds vote in the Senate to change any of the chamber's rules. In practice, you actually don't need a two-thirds vote in the Senate to change the rules. You can do it with 51 votes. But it's considered a bit of a rude thing to do.

The middle ground in this debate has been given the name "the constitutional option": It argues that on the first day of a new session of Congress, you only need 51 votes to change the Senate rules, as each Congress has a constitutional right to make its own rules. That's the approach various Democratic senators are taking in their effort to reform the filibuster.

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READ: John McCain's filibuster reform

READ: John McCain's filibuster reform

As the Huffington Post reported earlier today, Sens. John McCain and Carl Levin — backed up by a handful of senior senators from both parties — have been prepping a filibuster proposal meant to undercut more significant reform of the Senate rules. You can download the whole proposal here, but here are the highlights:

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17 bills that likely would have passed the Senate if it didn't have the filibuster

17 bills that likely would have passed the Senate if it didn't have the filibuster

Arguments over the filibuster tend to devolve into relatively esoteric debates about minority rights and majority rule. But let's ground this conversation in real-world consequences: In the absence of the filibuster, what laws would have passed the Senate that didn't?

In order to limit the size of the search, we begin the clock with the 111th Congress, which began in January 2009. We're looking for bills that got more than 50 votes in the Senate but that didn't make it to the president's desk. In most cases, bills that failed due to a filibuster in the 111th Congress had already passed the House, so they would be law today. In the 112th Congress, the Republican House was less aligned with the Democratic Senate, and so passage in the Senate does not mean the bills would gave been passed into law.

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How Republicans could shut the Senate down, if they wanted to

How Republicans could shut the Senate down, if they wanted to

Could Republicans shut the Senate down if they wanted to? All of the sudden, that's not such an idle question.

As we'vebeen noting, Democrats in the Senate are proposing to tweak the chamber's filibuster rules when the 113th Congress convenes in January. Doing so would make it somewhat more cumbersome for the GOP minority to block legislation. And Democrats argue that they can make these changes with a simple 51-vote majority the so-called "constitutional option."

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What Mitch McConnell fears

What Mitch McConnell fears

Steve Benen asks a sensible question: Harry Reid's proposed filibuster reforms are quite modest. If they pass wholesale, the 60-vote supermajority requirement will remain unchanged. So why's he so steamed?

I've asked Senate staff the same question, and I've gotten, in general, three answers.

First, moving to a "talking filibuster" is not seen as the minor tweak that some including me -- have made it out to be. True, it doesn't change the fact that the Senate is now a 60-vote institution. But it does make the life of an obstructing minority much harder. Given the size of the Republican minority, to fill a day-long filibuster, every senator would have to be up and speaking for at least half an hour, and a critical mass of minority senators would have to be in the chamber at all times. Coordinating that kind of action among 45 senators who've got fundraisers and flights and out-of-town family and who usually don't stay in Washington even for a full week at a time is no small task.

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Wonkbook: The fight over the filibuster

Wonkbook: The fight over the filibuster

Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's morning policy news primer. To subscribe by e-mail, clickhere. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Gmail dot com. To read more by Ezra and his team, go toWonkblog.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: $8 billion. That's the amount states will pay to cover the Medicare expansion in the Affordable Care Act, according to astudyby the Kaiser Family Foundation. That's roughly one percent of the total $808 billion cost of the expansion, 99 percent of which will be borne (at least for now) by the federal government.

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Mitch McConnell's five biggest whoppers on the filibuster

Mitch McConnell's five biggest whoppers on the filibuster

Senate majority leader Harry Reid and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell just had an heated, lengthy exchange on the floor of the Senate over Reid's intention to use the so-called "constitutional option" at the beginning of the next Congress to change the rules of the filibuster using only 51 votes.

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Majorities, not moderates, make legislating easier

"Fewer Moderates Make Deals Harder," reads the headline on the Associated Press story.

What follows is an accurate summation of a Congress that's growing more polarized yoked to an inaccurate analysis of what it means. "Moderates" don't make legislating easier. Majorities make legislating easier.

The first time the article mentions an actual election, it's to say that "Inthe Senate, moderate Scott Brown (R-Mass.) lost to Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who will be one of the most liberal members." That's probably true so far as it goes, but it undercuts the article's thesis. It will certainly be easier for Harry Reid to put together 51 votes -- and perhaps even 60 votes -- with Warren in that seat than it was when he had to coax Brown over to his side.

Does the White House want Mitch McConnell to be majority leader?

Does the White House want Mitch McConnell to be majority leader?

The Washington Post is reporting that Sen. John Kerry is being seriously considered to head the Department of Defense. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why.

In 2009, the incoming Obama administration tapped Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar to head the Interior Department, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to lead the Department of Homeland Security, and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Is this the end for the filibuster?

Is this the end for the filibuster?

In 2008, Barack Obama promised to change the way Washington works. In 2013, we might actually see that change. But it won't be because of Obama. It will be because a critical mass of senators perhaps even including some Republicans decide enough is enough: It's time to rein in the filibuster.

The problem with a president promising to change Washington is that the presidency isn't the part of Washington that's broken. The systemic gridlock, dysfunction and polarization that so frustrate the country aren't located in the executive branch. They're centered in Congress. And one of their key enablers is Senate Rule XXII better known as the filibuster.

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How Tuesdays elections made Congress more polarized, in one chart

How Tuesdays elections made Congress more polarized, in one chart

When you want to get quantitative about the policy views of members of Congress, your first stop should always be DW-NOMINATE. The scale, which uses Congressional votes and other data to place representatives and senators on a left-right spectrum, was devised by Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal in the early 1980s and has been making data nerds happy ever since.

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The Senate may not get more Democratic, but it could get a lot more liberal

The Senate may not get more Democratic, but it could get a lot more liberal

Most analysts expect Democrats to maintain their current edge in the Senate after Tuesday’s election, plus or minus a few seats. But that doesn’t mean that the body won’t change considerably.

Thanks to retirements and primary defeats, the ideological composition of both parties could change considerably. Wisconsin’s Herb Kohl (D) will likely be replaced with the much more liberal Tammy Baldwin (D), Indiana’s Richard Lugar (R) was beaten by the more conservative Richard Mourdock (R) in the primary, and so forth.

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The Gang of Six—nay, Eight!—is back. Will it matter?

The Gang of Six—nay, Eight!—is back. Will it matter?

The gang is back together again.

A bipartisan group of senators convened on Tuesday to take a shot at crafting an expansive deficit-reduction deal that would allow the country to avoid the looming tax hikes and automatic spending cuts of the fiscal cliff. Known informally as the “Gang of Eight,” the senators kicked off a three-day series of meetings in Mount Vernon, Va. to discuss the possible contours of a bargain.

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How to reform the filibuster without taking a vote

How to reform the filibuster without taking a vote

Want to fix the Senate? Two former Senate aidesa Democratic staffer and a GOP-backed Senate parliamentarianhave a new book out this week suggesting reforms that wouldn’t even require a bill to pass Congress, according toRoll Call’s preview of the book.

As its title suggests, “Defending the Filibuster” maintains that the much-maligned Senate procedure is crucial to protecting the minority and insuring “stability and deliberation in government,” according to the book description.But Richard Arenberg and Robert Dove also offer some suggestions for reform around the edges. Before the Senate can debate a bill, it must pass the “motion to proceed”a vote that’s meant to be procedural but which has become increasingly politicized and subject to filibusters in recent years. In effect, rather than ensuring an opportunity to debate a bill, the filibuster is stopping the debate from happening.

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Senate tweets in one chart

Today, xkcd had some fun at the expense of our less formal Senators:



This made me wonder — what do Senators actually tweet about? So I wrote a Python script to scrape every Senator’s last 20 tweets so I could analyze them. Here are the most commonly used words, filtering out both common words like “and” or “the” and URL contents like “http” and “www”:





If you want to check my data or make your own, you can download a Word doc of the tweets here.

There’s too much trust in the Senate

There’s too much trust in the Senate

Quick recap: Tyler Cowen wrote that our policy outcomes reflected the declining trust voters have in the government. I argued that they reflected political gridlock, and appeared to have little evident relationship to who or what voters trusted.

Cowen’s reply, published on Tuesday, is provocative. “I view political polarization as another manifestation of lack of trust,” he writes.

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Is the filibuster unconstitutional?

According to Best Lawyers — “the oldest and most respected peer-review publication in the legal profession” — Emmet Bondurant “is the go-to lawyer when a business person just can’t afford to lose a lawsuit.” He was its 2010 Lawyer of the Year for Antitrust and Bet-the-Company Litigation. But now, he’s bitten off something even bigger: bet-the-country litigation.

Bondurant thinks the filibuster is unconstitutional. And, alongside Common Cause, where he serves on the board of directors, he’s suing to have the Supreme Court abolish it.


(Graph: Todd Lindeman; Data: Senate.gov)
In a 2011 article in the Harvard Law School’s Journal on Legislation, Bondurant laid out his case for why the filibuster crosses constitutional red lines. But to understand the argument, you have to understand the history: The filibuster was a mistake.

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The Senate just took a big step towards filibuster reform


(Brendan Smialowski - GETTY IMAGES)
In 2010, there was an effort -- led mostly by freshmen Democratic senators like Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley -- to reform the filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid squelched their campaign. Last night, he apologized to them on the Senate floor:

If there were ever a time when Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley were prophetic, it’s tonight. These two young, fine senators said it was time to change the rules of the Senate,and we didn’t. And they were right. The rest of us were wrong -- or most of us, anyway. What a shame...

Mr. President, I am finished here, but I just want to say again, for those that are listening here or watching, Senator Udall and Senator Merkley want to do something to change the rules regarding filibuster. If there were anything that ever needed changing in this body, it’s the filibuster rule, because it’s been abused, abused, and abused.

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Will Lugar’s loss lead to a crisis in the Senate?


Caution tape is displayed in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, April 6, 2011. (Andrew Harrer - BLOOMBERG)
“The most important and alarming facet of Lugar’s defeat,” writes Jonathan Chait, is that one of Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock’s key arguments against Sen. Richard Lugar was that Lugar had voted to confirm Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. This is a step towards breaking one of the last, and perhaps most important, social norms of the Senate: That “in the absence of corruption, lack of qualifications, or unusual ideological extremism, Democratic presidents have always been allowed to pick liberal justices, and Republican presidents conservative ones.”

Chait sees “the frightening outlines of a future systemic crisis” here. But I might rephrase that a bit: I see the the outlines of a necessary systemic crisis leading to an overdue set of procedural reforms in the Senate.

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This is not Lyndon Johnson’s Senate

This is not Lyndon Johnson’s Senate

When I think about the difference between Lyndon Johnson’s Senate and Barack Obama’s, I think of a memo — pictured above — that Mike Manatos, who served as Senate liaison for Johnson, sent to Larry O’Brien, who directed Johnson’s campaign. It was written on Dec. 8, 1964, just days after the election. Manatos is giving O’Brian an overview of how the Senate elections improved the chances of passing Medicare. Manatos wrote:

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How the filibuster promotes partisanship

Perhaps it’s worth saying a little bit more about how the filibuster amplifies political polarization. After all, the conventional wisdom is that it encourages bipartisanship by giving the minority a guaranteed seat at the table.

The crucial idea here is that it is very different to kill a bill than to vote against a bill. When the minority party kills a bill, they have made the majority into a failure. And when voters perceive the majority as failing, they vote in the other guys. If you’re in the minority, there’s no faster path back to power than killing bills.

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