Wonkbook: Filibuster reform ends in a fili-bust

January 25, 2013

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.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 72. That's the percentage of Republicans who say they oppose Obama's proposals on gun control. But when you ask them about the plan specifics -- without mentioning Obama -- they widely support most of the measures. More below. 


REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (POLITICS CIVIL UNREST SOCIETY)

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: Think Obama's a huge spender? Then you need to see these two charts.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) The filibuster survives, almost entirely unreformed; 2) Biden talks gun control; 3) the economy in Davos, and the economy in real life; 4) Senate Dems want more tax revenue; and 5) the GOP plot to gerrymander the electoral college.

1) Top story: The 'fili-bust'

Senate leaders have reached a deal on the filibuster. "The new rules will essentially short-circuit one filibuster vote during the 'motion to proceed' to a bill, when the chamber begins considering legislation. Republicans have increasingly filibustered the motion to begin debating legislation to slow the passage of bills or block them." Paul Kane in The Washington Post.

Read: The text of the change to Senate rules.

More details on the vote. "By a 78-16 vote, the Senate adopted a two-year deal intended to give Republicans a minimum number of amendments during floor debate, but limiting their ability to filibuster efforts to begin debate on legislation. It also will limit dilatory tactics on lower-tiered judicial and executive branch nominees...And by an 86-9 vote, the Senate made permanent changes to the rules to quickly schedule legislation in situations where there’s consensus on legislation — and limited stalling tactics to prevent Senate talks from convening with the House." Manu Raju and Ginger Gibson in Politico.

In an interview, Reid explains the deal. "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...'With the history of the Senate, we have to understand the Senate isn’t and shouldn’t be like the House.'" Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Four more reasons Reid was skeptical of filibuster reform. "So, why did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) cut a deal on filibuster reform despite having voiced support in the not-too-distant past for the possibility of big changes? We talked to a few smart Democratic political minds and put that question to them.  Their thoughts — coupled with our own observations — are below." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

@jonathanweisman: Senate filibuster deal doesnt go all that far, but by including guarantee of 2 Repub amendments, tacit admission that problem was bipartisan

Senate filibuster deal disappoints reformers. "Senate leaders have reached a deal on procedural reform that alters some of the chamber’s more cumbersome procedures but leaves the 60-vote threshold for ending a filibuster intact — disappointing reformers who had hoped for more...Liberal activists, as well as some junior Democrats, expressed disappointment with the proposal because it did not fundamentally alter the filibuster practice." Paul Kane and Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post.

Why filibuster reform failed, and where it might go next. "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...The filibuster’s reputation is much weaker among the Senate’s younger members than its older members. The older members can recall a Senate that worked, even with the filibuster. The younger members can only recall a Senate that doesn’t work, in large part because of the filibuster." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

@ezraklein: The Reid/McConnell deal isn't filibuster reform. It's motion to proceed reform, and nominations process reform.

FIRESTONE: So much for reform. "Streamlining may have been Mr. Reid’s goal, but a slightly more efficient Senate is not necessarily an improved one. Republicans required virtually every bill to pass by a 60-vote margin, and that isn’t going to change with this rules package. Real reform failed because older Democrats fear that they might be in the minority one day and will want to use the filibuster themselves. Thanks to that timidity, the principle that only extraordinary circumstances call for supermajorities has once again been set aside." David Firestone in The New York Times.

@mattyglesias: People who think the filibuster protects “minority rights” should familiarize themselves with the history of the United States of America.

PONNURU: About the filibuster deal. "Unsurprisingly, it contains some reductions in the power of the minority party. That was, after all, what the Democrats were after. Those reductions are real. Speeding up the calendar will make it possible for the majority party to get more legislation and nominations through." Ramesh Ponnuru in National Review Online.

TRENDE: Democrats should fear reforms. " The filibuster doesn’t really matter unless you control the House of Representatives, Senate, and presidency -- what we might call the “trifecta.” Even if Reid were to lower the number of votes needed to move legislation through the Senate to 20 votes, it still wouldn’t significantly advance the Democratic cause in Congress, because the Republican House acts as an effective filibuster. Similarly, when Republicans hold the presidency, a veto would stop any legislation...So here’s the problem for Democrats: Republican trifectas are more likely, all other things being equal, than Democratic trifectas, at least in the near future." Sean Trende in Real Clear Politics.

Music recommendations interlude: The Dubliners, "The Wild Rover," original 1963.

Top op-eds

BUSH AND BOLICK: Solving the immigration puzzle. "The immigration system is like a jigsaw puzzle. If one or more pieces are out of whack, the puzzle makes no sense. To fix the system, Congress must make sure all of the pieces fit together, logically and snugly." Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick in The Wall Street Journal.

KRUGMAN: Deficit hawks down. "Mr. Obama’s clearly deliberate neglect of Washington’s favorite obsession was just the latest sign that the self-styled deficit hawks — better described as deficit scolds — are losing their hold over political discourse. And that’s a very good thing." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

KIM: Climate change as an economic priority. "Even as global climate negotiations continue, there is a need for urgent action outside the conventions. People everywhere must focus on where we will get the most impact to reduce emissions and build resilience in cities, communities and countries." Jim Yong Kim in The Washington  Post.

SOLTAS: Prescription drug abuse is a public-health crisis. "Drug abuse, much of it from prescription medication, now kills more Americans each year than homicide or car accidents. It has become the fastest-growing cause of accidental death in the U.S. To put the magnitude of the issue in perspective, the death wave from drug abuse is now as big, in terms of annual deaths, as the one caused by HIV-AIDS in the late 1980s. That resulted in a national public-health response. And yet policy makers have been largely silent about prescription drugs." Evan Soltas in Bloomberg.

BROOKS: The brain drain. "[T]here is our system of higher education, which is like a giant vacuum cleaner that sucks up some of the smartest people from across the country and concentrates them in a few privileged places...The highly educated cluster around a few small nodes." David Brooks in The New York Times.

NOONAN: Conservatives need to pull themselves together. "It  became obvious this week that the Republican party top to bottom has to start taking Barack Obama seriously...He doesn't care if you like him—he'd just as soon you did, but it's not necessary for him. He is certain he is right in what he's doing, which is changing the economic balance between rich and poor. The rich are going to be made less rich, and those who are needy or request help are going to get more in government services, which the rich will pay for." Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal.

Scientific interlude: Boiling water turns directly to snow at -13 degrees Fahrenheit

2) What Biden said about gun control online

Biden does a Google Hangout on gun control. "Vice President Biden on Thursday continued to make the case for the Obama administration’s new gun control agenda, imploring participants in a Google “fireside hangout” to reach out to their members of Congress on the issue." Felicia Sonmez in The Washington Post.

The White House is going to work around Congress. "The White House has decided to circumvent Capitol Hill as it concentrates its gun-control efforts on speeches and other public appearances by President Obama and Vice President Biden outside of Washington, according to officials with knowledge of the plans. With Obama’s gun agenda dependent on centrist Democratic senators who are nervous about their reelection prospects, the administration has calculated that the president is better off helping to build a groundswell of popular support within the lawmakers’ states rather than negotiating directly with them, officials said." Philip Rucker and Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Sen. Feinstein unveils assault-weapons ban. "Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Thursday rolled out a controversial piece of gun control legislation, a ban on assault weapons similar to the one that expired in 2004. With stricter definitions of an 'assault weapon,' Feinstein is pushing to make the manufacture or sale of new guns illegal." Ginger Gibson in Politico.

The last assault-weapons ban didn't work. Will the next one be different? "On Thursday, lawmakers in Congress formally unveiled the “Assault Weapons Ban of 2013.” The proposed bill (pdf) would reinstate the ban on certain semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines that was in effect from 1994 to 2004, along with some extra tweaks. Those extra tweaks deserve a closer look." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Republicans are open to gun control. But just not whatever Obama's proposing. "Fully 76 percent of Democrats rate Obama’s proposals favorably, while nearly as many Republicans say the opposite (72 percent)...By contrast, a separate Post-ABC poll conducted before Obama’s announcement found Republicans overwhelmingly supporting — or no worse than evenly divided — on four central Obama proposals." Scott Clement in The Washington Post.

Manchin is working with NRA on background checks. "Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) says he’s working with the National Rifle Association on legislation that would impose new background checks, with some exceptions." Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post.

Urban interlude: Man versus subway.

3) Davos and how the economy is doing in real life

Here's what they are talking about in Davos. "This year, as corporate executives, top bankers, heads of state and government ministers gather for discussions and networking, the euro crisis is in remission. Yet, although European policy makers have shored up the edifice of the currency, reducing what was perhaps the biggest risk to global growth, optimism remains in short supply. Growth is elusive, particularly in Europe and the U.S., and continuing uncertainty has put many companies and banks on the defensive." Stephen Fidler in The Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, the middle class is falling further behind. "[I]f you expand the 'basics' group to include gas, health care, health insurance, medical prescriptions and education, there’s little change over the last 40 years. That group of basics ate up 64 percent of American consumer spending in 1970, and 62 percent in 2011. Put a different way, we spend less of our incomes today on clothes and food. We spend more on doctors and fuel. It’s hard to see how the former are 'basics' and the latter are not." Jim Tankersley in The Washington Post.

Older people are staying in the workforce. "According to a new Census Bureau report, in 2010, 16.1 percent of the population 65 years and older was in the labor force, meaning either working or actively looking for work. Two decades earlier, that share was 12.1 percent." Catherine Rampell in The New York Times.

Jobless claims now at 5-year low. "The number of U.S. workers filing new applications for jobless benefits fell to another five-year low, indicating a strengthening labor market...The four-week moving average of claims, considered a more reliable figure because it smooths out often volatile weekly data, fell by 8,250 to 351,750. That was the lowest level since March 2008." Josh Mitchell and Eric Morath in The Wall Street Journal.

Housing looks good -- with graphs. "A funny thing is happening to the United States housing market. It is getting better at an accelerating rate. And therein could lie hope for a surprisingly strong economy this year." Floyd Norris in The New York Times.

How to win the eternal hate of the Internet interlude: A New Zealand economist wants to eliminate cats.

4) Patty Murray to lead push for more tax revenue

Senate Dems make a new push to raise tax revenue. "Incoming Budget Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray, a liberal Democrat from Washington state, told her colleagues Thursday that her first budget would call for additional revenue, drawn from changes to tax breaks that give an advantage to upper-income households...Ms. Murray assumes the panel's helm after years of increasingly direct engagement in the fiscal feuds that have come to dominate Congress." Kristina Peterson in The Wall Street Journal.

Read: An internal memo from Senate Democrats which says 'revenue must be included.'

The sequester is likely to go unresolved. "The prospect of sequestration seems increasingly likely these days, with a growing number of Republicans and Democrats suggesting they’re resigned to the idea." Josh Hicks in The Washington Post.

Who will blink first in future fights? "Speaker John Boehner’s House Republicans and President Barack Obama — joined by congressional Democrats — want entirely different things out of the three-step fiscal fight that will take place over the next 90 days...[T]here’s almost no way for both sides to get what they want — setting the nation on a course to a possible government shutdown or deep cuts to government programs that no one wants, unless someone blinks." Jake Sherman and Carrie Budoff Brown in Politico.

Explainer: See the two charts which show Obama isn't a big spender.

Can we fix the budget easily? "In a recent paper in Tax Notes, the New York University law professor and former Obama economic aide [David Kamin] argues that it’s much easier to close the long-run budget gap than most commentators assume." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

...And it's a good thing we have a transparent budget bureau. "The International Budget Partnership focuses on promoting budget transparency abroad, along with supporting programs to reduce poverty. Yesterday, they released the latest edition of their Open Budget Survey, a regular examination of the budget practices of a huge sample of countries in every region of the world" Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

Speaking of budgets, you're going to want to read Zach Goldfarb's profile of Tim Geithner. "Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner sat around a conference room table with his advisers as they relayed the concerns of banks protesting President Obama’s push for new rules for Wall Street. Geithner, widely thought to be a friend of the financial industry, did not lend a sympathetic ear. 'F--- the banks,' he said, according to people familiar with the episode. Geithner is set to step down Friday as Treasury secretary after four enormously consequential years as one of Obama’s top advisers — and, as that four-letter epithet suggests, a deeply paradoxical figure in American government." Zach Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

XKCD interlude: On understanding your own brain.

5) How the GOP wants to gerrymander the electoral college

Republicans in Virginia, other states seek electoral college changes. "Republicans in Virginia and a handful of other battleground states are pushing for far-reaching changes to the electoral college in an attempt to counter recent success by Democrats. In the vast majority of states, the presidential candidate who wins receives all of that state’s electoral votes. The proposed changes would instead apportion electoral votes by congressional district, a setup far more favorable to Republicans." Nia-Malika Henderson and Errin Haines in The Washington Post.

How to siphon electoral-college votes away from blue states"What the Virginia legislature is contemplating isn’t illegal. States can divvy up their electoral votes however they want. Nebraska and Maine both do it (although in practice these states rarely end up splitting their votes). What’s different here is that Virginia is a big state with heavily gerrymandered districts...[U]nder a plan like Carrico’s, presidential elections would now be heavily affected by whichever state parties happen to be in power when district maps are redrawn. Gerrymandering would influence presidential races, too.Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

RNC to release report this March on 'what went wrong' in 2012. "The Republican Party committee tasked with reviewing what went wrong in the 2012 election plans to release a report in March. The five members of the so-called 'Growth & Opportunity Project' appointed by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told reporters at a press conference Thursday that they’ve had “dozens of listening sessions over the last few weeks." James Hohmann in Politico.

Just when you thought things couldn't get any crazier interlude: Frmr. Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado promises to smoke pot.

Et Cetera

Culture or geography? The economic future of Britain hangs in the balanceNeil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Why we don't know if half of our medical treatments workSarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Cordray nomination will receive Republican roadblockDanielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

...And Mary Jo White is the candidate for SEC. Dina ElBoghdady in The Washington Post.

Treasury Sec. nominee Jack Lew's problematic history at CitigroupJia Lynn Yang in The Washington Post.

In Arizona, the politics of expanding Medicaid intersect with immigrationSarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Tim Geither's legacy lies with an unpopular program which saved the economy -- the bailoutsZachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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