A great day for the filibuster, and for filibuster reform

March 6, 2013

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.”


Rand Pau mounted an old-school filibuster today. (AFP)

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who led the push for filibuster reform at the beginning of this Congress, also sees an opportunity. “Senate Republicans have demonstrated that they have absolutely no intention of ending their assault on the ability of the U.S. Senate to function,” Merkley told TPM. “Many of my colleagues are absolutely beside themselves with frustration, and that frustration is rapidly turning to fury.”

Will the Senate actually take another look at it? I doubt it. But this is why I occasionally think filibuster reform will happen in the not-too-distant future. The idea's on the table now. And it returns every time the majority feels the minority is abusing the spirit of the last compromise. Which is pretty much all the time.

I wish filibuster reform would occur as part of a calm, bipartisan effort to fix the Senate. But I think the likelier process looks like what's happened over these last few days -- but on steroids.

Imagine that Justice Anthony Kennedy decides he wants to step down from the Supreme Court to make one last go as a lounge singer in Vegas. President Obama nominates a left-leaning replacement. Can Republicans really permit Democrats to attain a majority on the Court? And if they filibuster to stop them, does anyone really doubt that Democrats would eventually shut the filibuster down?

2) That said, Wednesday's filibuster is actually an old-school talkathon -- exactly the kind of filibuster Merkley wanted to encourage. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) went down to the floor of the Senate and used his prerogatives as a senator to mount a sustained, public argument against John Brennan's nomination to lead the CIA. Now Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is picking up the argument. This is the highest purpose of the filibuster: Allowing a passionate minority to slow down the Senate and make their case to both their colleagues and the American people. If more filibusters went like this, there'd be no reason to demand reform. And if there is reform, it needs to hold open the possibility for filibusters like this.

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Sarah Kliff · March 6, 2013