WILL SENATE Democrats give into temptation and smash the filibuster, after all?
The Senate just got through reforming some of its arcane — but intensely disputed — rules that allow a minority to hold up the country’s business, and TPM’s Brian Beutler reports that already Democrats are thinking of changing them again. But Republicans can easily end talk of further limiting minority rights in the chamber. They just need to start using those rights more responsibly.
In January, Senate leaders struck a bipartisan agreement to snip a few of the chamber’s procedures, with the goal of speeding the legislative process in the perpetually backlogged body. The deal didn’t change much; it mainly restricted the ability of very small minorities to slow proceedings. It did not end the de facto requirement that all major Senate actions attract 60 votes. Reformers, some of whom favored requiring senators to speak on the floor as long as they wanted to sustain a filibuster, were disappointed. We agree there could have been more useful reforms short of abolishing the filibuster. Nevertheless, it was important that Democrats avoided the temptation to change the rules unilaterally. They will appreciate the precedent when they are back in the minority.
But since January, Republicans have continued their filibuster abuse. One example: blocking a vote on the nomination of attorney Caitlin Halligan for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Ms. Halligan is well-qualified to serve on the under-staffed D.C. Circuit, and a distinguished group of prominent liberal and conservative legal minds endorsed her candidacy enthusiastically. Senators have agreed only to filibuster judicial nominees under exceptional circumstances, a standard that the Republicans’ latest move obviously fails to meet.
The next victim may be Richard Cordray, nominated to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), who requires Senate confirmation before his recess appointment ends at the close of this year. Lawmakers widely agree that Mr. Cordray is qualified and has led his agency well. But Republicans have refused to consider any nominee until Democrats agree to change the agency’s structure and funding. Republican criticisms of the agency may be reasonable. But their attempt to extort changes by refusing to allow the CFPB to function is not. Congress passed laws to establish the agency in its current form. That is the only legitimate way for Senate Republicans to reform it.
Democrats should check their desire to force major reforms on the Senate with party-line votes. But Republicans have got to stop forcing their hand.