On the Senate floor today, Harry Reid offered the clearest confirmation yet that he will move forward with filibuster reform at the start of the new Congress. He confirmed he is proposing to “do away with filibusters on the motion to proceed,” which was already known. He added that under proposed reforms, Senators who want to filibuster will have to “stand up and talk about it.” That means Reid supports the “talking filibuster,” the proposal to force filibustering out into the open — on the theory that this will make it politically more difficult.
There’s some debate over whether the latter proposal is likely to be effective. Jonathan Bernstein has argued that it’s absurd to imagine that Republicans would balk at publicly holding the floor.
That aside, now that there will be a massive spin war over the meaning of reform — Mitch McConnell railed today that Dems are planning a “naked power grab” — it’s worth reiterating that there is a set of actual facts about GOP filibustering and the Dem response to it that shouldn’t get lost in all the false equivalence BS we’re certain to hear:
1) The extent of GOP filibustering is unprecedented. This chart shows that cloture motions (a rough measure of filibustering) suddenly spiked during the Obama years. Yes, they also spiked in 2007-2008, but according to Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein, the vast majority of those filibusters were mounted by Republicans, presumably to block legislation designed to embarrass George W. Bush. (Indeed, the motions to end filibusters during that period were filed mostly by Dems.)
2) The nature of GOP filibustering is unprecedented. Ornstein says this is true in two ways: First, in the extensive blockading of what used to be considered routine Senate business. And second, much of the filibustering is part of a concerted party strategy. “You’re not just looking at filibusters done by rogue senators or factions, like southern Democrats in the 1950s,” says Ornstein. “It’s the first time we’ve had a wide range of filibustering by a whole party.”
3) Filibuster reform would not do away with the minority’s ability to filibuster. The “talking filibuster” reform and the nixing of the filibuster on the motion to proceed would only make it harder to use procedural tactics, under cover of darkness, for the explicit purpose of stalling the Upper Chamber’s business. The minority would still be able to block the will of a simple majority on the vote to end debate. These are not very meaningful restrictions on the “rights” of the minority.
At any rate, now that Reid has made such a vocal push, it’s hard to imagine that Dems won’t move forward on day one of the new session to change the rules with a simple majority vote. Looks like it’s on.
UPDATE: It’s also possible that unilateral action on the rules by Democrats to change the filibuster may not happen, if Dems and Republicans reach a deal. As Ornstein emails me:
In 1975, we had the threat of one party action to change the rule, and it led to a bipartisan compromise. That could happen this time, despite the rhetoric — a bipartisan move to eliminate filibusters on the motion to proceed, a few more changes, and in return, a guarantee for the minority on at least some amendments on bills.