So it’s looking more and more likely that Harry Reid and Democrats will introduce some sort of package of filibuster reforms at the start of the next Congress. Politico reports this morning that Republicans are preparing to go to war against the reforms, and are threatening to grind the Senate to a halt in retaliation:
“I think the backlash will be severe,” Senator Tom Coburn, the conservative firebrand, said sternly. ”If you take away minority rights, which is what you’re doing because you’re an ineffective leader, you’ll destroy the place. And if you destroy the place, we’ll do what we have to do to fight back.”
“It will shut down the Senate,” the incoming Senate GOP whip, Texas Senator John Cornyn, told Politico. “It’s such an abuse of power.”
Also, up is down, black is white, war is peace, and slavery is freedom.
Senator Cornyn claims reform will “shut down the Senate.” In reality, Republicans used the filibuster itself in an effort to effectively do just that, rendering the Upper Chamber dysfunctional to deny Obama bipartisan victories, pin the blame for ineffectual governance on him, and render him a one-term president. That Republicans adopted this goal is not in doubt. It has been publicly confirmed by Republican Senators themselves, including the Senate GOP leader.
As Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann detailed in “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” no matter how many times you hear the claim that Dems also engage in such tactics, GOP obstructionism is, indeed, unprecedented, both in nature (the extensive tying up of routine Senate business) and scope (the dramatic rise in filibusters in recent years).
Senator Coburn, meanwhile, warns that reform would require Republicans to finally “fight back” (as if they’ve been a passive observer of Senate business for the last four years) because it will “take away minority rights.” So let’s be as clear as possible: The package of reforms most likely to be adopted would not take away the ability of the minority to block legislation supported by a majority of the Senate.
That’s right: While the reforms currently being considered would force filibustering into the open and end the ability to filibuster before proceeding to debate and in other situations, they would not — repeat, not — mean an end to the filibuster on ending debate and having a final vote on any bill. In other words, these reforms would simply remove ways of using the filibuster explicitly as a tactic to gum up the works by stalling legislation, without altering the underlying ability to block legislation with a minority of the Senate. It would fundamentally remain a 60-vote institution where majority rule doesn’t automatically prevail. Indeed, some liberals think this means the reforms aren’t good enough.
These GOP warnings remind us, as Mike Tomasky points out, that there is going to be a ferocious spin war over filibuster reform, and Dems need to be prepared. But the news media plays a role here, too. News outlets may well fall into a familiar pattern of false equivalence and fail to inform readers of the unadorned facts of the situation and the basic history of the last four years — essentially misleading their readers and viewers in the name of fake “balance.”
* Public is on Dems’ side in fiscal cliff talks: Striking finding in a new CNN poll:
56% say taxes on wealthy people should be kept high so the government can use their money for programs to help lower-income people, with 36% saying taxes on such high earners should be kept low because they invest their money in the private sector and that helps the economy and creates jobs.
This clash of priorities is what Obama ran on — and he won. Also, as Taegan Goddard notes, a majority of Americans have an unfavorable view of the GOP, and “more Americans would blame the Republicans in Congress rather than Obama if the fiscal cliff provisions actually go into effect next year, 45 percent to 34 percent.”
* Republicans refusing to raise tax rates on rich: Lori Montgomery reports from inside the fiscal cliff talks, noting that Republicans are circulating internal polling data that supposedly shows more support for ending tax loopholes than raising tax rates on the rich. But Montgomery notes this important detail: GOP negotiators won’t say how much in revenues they are willing to raise via closing loopholes or even who should get hit by the loophole closings.
* Are Republicans really rebuking Grover Norquist? Over the weekend multiple Republicans claimed that they are not obligated to honor the no-tax-hikes pledge they made to Norquist, which is supposed to suggest they are willing to make concessions on taxes.
Color me unimpressed. It’s easy for Republicans to say they are not beholden to Norquist. What matters is what they’ll support in terms of actual revenue increases, and all signs remain that they will support raising revenues only via closing loopholes — not a big concession.
* Don’t be afraid to go over the cliff: Good stuff from Robert Kuttner, who cuts through the right’s deficit scare-mongering to remind us of the basic facts: Deep spending cuts are a bad idea amid a fragile recovery, and Obama is the one with all the leverage in the fiscal talks, so progressives need to remind him that going over the cliff is far preferable to a bad deal.
* Time for more transparency about drone strikes: Scott Shane reports that there is an internal debate underway inside the Obama administration about the need for a clear public rationale for ongoing drone strikes, as well as about the advisability of the strikes themselves, which many other countries think are illegal under international law. The administration’s lack of transparency is making debate in Congress about drones impossible (though it seems depressingly likely that many Dems in Congress would be too skittish to criticize them).
* Time for Obama to push harder on Guantanamo: Keep an eye on this: The New York Times editorial board urges Obama to veto the 2013 military authorization bill if it denies him the authority to transfer Guantanamo detainees for repatriation abroad or for prosecution in federal court. Obama officials have rightly complained that Congress won’t let him close Guantanamo, but having won reelection, here is an area where he can act on his own.
* Left keeps telling Dems: The public is on your side: The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is working to stiffen the spine of Senator Jeanne Shaneen of New Hampshire, likely a top GOP target in 2014, by commissioning new polling showing strong public support for tax hikes on the rich — and strong opposition to cutting Medicare and Social Security. It’s the latest sign of progressive worry that Dems could give too much in the fiscal cliff talks, which would be particularly galling in the wake of such a clear electoral victory for liberalism.
* And inequality has become a top Obama priority: I’m late to this, but don’t miss Zachary Goldfarb’s deep dive into how reducing income inequality became one of Obama’s guiding governing priorities. As Goldfarb notes, the fiscal talks are at bottom about how (or whether) we will take modest steps to reduce a gap that’s been widening for decades, so this is a good prism to judge the success or failure of the talks’ results.