Rand Paul finally ended his 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan, Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, at 12:40 a.m. this morning. Whatever you think of the specifics of Paul’s speech, his filibuster was a good thing — it sparked public discussion about Obama’s drone policies and the weak legal rationale for targeted killing the administration has publicly released.
But Paul’s filibuster did more than that. It also perfectly showcased — in an unexpected way — the problems that have rendered the Senate so dysfunctional.
Even as Paul’s filibuster consumed all of our attention because of its uniqueness — no one mounts “talking filibusters” anymore — another filibuster that took place yesterday was treated by the political world as routine, as business as usual, as an entirely normal episode in the day-to-day running of the government. I’m talking about the GOP filibuster of Caitlin Halligan, Obama’s nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Paul’s filibuster was born out of concern about an actual issue — objections to Obama’s approach to drone warfare that are shared on both sides of the aisle. By waging his talking filibuster, Paul gave us a chance to hear his objections and judge their validity. By contrast, the GOP filibuster of Halligan was part of a concerted, party-wide GOP strategy to do everything possible to render government dysfunctional when it comes to even routine business, for purely partisan reasons. The reason Republicans offered for their filibuster — that Halligan once participated in a lawsuit against the gun industry — had nothing to do with any substantive objections to her qualifications for the bench.
Unlike Paul, Republicans didn’t carry out their filibuster of Halligan on the Senate floor, in full view of the public. They didn’t have to. Republicans continue to require Dems to clear a 60 vote threshold for Obama’s nominations to keep the courts and government agencies functioning, day in and day out, with complete procedural ease — paying no price in the press, which treats this as perfectly routine. As David Firestone notes, Paul’s filibuster ended, but the real filibustering will continue.
The very fact that Paul’s filibuster (one built on genuine convictions surrounding real issues that were fully aired in public) was treated as so extraordinary is a reminder of the degree to which we’ve accepted nonstop secret filibustering (which has become nothing more than a tool for partisan across-the-board obstructionism) as entirely ordinary.
* Ryan budget will keep Medicare savings Romney/Ryan denounced: So there you have it: The New York Times reports that the budget Paul Ryan will roll out next week will include the Obamacare Medicare savings Mitt Romney and Ryan ran against last year, as well as the fiscal cliff tax hikes on the wealthy that Republicans all but denounced as a threat to American civilization. Accepting the Medicare savings resulting from Obamacare — which Republicans still vow to repeal — will help them avoid including politically damaging Medicare cuts to those over 55.
Moral of the story: Medicare cuts on the provider side, and tax hikes on the wealthy, are good ways to achieve deficit reduction!
* What’s really driving Obama’s “schmoozing” strategy: Obama’s dinner with Republicans last night was about more than making nice. As Politico explains:
While the White House is still intent on hammering House Republicans they view as unreachable, Obama increasingly sees a path out of gridlock through the Senate GOP conference, whose members want to prove their party is capable of big, meaningful bipartisan deals that belie the “Party of No” label.
As I reported here yesterday, there’s a deeper strategic shift at work among Dems, in which a long, drawn out war of attrition, and concerted outreach to GOP Senators who are open to new revenues, ultimately leads to a deal in the Senate.
* White House is playing a long game: Relatedly, E.J. Dionne has a terrific explanation of the strategic long game the White House is playing in hopes of reaching a big deficit deal. It involves peeling off individual Republican Senators who recognize that lurching from crisis to crisis is not in the party’s (or the country’s) best interests, and the bet that the pain the sequester inflicts on individual House districts will force even some House Republicans to break.
* Public supports gun control: A new Quinnipiac poll confirms yet again that solid to large majorities support Obama’s gun proposals: Eighty eight percent of Americans support universal background checks; and 54 percent support bans on assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
Strikingly, the poll also finds that respondents trust Congressional Republicans slightly more than Obama to handle gun policy, by 44-42, even though they oppose all the policies the public supports. This perhaps is a reminder of what an excellent job the “gun rights” has done in obscuring the true nature of gun control policy goals.
* Gun control is good politics for Dems: A new Huffington Post/YouGov poll finds a striking jump in support for a hypothetical Dem candidate if respondents are told he or she supports universal background checks and the GOP opponent doesn’t. The assault weapons ban elicits a smaller jump, but it’s clearly not a liability, either. The poll is a reminder of how much of a no-brainer universal background checks really is, and suggests the unthinkable: What if the politics of gun control are not only no longer risky for Democrats, but are actually good terrain for them?
* Puncturing the NRA’s myths: Mother Jones’s Dave Gilson does a nice job shredding multiple tenets in the NRA’s mythology, from the claim that “guns don’t kill people, people do,” to the assertion that more guns make for a more civil society.
* Overwhelming support for minimum wage: A new Gallup poll finds that 71 percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $9 per hour. Even conservatives favor this policy by 54-44, and Republicans favor it by 50-48. It’s yet another issue where the GOP Congressional leadership is out of step even with their own voters.
While the fight for the House of Representatives will take center stage next year, another battle could be almost as important for the two parties: control of a handful of big-state governorships. Republicans like to point out that while they lost the presidency and seats in both chambers of Congress in 2012, their party continues to hold governorships in 30 states, including nine of the country’s 12 largest states. But most of those governors — 23 to be exact — were elected in 2010, a great GOP year that doesn’t reflect the nation’s (or many states’) political fundamentals.