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The Morning Plum: Revisit filibuster reform, Harry Reid

Congress returns from recess this week, and we are likely to see Republicans stand in the way of key items on Obama’s agenda yet again. The Senate will soon vote on expanded background checks, which enjoy near universal support. Obama is set to meet with Republican Senators to again discuss replacing the sequester with a mix of spending cuts and new revenues — which will be in Obama’s budget — at a time when solid majorities favor that mode of deficit reduction.

Despite public sentiment on these issues, you can expect more filibustering and obstructionism from Republicans. Perhaps this is why Harry Reid has again threatened to revisit filibuster reform:

“All within the sound of my voice — including my Democratic senators and the Republican senators who I serve with — should understand that we as a body have the power on any given day to change the rules with a simple majority,” Reid told Nevada Public Radio in a little-noticed interview Friday. “And I will do that if necessary.”

By my count, this is at least the third time a Dem Senate leader has threatened to revisit rules reform. Yet the obstructionism continues with no action on Reid’s part.

Reid needs to stop threatening to revisit the filibuster unless he actually means it. Empty threats accomplish nothing. Indeed, they’re counterproductive. They make Dems look weak. They inflate expectations among Dem base voters — and supporters who worked hard to reelect Obama and Dems to Congress — that we may soon enjoy a functional Senate.

But this goes beyond the question of whether we’re going to have something approaching majority rule in the Upper Chamber. As E.J. Dionne notes in a must read, ongoing GOP filibustering reflects, and exacerbates, something deeply skewed about our politics: a set of structural imbalances that have given the extreme right outsized influence over the GOP, and by extension, over the agenda in Washington. Dionne lists a number of factors: 65 percent of Republicans self-identify as conservatives; the Senate gives disproportionate power to rural states; and gerrymandered House districts mean GOP officials are overly preoccupied by primary threats, and “worry almost entirely about an increasingly radicalized right.”

“We need to acknowledge that our system is giving extremists far more influence than the voters would,” Dionne argues. “That’s why American democracy is deadlocked.”

Nothing illustrates this better than the fact that the GOP is likely to filibuster a gun reform that has the support of nine in 10 Americans and over eight in ten Republicans. Nothing illustrates it better than the fact that that far right Senators like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are determined to even block any debate of the proposal — on Second Amendment Grounds. If all of this isn’t enough to get Reid to deliver on his threat to revisit rules reform, nothing will be.

* John McCain doesn’t support GOP gun filibuster: Steve Benen flags a crucial quote from Senator McCain on Face the Nation yesterday pushing back on the Rand Paul/Ted Cruz threat of a filibuster on the motion to proceed on guns:

“I don’t understand it. The purpose of the United States Senate is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand…What are we afraid of?”

Remember, McCain cut an ad for expanded background checks back in 2000, and he’s another key GOPer Dems are trying to win over.

* Prospects for a gun deal brightening? I reported on Friday that Dems are quietly negotiating with GOP Senator Pat Toomey on a possible compromise on expanded background checks. Today the Post moves the ball forward a bit more:

Manchin and Toomey are developing a measure to require background checks for all gun purchases except sales between close family members and some hunters, which addresses concerns of some conservatives.

That’s key: It looks as if Toomey is not as concerned about record keeping as is Tom Coburn, the other Republican Dems are eying; Toomey seems more focused on exempting some categories of gun purchasers, something Dems can probably live with.

* Why Toomey is in talks over guns: The Fix crew explains that it has to do with the fact that Toomey is up for reelection in 2016:

Toomey understands then that to win in 2016 — a presidential year in a state where a Republican nominee has not won since 1988 — he has to demonstrate some cross-aisle cooperation. And, while much of the middle section of Pennsylvania is filled with hunters who prize their gun rights, the votes Toomey needs are in the Philadelphia suburbs where voters are much more likely to support gun restrictions. Being involved in what will almost certainly be cast as a “common sense” deal — if a deal is struck — is great politics for Toomey.

Also: If Toomey comes on board, that could hold sway with the sort of House Republican who represents districts in the Philly suburbs.

* But White House is pessimistic about deals on guns, deficit: The New York Times’s Jackie Calmes reports that of the major issues on the table right now, the White House is only optimistic about securing GOP cooperation on immigration, and not on guns or on a deficit “grand bargain.” The White House calculus:

White House aides predict that if the gun issue dies, Mr. Obama will at least get credit for trying and Republicans will be blamed by the majority of Americans who favor tighter controls.

Beyond the popularity of specific gun proposals, you also have to wonder whether unabated GOP obstruction of efforts to solve the country’s problems in general will continue to erode the GOP brand, and what that will mean for 2014 and 2016.

* For Republicans, Obama can’t do anything right: Also in the above Times story, this is amusing:

In the past, when he has stayed aloof from legislative action, Republicans and others have accused him of a lack of leadership; when he has gotten involved, they have complained that they could not support any bill so closely identified with Mr. Obama without risking the contempt of conservative voters.

This is another way in which the whole “Obama must lead Republicans out of their intransigence” line of punditry is just a crock.

* Republicans keep misleading on background checks: Glenn Kessler debunks GOP Senator Rob Portman’s recent hint that Obama supports a “national gun registry.” In reality, the current law — which would simply be expanded — explicitly forbids it.

In fairness to Portman, his wording was very careful — he claimed there is “talk” of a national registry, without quite saying Obama supports this. However, the very need for this slippery language again underscores that Republicans need to mislead people about background checks to have any argument against it.

 * And Obamacare’s assault on liberty: Paul Krugman takes apart one of the right’s favorite talking points — that Obamacare is a threat to American freedom — and links it back to a time when the same argument was used against Medicare 50 years ago. Rhe fact that Obamacare has been denounced in the same terms as Medicare was could bode very well for the health law, since Medicare today is, you know, quite popular:

For all our talk of being the land of liberty, those holding one of the dwindling number of jobs that carry decent health benefits often feel anything but free, knowing that if they leave or lose their job, for whatever reason, they may not be able to regain the coverage they need. Over time, as people come to realize that affordable coverage is now guaranteed, it will have a powerful liberating effect.

Republicans are already confidently predicting Obamacare will be a major albatross for Dem candidates in 2014, as if the GOP didn’t run millions and millions in ads on health care in 2012, only to lose seats in both chambers.

What else?