With the confrontation over the filibuster set to hit nuclear meltdown temperature this week, there’s a great deal of hand-wringing out there over the current breakdown in Senate comity. The Post talks to a lot of current and former Senators who are deeply upset about how ideological and polarized the Senate has become. There’s little talk about whether one side is more to blame than the other for this state of affairs, as if this occurrence were natural and inevitable.
It’s probably too much to expect observers who maintain an aura of neutrality to take a stand on whether one side is more culpable than the other for the current state of things in the Senate. Certainly those more sympathetic to the GOP won’t concede this, and are denouncing Harry Reid’s threatened move as a power grab that will destroy the Senate.
So I’m going to pose the question in another way: Is there any point at which folks would be willing to concede that the Dem rules change on the table — doing away with the filibuster on executive nominations — is justifiable? In other words, is there any level of Republican obstruction that would justify acting on Dems’ part?
On Meet the Press yesterday, Mitch McConnell railed against the threatened rules change, which he characterized as a “threat to blow the Senate up.” But then, in the very same appearance, he refused to rule out a filibuster of Obama’s eventual pick to replace Janet Napolitano as Department of Homeland Security Secretary, claiming: “I can’t guarantee you there won’t be a spirited debate.” Debate isn’t the problem. Endless obstructionism designed to render government dysfunctional is the problem.
Conservatives are circulating an article by former Congressional staffer Richard Arenberg, who calls on Reid to “save the filibuster.” But even Arenberg concedes that Democratic grievances are legitimate. He notes that GOP blockading of Obama’s appointments to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals constitutes “poking the Democrats with a sharp stick.” He also notes that GOP opposition to Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is “even less justifiable,” adding: “Republicans don’t even pretend to oppose the nominee; they hope to force changes to the agency.” The problem with changing the rules, Arenberg says, is that it could set a precedent for doing away with minority rights entirely, leading to a solely majority-controlled Senate.
No one is claiming this isn’t a legitimate worry. It is. Changing the rules by simple majority really could create precedent for exercising the nuke option to get rid of the filibuster entirely, which could have plenty of negative consequences.
But again, here are the real questions on the table: Is there any level of GOP obstructionism that would make the Dem rules change — which would only do away with filibusters on executive nominations, not on legislation — justifiable? Republicans have turned the Senate into a 60-vote body on even routine business essential to allowing the government to function. They continue to filibuster nominees not out of opposition to the nominations themselves, but explicitly to nullify democratically-created agencies they don’t like. Those who oppose the Dem rules change need to reckon honestly with these questions: If this doesn’t justify changing the rules, what would? Are Dems really supposed to tolerate a state of affairs in which the opposition won’t allow them to govern?
* HARRY REID’S JUSTIFICATION FOR THE “NUCLEAR OPTION”: The Senate Majority Leader spells it out on Meet the Press:
“Is there anyone out there in the real world that believes that what’s going on in Congress of the United States is good? Our approval rating is lower than North Korea’s.”
To those who oppose the Dem push to change the rules, the question is: are you okay with the current functioning of the Senate? Should anything be done about it?
* IF DEMS GO NUCLEAR, GOP WILL BE TO BLAME: The Post editorial board, which doesn’t want Dems to go nuclear, spells out the ways in which Republicans will bear some of the blame if Dems do have to take that step. It also makes a key point: More sensible Republicans who don’t want Dems to take this step need to step up and call on the GOP leadership to stand down.
* RUPERT MURDOCH TO JOHN BOEHNER: TIME TO LEAD: Murdoch is now calling on the House Speaker to “lead” on immigration, by allowing the House to vote on the Senate bill for the “country’s sake.” It’s yet another reminder of the degree to which GOP-aligned elites want reform to pass for the good of the party — and of the pressure Boehner will face to allow a vote on comprehensive reform even if it lacks the support of a majority of Republicans. It’s premature to discount this pressure as a factor, as many are doing.
* STOP TAKING GOP IMMIGRATION CLAIMS AT FACE VALUE: Reporters continue to accept at face value claims by GOP leaders that the Senate bill will never pass the House. But Steve Benen has a good rejoinder: The only way to find out is for it to come to a vote. If it really can’t pass the House, and the only way to get reform is with other alternatives, prove it.
* IS DEM CONTROL OF SENATE AT RISK? The news that former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer won’t run for the seat of retiring Max Baucus prompts National Journal to report that Republicans are increasingly confident in taking back the Upper Chamber. The crux is that Dems may already be at risk of losing seats in West Virginia and South Dakota, which means:
Democrats can afford to lose up to five Senate seats and still maintain their majority, but they already risk conceding over half that number before campaigning even gets underway.
Also: Nate Cohn agrees that the odds just improved for Republican control of the Senate; they no longer have to sweep four seats from Dem incumbents in red states.
* THE GOP’S “PATHOLOGICAL MEANSPIRITEDNESS”: Paul Krugman argues that the GOP opposition to food stamp funding on display with the farm bill has no coherent rationale other than “meanspiritedness,” given that Republicans are willing to take taxpayer money and use it to fund farm subsidies, but not to fund feeding the hungry:
Somehow, one of our nation’s two great parties has become infected by an almost pathological meanspiritedness, a contempt for what CNBC’s Rick Santelli, in the famous rant that launched the Tea Party, called “losers.” If you’re an American, and you’re down on your luck, these people don’t want to help; they want to give you an extra kick.
* YOU HAVEN’T HEARD THE LAST OF GABRIEL GOMEZ: In his first interview since losing to Ed Markey in the June special election, Gomez doesn’t sound like he’s enthusiastic about challenging Markey again when he’s up for reelection next year. But he does sound open to running for something, given that national Republicans apparently continue to see him as a “new kind of Republican” who can help change the face of the party. So: He just may be back.
* AND MEET THE WOMAN WHO (PERHAPS) COULD OUST MITCH MCCONNELL: The Courier-Journal has a good primer on Alison Lundergan Grimes and her prospects for beating Mitch McConnell, given the statewide organization she’s inherited from her father. As I’ve mentioned before, right or wrong, national Dems do genuinely believe the race is winnable, though they concede it’s an uphill battle.