I just wrote about why the talking filibuster is the wrong idea for reformers, but given that lead reformer Jeff Merkley pushed his plan again today, I suppose I have to come back to it again.
Merkley spoke with Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim, explaining the rationale for forcing “talking” filibusters if a cloture vote revealed a bill had a majority but not the 60 votes needed:
"I think about the Veteran's Job Bill. If the Republicans had — instead of killing it through the silent filibuster, they'd had to take the floor before we parted for elections and say we are blocking a vote and they'd had to go through a night blocking the vote — I think enough Americans would have given feedback to their legislators on both sides of the aisle, and said, 'That's crazy. Stop that. Support ending that filibuster.' We would have gotten 60 votes," he said.
"I'm convinced that on the Disclose Act, [if] people had to take the floor and defend that, after they had argued for disclosure during McCain-Feingold, that now they were arguing that secrecy is okay and had to be on the floor for nights or weekends or a week, we would have gotten a 60th vote. And that's why it is so important to be able to have the public see what is happening. It's just hidden now," Merkley said, referring to a bill that would have required political donors to disclose their identity. The bill fell one short of the 60 needed to invoke cloture and move to a final debate.
Two things about this. One is that the majority leader right now, with no rule change at all, can force a talking filibuster whenever it’s in the interests of the majority to make it happen.
And the second is that this plan is destined to be a flop. Here’s what would actually happen in a talking filibuster. Republicans would take to the floor and start arguing for the bill. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the Republican-aligned media would treat them as heroes. That would only increase pressure on potentially wavering Republicans to stick to the party line. After all, we all know how this works. It won’t be a difference of opinion; any issue elevated in that way will suddenly turn out to be a critical issue on which basic principles of the republic rest. Anyone who betrays the party on such an important matter must surely be a RINO – and surely deserves a tea-party primary challenge. The result? Republicans would be stacked up in line to deliver ringing denunciations of the offending legislation, stocked with the latest talking points – remember, there’s no need to read from phone books or recite recipes when there are transcripts of Glenn Beck’s show or your favorite conservative blogger to deliver.
Democrats would eventually have to bring down the bill. And realizing that the whole circus would start up anew the next time they try it, they would quietly put an end to talking filibusters.
The idea that filibusters would be undermined if only they had to be defended is just foolish. The idea that senators of either party are reluctant to speak on a topic getting national media attention (and a real talking filibuster would get at least a bit of attention and more if it went on longer) seeks to fundamentally misjudge the nature of politicians. The whole thing is just a misfire.
Yes, I know that liberals and reformers love the idea of talking filibusters. They are wrong. If you want to reform the filibuster, that’s just not the way to go.