Apropos the recent return of debate over the filibuster, I’ll just point you to the Signifying Nothing archives for my proposed reform thereof:
What I’d do: tweak the Senate rules slightly, to require 2/5+1 to vote to continue debate upon a call for cloture, except when a unanimous consent agreement is in effect otherwise limiting the debate (this part allows for normal floor debate without gratuitous cloture votes). That would properly place the burden of sustaining the filibuster on its supporters, but not otherwise limit its use (unlike Bill Frist’s fundamentally silly “supermajority countdown” proposal).
Incidentally, the nice thing about having an ancient blog is that I’ve probably already discussed to death every topic under the sun. Now back to the dryer.
The Economist gets in on the filibuster debate thusly:
What’s needed is less posturing and more discussion of when, exactly, a supermajority should be required to get something done in Congress. Right now the only constitutionally-required supermajorities are the two-thirds majority needed to remove an impeached official from office and the two-thirds majorities needed in both houses to pass constitutional amendments. Which other issues are important enough to get that treatment? Should a Supreme Court nominee require confirmation by a supermajority? Should either house of Congress do as California does, and require a two-thrids majority to pass a budget?
Approach the question another way: What sort of congressional actions should only require a simple majority vote? As much as Republicans and business interests fear the Employee Free Choice Act, why should Democrats need 60 votes to pass it? If voters were opposed to the concept, they could have avoided giving the Democrats the presidency and a net 14 Senate seats and 55 House seats over the last two elections.
They are sanguine about the prospects of a real debate over the role of the filibuster, though. And, again, I am forced to wonder how Harry Reid is supposed to “bully” Republicans into not exercising the privilege of unlimited debate since he lacks any effective institutional tools to engage in such bullying.
Nate Silver thinks Harry Reid is being an ineffective Senate majority leader because he’s letting the GOP get away with holds without the traditional filibuster. However, as I pointed out here in 2003 (and also here later that year), the traditional filibuster is far more burdensome on the majority when the minority is bigger than a single senator; while you need 60 majority senators to be on-call to break the filibuster, all you need at any given point of time is a single minority senator to hold the floor.
Ultimately the “cot drama” makes for nice TV, but dragging out the cots probably won’t win him any friends among the supermajority of senators he needs to break the minority. These problems have also vexed other majority leaders of both parties—if there’s a common theme to in-partisans’ complaints about their majority leaders, it’s “ineffectuality,” without much recognition that Senate majority leaders are institutionally weak and individual senators like it that way. It probably doesn’t hurt that most senators have served in the House and the last thing they want is to have another Speaker trying to boss them around.
On a related topic, McQ points out that the bailout had enough GOP support in the Senate to pass if Reid had successfully herded his party’s cats. But again being a good cat-herder isn’t really the qualification that fellow senators want when choosing their majority leader, so I’m not sure anyone in Reid’s position would have been able to do a better job.
Well, that was fun while it lasted:
Fourteen Republican and Democratic senators announced this evening they had reached a compromise designed to prevent a showdown over President Bush’s judicial nominations.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), speaking for the group of seven Republicans and seven Democrats, announced the agreement at a news conference at 7:40 p.m.
Under the deal, the Democrats agreed to accept cloture votes on three of President Bush’s judicial nominees: Priscilla R. Owen, Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor.
In return, the Republicans pledged not to support the so-called “nuclear option” to end the ability of the minority to use filibusters to block nominees.
I suppose it’s interesting that the guaranteed votes are for the three nominees anyone had ever heard of. Now at least Washington can move on to its next kabuki theatre event. (þ: Robert Tagorda)
Update: Steve at Begging to Differ provides a conventional wisdom watch (McCain, Reid win; Bush, Frist lose) that sounds reasonably right to me, while Stephen Bainbridge thinks it was a worthwhile compromise. I tend to agree with BTD Steve that Republicans probably won’t get the credit for being “bipartisan,” but if you’re the sort of person who likes the small-c conservative nature of the filibuster, Bainbridge points out it’s the smart long-term move—although, should the Democrats ever regain the majority, there’s nothing stopping them from going “nuclear” absent some (highly unlikely) pangs of conscience due to further hypocrisy on their part.
Another day, another compromise over filibusters allegedly in the works. Yawn. (þ: PoliBlog)