(Update) Time to neuter the Ninja Turtle: reform the Senate filibuster rule

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Mitch_mcconnell_frown-cropped-proto-custom_2The Septegenarian Ninja Turtle, Mitch McConnell, the man who has abused the rules of the Senate to such an extraordinary degree that he has rendered that institution dysfunctional and broken, incapable of addressing the people's business even in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, is whining mightily about how Democrats intend to neuter his ability to hold the Senate hostage to his tyranny of the minority by adopting senate rule changes, including filibuster reform, when the new Congress convenes in January. Now that's chutzpah.

This is the equivalent of a man on trial for murdering his parents asking for the leniency of the court because he is now an orphan.

Politico reported on Monday that the GOP warns of shutdown over filibuster:

Here’s
what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is considering: banning
filibusters used to prevent debate from even starting and House-Senate
conference committees from ever meeting. He also may make filibusters
become actual filibusters — to force senators to carry out the nonstop,
talkathon sessions.

Republicans are threatening even greater retaliation if Reid uses a
move rarely used by Senate majorities: changing the chamber’s precedent
by 51 votes, rather than the usual 67 votes it takes to overhaul the
rules.

“I think the backlash will be severe,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the
conservative firebrand, said sternly. “If you take away minority
rights, which is what you’re doing because you’re an ineffective leader,
you’ll destroy the place. And if you destroy the place, we’ll do what
we have to do to fight back.”

“It will shut down the Senate,” the incoming Senate GOP whip, Texas
Sen. John Cornyn, told POLITICO. “It’s such an abuse of power.”

Do these guys listen to themselves when they are spewing such nonsense? It is Tea-Publican abuse of the Senate rules which has "shut down the Senate" already. Would anyone even notice? How could you tell?

“We cannot allow the Senate to be dysfunctional by the use of filibusters,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Reid’s No. 2. “We’ve had over 300 filibusters in the last six years — it’s unprecedented. What we’re talking about is very basic — you want to start a filibuster, you want to stop the business of the Senate, by goodness’ sake, park your fanny on the floor of the Senate and speak. If you want to go to dinner and go home over the weekend, be prepared, the Senate is moving forward.”

Harry Reid took to the Senate floor on Monday and offered the clearest confirmation yet that he will move
forward with filibuster reform at the start of the new Congress. Full speed ahead on filibuster reform?

[Reid] confirmed that he is proposing to “do away with filibusters on the motion to
proceed.” He added that under proposed reforms,
Senators who want to filibuster will have to “stand up and talk about
it.” That means Reid supports the “talking filibuster,” the proposal to
force filibustering out into the open — on the theory that this will
make it politically more difficult.

Septegenarian Ninja Turtle Mitch McConnell followed Harry Reid, railing against his counterpart and a “cohort of short-sighted Senate sophomores,” for planning a “naked power grab.”

[I]t’s worth reiterating that there is a set of actual facts
about GOP filibustering and the Dem response to it that shouldn’t get
lost in all the false equivalence BS we’re certain to hear:

1) The extent of GOP filibustering is unprecedented. This chart
shows that cloture motions (a rough measure of filibustering) suddenly
spiked during the Obama years. Yes, they also spiked in 2007-2008, but
according to Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein, the vast majority of
those filibusters were mounted by Republicans, presumably to block
legislation designed to embarrass George W. Bush. (Indeed, the motions
to end filibusters during that period were filed mostly by Dems.)

2) The nature of GOP filibustering is unprecedented. Ornstein says
this is true in two ways: First, in the extensive blockading of what
used to be considered routine Senate business. And second, much of the
filibustering is part of a concerted party strategy. “You’re not
just looking at filibusters done by rogue senators or factions, like
southern Democrats in the 1950s,” says Ornstein. “It’s the first time
we’ve had a wide range of filibustering by a whole party.”

3) Filibuster reform would not do away with the minority’s
ability to filibuster
. The “talking filibuster” reform and the nixing of
the filibuster on the motion to proceed would only make it
harder to use procedural tactics, under cover of darkness, for the
explicit purpose of stalling the Upper Chamber’s business. The minority
would still be able to block the will of a simple majority on the vote
to end debate. These are not very meaningful restrictions on the
“rights” of the minority
.

In other words, the Septegenarian Ninja Turtle is making much ado about nothing.

Will the "talking filibuster" romanticized by Frank Capra in Mr. Smith goes to Washington do the trick? Hardly. Senators are all media whores nowadays. John McCain would be the GOP's designated hitter, just keep him supplied with Red Bull. I have to agree with Jonathan Bernstein on this one. The ghost of Jimmy Stewart and the live filibuster:

Filibuster reform is haunted by Jimmy Stewart.

It may mean that we get reforms that just don’t work.

* * *

[Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren] builds her argument around romantic, irrelevant pining for the filibuster as portrayed in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Or see the New York Times editorial
earlier this week. The Times, too, buys into the romantic notion that
change would come if “Senators could not hide in cloakrooms but would
have to face the public on camera to hold up a judge’s confirmation, a
budget resolution or a bill.”

Malarkey.

The idea that Republicans would surrender if only they were forced to
stand up and fight for their views is, well, totally divorced from the
reality of what politicians are like. Republicans — any minority party,
on almost any issue — would be very happy to hold the floor
indefinitely. It’s free publicity for them. And they care little that
nothing else can get done in the meantime. They’re in the minority; the
things they want aren’t going to happen anyway!

That’s why it’s the majority party that benefits from avoiding live, talking, filibusters.
Indeed, under current rules, the majority could force a live filibuster
at any time; there’s just no point in doing it. The demise of live
filibusters isn’t what caused the explosion of filibusters, and forcing
live filibusters by itself isn’t going to end anything.

Of course, it is possible to change the rules to filibusters to
defeat that way, but why would you want to do it? If you want
majority-party rule, just pass it
. If you want some modified system
(which is what I favor), just pass it.

The thing is, any modified system — and regardless of what I or any
other reformer wants, that’s what it’s going to take to get action in
the incoming Senate — really does need careful design. What’s the real
goal? How can you really preserve the protection for minorities that
senators want, without giving a minority party an absolute veto on
everything? How can you preserve the influence of individual senators
and the ability of majorities to act? The truth is that those are
actually very difficult questions.

* * *

Real filibusters have rarely (if ever) been “live” ones, and there’s absolutely no reason they should be.

So reformers: Just forget about forcing senators to the floor to talk. That’s not the problem, and it’s not the solution.

Steve Kornacki at Salon also dismisses the "talking filibuster" as The false hope of filibuster reform:

Democrats are poised to change the Senate’s filibuster rules and
Republicans are freaking out, but it’s all much ado about nothing.

* * *

[I]n an exchange on the Senate floor with an exercised Mitch McConnell Monday afternoon, Reid went out of his way
to stress that “we’re not trying to get rid of the filibuster.” Which
is why life in the Senate as we’ve come to know it isn’t going to
suddenly change in January when Democrats use the “constitutional option” to change the filibuster rules with a simple majority vote.

* * *

[T]he two-prong reform package that Democrats appear to be working on won’t actually do much.

Banning
filibusters on the motion to proceed doesn’t mean that Republicans (or,
when they’re in the minority in a future Senate, Democrats) won’t still
be able to kill any legislation with 41 votes. It just means they’ll
first have to let the legislation come to the floor, instead of
preemptively blocking it with the threat of a filibuster. But once it’s
on the floor, they’ll be able to filibuster all they want, leaving
today’s reality of a 60-vote Senate unchanged.

But, the thinking of wishful Democrats goes, maybe things will play out
differently if Republicans have to engage in real filibusters while
bills are being debated.

* * *

But that’s almost certainly not what would happen. As Jonathan Bernstein has been arguing,
this reasoning mistakenly assumes that Republicans aren’t proud of
stalling a Democratic president’s agenda. But they are, of course, and
there’s no reason to think that dozens of them wouldn’t jump at the
chance to fulminate against Obama’s latest unconscionable power grab
involving…whatever the issue of the moment happens to be. The individual
Republican senators would be treated as heroes in the conservative
media bubble, and the same pressure to go along that now binds all
Senate Republicans together would still prevail.

Ultimately, it
would be the Democrats who’d think twice about forcing a talking
filibuster, once it became clear that Republicans would have no problem
engaging in one for as long as possible on just about any issue.

* * *

Assuming Democrats go through with [the "constituional option"], it will at least establish a
new modern precedent for changing the rules with a simple majority vote.
If the reforms fail to change much, Democrats might then feel less
restrained about making more dramatic alterations two years from now.
The threat of that could also have an effect Republicans, giving them an
incentive not to encourage Democrats to go down that road.

So filibuster reform is worth doing, and now seems inevitable. Just don’t expect too much from it, at least not right away.

The rule changes under consideration now are merely cosmetic. There needs to be consequences for a filibuster. Neuter that Ninja Turtle.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein on Mitch McConnell's five biggest whoppers on the filibuster.

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