THE FILIBUSTING: Did McConnell Trick Reid Into Limiting The Filibuster?

An historic upending of tradition took place yesterday in the United States Senate. The filibuster, a procedural rule that has stood for a couple of hundred years, was limited in a significant way. After five years of abuse, Democrats finally summoned up the grit to put the brakes on the GOP’s deliberately excessive use of the tactic.

Under ordinary circumstances, the filibuster was used by the senate minority as a last resort when they felt strongly, on well articulated principles, that a bill or an executive branch nominee must not advance. But ever since the election of Barack Obama, Republicans have inappropriately deployed it as a backdoor method of nullifying the presidency of a man they viscerally despise. To illustrate the enormity of the problem, there have been 168 presidential nominees that have been blocked by filibuster. About half of those were the total for the 230 years before Obama was elected. The other half were all during the five years since Obama came to office. Gee, what do you suppose would account for that?

Earlier this year Democrats came within a hair’s breadth of triggering the so-called “nuclear option” (a term coined by then-GOP leader Trent Lott when he was considering doing it). But on the eve of the vote, Republicans promised to quit using the filibuster, except under extraordinary circumstances, if Democrats agreed to call off the rule change. Since then, however, Republicans broke their promise by blocking, or threatening to block, virtually every executive nominee and, just in the past couple of weeks, three appointments to the D.C. Circuit Court. They seemed to be openly daring Democrats to enact filibuster reform.

Under the circumstances, Majority Leader Harry Reid had little choice but to follow through on his prior directive. On a party line vote, he passed a narrow limitation on filibusters that only included executive nominees and judges. Legislative and other business would still be subject to filibuster. Of course, even this measured response that Republicans knew would be undertaken was met with furious indignation. Or so it seemed.

The peculiar thing about their melodramatic objections was that there was an underlying hint of celebration. After all, they didn’t stomp their feet and demand that the rule change be voided. They didn’t swear to reverse this assault on senate tradition and decorum, or repeal it as they swore to do with ObamaCare. Instead they reacted to this reform, that they considered to be akin to tyranny, by declaring that they would make it even worse if given the opportunity. That’s right. This was such an awful turn of events that, should they become the majority party in the senate, they would make the Democrats regret their audacity by exploiting the new filibuster-free environment to its fullest extent. Republicans even promised to expand it to include the elimination of the filibuster for legislation.

McConnell FilibusTurtle

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The parallel to this behavior, were it applied to ObamaCare, would be for Republicans to be so outraged by the insurance reform bill that they would push through universal health care just to show those darned Democrats. Or imagine the GOP so incensed at a Democratic increase in taxes on the rich that they swore to raise them even further when they got the chance. And yes, that doesn’t make any sense. But that’s exactly how they are responding to the filibuster reform.

Very little of the Republican response makes sense. They are arguing that Democrats will regret having nixed the filibuster because it will lead to more Supreme Court justices like Scalia and Thomas. Aside from the concession that Scalia and Thomas are obvious extremists, Republicans seem not to have noticed that they made it to the court despite never having been filibustered. They also seem not to have noticed that the reform passed by the Democrats doesn’t include Supreme Court justices, so it won’t affect future nominees to the high court. Nevertheless, this argument appears to be an invitation to filibuster Supreme Court nominees, an act that would certainly draw the ire of the GOP were it to occur. It should also be noted that the super-patriot Republicans are appalled by what they regard as an assault on the Constitution but, as they are so fond of saying, the word “filibuster” appears nowhere in that document.

Another tack that Republicans are taking is to assert that the changes made by Reid and the Democrats will result in an even more severe partisan divide in Congress. One question: How can the GOP get more partisan than it is now, when they even vote against their own initiatives if the President says he supports them? They could not possibly be more obstructionist if they tried.

So why would Republicans be so giddily looking forward to the new senate rules that prevent them from continuing their filibuster fest? Why would they pick this time to goad Democrats into pulling the nuclear trigger by breaking their promise and throwing up blockades to everything that has come down the pike, even after Democrats warned them that this would be the result? Could it be that they have a renewed sense of confidence that they might retake control of the senate in the wake of the post-ObamaCare turbulence? After having shattered every record for legislative obstructionism, senate Republicans may now be contemplating a favorable outcome in the 2014 midterms, as well as the 2016 presidential election. And if that should come to pass, they don’t want a bitter Democratic minority doing to them what they did to Obama for the past five years (even though Democrats generally do not engage in that sort of petulant behavior). So they create a situation where Reid is compelled to implement filibuster reform, and while pretending to oppose it, they are actually plotting to take advantage of it when they assume the control that they anticipate is coming to them.

It’s a devious plot, but one that may rely too much on their over-confidence in regaining the majority. Today, the President’s polling is in the gutter due to missteps in the execution of ObamaCare. But in a couple of months, if the website is repaired, and people are discovering new and better options for insurance coverage, the polls could just as quickly turn around and Democrats will be soaring past a Republican Party that the public resents for working so hard against their interests. Democrats could even sweep into the majority in the House putting them in a position to enact a broad agenda that includes immigration, guns, the environment, taxes, and more. In short, Republican arrogance may lead to the best hope for Obama to ensure and enhance his legacy.

Bottom line: If Republicans were truly upset with filibuster reform, they would be promising to undo it, just as they have done with ObamaCare? You don’t threaten to expand something that you profess to oppose. Therefore, the only reasonable conclusion is that they secretly support the new rules and may have worked covertly to bring them about. Their outrage is as fake as professional wrestling; as John Boehner’s tan; as a Tea Party intellectual. But their fakery is as real as a heart attack – which is covered under ObamaCare, a bill the GOP also tried, unsuccessfully, to filibuster.


20 thoughts on “THE FILIBUSTING: Did McConnell Trick Reid Into Limiting The Filibuster?

  1. And, anyway, how dare the Democrat party support the nuclear option that we threatened during Emperor Cheney’s reign!! Rest assured we will use this new tool against the Democrats when we return to power next year.

    That is what the idiots are saying, right?

    • You’re very angry – do you think only democrats have the right to make these changes while they’re in the majority (probably won’t be past 2014)? I would prefer the rules stay the same – as the minority is too easily opressed – it will suck when you’re preferred group is in the minority.

  2. I’m not clear on when the majority can change the rules. I always thought it was at the beginning of the new congress, every two years. If not, what keeps them from changing the rules back next week after they get the Presidents’ nominations in? I personally wouldn’t have a problem with that if it’s allowed. Republicans might view their Democratic adversaries in a different light and I wouldn’t have a problem with that either. After all, when presidents are elected, they are elected for their stated agenda and policies as well as their judgement regarding judicial and executive appointments. It’s all part of the package. (I would submit that Supreme Court nominations would be a worthy single issue for which to vote for or against a presidential nominee.)

    • You’re not the only one – how these rules can just be changed so easily seems wrong and dangerous. Strip away the republican/democrat label and where does that leave us – the majority can do what they want with no recourse for the minority. Things seem ok while the “majority” is on your side, but when that changes, not so good anymore. I think at some point – those who support this action will see how wrong it really is – it may be in a year or several years. Limits on power is a good thing – regardless of who is in power.

      • I can agree, the minority can be trampled and there are plenty of examples in this country alone. The filibuster isn’t there for no reason, but at the same time it isn’t to be used so casually. The way I see it, there is a very big difference between the minority being trampled on and the minority simply not liking what the elected majority is trying to do. The rights of the minority should be protected, but what is there to do when the powers of the minority are blatantly being abused? I can understand that they are against and disagree with the majority…but are their rights being trampled upon?? Are the numbers not beyond extreme, especially taken into an historical context?? It’s been how many congresses? And the numbers are where they are (I think Mark cited them there above)? I’m not totally on board with the democrats on this one, it has high potential to blow the fuck up on em…but shit they gotta do fuckin something, don’t they? They’re in the majority, in a democratic republic the majority does what it was elected to do, and the minority is not silenced or disappeared, they fight back. But the numbers say something…don’t they? The numbers say abuse out of petulance, don’t they? Those powers aren’t designed to be used as political weapons, and changing them so casually is bullshit; the republicans changed them to the super simple ‘I object’ rule, and the democrats have now changed them (well, a very small portion of them, but that could change) out of frustration. That said, in a democratic republic should the minority be able to use those powers like they do now?? Given the historical timeline, the numbers are fuckin ridiculous, and say something about those contributing to their explosive rise. The right has become exclusively an opposition movement. That’s it. That’s all they do now, on the federal level anyways, and what good does that do? Was that what they were elected for? That’s not what they ran on. At least not from what I remember.

        Damn straight limits on power is a good thing, but does that go both ways? Should there be limits on the powers of the minority too, in this country, with this issue? I could see the rights of the minority being trampled, if democrats were in power for a few decades and a pattern of abusive prioritization was evident, but it’s been three elections for christ’s sake!! And who’s involved in voter suppression (voter ID, purging rolls, favoring poor accessibility in dominantly opposing districts, gerrymandering)? Is that trampling on people’s rights? Does that happen in states with blue state houses?

        And what do they say about their heavy use of it? Saying that the majority doing what they were elected to do and doing what they ran on is trampling on the rights of the minority, is fuckin pushin it. Don’t ya think, just a little bit? Of course those powers should exist. Of course they’re there for damn good reason. But if it’s used to such an extent that the ability of government to perform its necessary functions is even a little hampered, is that not too far? You can say all day long that ‘I favor smaller government and a little hindrance to its function is fine by me’ or whatever, but doesn’t this country need judges? Heads of law enforcement agencies? Cabinet secretaries? Justices?

        My point is that the right, being exclusively an opposition movement, using these powers to throw a cog in the machine seemingly out of spite and/or phony concern and outrage used to make political elevations among voters, while setting historical records for obstructionism; is that not abuse? What do you do about it? Those powers should be as sacred as they are necessary, shouldn’t they?

        This has the potential to become the biggest issue of our time, and I am really fuckin bummed about that. All I can say to the democrats is don’t fuck this up, hot shot of that shit. All I got for republicans is, what the flaming hell did you expect? Don’t shit a brick cause you saw the democrats balls drop, a do nothing congress is not fucking popular. An entire party, an opposition movement, priding itself on pouring cement all over the hill; have some fuckin foresight. What’d you think they would do?

        Relevant–If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.

        –Thomas Pynchon, “Gravity’s Rainbow”

        • See we can agree. With respect to the Republican party – the power to remove their power by removing them through an election must be left to the people – changing rules as was done to limit their resistance to democrat rule may appear justified here, but I’m not sure you or anyone can really justify this. This action has removed/reduced the power of the people by showing a contempt for poplularly elected senators. The people voted these guys in (at least their states did) and they represent a states population – who has the right to reduce their power? I would argue the people only – a very dangerous precedent has been set – if not abused, maybe we’ll see no ill effects – if abused in the future, very scary in my opinion.

          • You seem to be very defensive of the right to a tyranny of the minority.

            I used to be for the filibuster (still am in principle), but the abuse has been so over the top that something needed to be done. Republicans wouldn’t even allow votes on nominees they they didn’t object to.

            Given the choice, I would prefer a tyranny of the majority than the other way around. At least there would still be some semblance of democracy. Had the GOP allowed up-or-down votes, as they once professed to support, we would not be in this position today.

            • Don’t bullshit people Mark – you are a comitted progressive – you believe in having the government dictate to the people – anything that gets in the way must be eliminated. I realize you have a blind following here and they’ll believe any bullshit you spew. If the fillibuster gets in the way of you having your all powerful government and the society you so desperately want, then it must go. Don’t act like it has anything to do with honor or good functioning government – it is about YOUR kind of tyranny – I’m sure when the shoe is on the other foot, you’ll be there to complain about tyranny you don’t like. And we’re not a democracy idiot – I”m sure you know that though. And by the way – I know I’m on to something when you respond like this – so thanks for confirming I’ve got it right.

            • A typical substanceless personal attack from a right-wing troll.

              And by the way “idiot,” we ARE a democracy. I’m sure you DON’T know that because your idol Glenn Beck has told you otherwise. However, a democratic republic IS a democracy.

          • Your point about changing the rules to limit the power of the minority is, not only a strange…..strange comment given…they’re the minority…in a democratic republic….but whatever, but the republicans did the same thing. Now all a filibuster is is someone saying ‘I object’ and then it’s filibustered. The minority changed the rules only for that purpose, to limit the power of the elected majority to do what they were elected to do. Democracy is a contest, sometimes you lose. In a republic, the majority govern, the minority can compromise and work with the majority to create a middle of the road approach or they don’t and become irrelevant. Should the majority not be able to govern?? Showing contempt is not blocking everything they try to do. That’s something else entirely. Not allowing the majority to do anything isn’t showing contempt for the majority, that’s showing contempt for democracy. You say it all the time, you may not like it but they won. That’s the way it works.

            In the future feel free to respond to more than just the ass end of my comment, also saying things like ‘I’m not sure you can justify it’ makes me think all you read was the ass end of my comment.

  3. The republican filibustering of Obama’s nominees is completely unprecedented, off-the-charts unprecedented. The republicans threatened to do the same thing when their nominees under Bush were filibustered a fraction(about 1/10 of the time). A deal was struck and it was avoided. Their filibusters under Obama were 10x the level they felt deserving of changing the rules when they were in the minority. It is obvious this was a calculated move on their part to force the democrats to do something they wanted.

    • I don’t think it’s totally unprecedented – it’s pretty stiff opposition, but this behavior is no different than when GW Bush was president – lots of fear pushed to justify this behavior by both the republican party and democrat party.

    • I forgot to mention that BHO makes is somewhat easy to stand in opposition at all times given his screw ups. If he was a good president and a leader with the firm backing of the people, that behavior (republican opposition) may not stand, but 37% approval only makes it easier to oppose, oppose, oppose. It may not be nice to hear, but it’s reality.

      • Uh huh. And can you tell me where the approval rating is for Republicans/Tea Party right now? (Hint: It has handle you can flush with).

        • Keep trying to change the subject – your man is sucking wind and you know it. The agenda is suffering and probably won’t be realized – must hurt – right? if he doesn’t turn it around soon, his 8 years may be for nothing…..sorry to burst your bubble. So much promise …so little delivered.

          • Such wrong. Much dismissal of valid and relevant information given previous point. Very bubble. Such obtuse. Wow.

          • Oh wait, you said so much promise. I missed the so. Dammit, now it’s not as funny.

          • You seem to be pointedly avoiding the Republican Congress approval numbers too. Why?

            • because in the end, their approval numbers won’t matter – and my desire is to see the presidents agenda destroyed and kept unfulfilled – which is the one thing the do well – block his agenda.

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