Steve Burns at the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice asks a very timely question, as Congress takes it sweet time tinkering with a stimulus bill:
What is it the makes Democrats so committed to the Senate rule that allows the minority to tie things in knots?
Remember the "nuclear option" threat by the GOP when Republicans ruled the Senate? The threat, basically, was that if Dems didn't play ball they'd change the rules and eliminate the rule that says you need 60 votes to end debate and pass a bill.
It’s not like it was in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Says Burns:
After Democrats retook the Senate in the 2006, Republicans, now the minority, filibustered frequently, under a tacit agreement with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid that they would never actually be required to go through exertions of Mr. Smith’s Senator Jefferson Smith. No thermos of hot coffee and wax-paper-wrapped sandwiches for them, Republican leaders merely needed to utter the word “filibuster” and Reid would quickly drop any proposed legislation that didn’t have a guarantee of 60 votes. This exercise became so routine that newspapers began to omit mention of the filibuster entirely, simply reporting that a piece of legislation failed because it didn’t have the “60 votes needed for passage.” An inattentive reader might be forgiven for thinking the Constitution had been quietly amended to require a three-fifths majority for passage of legislation in the Senate.
Why do the two parties have such differing levels of commitment to the filibuster? Republicans, when in the majority, are willing to discard it entirely, and agree to keep it only on the condition that it never be used, while Democrats cling stubbornly to the filibuster, even when it appears to ensure the defeat of their legislative program. Why?
I’ve thought for some time, during the last session of Congress, that Democrats should call the GOP bluff. Make them actually filibuster.
I’ve been thinking it while watching this charade on the stimulus bill. If Republicans want to stand up and talk for days to prevent passage of an economic stimulus package, while the economic handbasket careens closer to hell every day, let them do that.
Let the whole country see what they stand for. Let the voters see that it’s not just Rush Limbaugh who is willing to put everyone at risk for the sake of political payback.
If they want to filibuster, I say bring it on.
It’s time for Dems to quit making nice and up the ante.
But WNPJ's Burns suggests that Harry Reid and others may actually like the rule, and the way it’s applied now, because it gives them a great excuse for inaction or half-assed action:
It places Senate Democrats in the enviable position of enjoying all the perks of being the majority party – like committee chairmanships and an increased ability to bring home the bacon – with none of the responsibilities that would normally accompany majority party status. “Want more money for Head Start? Sorry, we’d just love to do that, but those nasty Republicans won’t let us – the filibuster, you know,” is the standard Democratic refrain.
Read the rest of Burn's excellent piece on the WNPJ blog here.