The new Senate is only a few days old and they’re at it already. Of course, roles have been reversed:
Democrats launched the first filibuster of the new Congress on Thursday, objecting to the GOP’s effort to try to bring the Keystone XL pipeline bill to the floor early next week.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to schedule action early next week on the bill, and promised an open process, including allowing both sides to offer amendments to the bill — an attempt to break with the previous few years, when Democrats controlled the floor and kept a tight lid on amendments.
Now that was mostly the status quo of the last Senate with two exceptions.
-Democrats are in the minority and determined to obstruct the Repblican majority
-Democrats are filibustering just to filibuster. Republicans filibustered because former Senate Majority Leader Reid refused to allow any amendments to bills he brought to the senate floor. McConnell has said the GOP will welcome amendments, a process which allows open and bi-partisan participation.
Yet that’s not good enough for Democrats – which sort of foretells what this session of the Senatorial side of Congress will likely look like from here on. It seems less likely that this is all about Keystone, since the pipeline has bi-partisan support. Instead, this is just petty and spiteful Democrats refusing any sort of appeasement/olive branch from the GOP.
Which should tell the GOP something, if they’re smart enough to pay attention.
A short one today, but I thought it instructive to bring up the fact that despite the claims of Democratic operatives and media types, the GOP isn’t the reason that Barack Obama’s Surgeon General nominee isn’t in that office. Byron York explains:
There are 55 Democrats in the Senate. Since Majority Leader Harry Reid changed the rules to kill filibusters for nominations, it would take just 51 votes to confirm Murthy. Democrats could do it all by themselves, even if every Republican opposed. But Democrats have not confirmed Murthy.
In other words, the claim is worthy of 4 Pinnochios if fact checkers were doing their job.
No, apparently the job is still vacant (yeah, I know there’s an acting SG) because apparently Democrats have a problem with the nominee.
This week, Bruce McQuain makes his triumphant–albeit mean-spirited and cruel–return, to talk with Michael and Dale about Iran, The Census Bureau. and the Senate’s filibuster rules.
The direct link to the podcast can be found here.
As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here.
And, he and Democrats will eventually pay for that:
The partisan battles that have paralyzed Washington in recent years took a historic turn Thursday, as Senate Democrats eliminated filibusters for most presidential nominations, severely curtailing the political leverage of the Republican minority in the Senate and assuring an escalation of partisan warfare.
Saying that “enough is enough,” President Obama welcomed the end of what he called the abuse of the Senate’s advise and consent function, which he said had turned into “a reckless and relentless tool” to grind the gears of government to a halt.
Of course Obama and Reid (along with Biden) were some of the more outspoken defenders of the filibuster when Democrats were in the minority. Minority rights, you know. Blah, blah, blah …. words without end, words without meaning.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV): “…the so-called nuclear option… attempt to rewrite Senate rules so we would be another House of Representatives; that we would throw away the Constitution of the United States so the Federal courts could be packed.” (Sen. Reid, Congressional Record, S.8911, 9/5/06)
REID: “We stand united against an outrageous abuse of power that would pack the courts with out-of-the-mainstream judges.” (Sen. Reid, Congressional Record, S.5198, 5/16/05)
Now, of course, it is an “obstruction” and we’re likely to get exactly what Harry Reid railed against then.
Well, we’ll see how that works out for them when they’re in the minority again and another party is sitting the the White House, won’t we?
Reid – not smart enough see beyond today and the fact that he has just set it up for Democrats of tomorrow to pay for this in ways they never imagined.
If we could only outlaw their whiny cries of outrage when this eventually bites them in the butt, I’d be satisfied.
This week, Michael and Dale discuss the Rand Paul filibuster, The death of Hugo Chavez, and North Korea’s saber-rattling.
The direct link to the podcast can be found here.
As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
The Senate filibuster fight gins up – hypocrites to the left of us, hypocrites to the right … (Update)
Another example of why you can’t ever take anything a politician says at face value or believe them when they say they stand on ‘principle’.
For instance, consider the looming Senate fight over the filibuster.
Once a cause championed by a few Democratic senators, changing the filibuster has become a top priority for Senate Democrats who’ve repeatedly complained about Republicans blocking legislation from even being debated on the Senate floor. Reid noted on Monday that in his nearly six years as majority leader, he has faced 386 Republican-led filibusters in the chamber.
“We can’t continue like this,” a visibly frustrated Reid Monday said in a response to McConnell.
Of course the “visibly frustrated” Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid, was one of those huge champions of the filibuster when he was a minority leader and then the new Majority Leader because he’d used it many times in his long political career:
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV):“As majority leader, I intend to run the Senate with respect for the rules and for the minority rights the rules protect. The Senate was not established to be efficient. Sometimes the rules get in the way of efficiency. The Senate was established to make sure that minorities are protected. Majorities can always protect themselves, but minorities cannot. That is what the Senate is all about.” (Sen. Reid, Congressional Record, S.11591, 12/8/06)
REID: “For more than 200 years, the rules of the Senate have protected the American people, and rightfully so. The need to muster 60 votes in order to terminate Senate debate naturally frustrates the majority and oftentimes the minority. I am sure it will frustrate me when I assume the office of majority leader in a few weeks. But I recognize this requirement is a tool that serves the long-term interest of the Senate and the American people and our country.” (Sen. Reid, Congressional Record, S.11591, 12/8/06)
REID: “I say on this floor that I love so much that I believe in the Golden Rule. I am going to treat my Republican colleagues the way that I expect to be treated. There is no ‘I’ve got you,’ no get even. I am going to do everything I can to preserve the traditions and rules of this institution that I love.” (Sen. Reid, Congressional Record, S.11591, 12/8/06)
REID:“…one of the most sacred rules of the Senate – the filibuster… It is a unique privilege that serves to aid small states from being trampled by the desires of larger states. Indeed, I view the use of the filibuster as a shield, rather than a sword. Invoked to protect rights, not to suppress them.” (Sen. Reid, Congressional Record, S.434, 1/5/95)
Yeah, well that was then and this is now. The “world has changed” as Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss said this week as he sought to duck out on his pledge of years past not to vote on raising taxes.
You have to love the Reid line about the Senate not being established to be efficient – see the budget. Going on 4 years without one. But you see, getting a budget passed would require Reid and the Democrats to compromise with the Republicans in order to achieve that 60 vote margin and, well, he’s just not willing to accomodate the minority despite his stirring words to the contrary about protecting the rights of the Senate minority, words, by the way, he’s likely to dismiss now.
And, as you hear the fight gin up, don’t forget the past words of other Democrats who will now call the GOP minority obstructionists and tell us all the filibuster is bad and has no place in the Senate. For instance, if we hear the President opining, it’s alway nice to remember his words on the subject for the brief period he was a Senator and take his words, on both sides of the issue, with a grain of salt:
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): “The American people want less partisanship in this town, but everyone in this Chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse.” (Sen. Obama, Congressional Record, S.3512, 4/13/05)
OBAMA: “[T]he American people sent us here to be their voice… What they do not expect is for one party, be it Republican or Democrat, to change the rules in the middle of the game so they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet.” (Sen. Obama, Congressional Record, S.3512, 4/13/05)
And, of course, that’s precisely what the Democrats and Obama want the Senate GOP to do – sit down and be quiet.
On any subject, you know little Chucky Schumer has an opinion:
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY) On Any Threat To The Filibuster: “The basic makeup of our Senate is at stake. The checks and balances that Americans prize are at stake. The idea of bipartisanship, where you have to come together and can’t just ram everything through because you have a narrow majority, is at stake. The very things we treasure and love about this grand republic are at stake.” (Sen. Schumer, Congressional Record, S.4801, 5/10/05)
SCHUMER: “We are on the precipice of a crisis, a constitutional crisis. The checks and balances which have been at the core of this republic are about to be evaporated by the nuclear option. The checks and balances which say that if you get 51% of the vote you don’t get your way 100% of the time. It is amazing it’s almost a temper tantrum… They want their way every single time, and they will change the rules, break the rules, misread the Constitution so they will get their way.” (Sen. Schumer, Congressional Record, S.5208, 5/16/05)
Yes, it was a “Constitutional crisis” in ’05. Now? Not so much. Speaking of temper tantrums, funny how one’s words can come back to haunt them, not that they care.
Finally, we have dandy Dick Durbin who also thinks it is time to change the filibuster rules, although in ’05, he had a completely different take on the subject:
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): “Those who would attack and destroy the institution of the filibuster are attacking the very force within the Senate that creates compromise and bipartisanship.” (Sen. Durbin, Congressional Record, S.3763, 4/15/05)
DURBIN: The filibuster is “[one] of the most treasured and cherished traditions of the United States Senate.” “Many of us in the Senate feel that this agreement tonight means that some of the most treasured and cherished traditions of the United States Senate will be preserved, will not be attacked and will not be destroyed.” (Sen. Durbin, “Statement Of Sen. Dick Durbin Regarding The Agreement On Judicial Nominations In The Senate,” Press Release, 5/23/05)
It’s not so treasured any more, is it? At least not by Senate Democrats who were so enamored with it in ’05.
The point of course is obvious. Don’t ever believe anything any politician of either side says on any subject – ever. They’ll bail on it in a New York minute if they see political advantage in doing so. Pledges and “traditions” mean nothing to them.
If faith in government is built on trust, and trust is built on political leaders promising to do things and then keeping their word, trust in this government died quite a while ago.
And that’s sort of the crux of the problem isn’t it? We are represented by an amoral political class who doesn’t hold their word to mean anything and reserve the right to change their “principles” on the fly in an attempt to gain temporary political advantage.
We’re served by the worst political class I can remember.
The problem is we can’t blame them – we elected them, and, like Harry Reid and Saxby Chambliss, we’ve kept them in office for decades.
Unfortunately, when you don’t pay attention and you just tune in when it is convenient for you, you get exactly what you deserve in DC. This is just another in a long line of examples of that truth.
UPDATE: Apparently the WSJ and I are on the same wave-length today:
One of the more amazing post-election spectacles is the media celebration of Republicans who say they’re willing to repudiate their pledge against raising taxes. So the same folks who like to denounce politicians because they can’t be trusted are now praising politicians who openly admit they can’t be trusted.
If Republicans in Congress want to repudiate the pledge, they are free to do so at any time. They could even quote Edmund Burke’s line that a democratic representative owes his electors his best judgment, not a slavish fealty to majority opinion. But that would mean saying they didn’t mean it when they signed the pledge. So they are now busy pretending that Mr. Norquist is a modern Merlin who conned them into signing the pledge and must be eliminated before they can do the “right thing” and raise taxes.
Republican voters know that elections have consequences and that Mitt Romney’s defeat means there will be policy defeats too. But they will give the House and Senate GOP credit if it fights for its principles and drives a hard bargain. The voters are also smart enough to know that Republicans who focus on Mr. Norquist are part of the problem.
But apparently, for some, it’s too much to ask our politicians to stand by their word. Apparently, principles are only important when these people say they’re important. At other times, they’re very malleable or can be thrown to the side and rationalized away. And in this case, the rationalization apparently says that political necessity now requires that a crumb be thrown to “public opinion”.
With other people’s money, of course.
Well of course they do – it gives power to the minority and prevents them from running roughshod over that minority as they attempt to push their agenda through the Senate (as is pretty much done in the House). That said, I don’t have a problem with this:
Among the chief revisions that Democrats say will likely be offered: Senators could not initiate a filibuster of a bill before it reaches the floor unless they first muster 40 votes for it, and they would have to remain on the floor to sustain it. That is a change from current rules, which require the majority leader to file a cloture motion to overcome an anonymous objection to a motion to proceed, and then wait 30 hours for a vote on it.
“There need to be changes to the rules to allow filibusters to be conducted by people who actually want to block legislation instead of people being able to quietly say ‘I object’ and go home,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
This year, McCaskill lined up backing from more than two-thirds of senators for elimination of secret holds, which allow a senator to block action on a bill or nomination anonymously. She said that Democrats will also push plans to force senators who place holds to do it publicly.
I think that "secret holds" are anathema to open government. If a Senator objects, he or she should take ownership of that objection and have to do so publicly. That’ll take care of some of the petty nonsense that is fairly routine in those sorts of holds. But:
Adding to the momentum for change, say proponents, is a push by Udall to seek a simple majority vote on changing Senate rules at the start of the session, rather than a two-thirds majority, that is gaining steam. Such a move could come at the start of next Congress, shortly after the Senate returns on January 5th.
Uh, no. Supermajority means you have to convince the minority of the efficacy of the changes. One of the reason it is so important to have the minority retain its power was illustrated in the defeat of the 1.2 trillion dollar pork package called the "Omnibus spending bill". The minority was able to kill it. I understand that really has no bearing on an internal rule change to go to a simple majority vote to make rule changes, but as with all things, that means Democrats wouldn’t have to have a single minority vote to change the rules.
I say "no way". One of the most powerful and moderating things about the Senate is it almost forces negotiation with the minority before it can accomplish anything. I wonder if the "No Labels" crew will be coming out with a statement saying "keep the rules that protect the minority in the Senate". Yeah, I doubt it too.
Filibuster reform in the way McCaskill is pushing for (no more secret holds) is a good thing I think. The time change to less than 30 hours on the motion to proceed is no big deal. Changing the rule on the number of votes necessary to change the rules – i.e. go from a supermajority to a simple majority – is not a good thing and should be rejected.
I know this comes as a shock – shock I tell you – but the left is just in a tizzy today about the GOP Senate caucus’s unanimous decision not to allow anything to go forward in the Senate’s lame duck session until the tax cut question is settled.
Andrew Sullivan characterizes it as "dickishness" (and Dan Riehl comments that Sullivan has finally found something to like about the GOP). John Cole is on about "first priorities being millionaires", Charles Johnson hits it with "GOP totally committed to obstructionism", and the not so Moderate Voice snarks "Common ground, Republican style".
Whatever happened to the celebration of the minority power of Senate Democrats when they were not in the majority? As I recall then, Minority Leader Reid was aghast that the majority should want the ability to ramrod it’s agenda through the Senate without any input or ability to check it by the minority. And at the time he used the filibuster (and that’s what this is by the GOP, a filibuster) he certainly considered it a check against "absolute power" and something that our much "wiser" founding fathers encouraged. Then it ensured “that no one person and no single party could have total control” according to Reid. He even lectured everyone on it:
…when legislation is supported by the majority of Americans, it eventually overcomes a filibuster’s delay, as public protests far outweigh any senator’s appetite for filibuster. But when legislation only has the support of the minority, the filibuster slows the legislation, prevents a senator from ramming it through and gives the American people enough time to join the opposition.
Mr. President, the right to extended debate is never more important than when one party controls Congress and the White House. In these cases, the filibuster serves as a check on power and preserves our limited government. …
For 200 years we’ve had the right to extended debate [i.e., filibuster]. It’s not some procedural gimmick. It’s within the vision of the founding fathers of our country. … They established a government so that no one person and no single party could have total control.
Some in this chamber want to throw out 214 years of Senate history in the quest for absolute power. They want to do away with Mr. Smith, as depicted in that great movie, being able to come to Washington. They want to do away with the filibuster. They think they’re wiser than our founding fathers. I doubt that that’s true.
Ah, but that was then, and this is now. When it was the "evil" GOP in charge of the Senate, and brave Sir Harry and the Dems were the only shield against their tyranny, the founders were "wise". And the lefty blogs agreed.
Now, apparently, when it is used in exactly the same way Harry Reid and Senate Democrats used it while they were in the minority, well it’s pure obstructionism, “dickishness” and other such descriptions driven by the left’s collective tantrum.
Apparently ensuring a system exists “so that no one person and no single party could have total control” is just outside the pale now. They want total control and they want to ram through what they desire without anyone’s interference. And they’re willing to have the necessary convenient memory lapse they’re all experiencing right now to ensure their “outrage” seems driven by principle.
Save it, boys and girls – I’ve been in the blogosphere more than one day and I remember quite well your arguments of “principle” when Harry Reid was playing the same game as the GOP is now (see above). Now you want everyone to swallow this faux outrage of yours and accept this argument of convenience that essentially throws your previous “principled” argument under the bus?
Sorry, no sale.
Nancy Pelosi, not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, explains why the 60 vote majority in the Senate is “unconstitutional”:
“A constitutional majority is 51 votes,” Pelosi said in an interview Tuesday with Roll Call. “If in fact the Republicans are going to say nothing can be done except by 60 percent, then maybe we all should be elected with 60 percent. It isn’t legitimate in terms of passing legislation.”
Conveniently missing in this romp through the illogical is the fact that a “majority” in the Senate is whatever the Senate rules say it is – and that’s a power left to them by the Constitution. In fact, to change this rule, the Senate requires 67 votes or a 2/3rds majority. I assume Ms. Pelosi would find that “unconstitutional” as well. Just another, albeit a fairly pathetic one, in an increasing number of assaults on the filibuster by Democrats who understand that they either have to actually be bi-partisan now or change the rules.
Guess which they opt for?
Isn’t also ironic when “Justice” Pelosi cites the Constitution incorrectly as a means to push a blatantly unconstitutional health care bill through?
Anyway, remember to wish long lives and good health to Barack Obama and Joe Biden. As bad as they are, Pelosi being 3 heartbeats away from the Oval Office necessitates those good wishes.
Scott Brown wins in Massachusetts and already those rowdy Republicans are filibustering. Now that they have that 41st vote, by gosh they are committed to saying no to everything, to include a “routine” nomination of some poor inconsequential slob (lead counsel for the SEIU) to a nothing job (National Labor Relations Board) where his power is limited (has indicated he’d find a way to implement “card check” without Congressional approval).
That’s what you’d believe if you listened to the left today. Craig (let’s unilaterally expand the bureaucratic powers of the NLRB) Becker’s nomination didn’t garner the 60 votes necessary to pass and thus it’s the Republicans fault. The vote?
But wait, you say, that’s only 85. Aren’t there 100 Senators? Well yes. But 15 didn’t vote.
Really? And now many of those were Republican?
I’m glad you asked. 10 were Republican.
So, obviously then 5 were Democrats.
Well 4 Democrats and a Socialist Independent. And had those 5 voted “yea”, the Democrats would have had 57.
Uh huh. So were all those who voted “nay” Republicans?
Well, no. 2 were Democrats.
So let me get this straight – if every Democrat and “Independent” had voted “yea” yesterday, they’d have had 59 votes, correct?
But they didn’t. Two Democrats voted “nay”.
And 31 Republicans voted “nay”.
So with 10 Republicans not voting, how are we sure the Republicans “filibustered” this vote? Were they just assumed to be a nay vote? And isn’t it true that even if the Democrats had retained their 60 vote filibuster proof majority it appears only 58 would have voted “yea” on this nomination?
UPDATE: The Hill identifies what happened yesterday for what it really was – the result of a “hold”:
On Tuesday, Republicans successfully blocked the nomination of Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board by using a hold, which is similar to a filibuster in that it requires that 60 senators vote to break it.
Remember, it’s “like a filibuster”, but not a filibuster. Regardless note who is on the blame line. However, the same argument applies. Even with 60 votes it appears the Dems would have only been able to muster 58. As a commenter said, it was a bi-partisan rejection.
In another development, it appears the White House plans on using the filibuster as a campaign issue. That whine is sure to garner tons of sympathy and votes. Especially among the majority who think the country is headed in the wrong direction and the 75% who are angry at government.
Lastly, John Cornyn makes the appropriate points about the filibuster on of all places, Twitter:
Cornyn: RT @thenote: re: filibuster. Bipartisan support for protecting minority rights. What goes around comes around.
Indeed (and Republicans will surely see it come around again to the benefit of Democrats – we call that gridlock and we find it to be good). And good luck trying to get it changed anytime soon – to do so would take a 2/3rds vote (67).