Ad Hoc Defenses of the Indefensible, Part Deux

BTD asserts:

The second problem with this question is Bowers not imagining what a GOP President and GOP Congress would have achieved with the elimination of the filibuster. You thought the actual Bush tax cuts were bad? They would be TWICE as bad without the filibuster. And twice as hard to undo as they would have been passed in regular order, meaning that to undo them would require passage of new legislation

You can be for eliminating the filibuster on principles of democracy, as Ezra Klein is. But you can not be against the filibuster, as Chris Bowers is, based on advantage to Democrats and progressives.

There are all kinds of problems with this argument, some of which Kevin has addressed: most notably, it is well understood in the political science literature that most welfare state programs create constituencies that make them very difficult to repeal even in Parliamentary systems. A few other points.   There’s an additional asymmetry from the fact that liberals are simply more likely to want to adopt new federal programs that provide assistance to non-powerful constituencies.    Defense spending isn’t vulnerable to the filibuster; attempts to provide better health care to lower-income people are.

At any rate, the fact that the filibuster made public policy marginally less bad when the Republicans had control of the government (and only very marginally: note that the filibuster wasn’t necessary to prevent the privatization of Social Security, and also note how little of the major parts of the Republican agenda was successfully filibustered) isn’t a serious argument.     No way of structuring institutions can entirely prevent bad politicians from doing bad things when they get into power.   It’s a question of net benefits, and the history of the filibuster makes it overwhelmingly clear that it’s not just bad from the standpoint of democratic principle but is also bad for progressive politics.    It’s always been much more useful for reactionary elements and on balance always will be.

Bowers was right; the Democrats screwed up by not doing what they could to put the filibuster on the road to destruction (and that goes triple since the Democrats didn’t actually get anything useful from the Gang of 14.)

7 comments on this post.
  1. Incontinentia Buttocks:

    As you may remember, Scott, I used to be argue with you about this, but you have long since convinced me.

    One of the few silver linings of the GOP recapturing the Senate would be that it would give us our best chance to get rid of the filibuster, if the small handful of rational Democratic Senators are willing to join together with the much larger gang of over-confident, permanent-majority-dreaming GOPers.

  2. Murc:

    You know, I’ll actually take a shot at this.

    We should totally nuke the filibuster, but, (and someone, please correct me if I’m wrong about this) wasn’t the GOP’s 2005 effort to do so problematic from a procedural standpoint? If I recall correctly, it involved a series of dodges and questionable calls that would more or less have amounted to ‘the rules of the senate mean whatever the Parliamentarian and 51 Senators DECIDE they mean on a day to day basis, regardless of what we actually have written down in our organizing resolutions when we start a new Congress.’

    That doesn’t seem right to me. Process legitimacy is important to me, especially after the Bush years, and it seems to me the Senate ought to follow its own rules; when those rules are bad (the filibuster, the anonymous hold, holds in GENERAL, etc) they ought to be changed within the established framework for doing so.

    Having said that, I think the progressive movement in general is kind of blowing it even on those grounds. There will be a new Congress in January. We will PROBABLY still hold the Senate. Where’s the big push to adopt an organizing resolution that removes all the supermajority bullshit? Is there a PAC devoted to that? Are various left-wing interest groups and grass-roots organizations threatening to withhold support from any Senator who doesn’t pledge to vote to abolish the filibuster? Are Senators being QUESTIONED about nuking it every time they poke their heads out of doors?

  3. Scott Lemieux:

    Right. However, precisely because the “constitutional” arguments used to support were so specious, getting rid of the filibuster for judicial appointments would have provided a weapon that could have been used to get rid of the filibuster for anything.

  4. wengler:

    And once again this has been a demonstration of why even with 221 years of existence as the oldest Constitutional democratic republic in the world, there are very few Senatorial bodies on this planet. And the ones that do exist have radically reduced powers from the main lawmaking body.

  5. Oscar Leroy:

    If we had better Senators (and a better electorate) we wouldn’t need to eliminate the filibuster. But one of our 2 political parties is ruled by nihilistic religious fundamentalists, and that will not likely change soon.

  6. Ginger Yellow:

    It’s almost certinly not true that absent the filibuster, it would have needed new legislation to undo the tax cuts. The main reason they incorporated the sunset was to remove the long term fiscal impact from the budget forecasts. That imperative would still have existed without the filibuster.

  7. Brien Jackson:

    The main reason they incorporated the sunset was to remove the long term fiscal impact from the budget forecasts.

    No it’s not; the taxes sunset because they were forced into reconciliation, and the rules require anything that increases the deficit outside of the 10 year window to expire.

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