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Will Democracy Be Coming to the United States Senate?

[ 69 ] March 1, 2012 |

I have a piece up at the Prospect arguing that what Greg Sargent sees a nightmare scenario is in fact a dream scenario if we expand our time horizons a bit. Since the filibuster is a terrible idea in theory that’s worked out horribly in practice, if it takes a temporary advantage for Republicans to get rid of it, fine with me.

In addition to the fundamental indefensibility of the filibuster, I’d like to expand on this point a bit:

Despite the many bad effects of the filibuster, Democrats may understandably be terrified of what kind of legislation might pass if Republicans had control of the government without a filibuster. But it is also important to note that with responsibility comes an accountability that creates political constraints. House Republicans could feel free to vote for Paul Ryan’s unpopular plan to effectively end Medicare because it had no chance of actually becoming legislation with Democrats in control of the other two branches. A Republican Party that was in control of all three branches might make the Ryan plan law—but it is much more likely that it would not. The filibuster was unnecessary to stop George W. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security, which didn’t even get voted on in either House. And where the Republicans are likely to do the most damage—by passing more upper-class tax cuts—can already be done without the filibuster.

Greg assumes that Republicans, given the opportunity, would make something like the Ryan plan (including the end of Medicare) into law. I actually think that’s far from clear — it’s one thing to vote to gut extremely popular entitlements when it has no chance of happening, and quite another to actually do it. A unified Republican government would pass a some terrible legislation without a filibuster, but I doubt this would involve anything as extreme as the Ryan plan. But even if they went in that direction, remember that ending the filibuster means that in order to sustain a repeal of the New Deal they couldn’t just rely on a Senate minority to lock in the new status quo — they’d have to hold Congress and the White House, having passed immensely unpopular legislation. Essentially, I don’t think progressives have anything to fear on balance from more democracy. (Which, alas, is why I think Kevin is right that the Republicans wouldn’t actually do it.)

Comments (69)

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  1. fledermaus says:

    Of course it would be a disaster. It would take away Harry Reid’s favorite excuse for not passing legislation supported by the democratic base and popular with the country at large.

  2. sleepyirv says:

    If Americans want to give the GOP control of both houses of Congress and the White House, they deserve the laws that would passed good and hard to paraphrase Mencken.

  3. chimneyswift says:

    Republicans would still pass the Ryan plan. They are trained dogs who don’t understand that this bill would devastate the lives of millions of Americans.

    The Republicans right now are ideologues. They are not rational actors who would be given pause if handed enough rope to hang themselves. They believe in the Tooth Fairy and other myths of radical supply side economics. They would follow through and without batting an eye turn and blame Liberals and the Federal Government for not implementing their plan correctly when it turned disastrous.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      Republicans would still pass the Ryan plan. They are trained dogs who don’t understand that this bill would devastate the lives of millions of Americans.

      Certainly, that’s how they’d behave in the short term. And then they’d face the voters in the next election.

      There’s nothing like a hanging to focus the mind.

      • Sev says:

        This is true, though one wonders what fraction of the population would still possess the franchise- I could see them disenfranchising those in arrears on student loans, for example, and using military/police powers to deal with any opposition from the disorderly rabble that had the temerity to try to instruct their betters on matters of public policy, when they weren’t even any longer properly enfranchised citizens.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          Retaining the filibuster does nothing about the problems your mention.

          It does, however, make those couple of extra Senate seats they might grab through such skullduggery less important.

        • Holden Pattern says:

          It is likely that the Republicans will create such extraordinary barriers to political participation for anyone except Republicans that it will take a generation or more to undo the harm just to the political process, let alone the substantive structural results — at which point global warming and the fossil fuel crisis will have done even more harm.

          Of course, the Dems are feckless on both of the last 2 issues, so those problems are coming either way.

      • c u n d gulag says:

        Joe,
        That’s only if they face any voters who don’t like them in coming elections.

        Why do you think they’re working so hard to disenfranchise the people who aren’t likely to vote for them from voting in the future?

        In the Communist and Totalitarian countries, only the members of the ruling party were allowed the “privilege” to vote.

        And their first action on gaining the WH and both Houses, will be to pass “The New and Improved Civil Rights Voting Act of 21XX.”
        This act will not be ‘civil’ to anyone who’s not a white male conservative, and will maintain that voting is a privilege, and should only be allowed if you are part of ‘The Right’ (aka – white, or an agreeable minority).

        That’s why, on top of voter disenfranchisement, they’ve been hard at work framing voting as a privilege not a right for years now. Because, THAT’S the plan.

      • BruceJ says:

        What., like they did in 2006 and 2008? They came back more rabid than ever.

        The people who are running the Republican party today DON’T CARE ABOUT THE VOTERS. They’re not a threat.

        First, make as hard as possible to actually excercise your right to vote: that’s what they’re doing today in State houses across the country.

        Second. The only constituency they care about are the 1%’ers who are buying them their seats.

        Third, they’re very very carefully designing these plans so that their maximum support in the electorate (old white Republicans) WILL NOT BE AFFECTED. This is whay all these plans Oh-so-carefully exempt everyone on or about to enter these systems.

        You’re making the entirely un-warranted assumption that the Republican being elected to office today are not bug-f*ck crazy. I have to take them at their words, and their words say “bug-f*ck crazy”.

        They have shoved the window so far to the right that today a Senate measure to essentially grant employers the right to impose their religious beliefs on their employees BARELY failed.

      • Precisely. Majority rule functions quite well in pretty much every other democracy, it should do fine here. It’ll take a few elections to beat it into the GOP’s heads what the voters won’t stand for, but that’s better than them trying to do the same thing in the dark without accountability over a longer time-frame.

  4. TT says:

    I worry about what the GOP will do if they hold all three branches of government and abolish the filibuster, if only because the extremism on display at the state level is a preview of what may come. Now I grant that much of what they have done in WI, OH, MI, PA, and elsewhere is extremely unpopular and could (hopefully) lead to mass repudiation at the polls. But certain changes are now in place that will be hard to undo; much political capital will be spent just getting back to square one, as opposed to enacting real political, social, and economic progress.

    However, what concerns me far more is that getting rid of the filibuster is only a relatively small part of a larger pincer movement, the fulcrum of which, in my mind, will be the continued stacking of the federal courts with extreme conservative jurists. Legislative see-saws happen all of the time, but dominant conservative control of the federal courts for decades to come, with a “Constitution in Exile” philosophical north star, will exact far more damage upon any sort of liberal agenda, be it women’s rights, voting rights, civil rights and liberties, empowering organized labor, reining in corporate power, and so on. In this light, Obama’s unwillingness to push hard for liberal Democratic nominees will be seen as arguably his biggest failure, unprecedented GOP obstructionism notwithstanding.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      But certain changes are now in place that will be hard to undo

      You want to see “hard to undo?”

      Entitlement programs are hard to undo. Ever hear anyone describe a law about collective bargaining as “the third rail of American politics?”

      Also, you know what would make those Republican changes a whole lot easier to undo? Majority rule in the Senate.

    • rea says:

      Obama’s unwillingness to push hard for liberal Democratic nominees

      Green Lanternism.

  5. Stitch says:

    House Republicans could feel free to vote for Paul Ryan’s unpopular plan to effectively end Medicare because it had no chance of actually becoming legislation with Democrats in control of the other two branches.

    Sorry to be pedantic, but this is a pet peeve of mine. The three branches of government are legislative, executive and judicial.

  6. Njorl says:

    Something they would try would be the repudiation of the debt owed to the Social Security trust fund. They’ve been trying to lay the groundwork for this for years. They’ve been calling it “just a bunch of IOUs” or “pieces of paper”.

    The laws are already in place to reduce Social Security payouts should the trust fund run dry, so they can argue that they are not ending it.

    That is something that can be undone, but the temptation to only partially reverse it would be great. I think there would be other schemes where Democrats might find it politically convenient to screw the weak, and only partially reverse measures taken by a kamikaze Republican congress.

    Even so, I think ending the filibuster is necessary. Since 2009, Republicans have engaged in obstruction in order to harm the country so that they’ll have a better chance in elections. Once that line was crossed, the filibuster had to go.

  7. David M. Nieporent says:

    I actually think that’s far from clear — it’s one thing to vote to gut extremely popular entitlements when it has no chance of happening, and quite another to actually do it.

    I don’t understand your logic here. If I cast a symbolic vote against an “extremely popular” program, then I get all the drawbacks — I’ve given my opponents ammunition to say that I voted to cut an extremely popular program — and none of the benefits — the program isn’t actually cut.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      You don’t get all the drawbacks. Nobody except political geeks know about your symbolic vote. There are no old ladies pissed because the check didn’t come.

    • Malaclypse says:

      I don’t understand your logic here.

      “Some people say my vote was to end Social Security, but I say it was to strengthen this essential program by removing all government oversight, and allowing people to invest what they can afford in the stock market. Back in the 1920s, stocks had an incredible rate of return on investment, and I think we need to build on that important success story.”

      Since the vote has no consequences, and our press never takes a position on the truth, symbolic votes have no costs, as long as one is willing to lie.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Both Joe and Mal are right, and in addition to that in the House (where most GOPers voted for the Ryan plan) most members have safe seats.

        • David Kaib says:

          Also, giving your opponents ammunition is only dangerous if those opponents are inclined to use it. Every time this issue has started to become a problem for the Republicans, Democratic leaders have found some way of muddying the waters politically.

          • Njorl says:

            Accurately pointing out that your opponents are trying to kill medicare is “mediscare”, which is much worse.

            Democrats are often accused of fearmongering simply because they point out that Republicans might achieve their goals if they are elected.

        • DrDick says:

          It is also the case that the GOP base, to which they are plying, actually buys their BS on these issues and would not react adversely to the vote, which they would see as ideological purity. If they were to actually experience the adverse effect of the legislation, that would be a whole other story.

      • UserGoogol says:

        I wouldn’t necessarily blame the media. The bigger problem is that people don’t really pay that much attention to news to begin with. “Republicans say the Earth is flat, others disagree” is a stupid way to report a story, but people who hear it are at least roughly aware of what Republicans and Democrats are doing. People who just catch a bit of the local news to see what the weather is gonna be don’t even get that much.

    • jefft452 says:

      “and none of the benefits — the program isn’t actually cut”

      actually cutting the program would not be a benefit, it would be the biggist drawback
      (politically, i mean, even for those who disagree policy wise)

    • Dana says:

      I thinks Nieporent’s right. The Ryan budget was a bit of honesty from the Republicans not seen for several elections since they had been, incongruously but successfully, portraying themselves as the champions of preserving entitlements, tax cuts, and deficit hawkery. Why they got honest for no constructive purpose is a bit of a mystery. Democrats have successfully used “mediscare” tactics in special elections since then. Pretty sure they’ll continue to drag out that end the Medicare program “lie of the year” at every opportunity.

      • mark f says:

        I thinks Nieporent’s right.

        There’s a flowchart for this:

        1. Are you describing Nieporent’s political orientation?
        Yes: you are correct!
        No: go to #2.

        2. Are you discussing baseball?
        Yes: it’s possible!
        No: Go to #3.

        3. Give yourself a good hard look in the mirror.

  8. Murc says:

    Hmm. I think you’re correct in the long-term, but wrong in the short-term, Scott.

    It does seem to be the case that if parties in power actually have the ability to govern, as opposed to being nominally “in power” but in actual fact highly constrained by a system with ‘hidden’ supermajoritarian veto points and other such nonsense, those parties will naturally gravitate towards political consensuses and avoid taking huge, earth-shattering legislative leaps that aren’t solidly backed up popular support. The Tories are currently in the process of looting Britain, for example, but they’re doing their damn best to hide the fact and none of them are seriously proposing to, say, abolish the NHS.

    And, generally speaking, you are right that it is the Senate more than any other institution that has choked off progressive change in this nation, forcing it to happen years and decades after it otherwise would, and should, have. So removing the filibuster would, long-term, be excellent. It in fact is something I myself support.

    But.

    I absolutely think you’re wrong on the short-term read here. The Republican Party structure is currently populated by true believers, the base has been feeling its oats for a long time now, and people have been living the current status quo for so long they’re not going to adjust rapidly.

    If the filibuster is removed, Jon Kyl, Saxby Chambliss, and Roy Blunt aren’t going to think “Gosh, we’d better walk back a little bit, govern a little bit more towards the center. Now we have to put our money where our mouths are.” They’re going to think “Yeeeeeee-haw! Break out the tea, boys, time to write us some LEGISLATION!” And the rest of their caucus will be right there with them; those who aren’t equally enthusiastic will be there because a Tea Partier and a Norquista will be standing behind them, rhythmically slapping a baseball bat into their open palm.

    Even if that has predictably dire consequences, it means that the political situation is going to be INCREDIBLY volatile for a few years until people adapt to the new rules. Said adaptation would happen, and it is true that Democrats would undo it all first chance they got, but it would be a crazy-ass ride and a lot of people would suffer. It would be worth it, in the long run, but we would have to be prepared for the consequences.

    Oh, and I should add that I’m not really worried about court-packing. The conservative court-packing project really only works because conservatives are willing to chose “the courts are understaffed and unworkable” as a viable option if they don’t get their way. Remove the filibuster, and unless you get a very long period of conservative or liberal dominance, what happens is Democrats appoint judges when in power, then Republicans appoint judges, and when the Senate and the WH are split you either get no judges or you get compromise judges. That would all even out.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      How do you explain the failure to even vote on ending Social Security?

      I think it’s also important to note that Tea Partiers don’t actually want to cut entitlements; they want to cut “out-of-control government spending,” most of which they imagine goes to buy Cadillacs for welfare recipients and foreign aid. When abstract proposals come down to specifics, the support of much of the base will vanish.

      • Murc says:

        How do you explain the failure to even vote on ending Social Security?

        That’s a legitimate counterpoint and in fact decent evidence I might be wrong. My response is, basically, that even six years the political environment was a lot different than it is today, and that there genuinely wasn’t a whole lot of enthusiasm, both at the time and today, to go after the least controversial and most popular of the social welfare programs.

        But that doesn’t mean many other things aren’t up for grabs. The current crowd of whackjobs isn’t gong strong after SSI either, but they fall all over themselves to declare their eagerness to “save” Medicare by destroying it. Medicare is a pretty big deal.

        And then there’s MedicAID, which is a straight-up “medical care for poor people” program. They’d have even less hesitation to eliminate that. Or getting rid of welfare entirely. And if you move beyond pure entitlements, they could do things like go after entire cabinet departments; do you think that there aren’t 51 Republican votes to eliminate the Department of Energy, or Education? Housing and Urban Development? The EPA?

        I dunno, maybe you’re right. Maybe the big entitlement programs ARE safe, even in the short run. But barring social security (admittedly, that’s a big fuckin’ slice of the entitlement pie) I’m just not that convinced.

    • mds says:

      The Tories are currently in the process of looting Britain, for example, but they’re doing their damn best to hide the fact and none of them are seriously proposing to, say, abolish the NHS.

      No, but they keep trying to “reform” it to death with Andrew Lansley’s iron cudgel. Which actually goes to your point: even Thatcher couldn’t go there, yet a minority government supported by a putatively more liberal coalition partner is attacking the NHS because they have the chance.

  9. superking says:

    I hate the filibuster, but I am not sure that the political constraints introduced by removing it will really be enough. The problem is that if congress passes crappy legislation, there is no way to know whether a new congress will actually overturn it or not. Congress isn’t a backward looking institution most of the time. I don’t think any legislature is. They do not, for the most part, try to undo legislation once it has been done. They are much more likely to just address other issues or pass different legislation that adds to the cacophony of law rather than removing or fixing existing legislation.

    That said, I think the filibuster is indefensible. I wouldn’t attempt to minimize the negative side effects here, but I think they are significantly outweighed by the positive effects. If they get rid of it, then we get to pass what we want when we get into office. Nothing wrong with that.

  10. wengler says:

    The Senate is a vestigial leftover of a less democratic age. It would be best to dissolve it entirely.

    • mds says:

      Indeed, then the regional governors will have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the states in line; fear of a black planet.

    • Craigo says:

      Great line aside, I agree with this. Other countries may have upper chambers as badly malapportioned and undemocratic as the Senate, but none of them actually give those chambers real power.

      That said – never happen.

    • Njorl says:

      I think it would be a good idea to give Senators reserved seats at the finest restaurants and sporting events, give them fancy robes and hats, chauffeured limosines etc, and take away their function in approving legislation.

    • Can’t be done. The best you could do is to pass a rule in the Senate saying something like “if the House passes a bill and the Senate doesn’t vote on it either positively or negatively, it’s considered acceded to by the Senate; if the House passes a bill in two consecutive sessions, it’s considered acceded to by the Senate.” Sort of the House of Lords approach.

  11. Dana says:

    Scott, I think the point you’re missing is that the U.S. Senate is a fundamentally undemocratic institution. You seem to think that a democratic institution, the U.S. Senate, is being hamstrung by an undemocratic tradition, the filibuster. But it’s actually an undemocratic institution hamstrung by an undemocratic tradition. Ending the filibuster will only enhance its ability to act–in fundamentally undemocratic (and unDemocratic) ways. (The real solution is to reform Senate representation to one person, one vote, but that will never happen, so I think we currently have the least-worst scenario.)

    Seems to me like all this angst about the filibuster started during the health care debate, and the left was so affected by that experience they’ve lost perspective. A president more familiar with and willing to use the unofficial tools of power (LBJ, for example, or even Bush Jr.) would not have had such trouble with the 41-vote Republican superminority. I think the O man’s slowly getting the hang of it now, though.

    • Njorl says:

      A president more familiar with and willing to use the unofficial tools of power (LBJ, for example, or even Bush Jr.) would not have had such trouble with the 41-vote Republican superminority.

      Very wrong.

      First, health care had no shot at all before Specter switched and Franken was sworn in. Republicans wanted Obama to fail for political reasons, and were willing to punish members who strayed. There was zero chance any Republican would vote for any health care reform bill from day one.

      The question is why was it so hard to get the 60 members of the Democratic caucus to support the bill. The answer is that you need multiple prisoners for the “prisoners’ dilemma” to work. LBJ had 6 extra Democratic Senators for overcoming filibusters. That means he could tell any recalcitrant Senator “I can screw you to hell and pass the rest of my agenda with ease if you don’t support me.”, like a DA telling a suspect that he’s got 6 other guys waiting to make a deal. It also gave him the leeway to let politically vulnerable senators defy him on some issues if they supported him on others. Obama needed everyone. Every Democratic Senator knew he had veto power of the health care bill.

      • Dana says:

        This really detracts from my better point about the Senate, but I’ll bite. You guys get so far into the weeds with this stuff. Yes, you have the math correct. But politics and power are not just mathematical calculations. Did Obama even try to strong-arm legislation through, even in a micro sense (like, just on one bill)? Pretty sure he was too worried about being post-partisan to do that. Or he figured he didn’t have to, that he could get it passed anyway–and if so, turns out he was right! So I have to ask, why is it we’re so angsty about the filibuster?

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          We’ve been through this many times here, but please explain — what leverage did Obama have over, say, Evan Bayh, a right-winger who wants to get paid off by corporations and isn’t running for re-election? Did LBJ get Strom Thurmond to vote for the Civil Rights Act?

          • Dana says:

            Again, this seems lost in the weeds to me. And since I only occasionally visit this blog, maybe rehashing an old topic is unwarranted. But what I saw during the health care “debate” was a White House consistently five steps behind the opposition, unable (or unwilling) to craft a coherent message, unable to set the terms of debate, unwilling to get directly involved in negotiations, or to be seen doing so, a White House unwilling to embrace all the powers of the presidency both real and imagined and use them against their opponents. A White House content to act within a paradigm crafted by the opposition, and yes, you’re right, within that paradigm the math was not on Obama’s side. Maybe we just approach this from too different perspectives, but in my view the fundamental problem was a president who in his first two years in office had an idea of presidential power more suited to 1885 than 2010. And from that perspective he had no power over Evan Bayh.

            • Malaclypse says:

              And from that perspective he had no power over Evan Bayh.

              What power, from your perspective, could he have had over Evan Bayh? What would have been effective and produced actual results?

              • LeeEsq says:

                There was nothing legally Obama could have done to get Bayh and Nelson to support the ACA. Illeglally, Obama could have just paid them a lot of money for their votes.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Nah, he’d roll Chicago-thug style, and have New Black Panther Party thugs threaten their children. If he were not a conservative sellout, that is.

            • Murc says:

              what I saw during the health care “debate” was a White House consistently five steps behind the opposition, unable (or unwilling) to craft a coherent message, unable to set the terms of debate, unwilling to get directly involved in negotiations, or to be seen doing so,

              All of those things are true, but they don’t have anything to do, at all, with the White Houses actual power over recalcitrant legislators.

              The Obama Administration and its Congressional allies DID mishandle a lot of the health care debate. That fact is beyond dispute. They kept doing maddening things like relying on the good faith of people like Max Baucus, Chuck Grassley, and the Maine Sisters. But that has nothing at all to do with its actual, practical ability to force Senators to vote in ways they did not wish to vote.

              And regarding the White House being reluctant to get involved directly in negotiations… Clinton tried that back in ’93-’94. It backfired immensely; Senators from his own party came to him and said “WE’RE the legislative branch here, Bubba; this is OUR bailiwick. If we need you, we’ll let you know.” The Obama White House decided to go a different route. Frankly, I agree with them.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                Right. People who assert that modern presidents have (always conveniently) unspecified powers to bend senators to their will always ignore that Clinton’s health care strategy involved exactly what they wanted Obama to do — and it was a complete disaster.

              • Dana says:

                All of those things are true, but they don’t have anything to do, at all, with the White Houses actual power over recalcitrant legislators.

                I don’t really understand this perspective. Are you saying public opinion has no influence in our democratic republic? I guess if you believe that then it’s true that Members of Congress are immutable forces over which the president has no power. But it seems to me that if, hypothetically, 60% of the American people are behind a proposal rather than say 40% that can change legislative dynamics considerably.

                • Murc says:

                  Are you saying public opinion has no influence in our democratic republic?

                  I don’t recall saying this.

                  Also, as I recall, Obama was constantly stumping in favor of his health care bill. He was constantly urging people to call their Senators and Congressman and tell them to vote for it.

                  But some of them either did not care, or came from states where the health care bill wasn’t in fact popular. Your 60/40 analogy grossly overstates the popularity of the ACA, especially after the noise machine got hold of it.

                  I will also note that both Scott and myself have gone to great lengths to outline just how little leverage the White House had over some Senators, and have invited you to either showcase heretofore undiscovered arm-twisting mechanisms, or to prove us wrong. So far you have not seen fit to respond.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Public opinion has some effect on legislators, although they have substantial autonomy (cf. the voting records of Democratic and Republicans in the Senate who represent the same state.) The bigger problem with your argument is that presidents have essentially no ability to transform public opinion in the short term.

                • Anonymous says:

                  The bigger problem with your argument is that presidents have essentially no ability to transform public opinion in the short term.

                  I don’t know that I agree with this, but is transforming public opinion really what we are talking about here? How popular was the idea of health care reform before the Tea Party got a hold of it? Or should I say, before the White House let the Republicans and the Tea Party run away with it? I vaguely remember health care reform as a concept polling like high 50s or something before death panels, rationing, and Medicare cuts dominated the debate, garbage largely unanswered by the WH until it was too late, if at all. Seems like public opinion was transformed in a short period of time, by the wrong people in the wrong direction.

                  Anyway, I’m out. Enjoyed the discussion, thanks.

        • Murc says:

          What Scott said.

          But to expand on that… the White House and the national party in general have a lot of leverage over House members. It’s why the House caucuses vote as a bloc so much.

          Senators? That’s a different story. Let’s actually dive into details. I’m Barack Obama. I want Evan Bayh to vote a certain way he doesn’t want to. What leverage do I have?

          Well, I can go nuclear on him. I can call him out by name, declare that he’s a bad Democrat, and call on the national party to repudiate him. If I do that I had better be DAMNED SURE it will work, because if it doesn’t he will never vote for anything my administration puts forward again, ever, and even if it does work I just made a lifetime enemy of a sitting Senator. Notwithstanding the fact that a large part of my own party will find this behavior unacceptable.

          What lesser options do I have? Well, I can try and get Harry Reid to fuck Bayh on other legislation he finds important. But the stuff Bayh finds important tends to have broad bipartisan support. Reid can try and stop all Indiana pork, I guess, but the other Senators hate that as a threat and won’t support it, and Indiana has a second Senator and an entire House delegation. Now I’ve made MORE enemies.

          I can try and threaten him using the party mechanisms; I am the party leader after all. Oh, hmm. Bayh is a SENATOR. He has his own fundraising machine that he controls and doesn’t really NEED DSCC money. I could support a primary challenger, but he’ll laugh at that.

          I could use soft power, stumping the country in favor of my health care bill and telling people to call their Senators and put pressure on them… oh, wait. I’m already doing that. He doesn’t care.

          So that leaves either bribery, or making the bill ideologically acceptable to Bayh.

          Well, shit.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I think the point you’re missing is that the U.S. Senate is a fundamentally undemocratic institution.

      Despite what you think, this isn’t some original insight. Obviously, the Senate as configured is terrible. But since it would be impossible to amend its composition even if this was constitutionally permissible — which it isn’t — that’s not a worthwhile reform strategy.

      What you have utterly failed to do is make a case that the filibuster makes things better. I’ve provided extensive evidence that it makes things worse.

      • R Johnston says:

        An Amendment that offers different sized Senate delegations to different states violates the constitutional Amendment process.

        However, we can take a lesson from the Paul Ryan plan to “save” Medicare. Pass a Constitutional Amendment giving each state equal representation of zero members in the Senate, then pass another Amendment creating a new legislative body, also called the Senate, that apportions seats proportionately to population. Of course it’s better not to bother with recreating a second legislative body, but surely the Republicans have shown exactly how to constitutionally reform the senate into a democratically representative body.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          And, then, all you have to do is get a bunch of state legislatures to voluntarily reduce their states’ federal power! Can’t see any flaws in that plan.

          • R Johnston says:

            I’m just saying that it would be constitutional, not that it would be possible. In case you forgot, you wrote “even if this was constitutionally permissible — which it isn’t.”

      • Dana says:

        “utterly”? Yikes. That’s true. Not my blog though. I don’t think I billed my insight as “original”…I am aware I’m not the first to point it out…I do think it’s a salient point, though. Unfortunately I can’t offer specific evidence simply because I have work to do and I’ve wasted 2 hrs commenting on a blog. I’ll offer more theory, though. I don’t think the filibuster was ever intended to protect unrepresented or underrepresented minorities. Quite the contrary, it was intended to protect represented minorities. And it might a bad thing if after decades (centuries?) of struggling for and securing representation, minorities ended a tool that can enhance their influence in government in the same way, as you point out, overrepresented minorities (white southerners) had done in the past.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          Why the hell do you need to “protect” minorities that are already overrepresented, using mechanisms that make an already too-inefficient legislative and appointments process even more dysfunctional?

          Anyway, I’m not denying that the filibuster serves the ends it was intended to serve. I’m saying those ends are extremely undesirable.

        • Anonymous says:

          You said: Ending the filibuster will only enhance its ability to act–in fundamentally undemocratic (and unDemocratic) ways

          The next sentence was not an explanation of this statement but a non-sequitur about a more substantial reform that’s implausible for constitutional reasons. You’ve written a lot of comments here, but none of them have given a specific, concrete reason why anyone should think the status quo without the filibuster is likely to produce more anti-democratic and anti-Democratic outcomes than the status quo with it. I can’t even say your case is unpersuasive, because you’ve done everything but make it.

    • I disagree. I think there are ways to get the Senate to be more genuinely Democratic. As I suggested above, expanding the House’s capacity for independent action is one method. There’s a number of ways to combine filibuster reform and more majoritarian practices as well.

  12. Njorl says:

    Another thing to consider is the impending demographic death of the current incarnation of the Republican party. Their supporters are aging and dying, and they are not being replaced.

    There’s two ways to look at it:

    Even a Republican party which can’t win the house or the presidency might be able to scratch up 41 senators on a regular basis. With the filibuster in place, they could exact a toll on every piece of legislation passed. With no chance of coming to power, they don’t need to fear getting the same treatment from Democrats.

    On the other hand, a Republican party which gains the House, Senate and Presidency might realize they are holding power for the last time* and throw caution to the wind. They may see electoral defeat as certain, regardless of their actions. In consequence, their actions may be very extreme.

    *Holding power for the last time as currently constituted. There will be a Republican party which is demographically on par with Democrats in the future, but it will need to change significantly.

    • Malaclypse says:

      Another thing to consider is the impending demographic death of the current incarnation of the Republican party. Their supporters are aging and dying, and they are not being replaced.

      That can be solved by letting the Voting Rights Act lapse.

  13. jeer9 says:

    The Republicans have no intention of ending the filibuster, and neither do the Dems. The Senate has a stranglehold on progressive legislation and the 1% who run this country will not relinquish the key tool without a long transformative struggle which wrests control from one of the parties and places it in the hands of a populist/reformist wing. Chatter about Dem concerns that the Right would abuse their power distracts from Dem complicity in its maintenance. The Dems really really really want to govern effectively … but they’re scared. You have to admire such chutzpah.

  14. [...] Ears, and since in a recent thread we had someone articulating the full-on bully pulpit myth in this thread, now is as good a time as [...]

  15. Mike D. says:

    I’m not going to say that the short term damage would absolutely be worth it. But I will say that, given the possibility of long-term institutional improvement, taking the credibility hit by playing to expectations of cravenness by immediately switching from carping about the filibuster as an institution to resisting its elimination once doing so no linger furthers immediate programmatic objectives could give Democrats/liberals really quite the black eye that they’d wear for quite some time. On the other hand, perhaps not enough important national Democrats actually did carp about it strongly enough for that to be a problem. But I think you want to be aware of it.

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