Filibuster reform is dead. Why? Harry Reid and senior Democrats flat out don’t want it.
Reformers think Reid changed his mind again in December, after a series of amendments to the Defense Authorization bill went awry and he began to worry that a talking filibuster, if not properly managed on the floor, could actually mean no filibuster at all in some cases. Reid said as much to me during our interview. When I asked him why he didn’t go for Merkley’s talking filibuster proposal, he said he’d concluded that it actually does get rid of the 60-vote threshold. He was, instead, pursuing a gentleman’s agreement with McConnell to encourage more talking filibusters.
A second explanation for Reid’s early enthusiasm for reform might be that Reid needed to convince McConnell to strike a deal and that the only way to do that was to scare him a bit. “Whenever you change the rules here,” Reid said, “you have to show the other side you can change them with 51 votes.” It’s the fear of the partisan reforms, in other words, that leads to bipartisan reforms.
Reid still wants to keep Republicans a little scared. He recalled that earlier in the 112th session of Congress, Senate Republicans began filing motions to suspend the rules after their filibusters were broken. “They couldn’t win these votes,” Reid said. ”It just ate up time. I put up with it for awhile and then said no more. I went to the floor, and I said that’s dilatory. The chair said no, it isn’t. I overruled the chair, and now you can’t do that because I set a precedent. I’m capable of doing more of that.”
Oh, Reid wants to keep Republicans scared! If there’s one thing Harry Reid is good at, it’s cowering the Republicans into not using every tool at their disposal, including turning the Senate into a one-chamber government shutdown, in order to do it!
On a private call with the Bay Area Democrats on Wednesday, Merkley identified Reid as the key person in the talks, and he urged activists to target members of Reid’s leadership team ahead of their meetings next week, according to people on the call. He also characterized Democratic Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Joe Manchin (West. Va.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) as wrestling with his proposal, sources say.
A lot of usual suspects here. Baucus and Feinstein are terrible. Manchin genuinely doesn’t want to see the Democratic agenda pass. Unclear whether Pryor really does either. Disappointing on Leahy and Boxer, but a lot of older Democrats, and this includes Carl Levin and Reid, would rather see nothing happen today than not have the ability to ensure nothing happens when the Democrats next lose the majority.
What’s also clear is that the Democratic Senate caucus is generationally divided, more so than Republicans. Newer senators came into the body at a time of extreme partisanship and a Republican war on the body’s traditions. Older Democrats still want the body to be a genteel place where we can all listen to Trent Lott and John Ashcroft sing and have martinis together after the session. In other words, one generation understands what it takes to win, the other does not.
Basically, what this means is that nothing will get done in the next 2 years because the Senate will continue to get in the way. In 2015, we will have this fight all over again. Merkley, Udall, Warren, and other filibuster reform supporters will have 2 choices. Try to finally convince their senior colleagues (some of whom will retire by then) that change needs to happen for the good of the republic. They’ll probably fail but we might see some more changes of various efficacy. Or the Republicans will win the Senate (I am skeptical of this because I think they will again nominate enough loons that people like Pryor and Begich might hold on a la McCaskill) and hopefully the reformers will join the Republicans in gutting the filibuster once and for all. It’s undemocratic no matter who controls the Senate.
…Tom Harkin with the reality of what Reid’s actions mean:
“He can go out and give wonderful speeches, things like that,” said Harkin. “But with the House in the hands it’s in, and the fact that the Senate, now, you have to have 60 votes to pass anything… well, I daresay that Obama’s package, his very aggressive proposals, will not get very far. They’ll be so watered down that they won’t be recognizable.”