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Filibuster Politics


Bernstein on filibuster gamesmanship:

A broader point: if Democrats believe that Republicans will inevitably turn the Senate into a majority party rules institution as soon as they get the majority, then there’s a strong incentive for Democrats to make that reform now whether or not they actually support it.

The tricky thing is if Senators and other insiders believe that Republicans will be very hesitant to move on reform, but if liberal activists and other outsiders are absolutely convinced that Republicans will do so — which may be exactly what Reid is faced with. In that situation, activists will find the inaction of Democratic Senators totally inexplicable, but Democratic Senators may believe that the outsiders are just wrong.

Of course — that leaves out the big question of which side is actually correct. It’s very possible that Republican Senators currently believe that they will not initiate Senate reform should they take the majority, but in fact pressure from Republican activists will push them to do so anyway. In that scenario, using Republican Senators (and their staffs, and other Senate insiders) as a source would be actively misleading.

On the other hand, it’s certainly possible that Republicans (whenever they take control) will live by the same rules that Democrats have live with for the past few years. After all, Republicans did not, in fact, go nuclear when George W. Bush was president. Some fudging of reconciliation rules, a fair amount of bluster, but nothing more. There are in fact strong incentives for individual Senators to retain their rights, and that applies just as much to Republicans as to Democrats. So if Senate Democrats believe that Republicans would respect Senate rules — and the fact that Democrats have moved slowly towards reform indicates they do — then they might be right, after all.

As a general rule I’m on the same page as Scott with regards to filibuster reform; it’s a good idea no matter who’s in power. Nevertheless, this poses an interesting strategic question. My gut screams that the GOP will undertake filibuster reform no matter what the Dems do; it’s a more ideologically coherent party with a robust recent tradition of disciplining wayward members through the medium of primary challenges. Even to the extent that individual Republican Senators have strong institutional incentive to maintain the status quo on the filibuster, the ability of broader GOP socio-intellectual apparatus to bring pressure on recalcitrant Senators will likely prove decisive. But then I don’t know for sure.

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