Death To Phil A. Buster!

I can certainly empathize with the righteous indignation expressed by Jamelle Bouie (and doubtless many others) towards Politico‘s Manu Raju for the breezy false-equivalency assumptions made in a piece on Harry Reid’s “regrets” for failing to pursue filibuster reform. (Raju called the filibuster “a tool that has been employed with growing frequency by both parties over the years.”). Jamelle has a good chart showing how massively the deployment of the filibuster has risen since Republicans lost control of the Senate in 2006. I’d go him one better and offer the colloquial analogy that Republicans claiming they are just responding to Democratic use of the filibuster in the recent past are like someone who calls in an air strike to blow up a neighbor’s house because of suspicions that the teenaged kid living there keyed their car.

But lest we focus on Raju at the expense of the actual story he is reporting, it’s good and important news that Reid has finally come around to recogning the destructive nature of a 60-vote requirement in the Senate, and he should be encouraged to join with the younger senators he now admits were right and do something about it. For those who favor hanging onto the filibuster as it has become as a safegurd against a Republican-controlled Senate working with a Republican-controlled House and a President Mitt Romney in 2013 to do terrible things, I’d note once again that their most horrendous policies are all neatly bundled in a Ryan Budget which can undoubtedly be implemented using budget reconciliation procedures that make filibusters unavailable. The brief campaign by some Democrats during the “nuclear option” debate over judicial filibusters in 2005 to defend the procedure–most memorably through the Alliance for Justice’s Schoolhouse Rock-inspired “Phil A. Buster” ads–was never truly an excuse for the abuses Republicans subsequently introduced. You can make a good, substantive case for maintaining a more limited form of the filibuster, and particularly for permitting them in the case of lifetime appointments to the federal bench.

But personally, I’d prefer to avoid the confusion and go after Phil A. Buster entirely, if the opportunity actually presents itself. I’m with Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein on this; you can constantly rationalize a deeply anti-democratic system on grounds of imagining scenarios where a brave minority of progressive senators are the only barrier to horrific right-wing policies. But you don’t have to imagine how a filibuster-wielding Republican minority can bring the country to a virtual standstill. We’re living in that world right now. It’s time for it to change once and for all.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.