Stop Whining and Act on Filibuster Reform

Yesterday at the Plum Line Jonathan Bernstein succinctly described the need for a serious filibuster reform in the face of what appears to be increased Republican obstruction:

The big picture here is that by setting the bar at 60 for every single nomination — something that was never done until January 2009 — Senate Republicans are in effect filibustering every single nomination.

Two points about this.

One is that the press should keep in mind constantly just how radical the GOP’s filibuster-everyone policy is. Treating this level of obstruction as normal misses an incredibly important story about how the government works — or, rather, how it isn’t working.

And the second is that Harry Reid and the Democrats need to make clear that they are willing, if necessary, to change Senate rules in order to prevent this kind of dysfunctional obstruction from continuing.

Today Brother Benen contrasts this big picture with Harry Reid’s whining over Jerry Moran’s filibuster of the CR:

“It is things like that that will cause the Senate to have to reassess all the rules because right now they accomplish so little,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “I’m disappointed.”

OK, but how disappointed is he?

It’s been a couple of months since Senate party leaders struck a very small deal that tweaked the chamber’s procedural rules, and proponents said the reforms would improve how the Senate did business. They were, we now know with certainty, completely wrong….

Roughly once a week or so, it seems we’ll hear some new whispers about “preliminary discussions” to revisit filibuster reform in light of the increasingly ridiculous abuses. But so far, those whispers haven’t led to any real action….

How much more will Reid tolerate before more substantive reforms are back on the table?

Now it’s possible Reid’s hands are tied by old-school Democrats who either cherish the crusty Senate of yore (though in truth it has never been this easy to manipulate by a minority party), or want to protect their own power to obstruct in the future. But it’s also possible Reid is among them, and has put himself in front of the “filibuster reform” parade to slow it to a crawl.

But in any event, it’s getting to be time to put up or shut up. As Bernstein aptly said:

Empty threats make Dems look weak and do nothing to discourage continued GOP obstructionism. If the status quo is really acceptable enough to Democratic leaders to forestall further action, they shouldn’t bother pretending otherwise. If this is the Senate we’re going to have to live with, Dems should just level with their voters on this point. No more feints and hints without real action.

This needs to become a consistent message to Reid from progressives or anyone else who thinks the current Senate is becoming a parody of its most atavistic traditions.

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.