Fighting the Filibuster

FIGHTING THE FILIBUSTER….Matt Yglesias makes a lengthy argument today that the filibuster is a bad thing and Democrats should support its elimination even if that causes some short term pain. I shot my wad on the narrower question of judicial filibusters a couple of months ago in the Washington Post, arguing that the real issue was Republican hypocrisy in systematically dismantling Senate rules that they themselves had used with eager abandon back when Bill Clinton was president:

There are powerful arguments that these arcane Senate rules are fundamentally undemocratic ? arguments to which I am sympathetic. But it’s harder to see any good argument for allowing the rules to be cynically changed based solely on who’s in power. If one blue slip is the rule when your opponents hold the presidency, then that should be the rule when your own party holds the presidency. Ditto for the rules on reporting nominees out of committee.

Read the whole thing if you’re interested in the entire glorious panorama of Republican hypocrisy on this issue.

On a broader note, it’s correct to point out that the United States government was set up by the founders to be inherently conservative, and the governance of the Senate has made it even more so. Passing a law requires a majority in one house, a supermajority in another house, consent of the president, and consent by the Supreme Court. Any of those four institutions can stop proposed legislation dead.

Matt’s argument is that in the long run conservatives make far better use of this friction than liberals, and I think he’s right. Still, there’s adherence to principle and then there’s being taken to the cleaners. If Democrats were to agree to eliminate the filibuster, the deal should take effect only after the 2008 election and should also include reinstatement of the old blue slip rules. That’s a fair trade.

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