THE FILIBUSTER….One of the favorite tenets of the liberal blogosphere is that Harry Reid should quit playing by gentlemen’s rules and call the GOP’s obstructionist bluff. If Republicans want to filibuster everything short of Mother’s Day resolutions, make ’em do it the old-fashioned Mr.-Smith-Goes-To-Washington way, talking until their tonsils give out. A while back I spent some time trying to find out if this was actually practical, but the Senate rules turned out to be complex enough that I just couldn’t figure it out.
But now I don’t feel so bad. Time’s Karen Tumulty decided to consult some experts, and it turns out they don’t know either:
Tom Mann of the Brookings Institution calls this idea impractical. Given the fact that Republicans could muster 41 people on most things to hold the floor, a real filibuster could go on interminably….But Norm Ornstein at the American Enterprise Insitute thinks Reid should call the Republicans’ bluff, starting with holding the Senate in session five long days a week. “You have a different Senate now. Frankly, they’re soft,” says Ornstein. “If they had the backbone and the discipline to do it, it would work.”
Crikey. Mann and Ornstein are (a) practically Siamese twins and (b) about as knowledgable on congressional rules and traditions as anyone this side of Robert Byrd. As one of Tumulty’s emailers puts it, “Oh my God — Ornstein and Mann don’t agree?! That’s like a disagreement between Moses and Jesus. This is more complicated than I thought.”
As near as I can tell, Reid does have the authority to demand a real honest-to-Capra filibuster. But then what? It all depends on who you listen to. Expert A says it would work. Expert B says no, the Republicans would just take turns speaking in between naps and the real pressure would be on Democrats, who have to keep meeting bleary-eyed quorum calls. Expert C says the problem is that it would bring all other Senate business to a halt, while Expert D says no, other business could proceed. And Expert E says it might work, but if Reid declares war on the Republicans they can start withholding unanimous consent on everything in sight, turning the whole place into a gigantic Sargasso Sea of legislative molasses.
And even if it did work, George Bush would just veto the resulting bills anyway and no one would care. Hell, Bush has now vetoed the SCHIP bill twice, and unless you’re a major political junkie you didn’t even know about the second go-around.
But the bottom line is this: if Mann and Ornstein disagree, then yes, this question is more complicated than we think. Stay tuned.