OBAMA JOINS CRITICISM OF FILIBUSTER ABUSE…. On PBS’s “Newshour” last night, Jim Lehrer asked President Obama for his thoughts on Senate Republicans’ use of filibusters. The president conceded that he’s “very frustrated.”
“[A]s somebody who served in the Senate, who values the traditions of the Senate, who thinks that institution has been the world’s greatest deliberative body, to see the filibuster rule, which imposes a 60-vote supermajority on legislation — to see that invoked on every single piece of legislation, during the course of this year, is unheard of.
“I mean, if you look historically back in the ’50s, the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s — even when there was sharp political disagreements, when the Democrats were in control for example and Ronald Reagan was president — you didn’t see even routine items subject to the 60-vote rule.
“So I think that if this pattern continues, you’re going to see an inability on the part of America to deal with big problems in a very competitive world, and other countries are going to start running circles around us. We’re going to have to return to some sense that governance is more important than politics inside the Senate. We’re not there right now.”
Obama added that everyone, regardless of party, should be able to reflect on the abuse that’s underway and agree that “this can’t be the way that government runs.” He went on to say, “If we had a Republican president right now and a Republican-controlled Senate, and Democrats were doing some of these things, they’d be screaming bloody murder. And at some point, you know, I think the American people want to see government solve problems, not just engage in the gamesmanship that has become so customary in Washington.”
Unless I missed it, this appears to be the most extensive comments the president has made on the subject. It’s a welcome addition to the larger debate.
And while the answer was heartening, let’s not overlook the question — the issue of filibuster abuse has risen to the level that Jim Lehrer thought to ask about it in a rare White House interview. It suggests the issue itself is going mainstream, and the larger discussion about how the Senate should operate is entering the larger public discourse.
Indeed, the PBS exchange comes the same week as terrific pieces on the subject from James Fallows, Paul Krugman, and E. J. Dionne, Jr. It even came up on “Meet the Press” this week.
As we talked about the other day, in order for necessary changes to happen, members will need to feel pressure to restore majority rule to the Senate. In order for them to feel pressure, the public will have to reject the dysfunctional and borderline-dangerous status quo. And in order for the public to feel outraged, the mainstream political discourse will have to shine a light on the problem.
It’s starting to happen.