Glimmer of Hope For Filibuster Reform?

Underneath the current “scandal”-frenzy is the continuing scandal of Senate Republican obstruction of the basic functioning of government via routine filibustering of executive-branch appointments. And according to The Hill‘s Alexander Bolton, sentiment is again building for an effort to do something about it:

Senate Democrats frustrated with the GOP’s blocking of a string of President Obama’s nominees are seriously weighing a controversial tactic known as the “nuclear option.” The option — which would involve Democrats changing Senate rules through a majority vote to prevent the GOP from using the 60-vote filibuster to block nominations — was raised during a private meeting Wednesday involving about 25 Democratic senators and a group of labor leaders….

The labor groups expressed frustration over future nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, as well as Obama’s nomination of Thomas Perez as secretary of Labor. Democrats’ anger also boiled over last week when Republicans stalled Gina McCarthy, the president’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, by boycotting a meeting of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Reading between the lines, it looks like more of the “anger” was being expressed by the labor leaders than by the Senators (with the exception of Bernie Sanders, who is not exactly a typical Democratic Senator). But Harry Reid does keep bringing up unilateral filibuster reform now and then, and has never taken it entirely off the table.

Now if Reid did move in that direction, you could anticipate not only shrieks of rage and victimization from the Senate Republicans who came close to implementing the “nuclear option” themselves a few years ago (Mitch McConnell is hilariously whining that “the minority’s out of business” in the Senate), but warnings from MSM types and other Democrats that this is a bad time to play heavy power politics. You know: Obama’s under constant attack right now for allegedly running an oppressive political machine that deploys the IRS to persecute his enemies, so maybe it’s not the right time to implement filibuster reform on a party-line vote on the pathetically inadequate grounds that it would be nice to have a functioning federal government.

Progressives need to push back as hard as is possible against this timorous approach. Think about it this way: if the really bad thing about the IRS “scandal” is that it involves the intersection of incredibly arcane tax and campaign finance laws, which nobody in his or her right mind should expect the public to understand, that’s also true of Senate procedures. We’re not going to see mass demonstrations in defense of the filibuster, which is making progressive legislation and competent day-to-day management of government increasingly impossible. Harry Reid should go for it, and ensure that he is remembered for something other than his brief glory days of 2009-2011.

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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.