Damned If You Don’t

In progressive discussions of the possibility of radical filibuster reform, we are invariably warned that before denying this weapon to Republicans, we should remember that Democrats might need it in the future to stop an extremist GOP agenda (Sean Trende argues the filibuster is even more important to Democrats because Republicans are more likely to be in a position to secure a governing “trifecta” of control of both chambers in Congress and the White House).

TAP’s Paul Waldman slam-dunks the argument from progressive timidity pretty decisively today:

Let’s be realistic here. Unless there’s some kind of major upheaval within the Republican party that moves it back to the center, when the day comes that there’s a Republican president and a Republican senate, the filibuster will be gone. It won’t take a Democratic minority using it with the profligacy Republicans have, either. All it will take is one filibuster on something Republicans care about. Today’s Republicans don’t care about the institution’s traditions, or about what kind of precedent they might set. They care about getting what they want. If you think they won’t do it, you haven’t been paying much attention to American politics over the last five years.

From that perspective, which I share, the question facing Senate Democrats right now isn’t whether and under what circumstances the filibuster power should continue to exist. It’s whether and under what circumstances the filibuster power should continue to exist so long as Democrats control the Senate. If, for whatever reason–fear of losing individual leverage, fear of the left wing of the Democratic Party, fear of the immediate repercussions, etc.–Senate Democrats pull their punches on filibuster reform or accept another tenth-of-a-loaf deal, it will represent a largely self-imposed limitation. It should in no event be based on a false hope that Democratic forebearance now will be reciprocated when Republicans are back in charge. Perhaps Democrats will be “damned” if they get rid of the filibuster right now; it’s debatable at least. But they’re definitely going to be damned if they don’t.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.