2015 “Chokepoints”

In all the literature of “what would change if Republicans win the Senate,” it’s generally assumed that a lot of legislation would then clear both Houses and then reach the White House, where the president’s sparse use of the veto pen would suddenly be reversed into a vast and regular ink-spilling. Here’s a passage from the latest “what would change” piece, by Ezra Klein, that states the CW but also why it could be wrong:

Neither side expects legislative productivity to budge much. A Republican takeover wouldn’t end legislative gridlock so much as it would move the chokepoint. “The focus for dysfunction would shift from the Senate blocking bad Republican ideas to the President’s veto blocking bad ideas, but bad ideas would nonetheless be blocked,” says the Democratic aide. If Republicans take the Senate, some ideas will still fall to Democratic filibusters, but more will make it to Obama’s desk. He’ll have to actually veto things bills like the Ryan budget rather than simply letting them die through Senate inaction.

Yes, obviously, a reconciliation bill incorporating the Ryan budget is not subject to the filibuster and would almost certainly reach Obama’s desk in a Republican-controlled Senate. But you can bet the White House will constantly push Senate Democrats to exercise the filibuster against obnoxious legislation to avoid a “united Congress versus the lame-duck President” dynamic. The question is whether said Senate Democrats would fear their past anti-filibuster rhetoric would come back to haunt them. How they address that dilemma matters more than you might think: it could control their behavior if in the near future Republicans control both branches of Congress and the White House, making the Senate filibuster the only “chokepoint” available.

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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.