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September 20, 2007

Filibuster Phonies
Posted by Michael Cohen

Honestly, the hypocrisy of Senate Republicans really never ceases to amaze. Yesterday's filibuster of Jim Webb's amendment on troop readiness is Exhibit A.

Does anyone remember a few years ago when Senate Republicans threatened to change Senate rules (the so-called "nuclear option") in order to ensure up and down votes on Bush's judicial nominees? Here's what Trent Lott had to say at the time:

“[Filibustering] is wrong. It’s not supportable under the Constitution. And if they insist on persisting with these filibusters, I’m perfectly prepared to blow the place up."

Or how about John McCain who declared that filibusters should only occur "under extraordinary circumstances."

So much for consistency. As McClatchy pointed out in July and Kevin Drum and Josh Marshall remind us, Senate Republicans (now in the minority) are projected to filibuster more bills than any time in history:


To be sure, it's not just Iraq. The other day, the GOP filibustered a bill on giving Washington DC a congressional vote. And why is the GOP filibustering all these Democratic bills - to protect President Bush from a politically embarrassing veto?

Can anyone explain the obsequiousness of Senate Republicans to this Administration? It's not as if the Bush White House has shown any love to Congressional Republicans over the past 7 years. And it's not as if President Bush has cracked a 40% approval rating any time recently. Last time I checked, there is a congressional election just over a year away in which Republicans are expected to lose seats. So why are they carrying water for George Bush?

Honestly, the relationship between Bush and Senate Republicans has become akin to an abusive relationship. I don't mean to be overly flippant, but someone needs to take the Senate GOP aside and have an intervention with these folks. Even for a bunch of hypocrites, Senate Republicans are people too - no one deserves to be treated like this.


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Here's an interesting thing about filibusters in the Senate.

Historically -- as for example in the debates over civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s, and Sen. Metzenbaum's attempt to block natural gas deregulation in the 1970s -- filibusters were most often employed to block legislation that was thought likely both to pass in Congress and be signed by the President. If you didn't filibuster a bill you couldn't live with, you got a law you couldn't live with.

Later filibusters (for a variety of reasons, these were usually just threatened filibusters) were more often employed to leverage concessions from the majority side, and sometimes from the House. They were also used often to force the Senate leadership to choose between battling over the filibustered bill and moving on with other business -- a choice almost always resolved in favor of the latter. If you didn't use the filibuster, you wouldn't get what you want, or would lose any chance of blocking legislation you dislike by stalling long enough for time to run out on the Senate session. Both uses of the filibuster presumed that in its absence, the piece of legislation being filibuster would be approved.

The Senate Republicans' insistance on requiring a 60-vote supermajority for passage of Sen. Webb's amendment (as well as other amendments and bills opposed by the White House) is different. They didn't need to block passage of Webb's amendment to keep it from becoming law -- if it passed the House as well, a Presidential veto could not be overridden. In earlier administration's, vetoes were common enough to be good measures of how much support a President had among his own party's membership in Congress.

Not anymore. President Bush has enough support among Senate Republicans that they are willing to go to any lengths to prevent him from having to cast a veto. If one is considering Bush in the context of his predecessors' records in the White House it is a little difficult to see the point of this. So he has to veto a what? Congress passes legislation he disapproves, he exercises his Constitutional prerogative, Congress doesn't override the veto. Congress and the President have been going through this procedure on all sorts of legislation for over 200 years.

My best guess as to why Bush is different is that he and most of the people who work for him are creatures of the permanent campaign. As such, they figure that the news stories (especially the ones on television) about Congress passing legislation the White House opposes on Iraq would be worse than the stories about Congress failing to pass the legislation in the first place. When Congress doesn't act the stories explaining why are always "inside baseball," hard for the public to track. A confrontation between Congress and the White House, on an issue when the President is taking an unpopular position, would be much more dramatic, and the media coverage likely more negative.

Why would Republican Senators care about campaign atmospherics involving a President in the last two years of his tenure? I suppose there are good explanations, and I have heard most of them, but in the end this question just beats me. You spend a couple of years (at least) of your life to become a United States Senator, and years or even decades of your life being a United States Senator, and after all that time your great calling is to block votes on legislation so that a lame-duck President can avoid some bad press?

Even now it's a little bit of a mystery to me, but the upshot is that the great majority of Republican Senators will do what the White House tells them to do and say what the White House tells them to say, and the President doesn't even have to ask them himself.

The hypocrisy argument seems a little... hollow. At least, let's be honest about it. Republicans decried filibusters before and use them now; Democrats used them before and decry them now. How, exactly, is /anyone/ (including the OP) claiming the moral high ground on this?

Howl, look at the graph

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