Friday, October 7, 2011

Are cracks appearing in the filibuster?

Maybe, thanks to a highly esoteric bit of parliamentary maneuvering last night between Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell. But it might be a while before they develop into anything.

I don't much to say about this, other than to point out that (a) supermajority requirements and massive minority obstruction are not a sustainable equilibrium for a parliamentary system, and even if killing the filibuster outright is too tall an order right now, it's not surprising that other Senate institutions are beginning to snap under the pressure, and (b) just how silly Senate maneuvering is in the first place. Steve Benen describes the motives leading to this madness, and they're sort of jaw-dropping:
The Senate is poised to consider a bill on Chinese currency manipulation, but McConnell is desperate to play games with the American Jobs Act, trying to force it onto the China bill as an amendment. The goal is to get at least some Democrats to vote against the jobs bill, so Republicans can run around claiming “bipartisan opposition” to the proposal. McConnell was so desperate to pursue this, he was poised to rely on a rarely-used Senate tactic that would have required a two-thirds majority to pass the American Jobs Act. Dems would have voted against the stunt en masse, well in advance of the actual vote on the jobs bill next week, allowing GOP members to claim Senate Democrats were responsible for voting down the bill, even though that wouldn’t really be true.
What's incredible about this -- besides the pettiness of it all -- is how little it matters. There's just no evidence out there that anybody in the electorate pays attention to the exact vote breakdown when a bill passes (to say nothing of bills that fail and drop out of the public eye). In other words, our Senators spend huge amounts of time trying to sneakily structure bills so that other Senators look bad to spectators. But there's a catch: there aren't any spectators outside a handful of D.C. political junkies.

The perpetual stupidity of Senate "tactics" (can something that has no effect on anything be called a tactic?) goes a long way towards explaining the filibuster's continued survival. It suggests that politicians in D.C. are really, really bad at extracting themselves from the congressional fishbowl and determining which factors actually matter in the pursuit of their various electoral and policy agendas. Senators remind me of middle-schoolers: they're vain and self-absorbed, convinced everyone in the world is watching their every move, and unwilling to step out of line or help themselves lest anyone anywhere turn a judging eye on them.

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