Thursday, January 24, 2013

Filibuster Fight Puts Dem Kabuki out in the Open

The filibuster wasn't changed because many senate Democrats don't want to change it. It's that simple.

Here's the tell::
Senate Democrats have the 51 votes necessary to weaken the filibuster, the top two Democrats declared unequivocally on Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he’s continuing discussions with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) over a bipartisan resolution. But when asked if he has the 51 votes for filibuster reform via the constitutional option if that fails, he didn’t mince words.

“Yes,” Reid said.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) told reporters that the Merkley-Udall “full talking filibuster” approach likely won’t happen because it “does not have 51 votes.” But he said a more modest package that Reid has put forth to McConnell, aimed at shifting the burden from a governing majority to an obstructing minority, would pass.
Breaking this down, both Reid and Durbin agree that they have 51 votes for a package that would weaken the filibuster. They don't have votes for Merkley-Udall, which is disappointing but not too surprising. As long as we get some reforms that are passed with simple 51 vote majority, that would be helpful for governing in the short term and important in changing norms for the rules in the long term. And let's state this once again for the record: they have the votes to take this option.

Fast forward to today (writing this before Wednesday night, so if they don't do a deal, forgive me), but so if, where they predictably "cave "and strike a worse deal with Mitch McConnell, it's because they don't want to actually change the filibuster. This is one of those moments where Kabuki dance is put right out in the open for the world to see. In the fiscal cliff negotiations, it was obvious that Obama didn't want all of the taxes on rich people to expire (including estate and carried interest), because he agreed to a deal that was much worse than what he would have gotten had he done nothing and rates went up on their own. It wasn't that he was a bad negotiator, he got the deal he wanted. There is no other explanation.

The same principle applies here. If you have 51 votes to do stronger reforms, and you agree to weaker ones, it means you didn't want to do the stronger reforms in the first place. That's exactly what happened here. Senators use made up rules like the filibuster to cover for the fact that quite a few of them don't give the slightest shit about actually trying to pass good public policy that risks offending their corporate masters. They would rather campaign and grandstand about popular policies and then whine about endless obstruction when in fact it's providing them an excuse to kill something they never wanted to do anyway.

If the Senate wants to do something (particularly it's leadership, they will make that shit happen. Harry Reid used the freaking NUCLEAR OPTION in 2011 when Turtle man was trying to embarrass the Democratic caucus into voting for a bill that was never going to pass. Notice he didn't do that for the public option, or stronger elements in Dodd-Frank, or any of the other millions of things Republicans have "stopped" with filibuster. Republican obstruction is actually a very useful tool for Democrats who don't give a shit about passing progressive legislation, which, unfortunately is a large portion of the caucus. They want the filibuster because it gives them the ability to campaign on progressive (and popular) policies that keep them in good standing with their base while actually doing nothing or watering down legislation to please the corporate interests that really pay for their campaigns. That's the game, plain and simple.

Harry Reid and Barack Obama make plenty of mistakes, but they aren't as dumb, naive and incompetent as these negotiations make them seem. They're getting what they want, we're just not playing the same game.

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