Call it a “fighting retreat.” Or a disinclination to fight in a burning house.
So, the big news today is that Harry Reid apparently voluntarily spit out some of his fangs on the filibuster. They’re modifying the rules to give the minority party a bit more input in the process:
…the deal Reid struck with McConnell doesn’t end the filibuster against the motion to proceed. Rather, it creates two new pathways for moving to a new bill. In one, the majority leader can, with the agreement of the minority leader and seven senators from each party, sidestep the filibuster when moving to a new bill. In the other, the majority leader can short-circuit the filibuster against moving to a new bill so long as he allows the minority party to offer two germane amendment that also can’t be filibustered. Note that in all cases, the minority can still filibuster the bill itself.
Apparently, some of the anti-filibuster people are livid, given that Reid’s given up a bit, not least of which is (in at least some cases) his time-honored trick of filling up the amendment tree (ie, not allowing Republican Senators the option to offer amendments to bills). And, sure, they’re marketing this as a win – but, realistically? The Democrats aren’t actually able to pass legislation right now that’s unacceptable to the House, so why not run things the way that they like in the Senate anyway?
Well, Sean Trende crunched some of the numbers about the likelihood that one party or the other has to control both Houses of Congress and the Presidency. After concluding that the odds of the GOP doing so were around 20% at any given point, while the Democrats were only about 3% (I’m sure that many people will be checking Sean’s math; or, more accurately, trying to deny its legitimacy), Sean naturally points out:
Weakening the filibuster was a perfectly sensible goal for liberals back in the 1970s, when Democrats arguably had natural Senate and House majorities, and their main goal was to diminish the ability of Southern Democrats to cross the liberal leadership. But it makes much less sense today. Yes, Democrats can point to some cherished action items that were lost in the first half of Obama’s term (the public option, card check).
At the same time, however, the filibuster greatly restrained Republicans’ ability to implement their agenda during the Bush years. Without it, they probably would have passed tort reform, ANWR drilling, Social Security privatization, school vouchers, made the Bush tax cuts permanent, and further diminished unions’ ability to organize. Republicans might have passed immigration reform, President Bush almost certainly would have placed Miguel Estrada on the Supreme Court, and Hispanics might be a more reliably Republican voting group. In short, in terms of policy changes, the filibuster has probably inhibited Republicans more over the past decade than Democrats.
Overall, that’s what makes the move such a head-scratcher.
When Sean wrote the article, a deal hadn’t actually been made yet; and it’s now pretty obvious why Reid was posturing: he’s stuck dealing with the magical thinking that infects his party’s base. Democratic activists have been force-fed since 2004 a narrative that tells them that they will be in control of the Republic for the next few decades, thanks largely to cherry-picked demographic trends of increasingly dubious reliability. Couple that with a natural-enough relief that their incredibly flawed candidate managed to eke out a re-election win in 2012 and you end up with a pretty severe case of victory disease. All of which means that Reid had to give liberal activists something; and goodness knows that empty posturing often works with that crowd.
Although we’re supposed to pretend to not notice.
Moe Lane (crosspost)
PS: For a remarkably different (and extremely disapproving) take on this, feel free to read my RS colleague Daniel Horowitz. Hey, if you want lockstep unanimity, try the progressive movement.