This past spring, Senator Claire McCaskill wrote to me asking for $50 to help elect more Democrats, so we could have a filibuster-proof Senate. Now that Al Franken has finally been declared the sixtieth Democratic senator, her plea may seem moot. But even with Franken in office, we don’t have a filibuster-proof Senate. To get to sixty on the Democratic side, we’ll still have to cut deals with Democrats like Max Baucus, Ben Nelson and others who cat around as Blue Dogs from vote to vote. Whether or not Senator Arlen Specter is a Democrat, the real Democrats will still have to cut the same deals to get sixty votes.
Maybe we loyal Dems should start sending postcards like the following: “Dear Senator: Why do you keep asking for my money? You’ve already got the fifty-one votes you need to get rid of the filibuster rule.” It’s true–McCaskill and her colleagues could get rid of it tomorrow. Then we really would have a Democratic Senate, like our Democratic House.
She won’t. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which paid for her appeal, won’t. They use the filibuster threat to hit us up for money. And as long as they do, you and I will keep on kicking in for a “filibuster-proof” Senate, which, with or without Franken, will never exist. Every Obama initiative will teeter around sixty, only the deal-cutting will go on deeper in the back rooms and be less transparent than before.
In the meantime, playing it straighter than Claude Rains, McCaskill and other Democrats tell us how shocked, yes, shocked they are that this deal-cutting is going on. May I quote her spring letter? “I’m writing to you today because President Obama’s agenda is in serious jeopardy…”
It still is, as long as it takes sixty and not fifty-one votes to pass Obama’s bills. But no, here’s what she says: “Why? Because Republicans in the Senate–the same ones who spent years kowtowing to George W. Bush–are determined to block each and every one of President Obama’s initiatives.”
But why is that a surprise, if there’s a rule that lets forty-one senators block a bill? The surprise to people in other countries is that the Senate, already wildly malapportioned, with two senators from every state no matter how big or small the population, does not observe majority rule. Her next line:
“It’s appalling really.”
It sure is–the way she and other Democratic senators keep the filibuster in place. But let her go on:
“They’re the ones who got us into this mess. Now they want to stand in the way of every positive thing the President tries to do to set things right. I’m sure it frustrates you as much as it does me.”
Yes, Senator, it frustrates me. But Democratic senators who let this happen and then ask for my money frustrate me even more.
As a labor lawyer, I have seen the Senate filibuster kill labor law reform–kill the right to join a union, freely and fairly–in 1978 and 1994. And, no doubt, in 2010.