(AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari.)
There’s a lot of unconvincing spin coming from the Senate Democrats who brokered an awful “filibuster reform” deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Thursday morning. Chief among them is the argument that this is any kind of actual reform—it isn’t.
The deal doesn’t implement a talking filibuster sought by liberal Senators Jeff Merkley and Tom Udall. It doesn’t flip the filibuster burden to the minority, requiring them to come up with forty-one votes. It simply eliminates filibusters on motions to proceed only—and that’s if senators from both parties agree on it. There are also some minor changes to limit debate on sub-cabinet and district court nominations.
“After these small changes the Senate will operate much the same way as it did yesterday,” a Democratic aide told TPM. Republicans agree: “Rules change doesn't really do a lot,” Senator Johnny Isakson told TPM. “It preserves the filibuster.”
Another silly argument is that, even though there were fifty-one votes to push through stronger reforms using the nuclear option, doing so would have angered Republicans and created more gridlock. This is a nicer approach that will encourage more comity. “It’ll give great momentum to working on a bipartisan basis here in the Senate,” Carl Levin told reporters. Anyone who actually believes that has a wildly undue faith in Mitch McConnell.
Yet another argument, channeled here by Ezra Klein, is that a massive filibuster fight is pointless with a Republican House, which will kill any liberal Senate bills anyhow. Putting aside any consideration of a long-term strategy, this would still be true only if the House had a say in nominations—which of course it does not. If a conservative Supreme Court justice retires or dies in the next four years, and the GOP filibusters Obama’s liberal appointee, let’s check back in on this theory.
The one argument with some real sway—and one aimed right at the progressive activists pushing for reform—is that if the filibuster is abolished, liberals would be unable to stop scary GOP bills should that party regain control of the Senate, which is at some point inevitable.