The Senate is currently debating whether to impose the “nuclear option” on presidential nominees for executive branch offices and for nominees to the district and appellate courts. Nominees to the Supreme Court would, for now, still be subject to the filibuster. Senate Democrats threatened to make similar changes at the start of the current Congress and again over the past summer. (See here for a quick summary of the timeline.) Each time, however, they were able to reach a deal with the Republicans to allow some nominations to proceed without changing the rules.
While there will be protests that Senate Democrats have broken the rules if they do restrict the use of the filibuster (this is currently Mitch McConnell’s favorite talking point), most observers agree that it can be done. Gregory Koger, for example, writes:
Bottom line: a simple majority has—and has always had—the power to restrict filibustering if senators are willing to take extreme measures to achieve their goals. Although parliamentary rules are discussed as if they are LAWS (with “rules” and “precedents” and “rulings from the chair”) in the final analysis the rules can be interpreted however a majority of the legislature prefer.
The basic logic of filibuster reform is this: Is it worth enough for me today, as I sit in the majority, to lose the filibuster in the future should my party become the minority? Am I willing to give up the potential to obstruct in the future so that I can get my way today? (Yes, there are reputation and potential electoral costs that I will incur if I change the rules, but these are relatively minor. PR wars happen all the time over bigger issues that have little to no effect on elections.)
It’s unclear what the outcome of this change would be. Would Senate Republicans follow through on the MAD (mutually assured destruction) aspect of the nuclear option and grind the Senate to a complete halt by obstructing everything else? Honestly, the reason the Senate Democrats are willing to even discuss the nuclear option is that over the last five years the Republicans have already largely adopted this policy. Yes, there is more that could happen in the way of obstruction, but the level of Republican obstruction has become so great that Democrats feel it is now worth paying the price.
I do think, however, that any change in the filibuster today would signal the beginning of the end of the filibuster has we have known and loved it. If it is okay to change the filibuster today because of minority party obstruction of nominees, it becomes easier to change the filibuster tomorrow because of minority party obstruction of a bill.
BTW, my go to sources for analysis of any such proposal are Sarah Binder and Gregory Koger, both of whom have written extensively on the filibuster (see here, here, and here for examples of Binder’s work and here, here, and here for examples of Koger’s work). They don’t always agree on their analysis.
Like many in America on Tuesday, voters in Stockton went to the polls. As expected–this was an off-year, local election–turnout was pretty low, only 21% of registered voters cast a ballot.
In Stockton, we voted on two ballot measures proposed by the city council. Measure A was a general sales tax increase: if passed, the city’s sales tax rate would increase by 0.75 cents on the dollar, bringing the total sales tax paid in Stockton up to 9%, for at least 10 years. Measure B was an advisory measure instructing the city how to spend the money raised by Measure A. Specifically, Measure B says:
If Measure A is approved by the voters, shall (i) 65% of its proceeds be used only to pay for law enforcement and crime prevention services in the City such as those described in the City’s Marshall Plan on Crime and (ii) 35% of its proceeds be used only to pay for the City’s efforts to end the bankruptcy and for services to residents, businesses, and property owners?
The key words that I want to draw your attention to here are, “If Measure A is approved by the voters …”
According to the numbers posted on the San Joaquin Registrar of Voters web site, 13,273 people voted for Measure A. (It passed with 52.5% of the vote.) At the same time, 14,809 people voted for Measure B. (It passed with 59.7% of the vote.)
Assuming that everyone who voted for A also voted for B and that everyone who voted against B also voted against A (these seem reasonable assumptions but could be wrong), the following are true:
1) A little more than 1,500 more people voted against Measure A but for Measure B. I think these voters were saying, “I don’t want the tax increase, but if it does pass then I want the money used according to Measure B.”
2) About 450 people voted no on Measure A and then didn’t bother to vote on Measure B. These voters were saying, “My vote against the tax increase is enough.” Maybe they didn’t think Measure A would pass. Maybe they didn’t care what the city did with the money if it did pass.
As for the Measures themselves, I think Mike Fitzgerald of the Record got it right: “There are uncertainties. But voters chose increased public safety certainty over possibly chimeric increased fiscal certainty. They were probably right to do so.”
The federal deficit at the end of FY 2012 was $1,087,000,000,000. If you want to make a dent in the level of national debt, you have to turn that number positive. Here’s where we spent money in FY 2012. Can you make enough cuts to get to $1,087,000,000,000? Of course, your other option is to increase revenue (i.e., raise taxes).
I was going through some old notes and found the following. It seemed relevant to all that is going on in Washington these days.
Context: Sen. Barry Goldwater (R) wrote to Gov. George Romney (R-MI) on December 8, 1964, complaining about the fact that Romney never endorsed Goldwater for president (Goldwater lost badly to Johnson in the 1964 election). The following come from Romney’s response to Goldwater on December 21, 1964:
You have requested “an explanation” from me with respect to certain matters raised in your letter. I will try to cover them as frankly and as fully as I can.
First, as to your remarks in Jamaica concerning the possible realignment of the Republican and Democratic parties into “conservative” and “liberal” parties. Whatever the circumstances of the statement, you have indicated that you believe this might be “a happy thing.” I disagree. We need only look at the experience of some ideologically oriented parties in Europe to realize that chaos can result. Dogmatic ideological parties tend to splinter the political and social fabric of a nation, lead to governmental crises and deadlocks, and stymie the compromises so often necessary to preserve freedom and achieve progress. A broad based two-party structure produces a degree of political stability and viability not otherwise attainable. I believe, therefore, that we should exert every effort to broaden and strengthen our Republican party, as a means of preserving a strong two-party system, which is an essential element of a free country. …
I do not believe that we can prevent unsound solutions to current problems by sheer opposition. My experience convinces me that we must present sound solutions based on applying our proven principles to current problems in the development of specific, positive programs. Only in this way can we stop the adoption of unsound national programs to fill personal, private, local, state and national vacuums. …
The ideological fights we are watching today are not new. We’ve been through similar convulsions–and worse–in our political history. What is new is the means by which the fights are taking place. Never before has one party been so willing to use the budget process and the full faith and credit of the country to try to extract so much from its political opposition.