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.
One final note about Pacific Political Scientists at the American Political Science Association (APSA) meetings in Seattle:
Congratulations to Professor Dari Sylvester, who received the 2011 Adaljiza Sosa-Ridell Award for Exemplary Mentoring of Latino/a Students in Political Science. The Adaljiza Sosa-Ridell Award is presented each year by the APSA’s Committee on the Status of Latinos and Latinas in the Profession.
University of the Pacific Political Science and International Studies Professor Daniel O’Neill also participated in the recent Seattle meetings of the American Political Science Association. He delivered a paper “Risky Business: China‘s Foreign Direct Investment and Aid to Developing Countries.”
Here’s the abstract for the paper:
Foreign direct investment (FDI) from China is increasingly destined for developing states with high corruption, weak rule of law and substantial political risk. To explain the ability of China’s state owned enterprises (SOEs) to invest successfully in such environments, I present a theory of how Chinese bilateral policies, particularly foreign aid, shape incentives for the leadership in the receiving country that constrain predatory behavior against Chinese SOEs. This creates a de facto insurance for Chinese investors in foreign states lacking the institutions shown to protect investments. Case studies of Chinese SOEs in Cambodia and Kazakhstan support the hypotheses. A main contribution of this study is in analyzing the effects of the policies of home (FDI source) country governments on outward foreign direct investment.
- Growth in foreign investment in China slows (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
At the recent meeting of the American Political Science Association, Pacific‘s Professor Yong Kyun Kim presented a poster “Who Builds Up Foreign Debt and Who Brings It Down?” His student attributes a great deal of change in foreign debt to political institutions. Here is his abstract:
We present an empirical analysis of the political determinants of foreign-debt buildup and reduction in developing countries. Three interesting patterns stand out. First, most factors exhibit nonlinearity when the dependent variable’s sign changes. Federalism, for instance, helps prevent a large debt buildup but does not promote a large debt reduction. Second, some factors are symmetric in the sense that they accelerate or dampen changes in both directions. Presidential systems are associated with a signiﬁcant rise in foreign debt as well as with its big fall. Finally, the way many political institutions are related to changes in foreign debt differs signiﬁcantly across different levels of democracy. Governments with a larger share of seats in the legislature and left governments are better able to bring their foreign debt down only if they are highly democratic. When highly autocratic, they make it less likely to happen. We show that political institutions as a whole explain a great deal of variation in the increase and decrease of foreign debt and that they do so in a complex manner.
You can see Professor Kim’s poster here: ykimapsa2011.