Is Reid trying to blackmail McConnell into a weak filibuster reform deal?

Day 2 (or 3) in the virtual “first day of business” of the new Senate has come and gone with no filibuster reform.

If you look at the Senate pending calendar for January 22, you see four resolutions — numbered Resolutions 4, 5, 6 and 7. Merkley-Udall is Resolutions 4 plus Resolution 6. This combo is the strongest filibuster reform proposal on offer.

(I’m still struggling with the meaning of Resolution 5 — not sure how it tweaks the others — and Resolution 7 is Frank Lautenburg’s simple “require a talking filibuster” rules-change. Merkley-Udall also requires a talking filibuster — where a senator must rise up on his or her hind legs and speak in order to hold the floor — so Lautenburg’s proposal is a compromise down from the Merkley-Udall Resolutions 4 & 6, but not bad in itself.)

Of course, real reform would eliminate the filibuster altogether, but … baby steps I guess, because senators en masse are clearly babies (and the Senate was designed to be anti-democratic). The history of the filibuster is interesting, by the way. Feel free to click; for history fans it’s a good read.

But wait, there’s news. From the excellent Alexander Bolton at The Hill. Get ready for weird; this isn’t the news you think it is (my emphasis and paragraphing; analysis after the clip):

Reid to Senate Republicans: Filibuster deal in 36 hours or face nuclear option

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is giving Republican colleagues 36 hours to agree to a deal on filibuster reform or he will move forward with the nuclear option. [Note the framing; this is The Hill speaking, not Reid. Same with the headline.]

“I hope in the next 24, 36 hours we can get something we agree on. If not, we’re going to move forward on what I think needs to be done,” Reid told reporters. Reid’s trump card in negotiations with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) is the threat he will change Senate rules with a simple majority vote. … Critics call it the nuclear option but proponents, such as Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) say it is more accurate to describe it as the “Constitutional option” because the Constitution empowers each chamber to set its own rules.

Reid predicted the Democratic caucus would support him in reforming the Senate’s filibuster rule unilaterally. If he did so, he would likely implement a relatively modest change, such as eliminating the filibuster on motions to proceed to new business. Reid said talks with McConnell are not close to a resolution.

There are a bunch of ways that Republicans can use the current Senate rules to their advantage. Merkley-Udall removes many of them. The Reid offer removes … one of them, the ability to filibuster the motion to start debate on a bill.

Put more clearly, there are currently five times a bill can be filibustered — five choke points. Merkley-Udall removes four of them — under Merkley-Udall, a senator could still filibuster the bill itself, but only by actually talking. Reid[-McConnell] would remove one of them. Some reform, Senator Reid, if that’s your plan. Keep that in mind when evaluating Reid.

Your take-aways

There are two ways to see this. One is that the “motion on the floor” when the senators return to the chamber is Merkley-Udall — which removes most of the choke-points and forces a talking filibuster (as in “No, senator, you may not phone in your filibuster and go to lunch”). Therefore, absent a deal from McConnell, that’s the choice. This is Good Reid putting the “dead cat” at McConnell’s door — forcing responsibility for the passage of Resolutions 4 & 6 (Merkley-Udall) onto Mitch, and shaming him — and then passing Merkley-Udall (Resolutions 4 & 6).

The other way to see it — Reid is begging McConnell to keep them both from having to surrender to Merkley-Udall (or even to Lautenburg’s “talking filibuster only” proposal). This is Bad Reid — “Please Mitch, save us from these philistines; we’re buds, right?”

Good Reid or Bad Reid? We’ll know by the deal. If Mitch can’t do what Reid offers, Reid wins by passing Merkley-Udall. That’s Good Reid. If McConnell caves — and and the bad Reid-McConnell proposal passes — that’s Bad Reid.

Let’s see what passes. Thirty-six hours, folks. Or less.

What to do?

Here I’m going to depart from the herd. The Hill says:

A senator briefed on the talks said it appears McConnell will have trouble rounding up enough Republican votes to support any deal he forges with Reid.

So how do you sink the deal (if you’re inclined to screw thing up)? You get the R’s to dig in their heels, of course. If your senator is an R, call him or her (click for phone numbers) and boldly say to them:

  • Please sir, tell McConnell “No deal with the liberal traitor Reid. Stand your ground.” (“Stand your ground” is a magic phrase with Republicans, by the way. So is “liberal traitor.”)
  • Then call Mitch McConnell (202-224-2541). Say “Why are you betraying your values? Do you want a primary?” (Teabaggers are threatening Mr. McConnell with just that, a primary. I’m serious.)

If there’s no “middle” deal for Reid to cave to, Merkley-Udall or Lautenburg’s “talking filibuster–only,” will win. Both are better than the reported Reid-McConnell deal. Otherwise, we’ll get a whole lot worse.

Strengthen Merkley’s and Udall’s hand — force McConnell into No Deal. You have 36 hours to make yourself heard and felt. Please take advantage of the gift of time.

[Update: Phrase-tweaked for clarity.]

Mes petits sous,


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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5 Responses to “Is Reid trying to blackmail McConnell into a weak filibuster reform deal?”

  1. karmanot says:

    More DINO posing and political Kabuki. A few adjustments here, a few minor concessions there and business as usual. Does anyone seriously Harry Reid will actually lead? On anything?

  2. BeccaM says:

    No, what I think is happening is Reid is trying to cozen McConnell into going forward with the meaningless, weak-tea filibuster reform he himself has been pushing, because Harry simply cannot conceive of making a substantive change in the way the Senate operates. Harry truly wants a ‘win’ that accomplishes nothing and can’t understand why Mitch won’t accept this do-nothing proposal.

    Eliminating filibusters on motions to proceed to new business won’t end the majority of current filibusters, which have been refusals to end debate on a measure (cloture) and secret one-senator holds on nominations. Also, what people don’t realize is how much of today’s routine Senate business requires not a 60-vote threshold but unanimous consent.

    But the big enchilada right now is cloture, hence the debate on talking filibusters — meaning if you intend to use 41 votes to refuse to end debate, you need those 41 to show up and actually hold the floor and debate. People don’t remember that until the mid 1970s, there was no such thing as a virtual filibuster. (Which, stupidly, was enacted by the Dems of the time.) Anyway, anything that fails to address cloture abuse and secret single-senator holds will result in the status quo.

  3. Naja pallida says:

    Republicans are simply scared to death, because they know when it comes to almost anything decided with a straight-up democratic, majority vote takes all, they will lose. Using Karl Rove and Dick Armey’s play books they have built themselves into a permanent Republican minority, so they have to use Tom Delay’s play book to rig the entire electoral system heavily in their favor, to make sure their minority can continue to run roughshod over the rest of the country that doesn’t agree with them. If there was ever a time to finally do away with the Electoral College, this is it, because if we don’t, the Republican legislators that are illegally cramming redistricting down the throats of their constituents are just going to continue to try and rig the system. Wanting to allot Electoral College votes based on Congressional district sure smells like a parliamentary system though, doesn’t it? The only next step that is needed is for the elected Congresspeople themselves to be the ones to elect the President from their own ranks. It’s just too bad they can’t manage to draw the districts fairly, or it might actually be a sensible move.

  4. Myrddin says:

    The only reason to go for a weak deal would be to protect liberal assets like Social Security and Medicare and now Obamacare in the case that the GOP got the trifecta of White House, Senate and House.

    I don’t think that is a likely outcome in the next ten years. And the GOP would have to become a lot more moderate before it was likely. In particular they would have to stop talking about cutting Social Security etc. Eliminating the filibuster would make it a lot less likely that the GOP would get the White House as voters could not take it for granted that they will be protected from the worst effects of GOP ideology through a Senate filibuster. Keeping the GOP out of the White House would be the only way voters could be sure that they protect Social Security etc.

    Anyone who doubts that the GOP won’t tear up the filibuster the minute they get the trifecta needs to look at what they just did in Virginia, passing a new gerrymandered redistricting map the minute that a Democrat is down in Washington to attend the inaugural. Every action of the GOP proves that they are an essentially fascist party that simply does not believe in any Democratic process that might inconvenience them. They would consider eliminating the filibuster as the moderate alternative to passing an enabling act.

    The resistance to reform seems to come from the Senators who understand how the current game works and do not want to change the rules now. They completely miss the fact that the GOP has ripped up the rulebook already.

  5. Guest says:

    Interesting strategy. I’m not sure. IF McConnell reaches an agreement with Reid, does he only need himself and twelve other Republicans to put it over (what’s the alternative view of the majority it takes on a motion to change the rules? Two-thirds?). Practically, he’d probably need to bring more along. But the weak deal you outline might be attractive to the Toomeys in the body who probably don’t need to worry about being primaried from the right and who try to hide their radicalism when they can for the sake of re-election in more balanced states.

    Is Resolution 5 the Franken proposal (which would require 41 votes to prevent cloture, as I understand it, rather than 60 votes to impose it)? If so, at how many of the “choke-points” would it be available?

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