Thursday, February 14, 2013

Filibuster FAIL

Last month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) secured a "Gentlemen's Agreement" with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) on filibuster reform. Basically, they agreed to a few minor changes and no real reform. And it was supposed to settle the matter of running the US Senate.

But now, the issue is being reopened. Now that Senate Republicans have at least temporarily succeeded in sustaining a filibuster of one of their own former colleagues, Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska), as Defense Secretary, many progressives are demanding that Reid reexamine filibuster reform.

Look, we should have seen this all coming. Indeed, Jonathan Bernstein did see it coming, noting recently that GOP conduct throughout Obama’s first term clearly suggested the likelihood that Dems would need 60 votes to get Hagel confirmed. And here we are.

[... I]t’s hard to imagine anything happening that makes as eloquent a case for Reid and Democrats revisiting filibuster reform than this affair will have done. Remember, the watered down filibuster reform deal Reid agreed to was at least partly premised on the idea that both sides were at least somewhat committed to ending some of the abuses that rendered the Senate dysfunctional during Obama’s first term. We now see that Republicans are making a mockery of that arrangement. This goes well beyond Hagel; as always, it goes to the question of whether we are going to have a functional Senate.

Memo to Harry Reid: Time to revive the threat of filibuster reform. Make it absolutely clear that this won’t be tolerated.

So now, America has no Defense Secretary. President Obama now has no one to represent our country when NATO meets in Brussels later this month to plan withdrawal of NATO members' troops from Afghanistan. And we have no one in charge of The Pentagon because the G-O-TEA is (mis)using US Senate rules to grind Congress to a halt.

But now, it's more than that. America is being embarrassed on the world stage. And the Commander-in-Chief is lacking a Defense Secretary. And this is all because of silly political games on Capitol Hill.

As expected, advocates of filibuster reform are having their "We Told You So" moment.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), a leading champion of filibuster reform, issued a statement Thursday lamenting Republican efforts to perform an unprecedented filibuster against a cabinet-level nominee, Chuck Hagel.

“Merely weeks after the Senate came together in a good-faith effort to fix the Senate’s problems, Senate Republicans are now engaging in the first-ever filibuster of a Secretary of Defense nominee," said Merkley said in a statement. "It is deeply disappointing that even when President Obama nominates a former conservative colleague of the GOP caucus, the minority is abusing the rules and the spirit of ‘advise and consent.’ If our step we took last month is to be successful, extraordinary stunts like today’s filibuster can’t happen.”

Right now, Republicans are on a "fishing expedition" in hopes of catching an "OBAMA SCANDAL!!!" No really, they're still fighting Mitt Romney's outrageous and despicable battles. And because of this, America has no Defense Secretary.

This is something Harry Reid has to think about now. Can Mitch McConnell and his G-O-TEA Caucus be trusted any further to honor that "Gentlemen's Agreement"? Or is this perhaps the most glaring reminder of the failure of the contemporary filibuster?

I've said this before, and I'll say this again. Harry Reid is a big believer in the institution that is the United States Senate. And he's hesitant to allow dramatic changes to the way the Senate works.

But in a way, the Senate has already been dramatically changed. This is the first time that the President's Nominee for Defense Secretary has been filibustered. Even the most basic functions of government often can't get a vote on the Senate floor, let alone major pieces of the President's agenda. Is it finally time for a change?

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