Posted on | January 24, 2013 | No Comments
The never-ending first day of the Senate looks like it’s finally closing. Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid was continually putting the Senate into recess instead of closing the session each day because you can only change the rules on the first day of the session. As long as that first day wasn’t over he still had time to negotiate some treaty with minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell. There were calls from both sides, some saying to do nothing and this was all a power grab by the Democrats, others saying the filibuster should be removed entirely and majority should rule without restriction.
Both of those claims are terribly wrong, so Sen. Reid went looking for the middle ground. Did he find it? Not quite. Yet small progress was made.
Most of the progress was in the time and amount of amendments that can be added to a bill and the amount of hours either side can delay the vote on certain nominations for government posts. These used to be completely routine matters previous, but the recent blockades in the Senate made them nearly impossible to get through without a huge fight. So there’s the limited upside to today’s deal. There are some others and also better coverage of the entirety of it over here at Wonkblog.
The most popular change people were hoping for was the famous “talking filibuster”, cemented into our movie by the silver screen talents of James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. While it was moving, stirring and powerful in the film, this might be one of those cases where the public let Hollywood cloud its judgment.
The idea of the talking filibuster is that any Senator that wants to hold up the vote on a bill and block it from moving to the floor has to stand at the lectern and debate their side. They must hold the floor continuously, although they are allowed to switch people in the blocking party if need be, and the moment they stop speaking the bill would come to the floor. This would solve the horrid overuse of the “silent filibuster” where one Senator can just register a hold and no one sees who or why it was done. Yet, let’s look at the downside of this idea, and it’s a big one.
Can you really imagine what it would be like if Sen. Rand Paul or Sen. Mike Lee had to hold the floor in order to block something they don’t like (which is pretty much everything the Democrats or the President supports)? It’s like giving a kid a limitless credit card in a toy store. The spotlight would be one them and only them and they would have an unfiltered continuous microphone to spout any and all craziness that popped into their heads. The Senate floor would be turned immediately into a megaphone for the Tea Party.
Surely some people would find it annoying and maybe mount enough support to vote out those who abused it, but until that risky gamble came true, those fringe voices would be amplified, feeding an already agitated conspiracy-laden right-wing, driving them to a frothy madness.
While the reforms we got were not to the level I hoped for, they are something and hopefully they will lead to more reasoned maneuvers in the future, but we always have to keep in mind that the point of reform is to create progress and reasoned debate, not open more doors for showboating and glory hounds.