The filibuster compromise

May 24th, 2005 – 7:31 pm
Tagged as: Politics

Last night a last minute compromise was reached to avert the use of the so-called nuclear option, which would have basically gotten rid of the filibuster in the Senate.

So is this a good thing or a bad thing? My personal opinion is that, while it may have been the best deal the Democrats could have gotten in this situation, all the compromise does is postpone the inevitable. As Senator Russ Feingold said:

This is not a good deal for the U.S. Senate or for the American people. Democrats should have stood together firmly against the bullying tactics of the Republican leadership abusing their power as they control both houses of Congress and the White House. Confirming unacceptable judicial nominations is simply a green light for the Bush administration to send more nominees who lack the judicial temperament or record to serve in these lifetime positions. I value the many traditions of the Senate, including the tradition of bipartisanship to forge consensus. I do not, however, value threatening to disregard an important Senate tradition, like occasional unlimited debate, when necessary. I respect all my colleagues very much who thought to end this playground squabble over judges, but I am disappointed in this deal.


There are, of course, also those who think it wasn’t all that bad a deal, like Markos “Kos” Moulitsas of Daily Kos:

There are those who think any compromise is a sign of weakness, and there’s little that can be said to change their mind.

But here are the plain, unspun facts:

# Democrats hold 44 seats in the 100 seat Senate. One independent sides with the Democrats, giving Dems a 10-seat deficit.

# Reid had 49 votes. He needed 51 to defeat Frist’s nuclear option.

# Reid needed at least two of four undecided Republicans.

# Had Reid come up short, the filibuster would be dead in judicial matters.

# If the filibuster was dead, Bush would’ve been able to put anyone on the Supreme Court. Anyone.

# Radical Christian Rightist James Dobson is demanding the right to choose the next Supreme Court nominee.

# Dobson’s biggest enemy is the filibuster. Hence, he forced Frist to engage in the nuclear option.

# Because of the deal, Dobson can’t choose the next Supreme Court justice. Bush’s choice, if too extreme, faces the prospect of a filibuster.

In order to save face, Republicans have gotten up or down votes on most of the handful of judges who are currently being filibustered. It’s a price, but a relatively small one to pay to protect the filibuster during the next Supreme Court battle.

Given that we have a 10-seat deficit in the Senate, that’s no small feat.

As I said above, I agree that, under the circumstances, it may have been the best the Democrats could do, and it’s always nice to really annoy members of the far right wing of the Republican Party, like the infamous James Dobson:

This Senate agreement represents a complete bailout and betrayal by a cabal of Republicans and a great victory for united Democrats. Only three of President Bush’s nominees will be given the courtesy of an up-or-down vote, and it’s business as usual for all the rest. The rules that blocked conservative nominees remain in effect, and nothing of significance has changed.

It’s all well and good that this compromise deal may drive some wedges into the Republican party and finally separate the radical Right from the moderate Republicans. I’m all for that. The problem is that the deal itself is meaningless as far as actually preserving the power of the filibuster for any future fights. One of the Republican Senators who signed on, Mike DeWine (R-OH), is already preparing to weasel out of the whole thing:

Some of you who are looking at the language may wonder what some of the clauses mean. The understanding is � and we don�t think this will happen � but if an individual senator believes in the future that a filibuster is taking place under something that�s not extraordinary circumstances, we of course reserve the right to do what we could have done tomorrow which is to cast a yes vote for the constitutional option.

Then you have Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who, after at first saying things that led some to believe that he supported the deal, is getting ready to try and get it to break later this week:

Senate Majority Leader Frist will file for cloture on President Bush�s nomination of William Myers to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later this week, according to sources on and off Capitol Hill, wasting no time in testing the resolve of 14 Republican and Democratic senators who forced at least a temporary halt to the battle over Democratic filibusters of President Bush�s judicial picks

This is the thing that the Democrats never seem to actually understand. You can’t make a good faith deal with people who don’t believe in honoring their promises. A deal that depends on the integrity of those who agreed to it simply isn’t going to work when so many of those involved have no integrity. Frankly, I would rather have seen the Democrats make a stand, even if they lost.

UPDATE: Here are a few more of the many people who have chimed in on this issue.

Max Sawicky of Maxspeak sees the compromise as “a giant steaming pile of monkey crap.”

DJW at Lawyers, Guns, and Money says:

Let’s all stop and reflect on the fact we’ve reached a point that conceding to the demands of right-wing extremists in order to prevent said extremists from attempting an ill-concieved act of political self-immolation now counts as a victory for “centrism.”

Nathan Newman says:

As for the moderate Dems? Nothing. They betrayed other Democrats while gaining no real new power. If the Democrats as a group had decided to go for the deal, it might have reflected a tactical win for the Democratic caucus, but this is just a stab in the back.

I understand that many folks see not losing the filibuster as the victory, but that just reflects the low standards of victory people have developed. Losing less has become the standard of success for progressives, unfortunately.

The more I read, and the more time I have to think about this, the more I agree with those who say that this was, at best, a hollow victory for the Democrats.

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