Should a Dem Senate keep the legislative filibuster?

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Should a Dem Senate keep the legislative filibuster?

Postby cmsellers » Tue Mar 19, 2019 3:02 pm

I figured I should start a thread on this, because it would derail the primary thread otherwise.

Absentia wrote:As I pointed out on Discord: If your metric is how likely someone's agenda is to make it through Congress, you can write off almost the entire field. Even some of the nominally moderate candidates like Booker and Gillibrand have embraced Medicare For All and GND.

On Discord, I mentioned that they could get stuff done, if they A. win the Senate and B. get rid of the legislative filibuster, which I absolutely do. To this you responded that it's a terrible idea because the Republicans will eventually get a trifecta again, to which I said "I really wish McConnell would have ended the filibuster when he had a trifect, but it's not in his interests." At the time I didn't elaborate, but I want to, because I think that the "what goes around comes around" argument is deeply flawed where the legislative filibuster is concerned.

At this point, Congressional Republicans have demonstrated several things:

  1. They will not negotiate in good faith on anything seen as a Democratic priority, even if the Democrats copy the Heritage Foundation's proposal pretty much verbatim.
    -
  2. They will filibuster anything seen as a Democratic priority, which means the Democrats cannot pass anything without a supermajority in the Senate, which is very unlikely in the near future.
    -
  3. Republican priorities are things that they can achieve through reconciliation, through fifty votes in the Senate + the VP if they choose, or through the executive branch. Lowering taxes, increasing military spending, defunding Obamacare, and building the wall.
    -
  4. If something is unpopular enough, such as defunding Obamacare or building the wall, Congressional Republicans will find a way not to do it while they have a trifecta.
So at this point, the legislative filibuster overwhelmingly favors Republicans. I hope that Congressional Republicans will eventually return to sanity, but I think that that would require spending a long time in the wilderness. Not sure how long, but eight years clearly is enough. The cyclical nature of our system means that they will almost certainly regain control of Congress pretty quickly, and will likely win the popular vote for the presidency if we have a long enough span of Democratic presidents.

So for the foreseeable future, if Democrats want to get anything done legislatively, and they take the Senate, the only way they get shit done is by eliminating the legislative filibuster. And to that, I would say "good riddance." It's not clear to me that they will, but they should, and if they do, I think single-payer has a good chance of passing. Green New Deal also has a decent chance: I'd rate it as unlikely to pass, but since I think the current proposals are deeply flawed, I could be conflating what I expect to happen with what I want to happen.
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Re: Should a Dem Senate keep the legislative filibuster?

Postby Absentia » Tue Mar 19, 2019 4:32 pm

cmsellers wrote:
  1. They will not negotiate in good faith on anything seen as a Democratic priority, even if the Democrats copy the Heritage Foundation's proposal pretty much verbatim.
    -
  2. They will filibuster anything seen as a Democratic priority, which means the Democrats cannot pass anything without a supermajority in the Senate, which is very unlikely in the near future.
    -
  3. Republican priorities are things that they can achieve through reconciliation, through fifty votes in the Senate + the VP if they choose, or through the executive branch. Lowering taxes, increasing military spending, defunding Obamacare, and building the wall.
    -
  4. If something is unpopular enough, such as defunding Obamacare or building the wall, Congressional Republicans will find a way not to do it while they have a trifecta.


1. True.
2. True.
3. Mitch McConnell has been very careful about picking fights he thinks he can win. That doesn't mean he or his successor wouldn't pounce on the opportunity to do more if they get the chance. Something like a national voter ID law or a full Obamacare repeal would be much easier without the filibuster.
4. That's only true for the fairly narrow band of things they can accomplish by executive order. Trump's play for the wall isn't going to survive the courts.

cmsellers wrote:So for the foreseeable future, if Democrats want to get anything done legislatively, and they take the Senate, the only way they get shit done is by eliminating the legislative filibuster. And to that, I would say "good riddance." It's not clear to me that they will, but they should, and if they do, I think single-payer has a good chance of passing. Green New Deal also has a decent chance: I'd rate it as unlikely to pass, but since I think the current proposals are deeply flawed, I could be conflating what I expect to happen with what I want to happen.


I'm not sure I want the Democrats to have a blank check, either, especially with AOC's star rising. Sweeping change is supposed to be a hard fight to convince the skeptics, not a matter of winning one election.

The breakdown in the system is not the need for 60 votes, it's that partisan polarization has increased so much that there aren't 60 votes for anything. The skeptics are all in their own media bubbles and not listening to arguments. There are maybe three to five senators who are in a position to compromise without getting crucified in their next primary.

So you eliminate the filibuster, and instead of gridlock you get wild oscillations as the parties move even farther apart and take turns crossing the magic threshold to do as they please. No thank you.
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Re: Should a Dem Senate keep the legislative filibuster?

Postby Crimson847 » Tue Mar 19, 2019 7:43 pm

The other day on Twitter I saw a post; can't find it now, but it went more or less like this:


Dog: *sniffs at a bell pepper someone dropped*

Owner: "I don't think you want that, boy"

Dog: *sniffs more intently, whines*

Owner: "You're not gonna like it..."

Dog: *whines more, tugs on leash*

Owner: "Alright, fine." *gives slack on leash*

Dog: "licks the pepper, howls, runs away"


Parents are likely familiar with stories of this type. My sister was apparently the same way about touching the stove--they told her over and over not to do it, but she wouldn't listen until she tried it and burned herself. Sometimes people decide that something is a good idea and by God they won't be told different; the only teacher they'll accept is firsthand experience.

At present, neither left nor right will accept outside criticism of their aims. The moderate center has lost its credibility with them, and they certainly aren't going to take critiques from their opponents. So we keep the filibuster and both left and right continue operating under the unshakable belief that the country would be saved if only they could get their pet policies enacted...or we ditch it, both sides get a turn making policy without interference as long as they can unite around it, and we see for ourselves who was right.

One route is safe and easy, but promotes frustration and hate for an enemy who appears determined to keep our problems from being solved. The other would be rougher at first, but would answer some of the questions that divide us and might well teach some badly needed lessons about humility.
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Re: Should a Dem Senate keep the legislative filibuster?

Postby Absentia » Tue Mar 19, 2019 8:44 pm

"We'll give the people what they think they want and worry about the consequences later" is how Britain wound up in the shit. I'm not going to endorse bad government because the badness might be educational.

The stakes for failure here are a little higher than a burnt hand. If we get economic policy wrong, people lose their jobs and savings. If we get health care policy wrong, people die. If we get foreign policy wrong, maybe a lot of people die.

Government should be run by adults, not whiny dogs or toddlers.
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Re: Should a Dem Senate keep the legislative filibuster?

Postby Crimson847 » Tue Mar 19, 2019 9:39 pm

Absentia wrote:"We'll give the people what they think they want and worry about the consequences later" is how Britain wound up in the shit.


Yup. And if they hadn't done that UKIP would have only grown in strength, rather than collapsing in a puff of dust like it did after the referendum.

The stakes for failure here are a little higher than a burnt hand. If we get economic policy wrong, people lose their jobs and savings. If we get health care policy wrong, people die. If we get foreign policy wrong, maybe a lot of people die.


The stakes for inaction are also scaled up proportionately, however. While we dick around on the opioid epidemic and on how to expand access to healthcare, lots of people die who didn't need to. If we don't fix the debt issue before long, we risk national insolvency. If we don't move on climate change, the world could be irreparably altered. Both sides are increasingly conscious of this, and it's driving a lot of partisan hate because they each blame the other for the lack of action on the country's problems. Choosing to keep the government paralyzed until our cultural divisions heal is itself a policy choice, with its own potentially dire consequences for the country.

Government should be run by adults, not whiny dogs or toddlers.


It should be, but we both know it isn't. We have a government run by children. And what do children need to become responsible adults? In a word, an education. So if we don't allow that education to happen because it might involve making mistakes, we're just prolonging the problem.
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Re: Should a Dem Senate keep the legislative filibuster?

Postby JamishT » Wed Mar 20, 2019 2:14 am

I am not in favor of abolishing the filibuster, and I think it should be reinstated for Supreme Court nominations. Elections have consequences for sure, but I think the filibuster keeps the consequences from being too bad. I understand the logic behind allowing people to face the consequences, but I don't think it's applicable in this situation because people forget everything between elections.

Also, the filibuster forces compromise. I know that the current attitude and trend is toward less and less compromise, but IDGAF, it's how the nation was founded and it's how extremes are avoided. I recognize that the most energetic voters are the ones that just want the other side to be annihilated, so that's not conducive to my ideals, but that's not gonna change them.

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Re: Should a Dem Senate keep the legislative filibuster?

Postby Doodle Dee. Snickers » Wed Mar 20, 2019 3:01 am

Yes, they should.

I am not in favor of this current course of the country being jerked around in different directions every presidential election, going hardcore conservative to mildly liberal to hardercore conservative once again. Abolishing the filibuster (I agree with Jam that I'd like to see court nominations reinstated to their former threshold) would only exacerbate this problem.

Call me a fan of good governance policies. I've talked at length about how frustrating it is to see a president voted in by incredibly narrow margins (or not win at all), a party win just enough seats by a very narrow margin (again, assuming the party even wins a nationwide vote) and then look at the non-mandate they have, shrug, and legislate as hard in their ideological direction as they can as if they're FDR winning his first election in 1931. Yes, it's absolutely fucking exhausting that Republicans are refusing to work in good faith with Democrats and seem to be just trying (primarily through the court system) to punch way over their actual vote share and cling on to power when the eventual demographic changes they know are happening fuck them out of power. But I'm counting on eventual exhaustion with this bullshit to correct it; I don't want to make our polarization worse or just ratfuck our democracy further. Getting rid of the legislative filibuster is a fix that works right the second the Democrats take the senate, and then will come back to fuck them really hard. The current filibuster forces moderation.

The greater problem is that Republicans basically can't win a nationwide election yet seem to just always find their way to a majority in DC anyways. Fix THAT horseshit, and they'll be dragged kicking and screaming to moderation, because right now they know they just don't have to give a solitary shit what Dems and moderates (as in, the majority of the country) want when they can get by on hardcore conservative votes. If the SCOTUS gets too off course, history shows the president or congress will knock them back in line. Making voter easier/engaging more voters would make this process happen quicker, and I don't think making our politics more of a zero-sum game than it already is will help anything.

You seem to presume that all will remain static in politics, as if the Democrats take the senate, they'll have it forever. I'd remind you that Harry Reid's watching nominees to the courts getting shoved through basically on majority votes because he wanted to be cute and abolish the threshold. What if the next president is worse than Trump (say, deeply authoritarian), the GOP is still voting in a single unified mass, and now the filibuster is down to 50? Be careful what you wish for.

That said, if you don't mind the tangent, I do think the Supreme Court needs structural repair. Were I king for a day, I'd limit all federal and SC chairs to ten years, and I'd increase the number of SC justices to like...twenty, with new seats staggered out every two year so that I wouldn't just select every single one and couldn't be accused of just trying to pack the courts. Hopefully, it would prevent a giant knock-down drag out fight every single time one of them empties. Devalue any individual seat, and it'd make the zero-sum game a lot less appealing.
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Re: Should a Dem Senate keep the legislative filibuster?

Postby Crimson847 » Wed Mar 20, 2019 3:45 am

JamishT wrote:I am not in favor of abolishing the filibuster, and I think it should be reinstated for Supreme Court nominations. Elections have consequences for sure, but I think the filibuster keeps the consequences from being too bad. I understand the logic behind allowing people to face the consequences, but I don't think it's applicable in this situation because people forget everything between elections.


The public forgets many things that more politically engaged folks would prefer they remember. However, one thing the public typically doesn't forget is policy moves that are consequential for them. The Iraq war's rising body count and Bush's attempted Social Security reform decimated Republicans in 2006, Obamacare's flaws got the Democrats crushed in 2010, and the wildly unpopular GOP attempt at healthcare reform doomed their House majority in 2018. When consequential policy does get made, it matters quite a bit to voters.


Also, the filibuster forces compromise. I know that the current attitude and trend is toward less and less compromise, but IDGAF, it's how the nation was founded and it's how extremes are avoided. I recognize that the most energetic voters are the ones that just want the other side to be annihilated, so that's not conducive to my ideals, but that's not gonna change them.


The filibuster is a tool. People force compromise, potentially with help from the filibuster, if they 1) can accept that they don't have all the solutions to the country's problems and aren't necessarily right about everything, and 2) believe they can realistically come to an agreement that will get the required number of votes. With the threshold at 60, both camps are prevented from enacting much, so they rather easily retain the belief that they could fix everything if those assholes in the other party just got out of the way and let them govern. Neither believes they can get to 60 votes on anything more controversial than cute puppy videos in the current environment either, so we're increasingly seeing Congress give up even trying. Dozens of compromises that could get or could have gotten majority support lie forgotten because of the 60-vote requirement. Not clear this leads to a net increase in successful compromising or promotes the kind of political culture that makes people willing to compromise.
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Re: Should a Dem Senate keep the legislative filibuster?

Postby JamishT » Wed Mar 20, 2019 8:48 am

It's late or else I'd quote and respond to you, Crim, I hope you understand.

Another thing(s) I'd like to bring back is pork barrel spending/earmarks, because while the filibuster facilitates more compromise, earmarks help convince politicians to compromise. Is it technically wasteful spending? Yes, absolutely, but IDK if it was ever more than a small fraction of the overall budget, and a senator or congressperson can be swayed to vote for a lot of things if it means a couple hundred or thousand jobs are added to their districts or states.
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Re: Should a Dem Senate keep the legislative filibuster?

Postby Crimson847 » Thu Mar 21, 2019 5:15 pm

I get the sense Doodles is almost exclusively responding to sellers, since his points don't seem to apply to my argument (I welcome Republicans eventually getting the same chance Democrats get). So, no response there.


Re Jamish: So instead of just passing a bill that gets between 50 and 60 percent support (as would happen without the filibuster), we would instead bribe the remaining needed senators by tacking on some pork-barrel spending, so we can pass the same bill but with extra wasteful spending? That doesn't seem like a recipe for better policy in either the long or short run.

Unlike ditching the filibuster it also threatens the core principle of majority rule, since a bill that would fail to get a majority at all on its own merits (and hence probably shouldn't be made law from a democratic standpoint) could potentially be dragged over the line this way, especially in the House.
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Re: Should a Dem Senate keep the legislative filibuster?

Postby Doodle Dee. Snickers » Thu Mar 21, 2019 11:58 pm

Crimson847 wrote:I get the sense Doodles is almost exclusively responding to sellers, since his points don't seem to apply to my argument (I welcome Republicans eventually getting the same chance Democrats get). So, no response there.


Re Jamish: So instead of just passing a bill that gets between 50 and 60 percent support (as would happen without the filibuster), we would instead bribe the remaining needed senators by tacking on some pork-barrel spending, so we can pass the same bill but with extra wasteful spending? That doesn't seem like a recipe for better policy in either the long or short run.

Unlike ditching the filibuster it also threatens the core principle of majority rule, since a bill that would fail to get a majority at all on its own merits (and hence probably shouldn't be made law from a democratic standpoint) could potentially be dragged over the line this way, especially in the House.


I basically was, yeah, but my argument still isn't far away from what it was before. To your point about both parties ushering in their agendas for the country to decide whose is better:

I consider the right in its current form a virulent danger to the laws, foundations, and mores of this country. This was a path I think they began to trod precisely at the point of Newt Gingrich's rise, and it has been sustained by Fox News in particular. When I was Republican, it was during the time of McCains and Paul Ryans, where some of the callousness of conservative voters bothered me yet the top had not yet been infected with it. Now the acquisition and exercise of power (thanks Tom Nichols) is practically all the party exists for (a party that once stood for the limiting and restraint of power), and it has a breathtaking ignorance to it where facts cannot penetrate the shield provided by its chief informants (Fox News), where it stands for whatever the man at the top stands for regardless of whether he's consistent, where it can decry socialism on one hand and then have Trump carelessly handing out billions of dollars to farmers and companies (not the tax cut, think of the Carrier deal) like we're in the Soviet Union, and the absolute vapidity of the average conservative voter now deeply scares me. Not to say that a conservative is unintelligent, but as someone with a well-educated family that is deeply Republican, they treat facts and logic with utmost disdain if it gets in the way of the thrill of a tribal victory. If Trump just wanted to suspend the presidential elections tomorrow, I'm not sure anything could genuinely stop him. I think the only thing that really keeps him from doing it is that he's too dumb to.

Conservative voters by and large have this hollow patriotism where they believe in an America which has a lot less to do with what America's actually about and more about whatever Fox News says America's about that day, where American=Republican, where Trump attacking John McCain isn't un-American because he once didn't vote to repeal Obamacare, where they're fighting against authoritarianism by deposing any system which stands in the way of their president, and have this not-so-subtle attitude that they're saving the country from itself. Perhaps it's a little hypocritical or hyperbolic of me to say that keeping that veto might be one of a very few checks still left against a party that's becoming increasingly vapid, nihilistic, and authoritarian. The only real Republican moderate left in the Senate seems to be Lisa Murkowski, and as the GOP is making clear by their refusal to cobble together a veto-proof majority to oppose Trump's seizing of the last real congressional responsibility, they have no real interest in trying to temper him if it means they might actually have to lose a primary. With a three-man majority, they no longer have to care if Murkowski has an objection or if Susan Collins wants to symbolically vote on something so she can run for a governorship she's almost certainly going to lose. There is no angel on their shoulder; even those folks at National Review have, as I knew they would, slowly managed to "but the Democrats!" their way to getting behind Trump.

What the people want? The people don't want this, yet by and large it doesn't really seem to matter. You can go down the line on Trump's positions and they usually come out to about 35% in favor with the majority opposed, and it doesn't stop him or the GOP from shrugging their shoulders and doing it anyways. Yes, a president usually has an unpopular policy or three forced through (or if you're Truman, everything you do is unpopular until it turns 30 years later that you were right to do nearly everything you did), but other than Truman (who you can understand considering the state of the world at the time) I can't really recall a president who had an agenda so unpopular and a congress so supine. It's not just about Trump, however, I'm probably more concerned about whatever Republican president comes next, probably someone smarter whose seen that he can do whatever he wants on the blind will of 30-something percent of the voters and decides he wants in on that. Even then it's not necessarily safe; I've said before that I worry more about us falling into the trap of more party-oriented authoritarianism in the vein of Poland than being run by a dictator in the vein of Russia.

I'm not going to do this "Both sides are equally bad" thing. The Democrats have their warts, but the GOP has become far, far more odious. They already have too much power for their vote share, frankly, too say little of how they've ratfucked their way into dominating the courts, and I'm disinclined to give them more by way of a political experiment. I've made clear that I'm kinda counting on the clock running out on the GOP; It's hard to sustain a political movement when a sizable majority of your voters are 55+.

So in short: no, I don't want to give the GOP a chance to push through whatever they want so the voters can decide after they've decimated everything. Were we in more rational and calm times, perhaps I'd consider it, but right now isn't that time. The GOP have had about forty years of dominance in this country, with only the mildly liberal 16 years of Obama and Clinton (fleeting in both cases as they were quickly constrained by hardcore conservatives) to break it up.
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Re: Should a Dem Senate keep the legislative filibuster?

Postby JamishT » Fri Mar 22, 2019 8:31 am

Crimson847 wrote: So instead of just passing a bill that gets between 50 and 60 percent support (as would happen without the filibuster), we would instead bribe the remaining needed senators by tacking on some pork-barrel spending...


Yep. Convincing senators and congresspeople by appealing to principals hasn't and will never work. Some bills won't get support no matter how much pork is attached because of how much political blowback the politician will get, it's not a way to get every bill passed. Some bills have some political blowback, but the ability to attach something for the politician's district will provide them the ability to withstand that blowback. Most bills will not be perfect for the majority, and I don't have a problem with passing imperfect bills.

Unlike ditching the filibuster it also threatens the core principle of majority rule, since a bill that would fail to get a majority at all on its own merits (and hence probably shouldn't be made law from a democratic standpoint) could potentially be dragged over the line this way, especially in the House.


I'd rather safeguard against majority rule in the Senate, but protect it in the House. The Senate's longer terms, and concentration of power makes me think that it should be harder for one party to drive it so far to one side or another between elections. With the filibuster in place and earmarks available, the moderates of the parties would hold much more power because they could work across the aisle to make compromises and pass bills. Of course, they'd get painted as traitors, but that's for their spin doctors to spin.

Tonight I just finished "Crisis Point" by Trent Lott and Tom Daschle, which is their perspective how to fix Washington. In the last few chapters the filibuster is addressed, and it seems to them like it's way too easy to filibuster. Senators don't even need to show up, their staffers call someone and threaten a filibuster and that's good enough somehow. But otherwise, they also brought up how little time is spent in Washington for a variety of reasons, but that means that they don't interact with other members of their chamber nearly as much as they used to, leading to fewer relationships and deals. There's plenty of other problems and solutions they bring up, but abolishing the filibuster isn't one of them, just making it more real, and doing other things to avoid the need for filibusters in general.
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Re: Should a Dem Senate keep the legislative filibuster?

Postby Krashlia » Fri Mar 22, 2019 11:01 am

No, please kill it.
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