The (Empty) Republican Argument Against Filibuster Reform

Bill Scher

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Republican Sen. John Barrasso has an irate oped intended to rally the public against Democratic proposals to end filibuster abuse.

But in his tirade he neglects to mention one important fact: the Democratic proposals still allow minority filibusters.

Barrasso spends most his time complaining that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid doesn’t let Republicans propose enough amendments, using lots of legislative jargon to sound knowledgable:

… the Senate’s minority party has limited opportunities to influence legislation. It can do so in three main ways: by offering amendments in committee, by offering amendments on the Senate floor, and by negotiating with the majority party before the so-called cloture vote to end debate.

Sen. Reid has already gutted two of these three opportunities, which is a major reason for today’s stalemate.

He has made unprecedented use of Senate Rule 14, for example, which allows the majority leader to bypass committees and write bills behind closed doors … His other favorite maneuver, called “filling the tree,” involves filling all the slots for amendments on the Senate floor so that no other senator (of either party) can offer one.

I’m sure Reid has been very aggressive in his use of existing rules to prevent disingenuous amendments intended to levy cheap shots at Democrats and sink legislation. But I doubt that would continue if the Republican minority tried being a constructive governing partner instead of an army of juvenile rock-throwers.

Nevertheless, if Barrasso and the other Republicans still don’t like the way Reid handles their amendments under the Democratic proposal to reform filibusters … they can still filibuster!

They would just need stay on the Senate floor in the front of the cameras and explain to the public why they were filibustering. And they couldn’t prematurely filibuster before the debate on any legislation even started.

That point negates the outright falsehood which Barrasso on which hinges his arguments, that the Democratic proposal would end the “60-vote threshold” for completing debate and moving to an up-or-down vote:

…Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to undo [the current] system by eliminating the 60-vote threshold.

One of the minority’s few remaining options to improve legislation and represent their constituents is to try to get agreement on amendments before the cloture vote to bring the bill to the Senate floor. Because cloture requires 60 votes, a minority party with at least 40 seats can typically offer amendments this way. But if the 60-vote threshold is removed and this opportunity becomes unavailable, bills would move to a final vote without the minority ever having a chance to offer amendments.

Again, the Democratic proposal would not change that threshold. It would only bring that threshold into the sunshine.

If Barrasso and the Republicans really believe that Reid’s tactics are unfair and undemocratic, they should relish the opportunity to hold court on the Senate floor and expose them.

But perhaps that’s not really what they believe.

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