The Democratic majority in the Senate has dropped below 60, and suddenly the air is thick with calls for filibuster reform. As a practical matter, it’s hard to see how the filibuster could be altered unless leaders in both parties agree. So – any reason Republicans should do so? Over the next few posts, I’ll suggest some ways to think about this problem.
This is the second installment in a series. Click here to read the rest of the series.
One preliminary: let’s understand what the filibuster actually DOES.
Filibuster critics argue that it enhances the minority at the expense of the majority. People who know the Senate well tell me that this is not precisely accurate.
In a world without filibusters, minorities could stop majorities in the same way they do in the House: with killer amendments. The filibuster aids the majority by making it much more difficult to insert killer amendments into legislation.
Here’s how that works. Suppose I’ve rounded up 50 votes plus 1 for my Gumdrops and Sunshine Bill of 2011 – but that 49 senators hate it. In a world without the filibuster, I’m all set, right? Not so fast. Suppose my 51 are intensely divided over another piece of legislation: the Long Walks and Cold Showers Bill. A clever opponent of my Bill might propose to attach the Long Walks and Cold Showers measure as an amendment.
Under the old filibuster rules, the hard core of the 40 strong supporters of the Gumdrop bill could filibuster the Long Walks amendment and preserve the original bill intact. But without the filibuster, the amendment passes. My 51 senators split, the anti Long Walk group defects, and the bill fails.
As an old congressional hand advises: “The greatest power of the minority is the power to propose non-germane amendments.” The filibuster deprives the minority of that power. That’s one reason that Harry Reid does not disapprove the filibuster as much as liberal bloggers do.