Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: Anybody but Reid

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Anybody but Reid

Over at FiveThirtyEight--which I haven't been following as closely since the election, I must admit--Nate Silver, in response to a comment be a reader, makes an unfortunate but true point:

Harry Reid has been exceptionally ineffective as the Democrats' majority leader.

The number of cloture votes skyrocketed in the 110th Congress following the Democratic takeover of the Senate and Reid's assumption of the majority leader position. The Senate voted on 112 cloture motions in the 110th, exactly double the number (56) of cloture votes in the 109th Congress, and two-and-a-half times as many as the average number of cloture votes (44) over the previous nine Congresses.

. . .

There are basically two mechanisms that a majority leader can employ to limit filibusters: firstly, he can threaten to block votes on certain of the opposition party's legislation (or alternatively, present carrots to them for allowing a vote to proceed), and secondly, he can publicly shame them. Reid managed to do neither, and the Senate Republicans did fairly well for themselves considering that they were in a minority and were burdened by a President with negative political capital.

I don't imagine the culture of the Senate changing in the new Congress so long as it's under Reid's direction, and Reid is highly unlikely to be replaced.

. . .

The bottom line, however, is that the Republicans are filibustering more and more often because they can get away with it. If Reid can't get them to pay a greater public price, then the Democrats ought to find somebody else who can.

It should be noted that Harry Reid has made a couple of gutsy, effective moves, such as the time he forced the Senate into a closed session to discuss the unfinished investigation into intelligence failures before the Iraq War. The fact that, even after this dramatic demonstration, the Senate Intelligence Committee continued to drag its feet only underscores the futility of Reid's leadership.

Over the last few days, the Republicans have put the Democrats on notice that they have no interest in changing their obstructionist ways. One move I've felt he should make for quite some time is to dump the virtual filibuster. Under current Senate rules, the mere threat of a filibuster is as effective as a filibuster itself. If you've ever seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, you now that that's no way to filibuster. Reid should make filibustering senators stand up and continue talking if they want to hold on to the floor. If you're not suffering, then you're not filibustering. Unfortunately, Reid isn't likely to make such a confrontational move. So we may be in for two more years of Republicans having far more influence than their minority numbers should suggest.


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