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Ezra Klein: Mitch McConnell’s five biggest whoppers on the filibuster

Ezra Klein:

Mitch McConnell’s five biggest whoppers on the filibuster: The specific changes [to Senate rules] Reid envisions aren’t particularly dramatic: He wants to be able to make the motion to debate a bill — but not the vote to pass it — immune to the filibuster; he wants the time it would take to break a filibuster to be shorter; and he wants whoever is filibustering to have to hold the floor of the Senate and talk. None of these changes would alter the basic reality of the modern U.S. Senate, which is that it takes 60 votes to get almost anything done. In my view, that means they wouldn’t do much to fix the Senate at all. Nevertheless, McConnell is furious. But many of the arguments he was making on the floor Monday don’t hold up to even the barest scrutiny.

  1. “What these Democrats have in mind is a fundamental change to the way the Senate operates.” McConnell is referring to the Democrats’ proposal to change Senate rules with 51 votes rather than 67. But his outrage isn’t particularly convincing. As Senate whip, McConnell was a key player in the GOP’s 2005 effort to change the filibuster rules using — you guessed it — 51 votes. As he said at the time, “This is not the first time a minority of Senators has upset a Senate tradition or practice, and the current Senate majority intends to do what the majority in the Senate has often done–use its constitutional authority under article I, section 5, to reform Senate procedure by a simple majority vote.”…

  2. “The minority voices the Senate was built to protect.” Oh, enough of this old saw. The idea that you need a two-thirds vote to change the Senate rules doesn’t appear anywhere in the Constitution, and some scholars even think it’s unconstitutional. It comes from the 1975 deal…. The American system of government was built to protect minority voices, but the Founding Fathers explicitly rejected designing the Congress around a supermajority requirement….

  3. “Until now, you could say that protecting the rights of political minorities have always been a defining characteristic of the Senate. That’s why members of both parties have always defended it, whether they were in the majority or the minority.” It’s flatly false that the Senate has always rejected efforts to weaken the power of the filibuster…. Meanwhile, it’s particularly rich for McConnell to say that both majorities and minorities consider the filibuster sacrosanct, as he himself was a ringleader in the effort to eliminate the minority’s ability to filibuster judicial nominees in 2005….

  4. “If a bare majority can proceed to any bill it chose and once on that bill the majority leader, all by himself, can shut out all amendments that aren’t to his liking, then those who elected us to advocate for their views will have lost their voice in the legislative process.” McConnell’s complaint that Reid often doesn’t allow amendments is legitimate, but unrelated to the rules changes under discussion. His complaint that Reid’s proposed changes to the filibuster will mean the minority “will have lost their voice” is, however, absurd….

  5. “[Reid] preferred to write legislation in the confines of his room rather than in the public eye, as he did most famously with the drafting of Obamacare.” After the Senate’s Health and Finance committees drafted versions of the Affordable Care Act, Reid did combine them in private before bringing them to the floor. But the idea that the law wasn’t written in the public eye is ridiculous. Both the committee processes were endless and, with the exception of Max Baucus’s sojourn into the “Gang of Six” process, quite open, and Reid’s effort to combine the bills mostly preserved the committees’ work. After the law came to the floor, there was both a long period of public debate and an extremely open amendment process…. As someone who had to cover that process and thus spent almost six solid months watching C-SPAN, I’ve little patience for those who suggest it was all conducted behind closed doors…