Today’s Washington Post fronts a story about Democrats blaming each other for the lack of progress on their agenda. But as our commenters have so often pointed out, the real issue is tension between the House and the Senate–and specifically, the fact that Republicans in the Senate are using the filibuster in ways it has never been used before, not just over big pieces of legislation like the budget and the energy bills, but over … well, pretty much everything.
So that brings me back to something I raised last summer (and caught a fair amount of grief over in our comments section): If the Republicans want to filibuster, perhaps Majority Leader Harry Reid should consider the possibility of … letting them filibuster. You know what I mean–filibuster in the old Mr.-Smith-Goes-To-Washington sense, where they actually have to come to the Senate floor and talk and talk and talk until they drop, not filibuster in the throw-up-your-hands-and-move-on sense that we see today.
Before making this proposal, I called two of my favorite Smart Guys. Tom Mann of the Brookings Institution calls this idea impractical. Given the fact that Republicans could muster 41 people on most things to hold the floor, a real filibuster could go on interminably: “The bottom line is, the modern Senate can’t run without unanimous consent agreements. …It isn’t as if a different strategy would have produced a different outcome.” With so much must-pass legislation before him, Mann says, Reid’s only real option is to “take your lumps and get it done.”
But Norm Ornstein at the American Enterprise Insitute thinks Reid should call the Republicans’ bluff, starting with holding the Senate in session five long days a week. “You have a different Senate now. Frankly, they’re soft,” says Ornstein. “If they had the backbone and the discipline to do it, it would work.”
As for me, I’d like to see Reid give it a try, just to see what happened.
UPDATE: I probably should have highlighted this from the Post story. Charlie Rangel is in the Norm Ornstein school:
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) accuses Senate Democratic leaders of developing “Stockholm syndrome,” showing sympathy to their Republican captors by caving in on legislation to provide middle-class tax cuts paid for with tax increases on the super-rich, tying war funding to troop withdrawal timelines, and mandating renewable energy quotas. If Republicans want to filibuster a bill, Rangel said, Reid should keep the bill on the Senate floor and force the Republicans to talk it to death.
UPDATE2: A friend e-mails:
Oh my God–Ornstein and Mann don’t agree?! That’s like a disagreement
between Moses and Jesus. This is more complicated than I thought.