Over the next few days, a group of Congressional experts will try to answer the big questions that came out of the Capitol last year: Were the Democrats as hapless as the press made them out to be? How could've they been more effective in meeting those filibustering Republicans head-on? What happened with the timetable for withdrawal? And, hey, where's Rahm when you need him? You can read their responses here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven.
From: Norman Ornstein
To: Michelle Cottle and Eve Fairbanks
Subject: The GOP Wants a Fight? Give It To 'Em
Eve, nice start. The Senate is at the root of many of the problems Democrats faced this year. Republicans applied delaying tactics that had never been used before--on highly controversial issues as well as routine ones, and not just by filibustering, but by regularly denying unanimous consent in a body where everything moves, or doesn't, by unanimity. It had the twin effect of raising the bar to 60 on nearly every issue, and slowing down the Senate as if there were gallons of molasses poured onto the roadway. Because a filibuster can be applied as many as three separate times on a bill, and a successful cloture vote allows up to 30 hours of debate after it passes, filibuster efforts, even on widely accepted matters, can take days to resolve. And by raising the bar to 60, it meant that many matters with majority support--like limiting farm subsidy payments to non-millionaires--went by the boards. Combine these delaying tactics with the president's near-universal veto strategy, and you have a formula for gridlock.
No wonder House Democrats were frustrated. On that score, they were no different than House Republicans under Newt Gingrich when the Dole-led Senate slowed down and thwarted their best-laid plans. But, in this case, you have the Senate Dems unhappy with the slowdown.
Could they have done anything about it? My answer is yes. The only way to deal with serial filibusterers is to turn the tables on them, call their bluff, and bring the Senate to a screeching halt. A real old-fashioned filibuster on, say, the energy bill--round-the-clock, cots in the halls, for a couple of weeks, over the issue of Republicans blocking advancement of alternative fuels so that they could protect a big tax break for oil companies that even President Bush had said was undeserved--would have dramatized the problem. Risky? Yes. But what have they got to lose?
(Read Michelle Cottle's response here.)
Eve Fairbanks is an associate editor at The New Republic. Michelle Cottle is a senior editor at The New Republic. Norman Ornstein is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author, in 2006, of The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, with Thomas E. Mann.
By Michelle Cottle, Eve Fairbanks, and Norman Ornstein