It's Politics, Y'all

04.09.13

Why Harry Reid Won't Kill the Filibuster to Get a Vote on Gun Control

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Harry Reid is threatening to kill the filibuster if the GOP doesn't cease using it to block the appointment of judges. (By the way, if you're interested in the filibuster reform discussion, follow Talking Points Memo's Sahil Kapur.) But this isn't the first time Democrats have threatened the nuclear option. Greg Sargent vents about their willingness to cry wolf:

By my count, this is at least the third time a Dem Senate leader has threatened to revisit rules reform. Yet the obstructionism continues with no action on Reid’s part.

Reid needs to stop threatening to revisit the filibuster unless he actually means it. Empty threats accomplish nothing. Indeed, they’re counterproductive. They make Dems look weak. They inflate expectations among Dem base voters — and supporters who worked hard to reelect Obama and Dems to Congress — that we may soon enjoy a functional Senate.

Reid's got a point on the judiciary: there's not a strong case for the prolonged silent filibusters and holds that are hollowing out the benches of federal courts. I support a filibuster reform that significantly increases the cost for a Senator who wishes to hold a nomination, and if Reid is the guy who gets that done, good.

But if you're a liberal, don't get your hopes up about Reid doing the same thing to get a vote on gun control.

The why is easy: many of the Senators who are softly in favor of a vote on gun control really don't want to have to actually take that vote. In other words, a red-state Democrat is fine saying she supports the idea of talking about passing stricter gun laws, provided she doesn't have to cast the vote. The filibuster allows her to say one thing while not having to act on that position. This is how someone like a Joe Manchin might be able to say "I support making our country safer" while maintaining a strong record with the NRA. When what matters is a voting record, you can play rhetorical games to cover your butt in a tough seat.

(And if you're thinking: "Gee, this applies to many situations in the Senate," bingo. Part of why the filibuster can be so wildly unpopular, yet still be here in 2013, is that it's not just about the minority preserving its rights. It's also a chance for soft moderates to avoid tough votes.)

But I digress: if anyone wants to take me up on a wager about Harry Reid reforming or eliminating the filibuster, you know where to reach me. I'm game.