Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Is The Filibuster Good for Individual Senators?

Yglesias: "[the 60-vote Senate requirement] allows each individual senator to drive a harder bargain in the horse-trading and log-rolling sweepstakes in a manner that rarely serves the public interest". Does it? Clearly it allows Olympia Snowe and Evan Bayh and Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson to drive a harder bargain. But what about the rest of the Democratic caucus? Would anyone find it credible if Jack Reed said he would join Republicans in filibustering the HCR bill? Would he really end up wringing concessions for quahog harvesters? I find myself doubful of his prospects. It seems to me that the filibuster is only individually good for those Senators who for ideological or political reasons are already likely to oppose progressive legislation. That's a good reason for those Senators to oppose an end to the filibuster, but it's not a good reason for your run-of-the-mill member of the body. This goes for Republicans to; the filibuster is mainly a tool for preserving the status quo, meaning that Jim Demint's free-market utopia would stand a better chance (but still not a good one) of enactment if it needed only fifty votes.

The Senate is basically debating a bill written by Max Baucus and edited by Harry Reid, and to some extent by other members of the Finance Committee. That leaves 46 Senate Democrats who've close to zero input on the current bill. If I were one of those 46 I'm not sure I'd feel great about that arrangement.


FearItself said...

Well, let's be clear. The filibuster is great news for the senator who is 41st in the ranks of opposition to the majority party's agenda.

Right now, Senators Lincoln, Leiberman, Landrieu and Nelson are competing to be the senator who has that leverage. If the Republicans controlled the senate instead, that position of privilege would belong to the 41st most liberal senator. Based on voteview's rankings of Senators in this Congress, Mark Begich, Bob Casey, and Mark Udall would be jockeying for the position to authorize or prevent Republican legislation from passing.

So the real question is, why don't the senators right around the midpoint of the chamber (Mark Pryor, Kay Hagan, and, yes, Mary Landrieu) promote abolishing the filibuster? Landrieu's recurrence gives us the answer; any senator closer to the leadership's position than that 41st opposition spot has an opportunity to sell out her party and try to occupy the pivot point. The filibuster gives every individual senator on the majority's side more frequent opportunities for prominent, lucrative, and ego-stroking grandstanding. Without the filibuster, fewer senators get a shot at having the entire rest of their party offer them a simultaneous rim-job.

In a majority senate, who is going to care what Blanche Lincoln or Jim Webb wants? Their vote isn't needed; it's gravy. In a 60-vote senate with an intransigent opposition, absolutely every member of the majority caucus is potentially a deal-breaker, and must therefore be coddled and stroked. That's why we're stuck with the filibuster.

(Of course, in a 60-vote Republican Senate, whatever the leadership wanted would have been passed by the 4th of July.)

Nick Beaudrot said...

Well, if the threshold is 50, and there is a majority substantially larger than 50, the benifits will accrue to more senators than just those at the midpoint. At that point, the leadership can credibly threaten to go in various directions in order to get votes, so no one Senator will be able to exercise leverage the way Nelson & co do today.

Jonathan Bernstein said...

It's a big bill (as I think I heard somewhere)...Finance and HELP Committees each wrote big chunks of it, and my guess is that over half of the Dems have some provision or another in the bill. Harry Reid and even Max Baucus didn't write it as much as they compiled it from the ideas of others.

I wouldn't be surprised if eighty Senators have some non-trivial provision that they can claim authorship of. (Thinking now...remember the death panels? Wasn't that Johnny Isakson's thing?).