Raising the Transaction Costs of Obstructionism

One Senator’s genius plan for filibuster reform: require that the act actually take place, and take the form of debate, for its duration; and require the minority to be present in number.

This and other reforms should be deployed to target the shockingly low transaction costs that the Republican Party must expend to execute its maddening strategy of obstruction. As it stands, the country can be ground to a halt with almost no effort: a bill can die from the threat of a filibuster; nominees may be secretly held without risk of political retribution; and so on. Part of this problem is our fault. If we had the courage of our convictions, we would force the honorable opposition to make good on its threats. The spectacle of Republicans actually shutting down the chamber has a different effect on political discourse than the threat thereof, circulated through Washington’s back-channels, and eventually reported by (ugh) Politico.

Of course, the rule change will never come — at least, not with this leadership. But a majority should mean something, and forcing the Republicans to actually filibuster would be a welcome first step.



  1. The real problem is that Democrats just can’t muster the courage to kill a filibuster. The Left is plagued by self-doubt and in the back of their heads they always seem to wonder if the Right knows something about public opinion that they don’t.

  2. Sadly that’s correct :(

  3. I think it’s a matter of over-thinking. I’ve used the phrase before, “Passing up a good solution for a great one,” meaning that liberals always think a better idea is right around the corner which is why they are always tinkering with things. In a partisan way we assume that means that they always find fault with conservative proposals. My belief though is liberal progressivism also demands they assume even their own proposals are inherently flawed. Filibusters are alike a bright light and I think they fear it might expose their own shortcomings, so they fold.

  4. I think the real problem here simply is that Harry Reid needs to grow a spine. As far as I understand Senate procedure, as Majority Leader it’s his decision whether to accept a pro forma filibuster or demand that the opposition actually gets up there and starts reading outcooking recipes.

    1. If a man hasn’t grown a spine by his age, he never will. The Senate Democrats never should have picked him as majority leader, but having made that mistake they need to correct it by dumping his ass down to the backbench where he belongs and picking someone decent from their ranks.

      1. I don’t think Reid’s spineless. This one, he’s been forced into; others, he’s fought pretty hard. The health care bill only happened because of him, even if it was super-watered down, and that took courage, especially given the election he almost lost.

      2. Then why does he allow the Republicans to keep playing this silly supermajority game? He could stop it tomorrow if he wanted to. Is it just misplaced collegiality, or is there some obscure tactical reason?

      3. How could he stop it? He doesn’t have the votes for filibuster reform. He could force them to actually filibuster, which would be awesome, but failure to do that makes him moderately spine-impaired, maybe, not totally spineless.

        1. Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the filibuster in itself, which fulfills an important function in the context of the Senate. The problem is the pro forma filibuster and the way it’s being used all the time to gridlock everything. Insisting on actual filibusters would solve most of the problems and even restore its status as something the opposition can use on issues that really matter to them.

    2. There’s also the likely explanation that Democrats want to still have the filibuster option if/when they are back in the minority.

      1. Sure, but somewhat diluted, so as to prevent its abuse, would be fine. Democrats have never used the threat of a filibuster with such reckless abandon.

        1. Don’t fool yourself into believing that this is a Republican thing. If Democrats lose the senate in 2012 (odds are better than 50/50 on that one) then I think you will see them adopt many of the tactics that Republicans have used since 2006. The problem isn’t one party or another, it’s Washington itself.

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