Last night on Keith Olbermann, Olbermann asked Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas what he would do to end “political gridlock” in Washington. Moulitsas replied “kill the filibuster”:
KEITH OLBERMANN: In 30 seconds, what do we do to fix it [our political system]?
MARKOS MOULITSAS: Well, our system is broken. Mostly the Senate. In 30 seconds I can do it quicker: kill the filibuster. And that’s something I hope Democrats start looking into.
Oh, has it only been a five years since Democrats were decrying the Republican threat of invoking the “nuclear option” in response to Bush’s Supreme Court nominations? Now, all of a sudden, Democratic pundits are the ones criticizing the use of the filibuster.
Daily Kos afficionados might applaud Moulitsas’ comment. And yes, I support healthcare reform, and am frustrated by the slow lingering death of the various healthcare reform proposals in Congress — many of them being stymied by Republicans. And yes, it seems unfair that 40 committed senators (or 41, as the case may be) can stop 60 senators in their tracks with one well-placed filibuster.
But, it’s incredibly short-sided for Moulitsas and other left-wingers to blame the failure of healthcare reform on the mere existence of the filibuster rule.
The filibuster has always existed as a desperate measure intended to help avoid a simple “majority rules” mentality in the Senate. Having a majority of votes in the Senate grants the ruling party a significant advantage over the minority party, yet the purpose of the Senate — more so than the House — is to ensure careful debate over any and all pieces of legislation. Without the filibuster, the party that holds the most votes could simply force through whatever piece of legislation they would like, and the representatives of the minority party are little more than seat-warmers. The filbuster exists in case the members of the majority party lose their mind, and want to push through a bill without any adequate debate from the members of the minority party; in other words, the filibuster exists to ensure that the little guy can be heard.
Yet, a cloture vote — which requires 60 votes to end a filibuster — is not the only way to end a filibuster. Indeed, some of the most famous filibusters in history ended because the guy talking for 22 hours straight got sleepy or needed to pee — a person simply can’t stand and talk in one place for more than 24 hours.
If we want to pass healthcare reform (or any piece of critical legislation), we need only look to history. Strom Thurmond’s filibuster of the Civil Rights Act didn’t prevent its passage in 1965. Senator Huey Long’s 15 hour filibuster of the Glass-Steagall Banking Act didn’t stop banking reform.
So, I say this: if Republicans want to filibuster healthcare reform, let them. Let the Republicans draw straws to pick a representative amongst them to pee in Gatorade bottles and down throat lozenges to speak for 20 hours on why Americans don’t need healthcare. If they have a point — which they don’t — than voters across the country will be able to hear it for themselves.
But when it’s clear that the Republicans don’t have a point, let’s see whether voters will vote in favour of the party that wants to ensure that the sick get the live-saving treatment they deserve, or whether they will vote back into office the guys who actually gridlocked Washington for 24 hours trying to stop doctors from treating patients.
But let’s end this dumb talk over getting rid of the filibuster. It comes off as petty and myopic. Moulitsas’ comment comes from the same partisan bickering that has characterized the last two decades in Washington. I guarantee that if a Republican majority were elected to Congress tomorrow, we would find Moulitsas on Rachel Maddow tomorrow night defending the filibuster as a noble and time-honoured political tradition.