Could Filibuster Reform Become a Reality for the Next Senate?

by Joan McCarter –

lamar alexander 2

Tennessee’s Senior Senator Lamar Alexander

Well, isn’t this interesting.

WASHINGTON — Nothing touches off a political war in the Senate like proposals to tinker with the arcane rules that govern the often creaky chamber. Talk of eliminating the filibuster is called the nuclear option for a reason.But Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the cerebral former Republican governor and cabinet member, may have come up with a novel approach to winning support for the changes that many, if not most, of his colleagues agree are overdue—and to enact them without starting the congressional equivalent of Armageddon.

His idea? Use the next few months to develop, debate and approve proposals to make the Senate more efficient, but then agree not to institute the changes until 2017—after next year’s election. With no certainty about which party will win the majority next November, the thinking goes, both Republicans and Democrats might be enticed to roll the dice and embrace changes since there would not be an obvious advantage to advance for either party.

Rabble-rousers in the House Republican conference have been trying to force Mitch McConnell to go nuclear on the filibuster, even though the House has no authority at all to say anything at all about how the Senate works. Some of McConnell’s own members—the freshman tea party types, mostly—have also been lobbying for it, frustrated that they aren’t sending things to President Obama to be vetoed. Because passing stuff that will be vetoed is the new governing. This new venture by Alexander, et al. won’t do much to appease them, since they’re talking about putting it off until after Obama is gone.

That’s what makes this actually and potentially a not horrible thing. Because, yeah, the Senate filibuster rules need to be reformed. And that’s what makes Democrats interested in this idea. “Now that each side has served in the minority and majority, we can come at it from both perspectives,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who is expected to be the Democratic leader in 2017. “We could come up with something good.”

What makes this particularly interesting now is looking at Lamar Alexander then, back when Democrats held the Senate and were flirting with the eventual rules change they enacted to limit the filibuster on presidential nominations. Back then, Alexander was incensed at the idea, but was also one of the reliable obstructionist votes for McConnell. He’s also the guy who promised that he would never, ever filibuster a nominee—until Obama became president, that is. Democrats should by all means talk to Alexander, and try to get a reform that works. But they also shouldn’t take him at his word if he’s making any promises to them about being fair.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos