Calling the behavior of Republicans “hostage taking” has become the new buzz phrase used by both President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders. It is a decent analogy for how the Senate Republicans have exploited the Senate’s rules. The 41 Senate Republicans have used the filibuster and the other horribly broken rules of the chamber to demand major concessions and effectively control the legislative process.
If Democrats actually feel they have something akin to a hostage crisis, they shouldn’t be paying ransom–this only encourages more hostage-taking in the future, with demands for even bigger ransoms. The proper response to a hostage crisis is to disarm the hostage takers. This is, in effect, what Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) push to end the current filibuster would do at the beginning of next year. From Sam Stein:
Essentially, that path to reform requires Vice President Joe Biden — who supports weakening the filibuster — to rule on the first day of the next session that the Senate has the authority to write its own rules. Republicans, presumably, would immediately move to object, but Democrats could then move to table the objection, setting up a key up-or-down vote. If 50 Democrats voted to table the objection, the Senate would then move to a vote on a new set of rules, which could be approved by a simple majority. […]
“I want my legacy to be that I did everything possible to try to end minority rule in the Senate. And I believe this is the way to do it,” [Tom Harkin] said. “What I’m fearful of is that, knowing how this place works, that we might come down to some minor little fixes that still will not prevent the minority from stopping everything. The minority can still stop it, but we’ll make it a little bit more efficient, maybe, but the minority — to me, that’s the essential question. Are you still going to give the minority the power to absolutely block and stop everything? It’s a fundamental question.”
Harkin is not alone in his push for serious Senate rules reform, Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) have both been vocal in their support of rules reform, and recently, many left-leaning groups, like the AFL-CIO, SEIU, and the Sierra Club signed on to a letter in support of reform,
If rules didn’t allow a Senate minority to stop a bill from passing, the Republican Senate minority would lose all power to hold provisions hostage.
The filibuster is the weapon of a minority used to kill legislation that has majority support. No weapon means no hostage-taking and no ransoms.
If, at the beginning of next year, President Obama, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and the rest of the Democrats using this hostage language believe it is a problem of that serious level, then they should push extremely hard for Senate rules reform. Disarming the hostage takers is the only true solution to what they claim is a huge problem.
If Obama fails to go all-out in a push for filibuster reform, it will be proof that his complaints about the Republicans is just false rhetoric meant to deceive voters. If he doesn’t try to stop the hostage-taking, one can only conclude that he, in fact, indirectly supports it because he finds it useful as an excuse for being “forced” to break promises he didn’t want to keep in the first place.