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November 30, 2012

Why Boehner’s Filibuster Threat Is So Pathetically Empty

Posted in: Broken Government

Speaker John Boehner

Probably the best sign that Senate Democrats are going to reform the Senate rules at the beginning of the next Congress and there is nothing the Republicans can do about it is this comically empty threat from Speaker John Boehner. From Boehner’s office:

“Senate Democrats’ attempt to break Senate rules in order to change Senate rules is clearly designed to marginalize Senate Republicans and their constituents while greasing the skids for controversial partisan measures.  I question the wisdom of this maneuver, especially at a time when cooperation on Capitol Hill is critical, and fully support Leader McConnell’s efforts to protect minority rights, which are an essential part of our constitutional tradition.  Any bill that reaches a Republican-led House based on Senate Democrats’ heavy-handed power play would be dead on arrival.

There are two ways to interpret this. Under the most literal interpretation, if Democrats do change the Senate rules, every single bill that wins approval in the Senate will be based on this “power play.” That would mean Boehner is promising to completely shutdown Congress, which would eventually destroy the American economy, to protect an aspect of Senate procedure that the American public thinks is stupid. That is not going to happen. The political backlash for carrying through on that threat would be devastating.

The other way to interpret this is that Boehner is promising to kill any bill that passes the Senate without 60 votes, i.e. Republican support. That threat is meaningless also since those bills would be dead on arrival in the Republican controlled House anyway. House Republicans are always going to vote against any bill that only had Democratic support in the Senate, not out of solidarity with Senate Republicans, but because the parties disagree on the issues.

The only bills that are going to become law, regardless of the Senate rules, are ones negotiated by President Obama and Speaker Boehner. Such compromise bills shouldn’t have trouble winning bipartisan support in the Senate.

If Republicans had real leverage to stop Democrats from changing the Senate rules, they would be using it. The fact that all they have are pathetic empty threats shows they have no leverage. There is no “fight” over the Senate rules, because a fight would imply a conflict between two sides that both have some power. Right now we are merely waiting to see if Senate Democrats will decide to change the rules. As the majority, they have all the power so it is simply their decision to make.

Photo by NASA HQ in the public domain.

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