Obama: Filibuster Harming Democracy

He's right--we need to fix filibuster abuse.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I noted with approval the other day that President Obama has started inveighing against the misuse of the senate filibuster. "Look, the fact of the matter is, is that if used prudently, then I don't think [the filibuster is] harmful for our democracy," Obama told PBS (h/t TPM). "It's not being used prudently right now." He noted that the frequency with which the filibuster is currently used is "unheard of." He said: "If you look historically back in the '50s, the '60s, the '70s, the '80s ... you didn't see even routine items subject to the 60-vote rule."

And he's right. As I detailed a month ago, the frequency of filibusters has increased by a factor of 50 over the last half-century: During the 1950s there was an average of one filibuster per Congress, while the 110th Congress alone (covering 2007 and 2008) had 52 filibusters. That's nuts. More broadly, delaying tactics like the filibuster were used on 8 percent of major legislation in the 1960s, but they were used on 70 percent in the 110th Congress. So there's no question that the filibuster is not now being used in the same way it has been traditionally.

Not that the right wing noise machine is about to acknowledge that. You can see the line of attack wingers will mount in a column from today's New York Post:

The president accused Republicans of abuse for employing the very rules that make the Senate the "world's greatest deliberative body."

"If this pattern continues, you're going to see an inability on the part of America to deal with big problems in a very competitive world, and other countries are going to start running circles around us," Obama warned.

What he is saying is that other governments around the world -- those tyrannical states that do not share our respect for the minority -- are better forms of government, better equipped to compete in this modern world.

This is a frightening new side of Barack Obama.

More accurately, it's a classically comical side of the Post. But one can easily imagine Rush, Glenn, and the rest of the conservative clown squad picking up this argument and running with it: Any criticism of the misuse of the filibuster is in fact a tyrannical assault upon the American system. The irony is that philosophically, conservatives should oppose radical departures from traditional norms (for example using the filibuster in a manner wholly different than it has been historically).