There's a Republican Civil War, But Not Over the Filibuster

What David Brooks gets wrong about the GOP civil war.

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David Brooks has an interesting column in today's Times about the GOP's civil war. On one side, he posits, are "first wave" conservative revolutionaries, whom he describes as the GOP's congressional leadership, and the second wave composed mostly of tea party lawmakers and their talk radio allies. Brooks mostly covers well-trod ground in laying out the two sides' differences and specifically raising the curtain on the fight over immigration, but I have one nit to pick with his characterizations.

He writes:

The second wavers are much more tactically aggressive, favoring filibusters and such when possible.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

The implication is that "first wave" conservatives have an old fashioned view of filibusters – a tool to be used with discretion on certain occasions. But while the assertion that his second wave is more tactically aggressive than the first is probably true, the filibuster is not a good example of this. The fact is that, whatever their other tactical differences, both waves of conservatives agree on the filibuster, which is now routinely applied (in virtual form, at least) to just about every piece of legislation the senate considers.

The need to get 60 votes to pass a bill is now routinely referred to as a "requirement," which it is not. It's an idiosyncrasy of the chamber's rules, not a sacrosanct constitutional design of the founders.

James Fallows neatly summed things up after the Manchin-Toomey background check amendment was rej – excuse me, blocked in the upper chamber:

4. Since the Democrats regained majority control of the Senate six years ago, the Republicans under Mitch McConnell have applied filibuster threats (under a variety of names) at a frequency not seen before in American history. Filibusters used to be exceptional. Now they are used as blocking tactics for nearly any significant legislation or nomination. The goal of this strategy, which maximizes minority blocking power in a way not foreseen in the Constitution, has been to make the 60-vote requirement seem routine.

5. As part of the "making it routine" strategy, the minority keeps repeating that it takes 60 votes to "pass" a bill – and this Orwellian language-redefinition comes one step closer to fulfillment each time the press presents 60 votes as the norm for passing a law.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on gun control and gun rights.]

His whole post on the topic and the media's complicity with it is worth a read.

This isn't an issue in the GOP civil war. It's part of a policy of gridlock that all sides accept.