Is there a price for obstructionism?

>> Friday, January 2, 2009

Steve Benen has a post up regarding the failure of the GOP to consider moderating after its heavy rejection at the ballot box this year. The post progresses as you might expect with a quote from a moderate followed by the absolute rejection of that quote my the rest of the GOP. What is interesting though is the update,

Post Script: The Times piece added, "It remains to be seen how aggressively Republicans will try to wield the filibuster threat. They have recently signaled they will fight Obama's economic recovery plan if it moves too quickly. But there are political risks if the GOP is seen as obstructionist at a time when voters are clamoring for economic relief and change."

Maybe, but that risk existed in the last Congress and Republicans didn't care. And if the GOP leadership is convinced that it has to be even more conservative to win in the future, their embrace of obstructionism may be unaffected.

To say the Republicans did not care is an understatement. Here is a chart produced by Nate Silver at 538 to show the progression of the filibuster over time.

As you can see the filibuster and the cloture vote have exploded in the most recent congress. The GOP was also decimated in the most recent election. The problem is that they did not lose this election in any part because of the obstructionist tendencies they displayed. The framing of the filibuster is such that the media reports it as a failure of the Democrats to get enough votes to pass a bill. This has essentially raised the threshold for passing legislation from 51 votes to 60 votes. Yglesias explained the dynamic perfectly last year,

It seems, though, that the GOP has decided that if they use filibusters to obstruct congressional action that the press will keep reporting this in a "congress fails to do X" kind of way rather than a "GOP obstructionism" kind of way, which makes filibusters a win-win for Republicans.

The evidence points to the idea that there is in fact very little to no price being paid by the GOP for obstructing the Democratic senate. The biggest threat that the obstructionist Senators face is that they fail in their reelection bids but the Dem gains were so great in the last election it is hard to imagine that the GOP continues to lose more senate seats next time around based on obstructionism. The most obstructionist senators are coming from the most conservative states so the odds of them getting tossed out is not very high.

The conservatives are going to continue on the obstructionist path until something changes to stop them. The options for that are basically two fold. the first is to simply get rid of the filibuster all together. The argument for this is that the passing of legislation already has enough road blocks to keep the bad legislation out. I am dubious about this especially because of the recent passage of the FISA bill but its not like the filibuster was effective in stopping that. it seems like it is only employed to stop things progressives might actually like.

The second option is to require that the GOP actually filibuster. Currently they just announce that they are filibustering something and Reid treats it as a real filibuster. Instead we might like to see the GOP up there reading the phonebook for 48 hours and reenacting Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. That would change the media reporting to the actual filibuster instead of the failed vote for cloture. As added bonus it would be entertaining as hell.

Of course now that we have a Democratic president the Republicans might be a little more wary about blocking popular legislation. As long as the focus is placed on the failure of the dems and Obama to do anything about our situation the Republicans can continue to block to their hearts desire without any price.


O-le,O-le, O-le, O-le! O-le, O-le!

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