‘Extraordinary stunts like today’s filibuster can’t happen’

'Extraordinary stunts like today's filibuster can't happen'
'Extraordinary stunts like today's filibuster can't happen'
Center for American Progress/Flickr

It’s been nearly a month since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) struck an agreement on improving Senate procedures, and at the time, proponents of their compromise deal said it would, at a minimum, improve the confirmation process for administration nominees.

Those predictions now look fairly silly, given the Republican obstructionism surrounding Chuck Hagel’s Defense Secretary nomination. Indeed, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), one of the Senate’s biggest supporters of filibuster reform, issued a statement this afternoon that’s worth reading.

“Merely weeks after the Senate came together in a good-faith effort to fix the Senate’s problems, Senate Republicans are now engaging in the first-ever filibuster of a Secretary of Defense nominee. It is deeply disappointing that even when President Obama nominates a former conservative colleague of the GOP caucus, the minority is abusing the rules and the spirit of ‘advise and consent.’ If our step we took last month is to be successful, extraordinary stunts like today’s filibuster can’t happen.”

Now, I think there’s more than one way to read a statement like this. The first is that Merkley is subtly saying, “I told you so,” without being explicit about it. And if so, the Oregon Democrat would certainly have a point – he pushed for real reforms; too many of his colleagues were overly skittish; and the result is an environment in which Senate obstructionism, just a month into the new session, is getting worse, not better.

But there’s another way to read this: “If our step we took last month is to be successful, extraordinary stunts like today’s filibuster can’t happen.” Perhaps Merkley is sending a shot across the leadership’s bow? It seems entirely plausible to me that the senator is effectively saying, “If this keeps up, and last month’s agreement is proving inadequate, it’ll be time for real reform.”

Greg Sargent added today, “Remember, the watered down filibuster reform deal Reid agreed to was at least partly premised on the idea that both sides were at least somewhat committed to ending some of the abuses that rendered the Senate dysfunctional during Obama’s first term. We now see that Republicans are making a mockery of that arrangement. This goes well beyond Hagel; as always, it goes to the question of whether we are going to have a functional Senate.”