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Filibuster reform advocates: We told you so

This morning, Senate Republicans filibustered a qualified judicial nominee, basically because the NRA told them to. Last month, for the first time in American
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)

This morning, Senate Republicans filibustered a qualified judicial nominee, basically because the NRA told them to. Last month, for the first time in American history, a cabinet nominee was denied an up-or-down vote due to a Republican filibuster. Last week, a judicial nominee recommended -- by the GOP and facing zero opposition -- was forced to wait 263 days for a confirmation vote, during which time he faced Republican filibusters. Republicans also vowed last month to use filibusters to stop the Obama administration from enforcing the law as it relates to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and to stop the president's nominee to lead the ATF.

And today, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and some of his friends are on the Senate floor, launching what is effectively an old-school, speak-for-hours filibuster, blocking John Brennan's nomination to head the CIA.

You'll recall that it was just seven weeks ago tomorrow that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reached a deal to give the Senate rules a little touch-up. At the time, a whole lot of reform proponents said the changes were largely meaningless, and the chamber's profound dysfunction would remain unaffected.

A whole lot of those folks have an I-told-you-so message for the Senate leaders today. It's causing some senators who backed the bipartisan deal in January to give the issue another look, including the chamber's #2 Democrat, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

As one Republican senator launched a "talking filibuster" Wednesday, the No. 2 Democratic leader in the Senate signaled it may already be time to reopen debate about the chamber's rules. [...]"I hate to suggest this, but if this is an indication of where we're headed, we need to revisit the rules again," the Illinois Democrat said. "We need to go back to it again. I'm sorry to say it because I was hopeful that a bipartisan approach to dealing with these issues would work."

Ya don't say.

Dubrin was on board with the Reid/McConnell agreement in January, so the fact that he's open to revisiting the deal is encouraging for reform advocates. In the meantime, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), arguably the Senate's most enthusiastic proponent of sweeping reforms, is using the opportunity to push once more for changes his colleagues were reluctant to make seven weeks ago.

"Senate Republicans have demonstrated that they have absolutely no intention of ending their assault on the ability of the U.S. Senate to function," Merkley told TPM, saying he had hoped the bipartisan agreement to preserve the 60-vote threshold but remove some obstacles to governing and ease gridlock. "Many of my colleagues are absolutely beside themselves with frustration, and that frustration is rapidly turning to fury." [...]"I know that my leadership is incredibly determined to make this body work," Merkley said, adding that the Senate GOP's "unacceptable conduct ... in such a short period" shows that they have "no interest in enabling the Senate to function."

Occasionally, it's worthwhile to add some historical perspective. From 1947 to 1960 -- 7 Congresses, spanning 14 years -- the Senate held four cloture votes. This Congress has only existed for a couple of months, and it's already held five cloture votes. It's only going to get worse.

The Senate wasn't designed to work this way; it functioned quite well for generations without trying to work this way; and it obviously can't work this way. It doesn't need another ineffective hand-shake deal or another "gang"; it needs institutional reforms to fix what's clearly broken.