I seem to recall, back when the Republicans were in control of the Senate, that whenever Senate Democrats would threaten to filibuster any legislation, pundits all over Washington DC would suddenly look very grave and warn that Democrats were going to pay a fearsome political price. "Oh, horrors!", they wailed. "Democrats will be called obstructionists! They will become the Party of No! And since that's a charge that has "resonance", Democrats will undoubtedly pay a price for their obstructionist ways!"
Yet oddly enough, now that Republicans are in office, and using the filibuster with wild abandon, there don't seem to be the same cries of alarm. Instead, the voters wonder what exactly has happened to all those things the Democrats said they would do. They did manage to enact rules changes in their own houses, of course. They got the minimum wage raised by attaching it to an appropriations bill. But a lot of their legislation has been stymied by Republican obstruction. Remember the Congressional Ethics Reform package, for instance? It passed both houses of Congress by substantial majorities: 96-2 in the Senate, and 396-22 in the House. And yet, strange to say, the Republicans are refusing to let it go to conference, where both houses agree on a uniform final version of the bill to enact. As the Birmingham News notes,
"One thing is certain: If McConnell doesn't allow the conference committee to begin work, there will be no lobbying and ethics reform bill this year - which may well be exactly what he wants."
Or consider the 9/11 Commission recommendations. Didn't the Democrats promise to pass them? What happened to them, anyways? Well, the House passed them on January 9th, 299-128 The Senate, once it got past what Voices of 9/11 called Mitch McConnells "highly provocative, irrelevant amendments", passed its bill on March 16, 60-38. (In both houses, all the Nay votes were Republican.) But guess what? It too got stymied because Republicans refused to appoint members of a conference. The Senate finally got around to appointing its conferees two days ago (possibly because Harry Reid threatened to cancel the August recess if they didn't); I am not sure whether the House Republicans have followed suit.
The Republicans also blocked the card check bill, money for renewable energy, reform of the Medicare drug bill, a no-confidence vote on Alberto Gonzales, etc., etc., etc. All of these measures got a majority in the Senate; none of them have become law, thanks to Republican filibusters.
And now, for their latest trick, they have decided to filibuster all legislation on Iraq, including
"No unit or member of the Armed Forces specified in paragraph (3) may be deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom (including participation in the NATO International Security Assistance Force (Afghanistan)) unless the period between the deployment of the unit or member is equal to or longer than the period of such previous deployment. (...)
No unit or member of the Armed Forces specified in paragraph (3) may be deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom (including participation in the NATO International Security Assistance Force (Afghanistan)) if the unit or member has been deployed at any time within the three years preceding the date of the deployment covered by this subsection. (...)
Waiver by the President.--The President may waive the limitation in subsection (a) or (b) with respect to the deployment of a unit or member of the Armed Forces specified in such subsection if the President certifies to Congress that the deployment of the unit or member is necessary to meet an operational emergency posing a threat to vital national security interests of the United States."
(I left out some "sense of the Congress" stuff, definitions (all straightforward), and a provision whereby this can be waived for people who voluntarily request deployment.)
The vote on cloture for this amendment, which would have allowed a straight vote to occur, was 56-41. All the Democrats, Bernie Sanders, and seven Republicans voted for cloture; the rest of the Republicans plus Joe Lieberman voted against. After the vote, Senator Webb said this:
“Today the Republicans decided to filibuster an amendment that goes straight to the well-being of our troops. I deeply regret this move, which makes it necessary for the amendment to be passed with a minimum of 60 votes instead of 51.
“I would remind my colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle that the American people are watching us closely today. They expect us to finally take the sort of positive action that might stabilize the operational environment in which our troops are being sent again and again.
“Americans are tired of the posturing that is giving Congress such a bad reputation. They are tired of the procedural strategies designed to protect politicians from accountability, and to protect this Administration from judgment. They are looking for concrete actions that will protect the well-being of our men and women in uniform.
“The question on this amendment is not whether you support this war or whether you do not. It is not whether you want to wait until July or September to see where one particular set of benchmarks or summaries might be taking us. The question is this: more than four years into ground operations in Iraq, we owe stability, and a reasonable cycle of deployment, to the men and women who are carrying our nation’s burden. That is the question. And that is the purpose of this amendment.”
Blocking this is shameful. It is just shameful.
The Republicans are, of course, within their rights under the Senate rules. At the same time, however, they are using those rules in a way that is unprecedented. Normally, filibusters are used only when one side feels that some bill is exceptionally important. They have always been for special circumstances, not for everyday use. But the Senate Republicans have, essentially, decided that they are going to require not a majority vote, but 60 votes, for everything more important than naming post offices. And that is unprecedented.
I agree with mimikatz at The Next Hurrah:
"What Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid needs to do now is to call GOP Minority leader Mitch McConnell's bluff and require the GOP to actually filibuster. Bring up Webb-Hagel again, or do it with Levin-Reed. But make them filibuster. Make it plain to the Senators that there will be no August recess until the Defense bill is done, and if the GOP doesn't want to face losing an upperdown vote, they can filibuster for the whole country to see. The TV stations will love the theater, and the GOP will look as stupid as they did when they staged Bill Frist's talk-a-thon on judges when the Dems wouldn't allow up or down votes."
The idea of taking a bill off the floor rather than forcing its opponents to keep talking until hell freezes over was a courtesy. In the face of Republican insistence on using the filibuster for everything, that courtesy should be withdrawn. And, as mimikatz says, cancel the vacations as well if certain things don't get done: conference committee members named, the appropriations bills dealt with, and so forth. The GOP seems not to care what their constituents think; perhaps the opprobrium of their colleagues who will be stuck in Washington DC throughout the month of August because Mitch McConnell can't bring himself to let the Senate function will move them to action.