The Filibuster Lives!

Unsurprising: Democrats lack votes to kill the filibuster.

I'm broadly pro-filibuster, but then I have an aversion to legislative activity, so that's hardly surprising.  But whether or not you support it, I see little hope of changing it unless we get a long period--ten or so years--of single-party dominance.  At this point, Democrats would be crazy to do this.  They'd get a few months before they lose so many seats in the House that--even if they don't lose entirely--they won't have enough votes to do much.

And in exchange, they risk empowering a Republican Senate majority--if not in 2010 (which I think is very unlikely) then in 2012.  It's absolutely true that Reagan and others had less popularity at this point in their presidency than Obama.  Unfortunately for Obama, financial crises take a long time to recover from.  The recession that ate away the popularity of Reagan was a classic monetary contraction that led to a boom as soon as Fed Chair Paul Volcker loosened his iron grip.  There's a very good chance that in two years, Obama is still going to be trying to explain why unemployment is above 8% and GDP is kind of anemic.  If that's the case, the Republicans will hold the house and the senate at the end of 2012.

Mind you, I'm not saying that this chance is above 50%.  But a 35% chance is a pretty big risk.  Democrats are strategically correct to focus on consolidating and defending the gains they've gotten, rather than risk having all of it undone in order to make a few lesser gains.  I understand that it's hard for progressives to say that the major progressive achievements under this administration are pretty much all in the past.  But the leadership is saving them from themselves.

Lest this seem like concern trolling, I should note that strategically, I'd probably be happy with the results of killing the filibuster, at least in the short term; I don't think the Democrats will accomplish much even with it gone, and there's a nice chance that the Republicans, empowered by the nuclear option, will busily undo many of the elements of the Democratic agenda that I disapproved of.  It just seems to me that Democrats are making the correct risk-reward calculation here.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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