The World According to David Broder (And the Mainstream Media): When Republicans Ruled The Senate It Was Bad for Democrats to Filibuster Judges; Now It’s OK for Republicans to Filibuster Everything

By Joe Rothstein

/EIN News/ July 8, 2009

When Al Franken finally won his pass to the U.S. Senate the other day Democrats were met with a barrage of news stories, opinion columns, editorials, and cable squawking heads parroting the Republican line that with 60 votes, Senate Democrats had a “filibuster-proof” majority to do anything they want. Failure for Congress to perform, the argument goes, will fall squarely on the Democrats.

David Broder, often cited as the “dean” of Washington political columnists, said this in his July 5 Washington Post syndicated column:

“Franken, the loud-mouthed former comedian, will be the 60th member of the Senate Democratic caucus — just enough for them to cut off any filibuster threat if they can muster all their members. With solid majorities in both houses, the Democratic leaders, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, could dismiss Republican objections to any bill without a second thought.”

Well, not exactly. Two of those Democrats (Kennedy and Byrd) have been out of action for months with health problems and it’s far from clear whether either of them will be back to vote on anything. Another of those “Democrats” is Joe Lieberman from Connecticut, who lost his Democratic primary and then won as an independent. “Independent” is a much more appropriate designation than “Democrat” seeing as how he actively supported John McCain for president, and is off the Democratic reservation on a number of policy issues, including a public option for health care. Also included in that “60” is Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania who, immediately after joining the Democratic caucus voted against the Senate version of the budget and other key Democratic initiatives.

Furthermore, Democrats do not vote like the automatons of the Gingrich-Delay-Hastert Republican Congresses. A few weeks ago, when the House passed its new energy bill with cap and trade as a central feature, only 9 Republicans voted for it. Now those 9 are being labeled as “cap and traitors” by other Republicans and you can be sure they will face well-funded primary opposition. To be a Republican member of Congress means submitting to iron discipline based on the politics of the issue, not the substance.

Senate Democrats cannot, in David Broder’s words, “cut off any filibuster threat without a second thought.” Broder certainly knows that, and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous. What’s more disturbing, is how Broder—and most of institutional Washington for that matter—-has accepted the concept that everything of any consequence must meet the test of 60 votes in the Senate. Who decided that in the Senate majority doesn’t rule anymore…on anything? Or that those working to solve the public’s problems should be blamed for failure, while those who obstruct should be rewarded?

Until quite recently, the filibuster was considered an extreme procedural weapon to be used only on cosmically important matters such as whether to go to war (anti-war senators filibustered President Wilson’s decision for the U.S. to enter World War One), or civil rights (southern Democrats waged extended filibusters against civil rights legislation in the 1960s).

A few years ago, when Democrats filibustered a few of President Bush’s appointments to the federal courts, Republicans were so infuriated that their then Senate Leader Bill Frist threatened to change the Senate rules to essentially kill the use of the filibuster and pass everything by simple majority. The filibuster, after all, is just a Senate rule that the Senate is free to change.

It’s worth noting for the sake of intellectual inconsistency that David Broder, at that time counseled the Democrats to drop their filibuster of the judges—and to not go through with their threat to tie up the Senate if Frist changed the Senate rules to govern by simple majority.

In his April 24, 2005 column, Broder wrote: “….Elections matter. Voters placed Republicans in control of the White House and the Senate, and while the opposition still has a constitutional role to play, at the end of the day that function has to be more than talking important matters to death. Building such a roadblock to consideration of such important legislation as energy, Social Security, welfare reform and the routine financing of government would bring down deserved public condemnation…”

The Democratic Senate minority during the Bush years didn’t, as a matter of routine, filibuster White House initiatives. But the current Republican Senate minority has used, or threatened to use the filibuster on just about everything….starting with the stimulus bill passed last February. They’ve left little doubt that they will filibuster health care, energy bill, any number of financial reforms, and quite possibly even Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. They’re doing what David Broder counseled Senate Democrats not to do just a few years ago. Where is Broder’s “well deserved public condemnation…?”

In fact, where is any mainstream media condemnation for the routine use of the filibuster by Republicans to thwart majority rule? The 2008 election was about choices. And voters, by electing Obama and healthy majorities of Democrats to the Senate and House, made their choices clear. Judging by current polling results on health care, energy, and the like, those choices are still clear.

Democrats have substantial majorities in Congress. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to use them—and then take the consequences if their policies fail or if their initiatives prove unpopular with a majority of voters?

The word “filibuster” originates from the Dutch word meaning “pirate.” What’s going on in the Senate now is piracy of the people’s will. Or maybe a more apt description would be “high-jacking” of the legislative process.

Either way, the public is being victimized. It’s time for the mainstream media to take notice. And probably time for the Democrats to take former Senator Bill Frist’s advice and legislate by simple majority.