Missing the point

Washington Post reporter Ed O'Keefe passes on an opportunity to explain that the Republicans have dramatically increased the use of the filibuster over historic norms:

VP tie breaker: I just realized how funny that question is! With this strange use of the non-filibuster filibuster, the VP's role is hugely curtailed, isn't it? There are few tie votes, because those bills never make it past the minority's filibuster. How often has the VP had to break a tie, since this strange, undemocratic Congressional “rule” (protocol?) was contorted into it's current bastardized form?

Ed O'Keefe: Both Gore and Cheney definitely had to break a few ties in their day.

That was O'Keefe's full answer. Of course, part of the reason Gore and Cheney had to break a few ties is that there weren't nearly as many filibusters as there are now -- which was precisely the point of the question. But O'Keefe completely ignored the obvious reality that the Republicans are currently making extraordinary use of the filibuster -- that there is not only nothing democratic about the filibuster, there isn't much precedent for its current preeminence, either.

Norman Ornstein explained last year:

From its earliest incarnation, the filibuster was generally reserved for issues of great national importance, employed by one or more senators who were passionate enough about something that they would bring the entire body to a halt.


But after the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the filibuster began to change as Senate leaders tried to make their colleagues' lives easier and move the agenda along; no longer would there be days or weeks of round-the-clock sessions, but instead simple votes periodically on cloture motions to get to the number to break the log-jam, while other business carried on as usual.


Still, formal filibuster actions-meaning actual cloture motions to shut off debate-remained relatively rare. Often, Senate leaders would either find ways to accommodate objections or quietly shelve bills or nominations that would have trouble getting to 60. In the 1970s, the average number of cloture motions filed in a given month was less than two; it moved to around three a month in the 1990s. This Congress, we are on track for two or more a week. The number of cloture motions filed in 1993, the first year of the Clinton presidency, was 20. It was 21 in 1995, the first year of the newly Republican Senate. As of the end of the first session of the 110th Congress, there were 60 cloture motions, nearing an all-time record.


What makes this Congress different? The most interesting change is GOP strategy. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell (KY) has threatened filibuster on a wide range of issues, in part to force Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to negotiate with his party and in part just to gum up the works. Republicans have invoked filibusters or used other delaying tactics on controversial issues like Medicare prescription drugs, the war in Iraq, and domestic surveillance-and on non-controversial issues like ethics reform and electronic campaign disclosure.