Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Republican party is not dead; long live the filibuster

Sorry I can't remember where I got this image from. If it is yours let me know and I will change it. 

Majority leader Harry Reid has been castigated over the last few days after what was supposed to be a filibuster-busting vote to reform the way the Senate works. It didn't pan out that way, to the ire of many,  particularly MSNBC primetime pundit Ed Schultz who blasted Reid on The Ed Show as being wary of the Senate passing gun control legislation with some vulnerable Democratic Senators up for re-election in 2014. 

While I think Schultz's concern is slightly misguided, his core principle is correct. While everyone has treated the 2012 election as the death of the Republican Party, there is a very real chance that in two years' time the House of Representatives and the Senate could be controlled by Republicans. 

Mark Begich in Alaska, Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Tim Johnson in South Dakota, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Max Baucus from Montana are all Democrats defending seats in conservative states (although to be fair Baucus' Senate partner from Montana, Jon Tester, won re-election last November). Adding to Democrat woes are the retirements of long-time senators Jay Rockerfeller in West Virginia and Tom Harkin of Iowa. In West Virginia (which can and does elect Democrats) the challenger Rockerfeller was going to face was Republican Shelley Moore Capito, who is now most certainly the front-runner for that seat. While Harkin was correctly regarded a liberal during his terms, it is worth pointing out that Iowa's other Senator, Chuck Grassley, is most certainly not. There is absolutely nothing to justify speculation that Harkin may be replaced by anyone like him. And although Minnesota is beginning to slide firmly into the blue column, Senator Al Franken won his election in 2008 by only 312 votes (in an election in which 2.8-million were cast). 

By my count that is 8 Democrats Senate seats at risk, plus Franken. And the Democrat pickup opportunities are slender, with hopes being pinned on Georgia (due to Saxby Chambliss' retirement and possible strong Democrat contender in Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed), Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and Susan Collins in Maine; however, all of these are reliant on a serious right-wing Tea Party-backed candidate being so unelectable that people are driven to Democrats (see Todd Akin). None of these three are probable. 

When it comes to the House of Representatives, Republicans are unlikely to lose this until 2020 when re-districting takes place after the census. In this last election Democrats won 1.2-percentage points more of the vote than Republicans but still see a deficit of 33 seats. Some estimates claim Democrats may need to win by as much as seven points to retake the House. 

From my point of view, it looks as if Reid is mindful of the fact that Democrats could be on the receiving end of a bad midterm election in 2014 (cast your mid back to the Democrat disaster that was 2010). This Senate reform undertaken on Thursday shouldn't even really be filed under anything resembling "filibuster reform" because it hardly did any of that. 

The rules around filibustering were preserved mostly by what is being referred to as the "old guard" - and it's noticeable that the two senators spearheading this cause were freshmen (Jeff Merkely from Oregon and Tom Udall from New Mexico). The old folks are far more keen to preserve Senate traditions - Reid even added on Thursday, "With the history of the Senate, we have to understand the Senate isn't and shouldn't be like the House," - and it is tradition that is really being preserved here. It isn't difficult to extrapolate that Republicans feel the same about the filibuster, and are unlikely to mess much with it should they take control in the next Congress. Had Democrats busted tradition this time around, there would have been ample reason for Republicans to do the same at the beginning of the 114th, should they win control of the Senate. 

The Republican Party is not dead. And neither is the filibuster. 

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