Good for the U.S. Senate for reaching a tentative agreement Tuesday that avoids changing filibuster rules. Unfortunately, our Kansas senators have been part of the problem and not the solution.
Though both parties have abused the filibuster, Republicans took it to a new level after President Obama was elected. Not only did they use the tactic to delay and block judicial and Cabinet nominations – including, for the first time in history, a defense secretary – they also used it to block routine action, making it difficult for the Senate to get much done.
It got so bad that last December Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., filibustered his own bill – another first.
After Democrats moved to significantly limit the use of filibusters, lawmakers agreed in January to some rule changes. But that didn’t stop the filibustering.
In March, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., filibustered a vote on a budget resolution, which infuriated Democratic leaders. “It is things like that that will cause the Senate to have to reassess all the rules, because right now they accomplish so little,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said at the time.
The recent proposal would have prevented filibustering of presidential appointees to executive branch agencies (but not of judicial nominations or legislation). Reid threatened that Democrats would approve the change unless Republicans agreed not to block several of Obama’s appointments.
Many lawmakers were correctly concerned about changing Senate tradition and limiting the legislative options of the minority party. And they understood that once they started down this road, it could lead to more retaliation. To their credit, nearly all 100 senators met at a special caucus Monday and aired their concerns.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., mediated the deal, which included a commitment by enough Republicans not to block some appointees in exchange for Obama making two new appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.
“The spirit of the deal is important because we know that we want to avoid this kind of confrontation and near-death experience in the future,” McCain said.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., was outspoken in opposing the filibuster change. “There is a great bipartisan feeling that we do not want to go to the edge and do something that will damage the institution,” he said after the Monday caucus.
But Roberts supported GOP filibuster abuses that damaged the Senate and led to this showdown.
On the first test vote after the agreement was announced, 17 Republicans joined with Democrats in opposing a filibuster of Richard Cordray, who was nominated by Obama two years ago to lead the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau.
Roberts and Moran voted for the filibuster. As usual.
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee