Should Democrats Call The GOP Filibuster Threat?

Holding up bills in the Senate is the Republican plan to prevent Obama and Democrats from scoring any political points. To accomplish this goal, Republicans are threatening to filibuster more than ever, and some Democrats want Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to call their bluff.

“It’s not only good policy but good politics to call them out now,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) told US News and World Report last month. “The American people need to see who really is the roadblock here.”

Several House Democrats are saying it’s time to stop running away from the Republican filibuster threats.

Up until now, “we’ve been playing into the hands of people who don’t want to get anything done,” Grijalva told US News and World Report’s Anna Mulrine.

But a modern filibuster is likely to be much less satisfying than some House Democrats imagine. “It reflects a common misperception among House members in the U.S. – that somehow you can force Republicans to filibuster in such a way that it will be embarrassing to them,” Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers, told Mulrine.

Baker said that the days when Senators read from the phone book or waxed poetic about old girlfriends are no more. “This isn’t Strom Thurmond’s 1957 filibuster against civil rights,” Baker said.

However, polls show that most Americans believe that it’s Democrats who are trying to get something accomplished and Republicans are merely obstructionists.

“The Democrats don’t need the public to be watching the debates with bated breath,” Duke University Political Scientist David Rohde told Mulrine. “What the Democrats need is the public to think that they are trying to act and that the Republicans are trying to stop them.”

Steven Hurst of the Associated Press reported today that based on the number of cloture votes, the GOP’s frequency of filibusters and the threats to use it are record setting.

A cloture vote is a way for the majority to test whether it has the 60 votes needed to end debate.

Last year, the first of the 111th Congress, there were a record 112 cloture votes. In the first two months of 2010, the number already exceeds 40.

That means, with 10 months left to run in the 111th Congress, Republicans have turned to the filibuster or threatened its use at a pace that will more than triple the old record. The 104th Congress in 1995-96 — when Republicans held a 53-47 majority — required 50 cloture votes.

Democratic Senators Tom Harkin and Jeanne Shaheen introduced legislation last month to change Senate rules by lowering the number of votes needed to end a filibuster. But Majority Leader Reid sees this is as nonstarter. It takes 67 votes to change Senate rules.

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