I grew up in a 4-person family, in a house with one bathroom. Today, my wife and I have a house with two and a half bathrooms. That means I’ve increased my per-capita bathroom supply by a factor of five. Go me!

That is all.

Well, maybe a few random filibuster-related thoughts.

It seems to me that the Senate filibuster is really a consensual arrangement; the majority grants a certain amount of power to the minority in the knowledge that at some point in the future their positions may be reversed. This prospect of future minority influence has a certain present-time value to the current majority, which is balanced against the present-time cost of the current minority exercising that power. If the minority uses that power in a way that imposes a greater present-time cost on the majority than the present-time value of prospective future minority influence, the current majority will seek to reduce or eliminate the filibuster because it’s no longer a net-positive arrangement. In other words, from the minority perspective, the filibuster should be treated as a last-resort measure, because if you abuse it you’re likely to lose it.

That seems to be what is going on right now. The Democrats have used the filibuster against Republican judicial nominees to an unprecedented degree, and it’s imposed a high-enough present-time cost on the GOP majority that they’ve decided it’s better to forgo the potential future value of being able to use the filibuster in an equivalent way themselves at some later time.

So… given that the Democrats have provoked the majority to this extent, what should they do now? I can see several possibilities:

  • Go down in flames. Push the GOP into restricting the filibuster, and hope to use that action as a campaign issue to reclaim the majority in 2006 or 2008. Then make the GOP eat the consequences of their reduction of minority influence. Emotionally satisfying for the Democrats, but it isn’t clear that the public cares enough about this issue to swing control of the Senate over it.
  • Hope the GOP doesn’t have the votes to sustain the filibuster rule change. This is the double-or-nothing approach; if it works, the Democrats can keep filibustering to their hearts content, but if the GOP does have the votes then this really reduces to the option above.
  • Make an explicit compromise. Agree not to abuse the filibuster in this way, thus reducing the present-time cost enough to make retaining the filibuster worthwhile to the majority. This is difficult because given their prior obstructionist actions the GOP is not in a mood to accept future promises of good behavior from the Democrats. We’ve seen attempts at compromise founder already on the problem of the Democrats wanting to retain the right to filibuster ‘extreme’ nominees, with the Republicans being unwilling to subject themselves to the Democratic assessment of who is and is not ‘extreme’.
  • Implicit compromise. The technique the GOP is deploying to restrict the filibuster requires a failed cloture vote on a judicial nominee. The Democrats could simply vote for cloture on individual appellate court nominees, denying the Republicans the opportunity to restrict the filibuster. They could then retain the filibuster for use where it’s most important to them — nominations for Supreme Court seats — and they wouldn’t have to make any kind of explicit deal with the GOP to do so. The hope then would be that the public would be more sympathetic to a filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee, which at least has some precedent in Senate history.

I think the implicit compromise option would be the politically smart thing for the Democrats to do. It would entail a perceived rolling-over on appellate court nominations, though, which would anger their base, so it may not be possible for them to do anything other than go down fighting. Plus, as far as I know the Democratic party doesn’t give a damn about my opinion on what would or would not be politically smart for them to do.

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