The Last Word | November 21, 2012
>>> all right, sir, i will have to speak to the people from right here. the wild horses aren't going to drag me off this floor until the people have heard everything i got to say even if it takes all winter. half of official washington is here to see democracy's final show, the right to talk your head off and the american privilege of free speech and most dramatic form.
>> you saw a clip from rapidly becoming my least favorite political movie of all time, mr. smith goes to washington . it is not that it is a bad movie . it is a great movie, a classic. it is a bad guide to what is wrong with american politics today. everybody plays the movie for you. i think by law you have to play it where they talk about the fill buster and they see that's what we don't have anymore, talking filibusters. we need senators take the floor and talk and talk and p.e. e into a bottle and talk and fall down and read the phone book and now senate democrats are considering something huge. they are considering trying to change the filibuster using 51 votes in the beginning of next session of congress rather than the two-thirds vote often thought to be required to change senate rules . if they do this, it is going to be like setting a bomb off. republicans will go nuts. no one said change particularly overdue change is easy. democrats are at the moment thinking of detonating that bomb in service of something that doesn't really matter. making the filibuster more like what you see in mr. smith goes to washington . look at this chart. filibusters used to be relatively rare, particularly mr. smith's day. there were nor filibusters between 2009 and 2010 , two years, than there were in the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s combined. do you want to know how fair the filibuster was? a strategy memo written calculated that in the new senate , the one after the '64 election, medicare would pass with 55 votes, 55. the filibuster did not even figure into lbj's planning. that all changed in recent decades. now everything gets filibustered, big things like health care reform are filibustered and small things like who gets to be nominated ambassador or sit on the national labor relations board . the problem with the filibuster in one sentence is it made the senate into something it was never intended to be, a place that requires a super majority to get anything, anything at all no matter how small or necessary done. defenders of the filibuster tend to say it is about minority rights or the constitution's preference for making hard to get anything done, and it is important to know that that is not true. yes, the founding fathers wanted to make governing hard. it is why they divided power among three branchs and it is why senators used to be directly appointed by state legislatures and why the house, the senate , and the president have staggered elections. usually you need a big win in two or monday consecutive elections in order for a party to secure control of congress and the white house . the founders didn't want it to be this hard. they didn't make the filibuster. they considered requiring a super majority in congress and rejected that idea. writing in the federalist papers alexander hamilton said, quote, it is real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of government, and to substitute the pleasure of an insignificant turbulent or corrupt hunta to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority. does any of that sound familiar, kind of like what we have been seeing in recent years maybe? the founders by the way also opposed political parties . they didn't want them. they couldn't have foreseen how highly disciplined parties would subvert and remake the system they designed and use rules like the filibuster that didn't even, exist back then to what is the line, destroy the energy of government and substitute the pleasure, ka pris to the regular decisions of the respectable majority. i love alexander hamilton . forcing senators to talk when the filibuster doesn't do anything about that problem, and that means it doesn't do anything about the central problem that keeps real majority from governing today. we can't have a political system in which even when the american people vote twice in a row to give one party the power to pursue its agenda, the minority is still able to make them fail. that is a system in which democratic accountability not to mention the ability to govern effectively breaks down. it is a system in which voters think they gave power to somebody to make the country better, to enact an agenda and when that party , be it republican or democrat isn't able to get the job done, they think that party failed them and they become that much more disillusioned even though it was minority obstruction that kept bills from passing. look, i would like to see both parties end the filibuster cooperatively and now would be a good time to do it. we have divided government . it won't mean one party or the other suddenly gets to ram the whole agenda through at once. the first step towards having a reasonable reform no matter how it comes about, no matter what rules you use is recognizing what the actual problem is and the problem is not that senators don't get enough time to talk. it is that they get too much power to obstruct. join me are two of the finest congressional scholars alive today, thomas mann , senior fellow at the brookings institution and norm ornstein , scholar ae american enterprise institute and authors of it's even worse than it looks, how the american solution collided with the new politics of extremism. thank you for ip joining me the day before thanksgiving.
>> howe did that happen?
>> it started changing actually earlier in the late '50s and early '60s as business picked up and there was much to be done and the senate didn't have the luxury of sitting back and enjoying a single senator or group of senators trying to filibuster, so they set up a two-track system and so on and its escalated dramatically in recent years. basically the minority has decided that it is the route to making the president of the other party a failure. either by defeating out right or by slowing down or by discrediting anything he tries to do, so it is the root of the filibuster, norms no longer operate to restrain the behavior. in the late '60s, maybe 10% of all serious legislation was subject to some kind of filibuster related delay. now it is 90%, 95%.
>> it is constant. norm, so then explain this to me. you have a better sense and i don't know your position on this. maybe you agree with it. what is the appeal of the talking filibuster? what problem are we fixing?
>> i am very happy to try and move the pressure onto the minority, and talking filibuster might make a difference in a handful of cases. the problem is the one the chart points out and tom emphasized.
>>> it is twofold. the first is it is no longer an isolated individual, a mr. smith. it is a party strategy and if you have got 40 people or more who are willing to talk and all you have to do is stay at it for five minutes and then hand it off to somebody else, it doesn't solve the problem. it is also that it has been used in everything now. the rule hasn't changed since 1975 . it is the practice in the last few years. there are ways to deal with it more effectively. the big problem now with filibusters in blocking them is it takes the majority. what i would like to do is say never mind the talking, you have to constantly come up with 41 votes, you being the minority.
>> the minority.
>> remember, we had this absurd situation where they had to drag 92-year-old robert byrd out of his hospital bed to come to the floor to provide the 60th vote. make them do it. you also have to do more. you you have to make sure the routine uses can't be applied and take up so much time. the way a filibuster now works, if you apply to something that passes unanimously and ultimately does, you get 30 hours where you don't have to go on the floor soaking up more floor time. cut that out.
>> trying to end the filibuster takes hours and hours and hours and that brings me to one other change that changed is harry reid says he wants to do something about the filibuster. isn't what i want to do. it feels to me like a tectonic shift saying we need to change this, it has gone too far.
>> it really is. harry reid has long defended the perogatives of the senate and of the filibuster even in the face of criticism from his own members, but virtually all of his members now want to do something and he has been infuriated by the way in which mitch mcconnell has carried out, but if you think about t it is a very odd time to do this. the house is under the control.
>> you don't get that much.
>> of the republicans, so it is not as if the filibuster is the only thing standing in the way of democratic program and as norm said, at the beginning of this new congress president obama has a better shot at working with the senate including 6, 8, 10, republicans in using that to put pressure on the house so is this the right time to blow up the senate ?
>> norm, real quick, do you think we need 67 or 51, whatever you want to do? what do you think is the number of senators?
>> institutionally you could do it with 51. you made the key point. in 197 5z when they changed the rule they started to do it this way and stepped back and reached a bipartisan compromise. if you're going to jam something through and there are a million other ways the senators can bol luxe up the works, you better do it with something really sweeping. if you do a half or third of the way measure and inflame the entire senate you're probably not doing it the right way.
>> thank you both for being here this evening. i appreciate it.
>> coming up, 47% gets the last laugh on mitt romney