Thoughts on the Bailout Flameout

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A few thoughts on this morning’s news.

Not surprisingly, with this morning’s news, we’re getting more than a few emails arguing that the Democrats, in their new position of strength, should weaken or entirely do away with the filibuster — i.e., invoking the nuclear option that Republicans repeatedly threatened through the earlier part of the decade. Despite the extremity of the moment, though, I just can’t agree with that. It is just bad practice — especially in the face of the last eight years — for numerical majorities not only to use the power of their numbers in straight up votes but to change the rules of the game itself. Notwithstanding the fact that filibuster has been increasingly abused, it was wrong in 2005 and it would be wrong now.

What I do think makes sense is for the majority to actually require the minority to filibuster — as in talk and talk and talk. We’ve arrived at a point in which it’s become standard, even in the most contentious of cases, for the minority to be allowed merely to signal the intention to filibuster rather than doing the actual thing itself. Filibustering is a tool of obstruction. It’s a critical right of the minority in the senate. But it is, by definition, obstruction. So it makes sense to put the obstructionists to their task, make them do it publicly. I don’t know why the Democrats are not doing that in this case.

Finally, this issue now goes well beyond the fate of the American automakers. Senate Republicans are following this course for three key reasons — first is payback against a major industrial union; second is payback against states like Michigan and Ohio who have been moving away from the GOP; third is the desire to advantage Japanese auto manufacturers who disproportionately do business in their southern states.

What even the White House can see at this point is that having one or more of these companies go under right now will rapidly accelerate the economic crisis, and in unpredictable ways.

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