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Congress & the Filibuster

Updated on June 14, 2011

Did the Jobs Bill End the Threat of the Filibuster?

The decision by 12 Republican Senators to break ranks with their comrades in support of a $15 billion Jobs Bill has been heralded by many, and rightfully so perhaps, as a breakthrough in legislative bi-partisanship for the Obama Administration.

By a 70-28 vote, the Senate passed the bill which, among other things, promises to extend new tax breaks to businesses for hiring the unemployed and release more money to states for infrastructural projects; initiatives intended to create new jobs and ostensibly give the economy the needed boost in the arm.

The significance of this vote was, interestingly, completely overshadowed by the hoopla that resulted from the freshman Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown’s decision to join the ranks of the aisle-crossing GOP Senators.

Some generously hailed Brown for his independence; for daring to buck the Republican Leadership. He was instantaneously elevated to the status of the anti-gridlock, results-engendering maestro.

Others accused Brown of being a “Massachusetts Republican” with weak or questionable conservative credentials. For these individuals, he was little more than an opportunistic do-gooder who should immediately resign in ignominy given that he had committed the mortal sin: betrayal.

But realistically-speaking, for Brown, this was really a carefully calculated political move. Beyond the gesture’s immediate symbolic value, there truly wasn’t much substance to the event. Brown did not risk much politically; neither did anyone truly believe or expect that it would be an enduring game-changer.

The actual vote on the bill was preceded by another, perhaps more significant; the one that essentially ended the threat of the Republican filibuster; a threat that had been hanging over the heads of the Democrat Leadership like the Sword of Damocles.

All that considered, it is important that we remain reminded that the Jobs Bill still must go through normal legislative channels before coming across Obama’s desk for signature. The same Republican Senators that ended the threat of the filibuster and helped pass this bill in the Senate may eventually turn around and kill it once it passes the House Representatives and gets to conference committee for reconciliation.

Best case scenario, all ends well; the Jobs Bill passes Congress and is indeed enacted into law.

That notwithstanding, can anyone truly on the basis of the bill passing, conclude that a new era of congressional cooperation and unity for the sake of the national good has arrived? Will Republicans abandon tested obstructionist, self-serving tendencies right when they have not only tasted success but appear on the brink of a major electoral upset?

Certainly not! I submit that in a few days, or weeks, after the photo-ups, props and novelty have worn off, we’d be back to the gridlock we have known so well and come to loathe. Democrats may end with the realization that to achieve the desired traction on more controversial policy initiatives and programs, a return to often derided cloture motions may be unavoidable.


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