It's obviously the latest orchestrated Republican talking point -- unless we're to believe that these memes spring forth spontaneously, like Athena from the head of Zeus. In recent days, Boehner, Dick Armey, John Fund, Dana Rohrabacher, talk radio, and the right-wing noise machine in general, are all up in arms, decrying the possibility that the Democrats will defy the will of the people and resort to a lame-duck session to push through their radical socialist agenda.
Obviously the Republicans are doing what they do best -- "working the refs" to intimidate Democrats from using a legitimate legislative tool to pass their (watered down) agenda.
This is particularly outrageous given the reason that such a lame duck session would be necessary. The Republicans, particularly in the Senate, have used every parliamentary trick to delay and frustrate the Democrats, given an overwhelming majority just 18 months ago, from accomplishing many of the things the American people sent them to do.
What I fear is that the Republican strategy will work and the Democrats, with their usual spinelessness, will unilaterally concede their power, forebearing to use a tool the Republicans would have no hesitation in using were the tables turned. Further discussion below.
It doesn't take a very long memory to see a previous example of this approach; remember the Republican "nuclear option" talk designed to prevent use of reconciliation to pass healthcare? That almost succeeded; I've been critical of Obama's approach to the healthcare fight in many respects, but reports are that he overrode advisors like Rahm Emmanuel to insist that reconciliation be used to pass comprehensive legislation, rather than a much scaled-back version.
I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that the Democrats will lose either the House or the Senate, but even if they don't, I think it's a given that Democratic margins in each chamber will significantly decline. (E.g., maybe 54 seats in the Senate and 225 in the House.) Given that the Republicans have succeeded in frustrating a significant portion of the core Democratic agenda while the Dems have had large majorities, it stands to reason that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish much with much smaller margins, even if we do hold on to one or both chambers. So by all means, if there's a way push through an energy bill, or immigration reform, or more jobs stimulating measures, or even EFCA, during a lame duck session, the Democrats should do it.
Not that this would be that easy -- if they haven't been able to pass these items by now, what will change that makes it possible to pass them in a lame duck session? I don't know, perhaps some blue dogs who lost their races will vote with their party rather than voting defensively in an effort to hold on to their seats. Conversely perhaps if they do hold on they will feel more empowered to vote in favor of the Democratic agenda; perhaps some retiring Republicans in the Senate would even agree to vote for cloture -- who knows?
The point is, the Republicans evidently view this as a real threat (one they're trying to head off). We shouldn't play into their hands and forgo our ability to get these things done. Again, reconciliation is an instructive example: think if Conrad had gone with his initial instinct and prevented healthcare from being added to reconciliation instruction --we would have no healthcare bill. In fact, given that the Republicans telegraphed their "just say no" strategy even before the first session of Congress started, the Democrats were crazy not to include (and Obama was crazy not to insist that they include) all the main items on the agenda in the reconciliation instrucions (witin the limits of the rules, of course). As I understand the Senate rules, this could at least have included a strong cap and trade program, and perhaps further economic stimulus (spending measures that stimulate the economy actually provide budgetary benefits).
That's water under the bridge now, but let's not compound the mistake by renouncing our ability and right to use a lame duck session.
Why do I title this diary "Republican Outrage"? Because of the almost unbelievable hypocrisy and cynicism underlying their cries of faux shock and dismay. Remember, the reason the Republicans are advancing to support the "no lame duck" meme is that the Democrats, having been repudiated at the polls (they assume), would be defying the will of the people and in fact striking at core principles of our democratic system, were they to enact an agenda rejected by the American people.
But that's just what the Republicans have been doing ever since January 2009! Remember, Bush and the Republicans had microscopic approval ratings. Democrats were overwhelmingly elected. A large majority of the American public supported Obama's agenda. Elections have consequences, and all that. Well, not so much when you're a Republican. The Republicans were quite honest in explicitly stating that their strategy was to keep Obama from accomplishing anything. The Democrats, and Obama, played into their hands for far too long, treating them as legitimate partners who were dealing in good faith. They weren't, and unfortunately the Democrats appear to be paying the price. (In a just world, the voters would punish the Republicans, not the Democrats, but due to an unfortunate combination of lame reporting from the mainstream media, the right-wing noise machine's overwhelming volume, and the tendency of low-information voters to blame the party in power no matter what the cause, they won't; we'll pay the price. For a very interesting take on the latter tendency, see this essay by Digby.)
This points to a bigger issue. Our system of government (not to mention the Senate rules) is based on a certain level of good faith. It more or less worked during most of the twentieth century because both parties, for the most part, dealt in good faith with each other. I was a political science major in the '70s, and a common theme in our studies was how the parties worked together, even when they disagreed on issues. Just think of Reagan and Tip O'Neill working together on social security amendments, or the Tax Reform Act of 1986.
Such cooperation is inconceivable these days. The Republicans are simply not dealing in good faith, and given the current makeup of the party and the external pressures on them (e.g. Rush Limbaugh), are probably not capable of dealing in good faith. See Bennett's recent primary demise.
I have long been an advocate of preserving the filibuster because I think it is generally beneficial to enable the minority to prevent the majority from steamrolling them. One always has to be aware of the "shoe's on the other foot" argument. But this presupposes principled restraint in invoking the filibuster. Press reports and even Senators routinely talk about the "60-vote requirement in the Senate," but that's not true. In general, the Senate should be a majority rule body. Filibusters should be invoked in only rare instances, for fundamental issues, not routinely used just to gum up the works for routine, noncontroversial business, and not even to prevent the majority from enacting its legislation. Again, elections have consequences. The Democrats realize that -- in fact, they kowtowed to Bush even when they were in a majority. The Republicans don't. Thus, the filibuster has degenerated into a one-sided bludgeon. The Republicans will use it routinely, the Democrats can be intimidated not to use it. (Remember the gang of 14 matter, that preserved the Democrats' right to use the filibuster as long as they never actually used it.)
So yes, the time has come. If we do preserve our majority in the Senate, by all means, do away with the filibuster. Don't tinker around the edges, don't change it to 57, don't say it can only be used on the vote for final passage -- just get rid of it. It asymmetrically benefits the Republicans, and will for the foreseeable future.
On the other hand, if we lose the Senate, if the Democrats have any balls left at all, the Republicans shouldn't be able to get a single thing through. The only way to deter them is to play the same game. Unilateral disarmament has never been a successful strategy, as far as I can tell.
Which, in a roundabout way, brings me back to the original topic. By all means, the Democrats should use a lame duck session to pass every piece of controversial legislation they can. The Republicans have forfeited any possible right they have to complain about thwarting the will of the voters, and they have amply demonstrated that there is little or no political price to pay even if that were the case.