Republican Filibusters and the Wisconsin 14

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A talking point that I’ve heard endlessly repeated by Republican pundits and conservative media outlets is that the Wisconsin 14 are undermining democracy by staying out of Wisconsin until Governor Walker decides to negotiate with them. What they are doing is, undoubtedly, anti-majoritarian, but are the Republicans being consistent in their criticism? Consider the degree to which the Republicans in the U.S. Senate utilized the filibuster once the Democrats took power in 2008. Here’s a chart from Ezra Klein

Filibuster Chart (Ezra Klein)

Klein goes on to note-

A few things about that graph. First, the rise in filibusters is just shocking. And this doesn’t even count all of them. It only counts those filibusters that the majority actually tried to do something about. Plenty more filibusters get threatened, but cloture doesn’t get filed because the issue isn’t important enough or the votes aren’t present.

Second, note how many filibusters get broken. It’s not all, but it’s a far cry from none (and it’s more than you see in this graph, as filibusters that get withdrawn don’t end through cloture). Some get broken by overwhelming majorities. But that doesn’t mean the filibuster failed. A dedicated filibuster takes about a week to break even if you have the votes. That’s a week of wasted time in the Senate. If your preference isn’t merely to delay one vote but to threaten the majority with the prospect of getting less done overall, then launching a lot of fruitless filibusters makes perfect sense.

Now, the Wisconsin Senate is not the U.S. Senate; it plays by a different set of rules. But the Wisconsin 14 are most definitely playing by the rules of their own institution, as are the Republicans in the U.S. Senate. So if one is undermining democracy, so is the other. But, as Socrates noted in his debate with Meletus (the politician who prosecuted him for corrupting the young with his philosophy), consistency is not a strength of politicians (nor of their rhetoricians).