Like anybody sensible, I have reservations about the great big Christmas Tree Stimulus Bill. Half a dozen GOP senators are doing what the whole party ought to do, pointing out reasonable objections and negotiating about them in good faith. Partly because there are still a few reasonable Republicans in the Senate (gerrymandering has insured there are almost none in the House) and in part because they were deputized to do so, by a party that knows what will happen, if they obstruct too much.
But a thought occurred to me that I must share (despite breaking my vow to limit political postings to a minimum.) You see, there is a fascinating mythology going around. Everybody seems to think it's necessary for the Democrats to gather a super-majority of 60 votes in the Senate, in order to pass legislation, because that is the number needed to invoke a motion of cloture, limit debate and terminate a fillibuster. But consider underlying assumptions.
First , that Republican party discipline will remain uncannily strong. Second, that a fillibuster of the Stimulus Bill comes without silver linings. Yes, party discipline is strong in a GOP that has been honed into an instrument of incredibly narrow dogmatism, especially in the House. But this runs counter to the country's mood, and may backfire.
Remember that a fillibuster is - above all - an act political theater. (Which is one reason Democrats used it so seldom during the Bush years.) In fact, it is a bluff. If the majority ever called that bluff, the minority would have to maintain a tiring, round-the-clock tag team blather festival, in which elderly, bleary-eyed, elderly Southern senators would have to keep on talking and talking -- trawling for increasingly incoherent things to say in front of CSPAN cameras -- calling themselves "heroic" for standing up against legislation that has the backing of a popular president and a large majority of Americans.
And this is a losing situation for the Democrats... how? And who then gets the blame, with every bad piece of economic news?
There is something to be said for having the Dems deal with the fillibuster threat right up front, by calling the Republicans' bluff. Forcing the issue while the President is popular and the issues are stark would put the GOP on notice and also set the precedent that Obama is willing to face such threats down.
Then, once this shiboleth is broken - and true to his nature - let the President offer his hand.