Some Potential Benefits of Filibuster Reform

Ezra Klein noted the following the other day:  One huge effect of filibuster reform: Obama can actually fire people.  This is worth considering, since in the pre-reform period the administration ran the risk of a massive, lengthy vacancy for anyone who was asked to leave.

Also, it may induce higher quality candidates to be interested in appointment.  Under the pre-reform system a candidate would not only have to go through an exhaustive vetting process, but then wait around for an indefinite amount of time since the appointment could be held up in the Senate indefinitely.

For example:

the nominee would often have to put their life on hold for months or years as the Senate worked through the obstruction — and, sometimes, the nomination would end in defeat. Republicans filibustered the nomination of Nobel Prize-winning economist Peter Diamond to the Federal Reserve Board for over a year. Eventually, he just gave up, and so the U.S. government lost the service of one of the world’s most brilliant economists.

Another point that occurs to me, and that I have not seen discussed as yet:  the change could have an affect on recess appointments.  If presidents can be guaranteed a vote on their nominees, this should diminish the rationale for making recess appointments.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. michael reynolds says:

    The misuse of the filibuster by Republicans was a distortion of democracy and had all sorts of bad effects. Can’t hire, can’t fire, makes the entire government hostage to its least responsible or most extreme Senator. Once again Obama is lucky in his enemies because they so abused the process and so discredited themselves that there has been remarkably little pushback on this.

  2. Todd says:

    Getting rid of the filibuster was a good thing.

    … and, even if Republicans are able to someday get their nominees approved by a simple majority vote, it will still be a good thing.

  3. Tillman says:

    I understand the process takes time, but I’m still waiting on a few firings/resignations myself.

  4. mattbernius says:

    Agreed. While I expect that Klein and Steven are correct, without actual data accumulated over time, this is just a theory.

  5. superdestroyer says:

    A Democratic Party operative writes that the advantage of being a one party state is that the leaders of the one party can do what they want. I guess this is what passes for brilliant analysis in Washington DC these days.

  6. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    One huge effect of filibuster reform: Obama can actually fire people.

    Obama has always been able to fire people. It’s just so far, it’s pretty much limited to whistle-blowers and folks who embarrass him in some way.

    Now he’s lost a good chunk of his excuse for keeping on people who have demonstrated incompetence, corruption, intemperate moments, and so on.

  7. @Jenos Idanian #13: You are missing the point.

  8. Grewgills says:

    Apropos of a parallel thread, it would be a hypothesis.

  9. Todd says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: You are missing the point.

    lol, if it ever becomes possible to implement a drop down menu with “frequently used comments” on this site, that should definitely be one of the options. 🙂

  10. Barry says:

    @Todd: “… and, even if Republicans are able to someday get their nominees approved by a simple majority vote, it will still be a good thing. ”

    It’s a threat that’s not a threat, since the GOP has long demonstrated that they can get some atrocious scum through even the old system. I’m not frightened by the threat that the GOP will appoint somebody like Thomas, Scalia, Alito or Roberts without a filibuster, since they got through the filibuster system.