Let Them Filibuster

Let Them Filibuster

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

In this morning’s press conference Obama justified his weak-kneed response last week to Congress’ decision to reprogram money for the air-traffic controllers—taking it out of an account for airport construction—so as not to inconvenience the flying public.  The President indicated he will sign the bill because:

Frankly, I don't think that if I were to veto, for example, this FAA bill, that that somehow would lead to the broader fix. It just means that there'd be pain now, which they would try to blame on me, as opposed to pain five years from now….


I cannot force Republicans to embrace those common-sense solutions. I can urge them to. I can put pressure on them, I can, you know, rally the American people around those — you know, those common-sense solutions, but ultimately they themselves are going to have to say, we want to do the right thing.

And I think there are members certainly in the Senate right now and, I suspect, members in the House as well who understand that deep down, but they're worried about their politics. It's tough. Their base thinks that compromise with me is somehow a betrayal. They're worried about primaries. And I understand all that.


Once again the President and his Democratic leaders especially in the Senate should have gone to the barricades with the Republican supporters of the bill and insisted that they would not consider this part of the sequestration discomfort without forcing the Congress to address sequestration comprehensively. The President is as culpable as is the weak Senate leadership who could have forced a filibuster.  Obama could have shown the country precisely that he is ready to stand up and take his lumps as they seek to resolve not only the problem of the air traffic controllers’ furloughs, but the entire array of civilian and military cuts that the sequestration bill imposed.

It is not only Obama’s weak leadership and Senator Reid’s spineless actions as Majority Leader, it is that they both very much want to force the Republicans to accept tax increases which such a comprehensive bill would necessitate; but they do not want to force the Democrats to address the need for changes in social security and Medicare accounting. A major filibuster, if managed properly by a Majority Leader like Senator Lyndon Johnson did– with a strong Obama White House calling the shots– requires toughness and a willingness to test your own power to lead. As was the case for Johnson, the public enthusiastically supported his willingness to confront the segregationist Senators of the old South from his own party; but it was a very gutsy move. If the next four years are going to be productive ones for the nation, those in positions of leadership need to move into a much more powerful gear.

It is not only in foreign and defense policy that the absence of strong convictions is getting the nation into trouble. The Republicans may well be facing serious electoral challenges even in 2014, but if the President permits a minority of the Senate to continue to intimidate him, there is little chance for any progress to be achieved in Obama’s second term regardless of the internal dissention within the GOP. 

Being a nice guy does not work in politics; sometimes being a tough guy does.

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