I was very disappointed last night when I saw the headline, Senate Defeats Bill on Keystone XL Pipeline in Narrow Vote. For one thing, that headline is misleading. What actually happened was that supporters didn’t get 60 votes to override a filibuster. And I don’t like the filibuster being de rigueur — used on every conceivable piece of legislation. The Democrats could have used the occasion to show that they are better than the Republicans.
Now I understand: it would be pointless. The Democrats could go back to using the filibuster sparingly, and the moment the Republicans were back in the minority, they would use it on all bills short of the naming of post offices. What’s more, you can bet that the Very Serious Pundits would give the Democrats no credit for the act of restraint. I can well imagine a Republican White House and Senate in 2017 destroying the filibuster as the pundits looked on and said, “Well, what do you expect after Harry Reid used the nuclear option?!”
But that’s just an indication of the terrible state of the media today and the crazy state of the Republicans. What I would prefer to see is the Democrats setting a better tone when it doesn’t cost them anything. As it is, Obama spent four years trying to set a better tone when it very much cost the Democrats something. I’m not sure that is the case today.
It might have been a bad move, however. There are two ways that the media could have covered the vote. They could have covered it in the correct way, “In an Effort to Normalize Senate Procedure, Democrats Decline to Filibuster Republican Bill.” That would be great. But it is more likely that it would have been covered in a totally disingenuous way, “Republicans Pass Bill as Democrats Yield to Election Landslide.”
But I don’t think this is why the Democrats decided to filibuster. It is primarily just because this is now the way that business is done in the Senate. (This is also why I think the filibuster is not long for this world.) But I suspect that Obama did not want to be in the position of vetoing the bill at this time. Of course, I have to wonder why this is. Even if he wants to eventually approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, vetoing it at this time wouldn’t hurt his ability to do that.
Of course, I think the pipeline is and always has been a really bad idea. It isn’t even an American thing. It is just a way for Canada to get its tar sands to market more quickly. It is going to employ very few Americans. The reason that conservatives want it is because it will make some already rich people even richer. But Robert Bryce reported in The Daily Beast today, Why the Keystone XL Pipeline May Not Be Built. The cost estimates of the pipeline have gone way up and now that gas prices are way down, it makes much less — and possibly no — economic sense. So we likely won’t see the pipeline not because it is a bad idea for the environment and the American worker, but because it isn’t going to do what it was always intended to do: enrich the rich.
So the Democrats lost the chance to send a message. But is it really a message if the media doesn’t cover it? I would have liked receiving the message. But it wouldn’t have been worth it if the mainstream media had covered it as a win for Republicans rather than a noble statement by Democrats. And knowing the media, they probably would have reported it as reflecting Republican power rather than Democratic reasonableness.