Conservative Republicans are putting out nonsense about how the filibuster can save them from the horrors of socialist President Obama. See, for example, Kimbertley A. Strassel’s opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal’s article How to Block the Liberal Agenda.
The Democrats now have 55 seats in the Senate. Including independents, Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman, they have 57. The Republicans have 40 seats. Let us assume a worst case scenario, and the Democrats lose the three seats that are still undecided and Joe Lieberman leaves the Democratic Party.
That would appear to give the Republicans 44 Senators for their filibuster. Would all 44 Senators be willing to filibuster? A number of Republicans have good reason not to engage in filibuster.
Five moderate Republicans are up for election in 2010 from moderate states. Arlen Specter (Pa), George Voinovich (Ohio), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Judd Greg (New Hampshire), and Mel Martinez (Florida). They all face tough election fights in less than 21 months after Obama takes office. They all would be reluctant to be seen as obstructionists, preventing the majority from voting on important issues. Can any of them politically afford to be labeled as obstructionists preventing the Congress from passing or voting on popular legislation?
In addition, we have three Republicans who are not up for re-election, but would be very reluctant to filibuster because they come from moderate-liberal states, Olympia Snow and Susan Collins are both moderate Republicans from Maine, and Norm Coleman (assuming he wins his recount against Al Franken) is a moderate Republican from Minnesota. None of them would care to be seen as obstructionists.
There are also two moderate Republicans who are unlikely to be running again for re-election and would have little reason to go along with most filibusters. Richard Lugar (Indiana) has praised Obama's foreign policy and at 76 years old is unlikely to run again. George Stevens, should he win his seat in Alaska, is 84 years old. He has been a moderate Republican for his entire career and won’t be running again. Not being up for re-election, the Republicans have no power over them to push them into line and get them to support a filibuster.
Finally, there are McCain and Lieberman themselves. McCain, 73 years old, may retire instead of running again in two years, and he may want to live up to the “Maverick” label that he claimed so often in the presidential race. Lieberman will have enough trouble getting re-elected in liberal Connecticut in four years. Supporting Republican filibusters will just make it even harder for him.
This means that the Republicans, in the best case, could only rely on 33 conservative Senators for a filibuster. Getting the extra 7 votes they need would be extremely difficult in most cases.
One could imagine a situation where Obama supports a piece of legislation or nominates someone that Lieberman and both the conservative and moderate Republicans cannot tolerate. In that case, it would make sense for the Republicans to try to convince eight conservative or moderate Democrats to join them in voting down the measure/person. It is hard to imagine an issue or person where they would not be able to find eight Democrats to join them and would instead be able to organize a successful filibuster.
Obama may be defeated in some of his proposals by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, but it is unlikely the Republicans will attempt to filibuster any of them. The magical incantation "filibuster" is a charm without real power or effect, just an illusion piously prayed for by disturbed minds..