Game Theory and the Filibuster

Ed Kilgore, who is not a hypocrite, still advocates limited use of the filibuster even now that Republicans have a Senate majority. He wrote

The filibuster has always been a monstrous but mitigated abuse—monstrous in its antidemocratic pretensions but mitigated by rare use. I see little reason for its use right now when the president has the power to veto any legislation that might succumb to a filibuster. And even if the power to filibuster is formally preserved, this would seem to be an ideal time to get out of the habit of deploying it.

I basically agree with him. In particular, I think Democratic Senators should end the filibuster of the motion to open debate on the bill to fund DHS and forbid DACA and DAPA act (Obama’s immigration executiver orders).

However, I can make an argument that the veto isn’t always as good as a filibuster. The reason is that, in game theory, but also in reality, timing can matter a lot.

I don’t think that, so long as a Democrat is in the White House, Democrats can’t derive any benefit at all from the filibuster. With must pass bills, timing matters. Congress can send the President a bill to, say, raise the debt ceiling and repeal Obamacare. If there really isn’t time to pass another bill before the US defaults, this is a take it or leave it offer. In bargaining timing is critical — the last mover has almost no bargaining power.

I don’t think the current filibuster is such a case. Democrats can allow DHS funding to lapse. This is unfair to the many DHS employees who will be required to work and wait to be paid later. But Republicans in Congress will bear most of the blame.

Again, I agree with filibuster restraint. I would support simultaneously eliminating the filibuster and eliminating the debt ceiling. I guess that, on balance, I would support eliminating the filibuster even without eliminating the debt ceiling.

But wait there’s less. Even less reason to filibuster than Kilgore suggests. Consider the filibustered motion to open debate on the House fund DHS and no deferred action fof DREAMERs resolution. The CBO has scored the bill as adding to the deficit (via Kerry Eleveld). Therefore, according to Senate rules it is out of order. If even one senator raises this point of order, to pass it would require a waiver of the rules which would require 60 votes. There is no need to use the filibuster in this case. PayGo will do just as well.