Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 15, 2009

TIME TO REFORM THE FILIBUSTER.... One of the striking aspects of the political process on the Hill is how quickly everyone has adapted to a once-rare tactic becoming routine. Senate filibusters used to be exceedingly rare -- a dramatic challenge only to be used under extraordinary circumstances. Only recently has the political world accepted, without so much as a discussion, the notion that literally every key measure must enjoy a 60-vote majority if it hopes to become law.

Take the fight over the economic stimulus bill. Early on, Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders said Republicans would not filibuster a rescue package in the midst of a global economic crisis. Soon after, the GOP changed its mind -- and no one seemed to think anything of it. There were no demands for an "up-or-down vote." There was no media coverage about Republican "obstructionism." It was simply assumed, without controversy, that Republicans would not only oppose the legislation, but also launch an effort to block the Senate from even voting on the bill in the first place.

Indeed, what should be seen as a radical break with political and legislative norms barely raises an eyebrow anymore. An important bill will come to the floor, will have the support of 58 senators out of 100, and will fail. Every important bill is shaped with a mandatory super-majority in mind. No one finds that odd in the slightest. If 41 senators don't like a bill, it won't get a vote. It's just accepted, fait accompli.

filibuster_chart.jpg

Perhaps now would be a good time to realize that the status quo is kind of ridiculous. Ezra Klein noted this week, "Far from being a sacrosanct feature of American politics, the filibuster is, every few generations, understood to be so detrimental to governance that it is radically weakened." Maybe this generation should be prepared to take the next step.

Calls for reform are becoming more common. Kevin Drum noted yesterday that there's a problem when "a party can win the presidency, the House, and the Senate by landslide majorities but still can't pass big parts of its program because it needs 60 votes in the Senate." The filibuster, he reminded us, was "never intended to become a routine requirement that all legislation needs 60% of the vote in the Senate to pass."

Matt Yglesias, highlighting this chart, explains the history of the tactic, and notes how this is something of an accident. He concluded, "None of this has ever been a good idea. But when it was genuinely reserved as an extraordinary measure, it was a bad idea whose badness could be overlooked. But as it's become a routine matter, it's become a bigger and bigger problem. It needs to be reformed."

Of course it does. Look at that chart again -- does anyone think last year was a fluke? Or is it more likely the Senate minority will meet or exceed the same number of filibusters in this Congress? And the next?

There are competing ideas. Maybe the number can be lowered from 60. Perhaps there can be some kind of limit on the number of filibusters (kind of like NFL coaches having a limit on how many times they can challenge a referee's call on the field). Maybe senators can be forced to actually filibuster bills, the way they used to before it became easy. Of course, the chamber can also scrap the filibuster altogether.

I don't doubt senators from both parties are reluctant to even consider reform. They should do it anyway.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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Comments

It is hypocritical in the extreme for Democrats to do an about face on this issue and now advocate changing the system simply because we have power. The filibuster was an important tool during the dark days of the Bush years that we were able to use to block controversial nominees (maybe leglislation as well, I just can't remember). During those days, we argued and howled at the Republican threats of the nuclear option and arguments about the anti-majoritarian nature of the cloture system. To now argue that the system is in need of reform is completely unprincipled and hypocritical.

Although abolishing or reforming the filibuster system would be advantageous in the near term, there will come again a day when republicans control the White House and a majority of congress, and the only tool that we Democrats will have in our arsenal to prevent bad legislation or horrendous judicial nominees is the power of the filibuster. Let's not be short-sighted.

Posted by: Nobody on February 15, 2009 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

The filibuster should be used by individuals or at most small groups to avoid being trampled on by the majority. It should not be used by the minority party. If the minority doesn't like a bill they have an obvious option: convince enough members of the majority to vote with them in the standard up or down simple-majority vote.

Posted by: rbe1 on February 15, 2009 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

These days, the meet threat of a filibuster is enough to stop a bill. I would force them to actually filibuster. Stand there, with mo food or drink or rest, and talk. The sight of John Cornyn running out of coherent speech in -- oh, about five minutes -- would do wonders in shortening his public career.

Posted by: DJ on February 15, 2009 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Here we go again.

Time for either me or sgw to repost, again, Paul Waldman's story that said 60 votes are an absolute requirement for this specific action. Why will the stimulus require 60 votes to pass?

Steve you are right to note the 60 vote issue generally, but you really have to get your head out of your butt on this specific vote. Time for you to highlight and discuss Mr. Waldman's point about a vote that entai8ls deficit spending.

Posted by: wvng on February 15, 2009 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

They only need to threaten to filibuster nowadays as to actually filibuster is to keep the floor by speaking continuously maintaining a parliamentary lock on time which requires effort, dedication, and conviction in ones beliefs, three things that have not been in Washington in decades.

Posted by: Ned Pepper on February 15, 2009 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

I sympathize with DJ but it could well be argued that physical filibuster requirements discriminate on the basis of physical capacity (even though I realize a member must have sufficient "capacity" just to do the job.) A better idea is to limit how long it can go on, period. Then the bill could be delayed, showing "distaste" but eventually have to be voted on. However, couldn't the vote to change or eliminate the filibuster itself be filibustered, or do I not understand some procedural issue? But when Republicans threatened the "nuclear option" we didn't hear of credible ways to stop it. Here is what Wikipedia says of "nuclear option":

In U.S. politics, the nuclear option is an attempt by the presiding officer of the United States Senate to end a filibuster by majority vote, as opposed to 60 senators voting to end a filibuster. Although it is not provided for in the formal rules of the Senate, the procedure is the subject of a 1957 parliamentary opinion and has been used on several occasions since. The term was coined by Senator Trent Lott (Republican of Mississippi) in 2005.[1]

So maybe. In any case, if the mere threat of filibusters can have effects, then the mere threat of nuclear option or the shutting down of that avenue should have effects too, and that should be taken advantage of.

Posted by: Neil B ☺ on February 15, 2009 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

As long as the media continues to report that it takes 60 votes to pass a bill, the general public will assume that is correct. I've kind of made a hobby out of nagging NPR about this, to little good.

As for deficit bills, not sure of the full detail, but can't any law be gotten around by the inclusion of the phrase "not withstanding any previous legislation" or some such? Used to work in the old days.

Posted by: martin on February 15, 2009 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

The minority's willingness to hold bills hostage is even more undemocratic than it appears on the surface, considering that those 41 senators represent significantly less than 41 percent of the population.

I don't think the Democrats have the spine to change the filibuster process, but perhaps they can muster enough backbone to use the up-or-down-vote process more often, especially in light of the Repugs' total lack of cooperation even in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Posted by: gradysu on February 15, 2009 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

wvng - Paul Waldman's story that said 60 votes are an absolute requirement for this specific action.

I would argue that it is a difference without a distinction. In the case of a budgetary bill, someone brings up a point of order, and just like a filibuster, the minority can merely waive it by unanimous consent and move to an up and down vote, or they can demand a vote on the waiver.

Also, a rule change requires 2/3 vote. The nuclear option may or may not be legal, but would most likely be taken to the Republican Supreme Court. I suspect that several if not many Dem senators agree with "Nobody's" argument at 10:45.

Posted by: Danp on February 15, 2009 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

danp, Paul takes on your "difference without a distinction" argument at the link.

Posted by: wvng on February 15, 2009 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, the democrats used it sooo effectively during those dark Bush years. Why, who can forget that noble Democratic Senator who stood in the well and read "War and Peace" prior to the vote authorizing use of force against Iraq? His or her name escapes me, but, I'm sure it is chiseled upon granite, somewhere.

Posted by: berttheclock on February 15, 2009 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

The filibuster is being abused by the Repukeliscum in a historically unprecedented manner. The Repukeliscum are doing things that have never been seen in history.

We need to return to the practices of 1992. We had reasonable "blue slip" blockages of judges. You could block judges in your own states, but no other states.

We need a limitation of 2 filibusters per senator. You burn through yours right away, you are out of luck.

Posted by: POed Lib on February 15, 2009 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

The great irony of this graph is that the spike in filibusters occurred with a republican president and republican minority in the senate. So the filibuster was basically used to shield a lame duck president from having to veto bills. What a waste of everyone's time.

I think the dems would be better served by making the republicans filibuster rather than letting the threat to filibuster prevent measures from making the floor. Certainly the political price for actually filibustering the stimulus bill would have been higher than the grandstanding the republicans performed due to the mere threat of a filibuster.

Posted by: john d'oh on February 15, 2009 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

but the point of order can be waived by a 3/5 vote of the Senate. - Waldman

wvng - The point is that the minority can decide whether they want to force the 60 vote requirement (either by this point of order or cloture) or they can merely waive either by unanimous consent. Getting rid of the cloture vote would not eliminate the right of the minority to invoke the Budgetary Act, but as the rules stand now, they merely have two methods of doing the same thing.

Posted by: Danp on February 15, 2009 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

"I don't think the Democrats have the spine to change the filibuster process, but perhaps they can muster enough backbone to use the up-or-down-vote process more often."

I doubt that even that's going to happen, given the present majority leader's dismal track record. Why is Senator Milquetoast still in charge? I'm thinking of the TV shots after the stimulus vote: Reid at the mike, surrounded by Republicans and not a Democrat in sight. Great job, Harry.

Posted by: bill on February 15, 2009 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Filibusters USED to be rare because Senators using that method ACTUALLY HAD TO FILIBUSTER.

MAKE them stand there and read from the fucking phone book for three days! MAKE them bring in cots and toothbrushes while the filibustering party wastes everyone's time..

Senator Everett Dirkson once read the entirety of Gone With the Wind into the Congressional record during a filibuster. Why haven't the GOP been required to do ANYTHING LIKE THAT?

The filibuster has NO MEANING anymore if people can just say "I'm going to filibuster" and be treated as though they actually had done so. It reminds me of a Star Trek episode where two warring factions had their citizens meekly report for execution based on some algorythm that both warring parties had agreed upon to use in order to determine "casualties" that would have resulted had they actually done battle.

The result of course, was that there was no incentive on either party's part to end the war, since for the most part, it was painless (except to those who were sacrificed).

Similarly, the filibuster has lost any semblence of meaning because the Senators aren't required to do it.

Harry Reid GROW SOME BALLS and MAKE the GOP actually filibuster. I guarantee you will see them fall very quickly out of love with the process.

ENOUGH of this bullshit already.

Posted by: getaclue on February 15, 2009 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

It is more than just blue slipping judges. Coburn of Oklahoma, the RepuG Senator has, over the years, blocked many a wilderness designation in states other than Oklahoma. He blocked one in Washington State, until, Sen. Murray was able to overcome his block. In addition, he blocked the wilderness extension around Mt Hood in Oregon, which had been approved by, not only Sen. Wyden, but, then R Senator Smith. Perhaps prescribing so many Beta Blockers, warped his mind.

Posted by: berttheclock on February 15, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

I've said for a very long time now that the Democrats should force the Republicans to do an actual filibuster, not just insist on 60 votes. Especially on the stimulus bill, my bet was that the Republicans would have ultimately been too embarassed to do the real deal, because it would have been clear to the American people, even those who tend to be absorbed by American Idol-type fare, what was going on.

Posted by: winddancer on February 15, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

The bill required 60 votes because the budget act needed to be waived.

Otherwise, point taken. I wish they would just have good ol' talking marathons.

Posted by: tomj on February 15, 2009 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Of course it does. Look at that chart again -- does anyone think last year was a fluke? Or is it more likely the Senate minority will meet or exceed the same number of filibusters in this Congress? And the next?

Umm...I don't think it's more likely that they'll meet or exceed the same number of filibusters in this Congress. Last Congress they had 49 Senators. This congress they have 41. It's much, much easier to avoid cloture with 49 than with 41 - they basically have to keep their whole caucus together, and already three Republican senators have shown they prefer flashy, meaningless deal making to party solidarity.

Posted by: John on February 15, 2009 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

"three Republican senators have shown they prefer flashy, meaningless deal making to party solidarity": So three Republicans are actually trying to do what's best for the country and not for their party. Good for them, even better for the governance of the country.

Posted by: jen f on February 15, 2009 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Guys like Yglesias - who argued back in 2005 when the thugs were threatening "the nuclear option" that we should let them do it and be done with the filibuster - have been looking remarkably prescient ever since 2006 when the asswipes lost their majority and because the Party of Filibuster.

We should just kill it, and let it stay dead regardless of who's in the majority.

In the meantime, the next time they threaten a filibuster, Reid should hold the vote, fail to get 60 and announce "Nobody leaves the room, tell your aides to bring in the sandwiches and the cots. The game starts now." And then let them demonstrate their moron ignorance on television to everyone in America. It would destroy them, to finally be publicly seen for what they are.

Posted by: TCinLA on February 15, 2009 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

I have to agree that eliminating the filibuster entirely is a really bad idea. Let's at least try to make Republicans do a real filibuster or two (or three) rather than letting them say, "I will filibuster" and collapsing immediately. Doesn't anyone remember that Gingrich shutting down the government led immediately to Republican losses in the House?

Posted by: Mnemosyne on February 15, 2009 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

Jen - I'm glad that Snowe, Collins, and Specter voted for the stimulus, but I don't think that doing what's best for the country had much to do with it - if it did, why did they insist on changes that made the bill worse?

What they are committed to is their own importance, and their own image as non-partisan centrists. Better than the rest of their party, sure, but not actually good.

Posted by: John on February 15, 2009 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

"Of course it does. Look at that chart again -- does anyone think last year was a fluke?"

Well, yes. In fact, it was such an extreme fluke that it's almost impossible to understand. Given that the Senate minority had a sympathetic, lame duck, and already deeply unpopular President in the Oval Office, why exactly were they using the filibuster and taking the heat themselves. I'd venture that anyone else in their position would have let the majority pass their bills, only to have them vetoed by the President who was already loathed and didn't need to run for re-election. In that sense, vulnerable members of the minority could even support the majorities popular measures.

That the Senate Republicans chose to run interference for Bush in the 110th Congress really is, historically, a major fluke. And it's not exactly clear to me how, exactly, it's an argument against the filibuster anyway; even if the Congressional Democrats had been able to pass everything they wanted, the GOP President could have vetoed any or all of it.

Posted by: Brien Jackson on February 15, 2009 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

The mutation of the filibuster from an extraordinary tactic used sparingly to a routine part of the legislative process is nothing more than a function of the pronounced polarization between the parties, which is itself a symptom of increasingly ideological nature of the GOP. The three Republican votes that Democrats got on the stimulus is but a dramatic illustration that there are a rapidly dwindling number of issues where Democrats and Republicans can achieve productive consensus on since the GOP is now largely a Southern-based protest movement at war with our modern, secular nation. When Republicans joined with President Clinton to balance the budget and "end welfare as we know it," the right wing base of the GOP was incensed because Republican lawmakers were consorting with the devil. To get back into the good graces of its own base, Republicans had to follow the lead of Tom DeLay into extremism and provoke a constitutional crisis with the impeachment of Bill Clinton. That's the nature of the GOP we are talking about. The filibuster is just a symptom of that fundamental change in the GOP from governing party to ideological faction that wants no part of compromise.

Posted by: Ted Frier on February 15, 2009 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

the solution to the filibuster mess is there obvious to see, and several commenters above have pointed to it: make those threatening a filibuster actually carry out a filibuster ... Maybe Obama can get Reid to grow a set of balls on this issue ...

Posted by: sjw on February 15, 2009 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Why is it so painfully obvious to so many of us paying attention that the Dems should just force the repubs to actually filibuster? Why do they have to go through this never ending mental masturbation? The republicans do not have the welfare of the people in mind when they continue to play petty political games. I guess the suffering and hardships of millions of americans mean nothing to them.

Posted by: Gandalf on February 15, 2009 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

The pseudo filibuster is just an excuse for not governing. Actually doing something puts a legislator's sinecure in jeopardy. Better to not do anything, than to be wrong.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on February 15, 2009 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Limiting each senator to two fillibusters per session would give the minority 82 of them, at the moment, if they chose to use them all. If fillibusters were non-transferable I suppose that might help, or requiring five senators instead of one to fillibuster (which would count as one of the two fillibusters for each senator) that might slow it down.

The spinelessness of Reid is reflected in the whole body since no one wants to put up with or carry out an actual fillibuster. There was a half-hearted attempt to force one during the last session, but everyone knew in advance it would only go on for so long.

Watching actual fillibusters broadcast by C-Span's TV cameras would have unpredictable political consequences

Let's face it, the Senate isn't about legislation anymore, if it ever was. It's about special interests buying what they want. Getting rid of the Senate altogether probably makes the most sense.

Posted by: r on February 15, 2009 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Make them actually filibuster. Make them stand on the floor, take time away from their fundraising and families to stand there and hold up the process in the cases when they believe there is too much at stake to do otherwise. The tactic will be come much more rare immediately, and yet more profound when it is used.

Posted by: Quatrain Gleam on February 15, 2009 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

First, I don't think we need to just abolish the filibuster. I do, however, agree with the need for reform. I think, though, the first question we have to ask ourselves is what role do want the filibuster to play? Only for the most extreme sort of things? Or regularly for a super majority, but not the level of 60 votes? Or is there a percentage of how much should roughly see a filibuster? About 20% of legislation? About 1%? I think these questions need to be answered before we talk about mechanisms for reform.

Posted by: Scu on February 15, 2009 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

If one party were to make the other party sufficiently angry by say, the "nuclear option" then the angry party could simply stop all senate business by "objecting" whenever the phrase "without objection" were uttered. Since all senate business is done via these words, then the senate would find themselves effectively emasculated, and senators might just as well go hone. (which might be an improvement)

Posted by: josephus on February 15, 2009 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Have to agree with wind dancer. How many time have the democrats made the repubs actually filibuster? Filibusters draw attention and can be used *against* the republicans if they are actually required to hold one. I bet the number of up and down votes would increase dramatically if the repubs weren't getting away with a threat. There are times when it wouldn't be advantageous, of course, and you would hope someone on the Dem side would be smart enough to recognize the difference. That's probably not Reid, but...someone.

Posted by: CDW on February 15, 2009 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

I've got to agree with the idea that we actually make them filibuster. While I've been much more forgiving to Reid in his dealings with Republicans, I can't fathom why he's not doing this. I honestly wonder if they have blackmail material on him.

We need to make them do an actual filibuster and once they fail, we pounce. This needn't be hard. If they want to act like a-holes, we need to let them act like a-holes, so the whole country sees them blocking up popular legislation. I think this would fix the problem pretty damn quickly.

One thing though: We would also need Dem politicians doing a full court press in the media during the filibuster. We can't allow Republicans to be the only voice during the filibuster. Of course, that's been our problem for a long time: Dem politicians are still afraid to take strong positions in public.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on February 15, 2009 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

John, the reason the Senate Republicans didn't simply allow bills to go to Bush's veto pen was that they specifically wanted to deny the Democrats any leglislative accomplishments.

In retrospect, this was a massive misjudgement. Despite an almost complete lack of coverage on the cynical nature of this tactic in the press, the voting public correctly blamed Republicans rather than Democrats for the lack of progress on important issues.

Posted by: tanstaafl on February 15, 2009 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

HarryMilktoastReid and Nancy Pepsicola should be voted out of their leadership posititions and some one who will clobber the GOP over the head. After bailing out their backers on wall street and stomping their feet and throwing a hissy fit when its time to help main street and collapsing bridges in the states.

Posted by: Ned Pepper on February 15, 2009 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

still can't pass big parts of its program because it needs 60 votes in the Senate.

"still"?

"big parts"?

The current government has been in office less than a month and just got 90% of a large stimulus; and that's after revising the sexual harrassment law. The Democrats are on a roll.

The Republicans ought to have used the "nuclear option" when they had the majority. Now the Democrats ought to. Put a long limit (maybe 4 hours) on any one Senator's speaking time. That ought to accomplish any useful purpose that the filibuster might serve without leading to the excesses.

Posted by: marketeer on February 15, 2009 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

The Senate should go back to the original version of a filibuster. Live, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with no breaks, ala Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. That would reduce the number in a hurry.

Posted by: Bill Huddleston on February 15, 2009 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Put a long limit (maybe 4 hours) on any one Senator's speaking time.
Good, but how many votes (or is it even that simple) are needed to make the change itself? Isn't that a big part of the problem?

Posted by: Neil B ☼ on February 15, 2009 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

Forcing actual filibusters, technically, wouldn't be "reform"; it would be returning to actual constitutional intent.

That said, REAL REFORM would be massively rewriting our current constitution to a parliamentary government, including one with more limited powers for the Senate.

And, since Cabinet positions don't "stand for confirmation" in a parliamentary government, the Senate would automatically lose some other power right there.

We have possibly the most anachronistic written constitution in the world today.

Posted by: SocraticGadflys on February 15, 2009 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

I agree that as bad as the filibuster rule is, we should not short-sightedly change it because it suits us now and employ a "nuclear" option. But I agree that a filibuster must be real, just like Jimmy Stewart. If it's not important enough to take the pain, it's not important enough. And while the filibuster is going on, no other business can be conducted. Thus the participants are open to charges they are holding up all the business of the country. You'll remember how well that worked for the Republicans during the Clinton budget fiasco.

Posted by: Mr. Mxyzptlk on February 15, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Not to mention the fact that, given the huge discrepancies in population among the the various states - the Republican senate minority represents a still smaller minority of voters.

There are states with 2 Republican senators representing populations significantly smaller than lots of COUNTIES in states with 2 Democratic senators.

Posted by: Joey Bagadonuts on February 15, 2009 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

The very first poster, "Nobody", got it in 1

I can't remember HOW many times that a filibuster has prevented really bad laws from seeing the light of day.

Disarm the nuclear option so it's there for the Democrats to use.

The actual filibuster complete with diapers and caffeine pills would cut the number drastically.
Remember, these big lugs whine and complain that they have to work 5 days a week. You really think they're up for a 24 hour workday where they read from phone books at taxpayer expense?

If it STILL doesn't reign in minority excesses, we can talk about scrapping it. If 60 Senators can't get behind a bill, I do question it's necessity. More now than ever. We got 3 Senators when we needed them. The bill is acknowledged as mostly good by even the curmudgeonly Krugman. The cost is not so high and its value is proven.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on February 15, 2009 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

It doesn't need reform. It just needs someone to call the other side's bluff and mean it.

Posted by: aline on February 15, 2009 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Doing away with the filibuster would have serious repercussions for Democrats? nonsense.

First off, the public doesn't even know what it is. Killing the filibuster sounds like a procedural change. ZZZZ. Let the Republicans scream. Already they have the image of screamers, while Dems are the doers. Just more fuel on the Republican funeral pyre.

Second off, killing the damn thing would be very easy to sell to the public. Isn't everyone for democracy?

Back in the "nuclear option" days I said the Dems should let the filibuster go. We’d get some conservative judges, to be sure, but the next time the Dems gained power they would be so glad they did. Just on principle, if we are serious about this country ever becoming a democracy, we should kill it.

The senate is already incredibly undemocratic. Cows in Wyoming have more power in the senate than humans in more populace states. Add the filibuster and the entire idea of representative democracy is out the window. And yet we lamely accept.

What would the founders think of it? They’d be aghast that such an obnoxious tradition (and tradition is all it is) could so impede the will of the people. Whatever it takes, we should shoot the damn thing in the heart!

Posted by: James of DC on February 15, 2009 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

It wasn't too many years ago when Bill Frist was the Senate Majority Leader, that Mr. Frist told the Dems, who had about 47 members, that if they wanted to filibuster, then the Repugs would eliminate that rule and all it would take is 51 votes to pass something.

I just wish the Dems would force the Rethugs to stand there and talk hour after hour, all night long. Let them make a bigger ass of themselves than they already are.

Posted by: Chief on February 15, 2009 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Cast my vote with the others who are suggesting that the Republicans be required to actually fillibuster. No shortcuts. That would take care of a lot of the nonsense.

Posted by: Magic Dog on February 15, 2009 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

Keep the filibuster. It worked (somewhat) for the Dems in 2001-2006. It will continue to work (for the bad guys, I suppose...;-) ) in the future. Just have the balls to fight it.

Posted by: Tom Woolf on February 15, 2009 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

Hallelujah and pass the basket - it's about time our esteemed lefty voices started pounding this ridiculousness back into the muck from whence it came. I've been thinking the same thing for some time now - how quickly our political discourse has just accepted the Repukes' 'right' to derail whatever doesn't tickle their fancies. Just get ready for some serious screeching; the Redouches' petulance will have to be rhetorically anticipated, and preemptively enervated. How about the will of the people being disregarded by a bunch of self-serving, smug, country club elitists? Please keep on this one, Mr. Benen.

Posted by: Conrads Ghost on February 15, 2009 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

"The senate is already incredibly undemocratic. Cows in Wyoming have more power in the senate than humans in more populace states. Add the filibuster and the entire idea of representative democracy is out the window. And yet we lamely accept.

"What would the founders think of it? They’d be aghast that such an obnoxious tradition (and tradition is all it is) could so impede the will of the people. Whatever it takes, we should shoot the damn thing in the heart!"

Excuse me, but the reality is that our founders specifically rejected a democracy in favor of a republic. Given the negative history associated with pure democracies, the founders—who really, really were concerned with protecting the rights of minorities, something we all can be very thankful for—had no problem with impeding the will of the people, thus our Constitution. Thus the way the Senate was constructed.

IMO, history suggests that the founders wouldn't have been all that unhappy with the need for a super-majority when it comes to such profoundly important legislation. The minority's threats worked and the negotiations took place. The legislation got passed. That's not a bad outcome.

Trust me, nobody here wants to live in a pure democracy. If we did, this web site would have been closed down years ago and some of us would have been arrested for crimes against the state.

Our system takes hard work. It was designed to be difficult.

Posted by: Nixon Did It on February 15, 2009 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

The author of this piece is being disingenuous to use the number of cloture votes to make a point. The number of votes does not necessarily mean that Republicans are "filibustering" more legislation than Democrats did in the past. It could man that Reid is moving more often to cut off debate to ram his liberal legislation through without thoughtful debate and amendments form the other side.

Where was Mr. Benen when Republicans controlled the House and the Senate, but we could not pass Bush's tort reform or his energy bill. Hmm. I bet he was silent. Worst piece of witting I have seen in awhile.

Posted by: scott on February 15, 2009 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

Great idea and I'm glad someone's finally bringing this out into the light again. The GOP use of the filibuster is nothing short of undemocratic and clearly breaks with framer's intent. I support it's existence as it was in the past- for extreme measures. But when abused as it has been something must be done to reform the situation.

Let's not kid ourselves and pretend the GOP won't kill the filibuster the minute the Democrats return to the minority - have we already forgotten their 'Nuclear Option'? I'm tired of playing the rational wimps- the Democrats need to show backbone and fight fire with fire.

Posted by: thehipi on February 15, 2009 at 9:42 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing about horrible filibuster rule. Take the rule away. All the Senate to close debate with a simple majority. Or possibly even allow the Vice President to vote in the case of a cloture vote tie. We can not run a government where a minority of Republican Senators are able to thwart every piece of legislation brought by this administration. Repubs pretend to negotiate for changes. Then they all vote against the legislation anyway. And finally they argue that the Democratic Congress is a do nothing body. That GOP behavior is the height of hypocrisy.

Posted by: Chuffed on February 15, 2009 at 11:29 PM | PERMALINK

"Changed their mind"

They changed their mind because they saw the actual legislation. Look, filibusters don't do a lot for your public perception, so if you're willing to stand for one, and you shouldn't, you will face a hurrainging in the polls the very next election, so it's not like they are going to thwart "every piece of legislation."

I agree with nobody, it is hypocritical for you donkeys now you are in power to oppose what you so willingly and easily used when out of power. And no, you did not stop "every piece of legislation," even though in those days you didn't even have an option of stopping a fillibuster with any number of votes. That is a ridiculous claim, as is predicting Republicans will do likewise. They will give Obama and the Democrat Congress the room the American people want them to be given. And anyways, Mrs. Collins door is always open.

Posted by: Jeremy Janson on February 15, 2009 at 11:38 PM | PERMALINK

Is filibuster really the biggest problem you can raise wrt the US senate?

What are the consequences of the US government downweighting the 16 most populous states so much in the US senate that these states' 68% of the US population only gets 32% of the senate vote? [1]

[1] www.stmartinsystems.com/070831_US_CofC_education_report_card.htm
www.stmartinsystems.com/070831_US_CofC_education_report_card.pdf

Posted by: gmkuhn on February 15, 2009 at 11:58 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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