Political Animal


April 17, 2012 10:57 AM Never Get Used to the Filibuster

By Ed Kilgore

One of this week’s best reads is Jason Zingerle’s wide-ranging interview with Rep. Barney Frank for New York magazine. Given the interviewee, it’s not surprising the piece is always interesting, often funny, and occasionally startling in its, well, “frankness.”

Since Frank has been in Congress for more than three decades and has experienced just about every built-in institutional barrier to change, you’d think an open-ended question about structural reforms would send hin into blue-skying or at least list-making. But no:

Are there structural reforms that you think need to take place? To get rid of the filibuster in the Senate.
Is that the only one? That’s the only one.

I’m among those who really get upset when people sort of internalize the recent routine use of the filibuster by Republicans to create a de facto 60-vote requirement for doing business in the Senate, as though it came down from Mount Sinai on stone tablets. It didn’t. It’s a revolutionary development in the empowerment of congressional minorities, of special utility to those who wish to obstruct progress. And it has a huge ripple effect on what happens in the House (as Frank indicates), the White House, and the country. We should never get used to it until it’s modified or gone.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Peter C on April 17, 2012 11:07 AM:

    The Senate ALREADY offers a huge advantage to the minority; it gives the tiny population of Wyoming an equally large representation in the Senate to that of the state of California.

    The easiest change to the filibuster rule would be to make those conducting the filibuster produce 40 votes every time they were requested to and to have it end when that side only musters 39 or fewer. Then, at 2 in the morning, the majority could call for a vote and make the minority show up. The current 'gentlemen's filibuster' (which requires no effort on the minority's behalf) has got to go.

  • Jamie on April 17, 2012 11:08 AM:

    Well on the brighter side, Bush didn't get to privatize Social security.

  • DAY on April 17, 2012 11:08 AM:

    Modify, but don't abolish.
    Its (infrequent) use should mean something, carry some weight. A bit like the Presidential Veto.

  • martin on April 17, 2012 11:26 AM:

    Yup, started my morning, again, by writing an email to "even the liberal" NPR about their inability to use the F word.

    This time, reporting on the Buffet Rule, they managed to point out that a majority was for it, but said 60 votes were needed because of the "rules of the Senate." Filibuster was never mentioned, nor, of course, that the bill was not voted on. Neither did they make clear the bill was blocked from being debated or voted on.

    As I keep pointing out to them, it is factually incorrect to say the bill was voted down or any such thing. Every now and then they will report correctly after a complaint, then they just go back to their lazy shorthand.

  • zandru on April 17, 2012 11:27 AM:

    Abolish the Senate altogether. Like the man said, it's an undemocratic vestige of the 1700s, when "states" considered themselves to be co-equals of the Federal Government. Hell, as originally constituted, state legislatures would APPOINT their Senators.

    True, without the "moderating" (e.g., delaying) influence of the Senate, government policy would risk radical swings whenever the Presidency or House (now "Congress") changed hands - but this would make it clear how important it is to participate in politics and, at the absolute minimum, VOTE.

  • Mitt's Magic Underpants on April 17, 2012 11:29 AM:

    Well, you'll get your wish as soon as the Rs take over the Senate. That will be the end of the f-buster (until Ds take over again, if ever).

  • howard on April 17, 2012 11:34 AM:

    there are many reporters who don't seem to know that the filibuster wasn't the norm until recently, although you would think they would ask themselves why the vice president gets to cast a tie-breaking vote in the senate if you need 3/5 vote to pass anything.

  • Ron Byers on April 17, 2012 11:35 AM:

    Don't kid yourselves Senate Democrats aren't interested in getting rid of the filibuster any more than the Republicans. It gives them great cover. They can take money from the big boys while telling the rest of us they tried.

    I suspect the growing divide between the ever more parlimentary style of the House and the filibuster bound Senate will eventually lead to a Constitutional crisis. The Senate will lose in that fight.

  • gdb on April 17, 2012 12:06 PM:

    It is also why some Progressives advised BHO that job 1 upon his election was to get rid of the filibuster in 3/09. Had Senate Dems done so when they for sure had the votes, the political landscape would be very different today. And as preserving it for when Dems are in the minority--- forgettaboutit. Repubs will do so in a NY minute when it suits their political purpose.

  • kevo on April 17, 2012 12:19 PM:

    We have witnessed abusive political characters of the Republican stripe utterly devastate any standard of normal operating procedure within our august legislative institutions.

    Republicans project their myopic vision of America upon all of us when they are allowed to run amok in the halls of our Congress. We'll get nowhere in terms of solutions to current problems, let alone as we work for improved futures for all Americans, so long as Republicans continue to get elected!

    Vote the Republican Rascals Out in 2012! -Kevo

  • rrk1 on April 17, 2012 12:20 PM:

    As has been noted, the fillibuster will be gone, or significantly changed, just as soon as the Rethugs take control of the Senate.

    Count me as someone who thinks the undemocratic Senate is an anachronism. Get rid of it. A worthless, exclusive millionaires club that empowers low population states. A parliamentary system would be fine. Even the Brits have trimmed the horns of the House of Lords, or is it the House of Walking Cadavers.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on April 17, 2012 12:54 PM:

    Don't worry. When the Republicans take over the Senate, getting rid of the filibuster will be the first order of business Mitch McConnell takes up. And then it'll be on to destroying the safety net, the New Deal and the Great Society.

  • Luke Coley on April 17, 2012 12:57 PM:

    It's not just the filibuster, it's the infernal motion to proceed that's just as bad. It makes no sense to anyone that a bill can be voted out of committee and still not automatically come up for consideration on the Senate floor.

  • Dave on April 17, 2012 3:14 PM:

    If they can't get rid of the filibuster, at least make Senators actually filibuster - stand there and keep talking for a few days and let the voters see their elected obstructionists on c-span.

  • Jay Ackroyd on April 17, 2012 11:07 PM:

    There is, I believe, a failure to recognize that the Democratic leadership is actually just fine with the current state of affairs. You'll recall that the Republicans were ready to run the nuclear option over the appointments of four federal judges.

    And does anyone really believe that if the GOP takes the Senate that the Dems will be allowed (or will choose) to shut down the legislative and appointment process?

    The Democratic leadership does not want popular measures, like single payer health care or fiscal expansion, to come to an up or down vote. I mean, I think you can't help but come to that conclusion. This is the party of the MPAA and the banksters, not of movement liberalism, and they really prefer not to have to cast votes documenting that.

    (And, yes, I mean you, Ed Kilgore.)

  • Fritz Strand on April 18, 2012 9:48 AM:

    Reid has passed twice on efforts to reform the filibuster. It is clear to me that he is providing cover for a deeply corrupted institution.

  • Hypocrite alert on April 18, 2012 11:00 PM:

    Funny how they loved when they used it to block Bush form appointing judges. Ahh, the hypocrisy.