Political Animal


May 11, 2012 1:43 PM Death To Phil A. Buster!

By Ed Kilgore

I can certainly empathize with the righteous indignation expressed by Jamelle Bouie (and doubtless many others) towards Politico’s Manu Raju for the breezy false-equivalency assumptions made in a piece on Harry Reid’s “regrets” for failing to pursue filibuster reform. (Raju called the filibuster “a tool that has been employed with growing frequency by both parties over the years.”). Jamelle has a good chart showing how massively the deployment of the filibuster has risen since Republicans lost control of the Senate in 2006. I’d go him one better and offer the colloquial analogy that Republicans claiming they are just responding to Democratic use of the filibuster in the recent past are like someone who calls in an air strike to blow up a neighbor’s house because of suspicions that the teenaged kid living there keyed their car.

But lest we focus on Raju at the expense of the actual story he is reporting, it’s good and important news that Reid has finally come around to recogning the destructive nature of a 60-vote requirement in the Senate, and he should be encouraged to join with the younger senators he now admits were right and do something about it. For those who favor hanging onto the filibuster as it has become as a safegurd against a Republican-controlled Senate working with a Republican-controlled House and a President Mitt Romney in 2013 to do terrible things, I’d note once again that their most horrendous policies are all neatly bundled in a Ryan Budget which can undoubtedly be implemented using budget reconciliation procedures that make filibusters unavailable. The brief campaign by some Democrats during the “nuclear option” debate over judicial filibusters in 2005 to defend the procedure—most memorably through the Alliance for Justice’s Schoolhouse Rock-inspired “Phil A. Buster” ads—was never truly an excuse for the abuses Republicans subsequently introduced. You can make a good, substantive case for maintaining a more limited form of the filibuster, and particularly for permitting them in the case of lifetime appointments to the federal bench.

But personally, I’d prefer to avoid the confusion and go after Phil A. Buster entirely, if the opportunity actually presents itself. I’m with Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein on this; you can constantly rationalize a deeply anti-democratic system on grounds of imagining scenarios where a brave minority of progressive senators are the only barrier to horrific right-wing policies. But you don’t have to imagine how a filibuster-wielding Republican minority can bring the country to a virtual standstill. We’re living in that world right now. It’s time for it to change once and for all.

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.


  • c u n d gulag on May 11, 2012 2:05 PM:

    Yes, enough with Phil A. Buster - and Maura Dasame.

    While R's march in unison with Prussian precision, Democrats have waaaaaay too may DINO Red Dog's (I can't call them "Blue" - 'cause there ain't nothing blue 'bout 'em) who stray off the reservation to find who'll offer them the best deal, to stick together.

    Sure, Lieberman left and became an "Independent" a few years ago.
    And Bayh went bye-bye.
    And now Nelson's going, going, soon to be gone.
    But for every one that leaves, it seems like there's a Joe Manchin or two that takes their place.

    Maybe, and that's a big maybe, if this country can live through another few years of Republican majority rule, those that survive will finally figure out that putting R's in power for economic and national security reasons, is like putting your private parts in a blender to maximize sexual potential.

  • MelanieN on May 11, 2012 2:07 PM:

    Why don't we make a smaller start by eliminating the rule that allows a single Senator to hold up presidential nominations indefinitely, for any reason or none at all?

  • JMG on May 11, 2012 2:15 PM:

    How about this reform. Any Senator who votes to support more than one filibuster per year is automatically sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. Tough but fair, I say.

  • Mitt's Magic Underpants on May 11, 2012 2:15 PM:

    Isn't that just like liberals -- wait until it doesn't matter (actually helps the Rs) to take action.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on May 11, 2012 2:18 PM:

    The 60 vote requirement filibuster will be ended as soon as republicans have a majority in the senate. And then reinstated if the democrats ever regain a majority.

  • nemisten on May 11, 2012 2:44 PM:

    Rest assured, if the GOP takes back the Senate this Nov, the conservative will quickly kill the evil, undemocratic fillabuster [anyone remember "We just want an 'up or down' vote" or the "Nuclear Option"?].

    And, of course, being good sports, Dem's will bend over.

    Until, of course, Dem's take back the Senate, at which point the fillabuster will once again be Democracy's only weapon against tyranny and oppression of liberty.

  • Peter C on May 11, 2012 3:06 PM:

    We need to fix gerrymandering too.


    And election equipment.

  • Kathryn on May 11, 2012 3:17 PM:

    Beating a dead horse here, but as nemisten mentioned we heard constantly the refrain, We just want an up or down vote, when the Dems used the filibuster on judicial appointments rarely compared to Yertle, Inc. I have never heard a single Democrat ever say that in the past three years of record filibustering and I watch waaaay too much cable news. Why the hell not, It borders on political malpractice.

  • cmdicely on May 11, 2012 5:08 PM:

    You can make a good, substantive case for maintaining a more limited form of the filibuster, and particularly for permitting them in the case of lifetime appointments to the federal bench.

    Some evidence is needed to support this assertion.

  • Doug on May 11, 2012 8:59 PM:

    Personally, I'm in favor of keeping the filibuster.
    The basic problem the filibuster is SUPPOSED to address, as best I can tell from its' origins and previous usage, was to delay legislation. The aim of the filibusterer may have been to halt a particular piece of legislation, but that rarely happened. Once the filibuster ended, the opposed legislation was then voted on and, usually, passed.
    What used to happen in filibusters was that a particular Senator, or Senators, held the floor until exhaustion, or bodily functions, necessitated stopping. If more than one Senator was involved, the whole effort could take up days of the Senate's time, which is why filibusters were much rarer when EVERY Senator suffered.
    If THAT "suffering" could be brought back, I'd say keep the filibuster as it currently is. If not, then limit it. I believe in the UK, the House of Lords can reject bills sent up from the Commons twice; after that, presuming the bill again passes the Commons, it becomes law without the Lords' assent. Perhaps something along those lines could be adopted?
    A Senator places a hold on a nomination and a vote is held of those Senators present. If a majority of those present vote against the hold, then the hold is maintained for a set period of time. At the end of that period, another vote is held. If, again, a majority votes against the hold, that counts as the second attempt. After the required number of days pass, a FINAL vote is held. If a majority of those present again vote AGAINST the hold, then an up-or-down vote is scheduled and a simple majority is all that's needed to pass the legislation. The same procedure would apply to a filibuster.
    IF the hold/filibuster is being done solely for political obstruction, I don't imagine most would last past the first round of voting. On the other hand, should the objection to the nomination/bill have another source, this gives the Senator/s time to lobby to gain support for the hold/filibuster. Still, whatever the reason, there would be a definite time limit allowed for those opposing a nomination/bill to try and gain enough votes to prevent it passing. If they can't, the nomination/bill passes.

    cmdicely, the ONLY lifetime appointments in this country are for Federal judges. Once appointed, we're stuck with them. Impeachment IS available but, especially with our present hyper-partisan GOP, I don't think it's a good idea to let the bestowing of life appointments become even easier than it is.