Political Animal


November 28, 2012 9:58 AM Filibustering Non-Amendable Measures

By Ed Kilgore

We’ve heard quite a bit now that blaming Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans for the astronomical rise in filibusters is unfair because such tactics were made necessary by Harry Reid’s “tyrannical” tactics restricting the right to offer amendments to bills. Poor Mitch: he didn’t want to radically change the United States Senate into a legislative body with a supermajority requirement for all measures; he was forced to destroy the Senate’s ability to function.

In response to this claim, Jonathan Bernstein made a very pertinent point at WaPo:

If only there were some way to test that theory…
Wait, there is!
After all, there are no amendments on confirmation votes. So if a lack of amendments was the main reason for the increase in cloture, then these votes should have been unaffected.
Yet, of course, filibusters of confirmation votes spiked up in 2009 — particularly on executive-branch nominations but on judicial nominations, too.
Basically, before Barack Obama was elected, filibusters against executive-branch nominees were rare; now, they extend to pretty much every nominee.

Reid’s tactics may or may not represent a restriction of minority rights in the Senate. But it’s clear they are more of an excuse than a justification for the GOP effort to expand the filibuster into an actual or potential weapon to thwart the majority on every Senate vote.

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 November 28, 2012 10:17 AM:

    "Basically, before Barack Obama was elected, filibusters against executive-branch nominees were rare; now, they extend to pretty much every nominee."

    In the words of that great American (and one who had far, far, more 'military experience' than almost anyone currently in either house of Congress), Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. - "Wayall - SOOPRISE, SOOPRISE, SOOPRISE!!!"

    Oh, if only we had a MSM that did more than opine!
    Only now, we have "Opinionated Reporters," instead of "Investigative Reporters."

  • sjw on November 28, 2012 10:20 AM:

    Democrats need to have the courage of their convictions and faith in their ability to make more gains in Congress 2014/2016: change the damn filibuster rule.

    P.S. Why is the evil parliamentarian genius McConnell pushing so hard to keep things as they are? Because he knows that the Republicans will almost certainly remain the minority party in the Senate for years to come.

  • boatboy_srq on November 28, 2012 10:54 AM:

    If "Big Gubmint cain't do nuttin'" is your perspective on public service, then it stands to reason that any opportunity you have to ensure that outcome - be it incompetence as a department head, ineffective policies as pResident, or refusal to allow actual votes as Congressperson - should be taken.

    McConnell et al may not be governing effectively, but they're incomparably effective at converting the perception of the GOTea - that government is the problem - into fact.

    Seventeen years ago, Gingrich engineered the "government shutdown" based on opposition to specific policies. Today, McConnell seems committed to shutting down government just to shut it down.

  • Daryl McCullough on November 28, 2012 11:38 AM:

    The use of amendments can itself be an obstructionist move: Some amendments are added for the sole purpose of making the bill less attractive to its supporters.

    I'm not sure whether there is a foolproof way to distinguish that kind of amendment from a legitimate amendment, though.

  • Neil Bates on November 28, 2012 12:01 PM:

    Even if they can't reform the filibuster enough or get rid of it, the Senate must get rid of "holds." I can imagine an excuse for giving "a minority" some power to block (but it should be harder.) There is no excuse for giving such powers to any one Senator.

  • schtick on November 28, 2012 12:13 PM:

    A filibuster on nominees, especially, should have the name of the representative on the filibuster. Maybe they should be forced to give a the reason why, but a vote on the nominee should be mandatory after 30 days and/or the limit should be only 3 members can filibuster. That would mean the longest time before a vote on a nominee would be 90 days.

  • mb on November 28, 2012 12:53 PM:

    Also, filibusterers should have to wear their underwear on the outside while they read their Ayn Rand fanfic into the record.

  • Josef K on November 28, 2012 1:23 PM:

    This is just frustrating. And disheartening. Extremely disheartening. To the point of thinking of taking a three-hemlock-cocktail lunch.

    I maintain that the President would be perfectly within his rights to present his nominees, then go ahead and tell them all to report to work 60 days later unless the Senate actually votes them down. The fact the Senate has these arcane, idiotic rules it uses to hamstring itself and keep itself from actually acting isn't his concern.

    This has got to stop, one way or the other. Personally I'd pull the Nuclear Option myself, but then I'm seriously disenchanted with these twits just now.

  • BJ smith on November 28, 2012 3:39 PM:

    I am so with Josef & mb. Repubs are acting like grammer school kids. Hey you numskulls, you lost!

  • boatboy_srq on November 28, 2012 4:19 PM:

    @neil bates & josef k:

    Part of the problem is that the Senate rules are actually pretty manageable - if all the Senators are there to actually get something done. The problem (and the one big problem that the writers of said rules never took into account) is that we have an entire political party dedicated to getting nothing at all done - unless it's some piece of their dismantling of the federal construct - as a matter of principle (if you can call it that). Nobody who wrote any of the basic documentation responsible for the operation of the US ever imagined, or accounted for, any political movement aimed exclusively at preventing, inhibiting or otherwise disallowing Washington (or state/city/local seats of government) from functioning. If the Dems had tried this kind of approach during Shrub's GWoT, they'd have been arrested and shipped off to Guantanamo; if this were the private sector every single Teahadist legislator would have been fired in very short order.

    I think it's time the GOTea explained, in plain English, why it is that not doing a job should be considered the responsible way to get that job done.

    Until then, though, let's make them actually filibuster, in person, out loud, in chicken outfits, with Westboro Baptist sandwich boards around their necks. And let's make them sign their name, three times, with Dolores Umbridge's quill, on the holds they place on appointees.

  • Doug on November 28, 2012 5:55 PM:

    McConnell is squawking because, if the filibuster rules are returned to what they used to be, the Republicans will have to own their obstruction.
    C'mon folks, Republicans taking responsibility for their actions?