Political Animal


November 09, 2012 12:25 PM Is Iron Hot For Filibuster Reform?

By Ed Kilgore

Proponents of filibuster reform know that it’s a perfectly logical idea for which the Senate never quite seems ready. But the recent abuse of the device by Republicans, aimed clearly at creating a ubiquitous 60-vote threshold for enacting legislation (or confirming appointments), has so disabled the Upper Chamber with such grave consequences that Democrats, at least, seem to be ready to take the plunge, or so indicates Harry Reid, who is signaling he may impose at least partial reform as part of the rules established for the next Congress.

Matt Yglesias suggests today that even Republicans may not go to the mats to save the filibuster weapon:

[T]his winter really might be the best time to make the change. In part that’s because several new Senators, including Chris Murphy and Angus King have already said they want reform.
But it’s also because the partisan stars are aligned correctly for it at a time when the Senate Republicans minority isn’t the main impediment to progressive reform. With the GOP firmly in control of the House of Representatives, filibuster reform won’t entail card check or cap and trade or any other huge legislative initiatives. What it will mean instead is simply that Barack Obama’s appointees get confirmed. That would be good for America. But it’s also something that I think both parties can accept.

Maybe Matt’s right, though I have a hard time imagining Mitch McConnell willingly giving up his main source of power, regardless of whether his party really needs it. But assuming Reid’s talking about imposing reform via a rules change, it can be upheld by a simple majority vote in the Senate. So the big question is whether he can prevent Democratic defections. And without a doubt there are Democratic senators who think of their own power as enhanced by the theoretical opportunity to gum up the works.

So it may take some grassroots pressure on Democrats to make this happen—unless Harry’s already counted noses and it’s all but a done deal.

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.


  • dweb on November 09, 2012 12:35 PM:

    Good LORD is this needed. This is a fight we REALLY need to make. If the Dems can lead this battle and get the Senate working more effectively, it will have a huge impact on the mid-terms and that is going to involve some tough Senate seat battles, plus the fight for House majority.

  • Peter C on November 09, 2012 12:40 PM:

    Yes! We must do this.

    We are heading for 2 more years of gridlock, because the Republicans will make sure that the House does nothing good. But, we have to HIGHLIGHT that they are the problem by getting bills passed in the Senate. Then it will be clear that Republican ideology is what is holding the country back, not a lack of ideas or some hard-to-understand congressionsl dysfunction.

  • Abc on November 09, 2012 12:41 PM:

    I have always thought that filibusters of appointments should be considered unconstitutional. The consent clause, unlike the treaty clause, has no supermajority requirement. 41 Senators should not be able to block the vote. Unfortunately past Senates have been willing to adopt rules that let a minority of 40 (used to be 34) block the Senate from fulfilling its Constitutional role.

  • T2 on November 09, 2012 12:50 PM:

    thank god Joe LIEberman is out. Any Dem that doesn't go along with this should be primaried. Time for hard ball.

  • neil b on November 09, 2012 12:52 PM:

    "May take" some grassroots pressure? Those establishmentarian, comfortable squishes are going to need white-hot fire on the feet to budge.

  • Fr33d0m on November 09, 2012 1:06 PM:

    Does it really matter what Mitch McConnell wants here? We have 51 votes.

  • cmdicely on November 09, 2012 1:15 PM:

    Matt Yglesias suggests today that even Republicans may not go to the mats to save the filibuster weapon

    What mats? Senate rule changes on the first day of the session are adopted with a simple majority. Where is the leverage on this issue?

  • MBunge on November 09, 2012 1:16 PM:

    There is no need to reform the filibuster. Just make them actually filibuster. This is how it's supposed to work.

    1. A bill is filibustered.

    2. The filibuster prevents the Senate from voting on that bill AND KEEPS ALL OTHER SENATE VOTES ON HOLD AS WELL.

    3. Pressure builds, not just from those interested in the initial bill but from everyone else who wants the Senate to do something.

    4. That pressure produces some sort of resolution.

    The problem is that now if there aren't enough votes to overcome the threat of a filibuster, the Senate just lets a bill drop and moves on.

    There's no need to change the rules. Senate leaders just have to care more about their country than about comity.


  • c u n d gulag on November 09, 2012 1:47 PM:

    Stand, and deliver - and KEEP delivering - or, sit down, and STFU!!!

  • David in NY on November 09, 2012 2:08 PM:

    Reid isn't talking about getting rid of the filibuster, just getting rid of the "motion to proceed."

    Does anybody think this will be a practical improvement?

  • bdop4 on November 09, 2012 2:08 PM:

    If Reid doesn't act on this (or more likely, make meaningless changes that can be easily gamed by the minority), the Democratic Party will lose a HUGE amount of momentum and will have no one to blame but themselves if nothing is accomplished over the next two years.

    Everyone needs to call their senators and demand meaningful filibuster reform.

  • rrk1 on November 09, 2012 2:55 PM:

    Between the timidity of Obama and Reid over the past four years it's a bloody miracle anything at all got done. Both must find their cahones and reinstall them if the message of this election is not lost as it was after the 2008 mandate to the Democrats. The key to the 2014 mid-terms is fillibuster reform. NOW!!

    I have no idea how getting rid of "the motion to proceed" would improve matters. Requiring the actual filibuster, rather than only the threat of one, to proceed would reduce its use as a tactic for delay or for killing a bill. I agree that any Democrat who doesn't support meaningful filibuster reform needs severe discipline. A public caning on a bare bottom seems appropriate.

  • OKDem on November 09, 2012 3:02 PM:

    "It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble, it's what we know that ain't so." Will Rogers

    These are the rules of the Senate: http://www.senate.gov/reference/reference_index_subjects/Rules_and_Procedure_vrd.htm

    This is Rule XXII - Note that the point is that to be subject to filibuster and cloture the motion must be debatable.

    One of the abuses has been to filibuster the Motion to proceed to consider. Reid is particularly annoyed by this ruse and seems to what to make the motion non-debatable. Motion to proceed is used to bring a bill, resolution or other matter to the floor without unanimous consent, so it is a perversion of the intent to even allow it to be debated, let alone filibustered.

    Nominations are a debatable motions and so open to filibuster. They would need to be broken out in the rules for special treatment with cloture requiring half plus 1 or such, which would be reasonable since they are treated separately from bills in the Constitution, as are treaties which require super-majorities for ratification.

    Just making this changes would render the filibuster much more manageable.

  • Doug on November 09, 2012 4:09 PM:

    Second OKDem's motion. Can we have a ruling from the chair?
    Actually, I'd be happy to settle for MBunge's idea of simply requiring an actual filibuster. Hopefully, it would force the MSM to replace "the Senate refused to pass..." with the more accurate "Senate Republicans filibustered...".
    I wonder how many of those "independent" voters* would STILL have voted for their respective Republican candidates had they known just who was responsible for the gridlock in DC?

    *aka: non-batsh*t crazy Republicans and honest-to-FSM undecideds

  • rwgate on November 09, 2012 5:32 PM:

    One of the reasons that Democrats have expressed for not eliminating the filibuster (or severely restricting it's use), is that by doing so, we lose the right to filibuster ourselves should we lose the Senate. Since the rules are set at the beginning of each new Congress, nothing would stop a Republican Senate from gutting the filibuster on day one, should they take control. Why would we expect the Republicans to respect current Senate rules, if by killing the filibuster, they could disenfranchise the minority?

    The President will probably have several SCOTUS nominations coming up, and a boatload of judicial and administrative positions to fill, which require Senate confirmation. If Republicans are allowed to continue the filibuster, it's going to be a long four years.

  • Doug on November 09, 2012 8:24 PM:

    rwgate, I believe one reason may have simply been "tradition", which used to be held in a lot higher esteem.
    The Senate has almost always had a higher reputation that the House and one of the reasons is, I think, because certain standards of conduct, at least inside the Senate chamber, were not only established, but maintained or forcefully dealt with when they weren't.
    Then there's that "partisan" thing. The whole idea of a functioning democracy relies on the vast majority agreeing to the rules by which that democracy operates. Changing the rules of the Senate solely in order to attain some political goal flies in the face of the whole idea of agreed upon rules that both sides operate under and, more importantly, by which both sides are willing to limit their actions.
    Remember, at the beginning of a new Congressional session, the Senate can, by a simple majority vote, impose ANY rules on its operations.
    ANY rules...

  • Thisby on November 09, 2012 8:46 PM:

    One of the other egregious rules that needs to go is the ability to place a "secret hold" on any item of consideration under the sun. I suppose that sometimes there is a reason to place a hold on certain legislation, but a "secret hold" is anti-American. We need to know who feels it necessary to gum up the works and we need to know why.

  • Andy on November 10, 2012 9:01 PM:

    I hope the current efforts at filibuster reform are successful, for the sake of our democracy...explained better (in cartoon form) here: www.cartoonomist.com