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December 12, 2012 5:29 PM The Heritage Filibuster Flub

By Daniel Luzer

Filibusters, which allow member of the minority party to slow down and even prevent legislation supported by the majority, are a source of incredible gridlock in Washington. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has vowed to change that, by making filibuster more like it used to be. What’s wrong with that? Well let’s ask the Heritage Foundation.

According to a piece by Sam Stein at the Huffington Post:

Reid has been pushing for a series of changes that would preserve the right of the minority party to hold up legislative matters via a 60-vote threshold, but would make it harder to obstruct Senate business in this manner. The Nevada Democrat has called for the elimination of one such cloture vote at the beginning of the amend-and-debate period, while maintaining the cloture vote at the end of that period. He has also sought changes that would force lawmakers who engage in a filibuster to actually perform the traditional act of standing on the Senate floor and talking.

It’s that last line here that’s important. Reid wants to change the rule so that when a filibuster happens and the minority party can block a cloture motion (which ends debate and brings the law to a vote), the Senate would then go into extended debate. And then to sustain it at least one of those 41 minority senators would have to stand up and talk about it, day and night, to prevent the vote. He wouldn’t be able to suspend debate; he’d just have to keep going until someone gave up. Only when he stopped talking could the majority ask for a vote to move forward. That’s an original filibuster, requiring stamina and real conviction.

Under current rules, however, those in the minority can simply say, essentially, we are now in filibuster, find 60 votes to end it, bitches. And the legislation is dead.

Some conservative groups like it this way, because in the absence of the generous filibuster rules we’d likely see more Democrat-sponsored legislation become law. And so the Heritage Foundation put up this Tumblr message:

MrSmith

Wait, what?

As anyone who’s ever seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington knows, this is from the scene where Jefferson Smith, played by James Stewart, attempts to postpone an appropriations bill proposed by corrupt politicians and prove his innocence on the Senate floor.

Harry Reid is not trying to kill the filibuster and “Silence Mr. Smith.” His aim is to is restore the Mr. Smith filibuster.

When a reader responded that the image didn’t make any sense as far as the Reid reform plan goes, Heritage responded.

theheritagefoundation: Sometimes the simplest examples make the best points.

Sigh. But… that… example… doesn’t… illustrate a relevant point.

It’s worth pointing out that filibuster reform opposition isn’t really a philosophical point. Republicans like generous filibuster rules when the Democrats are in power. Democrats like having a lot of filibuster power when Republicans are in power.

We get it Heritage, but don’t use Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, find a meaningful picture or leave it alone.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer
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Comments

  • emily on December 13, 2012 2:27 AM:

    Classic. Jim DeMint is the perfect Republican hack to head up the hackiest of all Republican "think" tanks. Did no one honestly look at that picture and wonder, "gee, maybe this should make sense"?

  • Ron Mexico on December 13, 2012 11:07 AM:

    Bob Dole spearheaded reforming the filibuster in the 1970s because the anti-civil rights bill talking filibusters made the Senate look ridiculous...and the Senate takes itself very, very seriously. But it has been well documented that the Republicans have abused the non-talking filibuster in historically unprecedented ways.

    I'm sure Senators believe that there is some issue of deep principle here, of the our-farts-don't-stink variety. But we should be clear that this is happening because Republicans have abused the filibuster, not because Democrats are power-mad fascists...

  • Josef K on December 13, 2012 11:32 AM:

    Sigh. But… that… example… doesn’t… illustrate a relevant point.

    You're expecting Heritage to address "relevant" points, on this or any issue? The place has been a laughingstock since at least 1990; prior to that it looked good only because the Cold War was still in swing and it had the John Birch Society to compare against.