There is a strong political wind blowing against the filibuster in the Senate.
The filibuster is a practice that arguably protects the rights of the minority in the Senate by allowing unlimited debate on most measures—talking a bill to death—unless the bill gets 60 votes, a practice known as cloture, to shut off debate. Some contend the threat of filibuster also encourages bipartisanship, which is good.
The debate over the filibuster is one that has always generated more heat than light, but in today’s climate where civility is a sign of weakness and timidity, the debate generates even more hypocrisy, hyperbole, disingenuousness, and nasty partisanship.
Senate Democrats, along with the President, who used to support the filibuster, are now taking the debate to new heights, or lows, by accusing those supporting the filibuster of racism. The race card is being played by Senator Elizabeth Warren, among others, and her friends in the media. They contend that the filibuster was created as a parliamentary procedure for blocking anti-slavery legislation and is a “relic of the Jim Crow era.”
A little history sometimes clears the air of hyperbolic pollutants. The use of the tactic can be traced back to the Roman Republic and a debate in the Senate over tax collectors pitting Marcus Cato against rival Julius Caesar in 48 BC. It’s an interesting tale but not relevant. Continue reading →
The national press corps held its collective breath on Monday night as members of the United States Senate wrangled over whether the holiest of holies – the filibuster rule – would be changed or scrapped altogether by the 55 Democrats in the majority.
This is known as the “nuclear option” and it is generally threatened by the Majority Leader – Republican or Democrat – when the Minority Leader – Republican or Democrat – successfully uses the existing filibuster rules to slow progress on legislation or nominations to a crawl.
The modern version of a filibuster can be broken if the majority can muster 60 votes. As the AP’s Dave Espo wrote: “While a simple majority vote is required to confirm presidential appointees, it takes 60 votes to end delaying tactics and proceed to a yes-or-no vote.” Continue reading →
It didn’t snow in DC on Wednesday so I spent the entire afternoon watching Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) filibustering the nomination of John Brennan to be the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Sen. Paul’s issue wasn’t with Brennan; it was with the refusal of President Barack Obama to describe his position on using drones to kill people generally, and Americans in particular, on U.S. soil. Continue reading →
Legislation recently has been introduced to change the way the United States Senate conducts its business. That legislation calls for ending the use of the filibuster in Senate deliberations. I agree that the filibuster rule should be changed. I do not agree that the right change is to end its use. Instead, I would argue that the requirements for stopping a filibuster should be made more stringent. Continue reading →
Legislative battles sometimes produce unlikely victims. After clashing with Republicans for months, Democrats appear poised to win a major partisan victory on health care.
Yet while triumph could be imminent, some liberal lawmakers and pundits want another scalp. Get rid of the Senate filibuster, they say. It’s an outmoded procedure that allows a minority of 41 votes to stop legislation. Like the spittoon and the handlebar mustache, it’s just another anachronistic piece of congressional history. These “reformers” say the Senate should operate more like the House, where a simple majority regularly does whatever it pleases.
But here’s an inconvenient truth. The Senate wasn’t designed to operate like a smaller version of the House. And changing the filibuster rules would be a major mistake, not only resulting in more ideologically extreme legislation, but also changing the very purpose of the upper body in our constitutional system.