Join 3,514 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Harry Reid Endorses New Filibuster Reform Proposal
November 16, 2012 5:53 PM   Subscribe

As the least-productive Congress in a generation draws to a close, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has spoken in support of a new proposal to reform the filibuster. The proposed changes would not eliminate the filibuster, but would restore the talking filibuster, which requires that the opposition explain their objections and keep talking in order to delay a vote on the bill under consideration.

Filibuster reform has been discussed frequently over the last few years. The Senate can vote at the start of a new Congress to change its rules, which requires only a simple majority vote. When the 112th Congress began in 2010, there was substantial support from the majority party for filibuster reform, but the bill ultimately failed to receive the votes needed for passage. At the start of the second session of the 112th Congress, Senator Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reached an informal agreement that would limit the number of filibusters and provide more opportunities for the minority party to offer amendments. The Democrats have been frustrated by the substantial increase in the number of cloture motions filed since they regained control of the Senate in 2007 ("Motions Filed"), while the Republicans have complained about abuse of the amendments process to limit minority input.

When we hear about filibusters, many of us think of the rousing speech from "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", Huey Long's infamous soliloquies, or Bernie Sanders's (I-VT) 2010 filibuster.

Disclaimer: Senator Sanders signed my copy of his book "The Speech", a transcript of his December 2010 filibuster.

Previously.
posted by wintermind (54 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nothing would make me happier than seeing some junior republican senator on CSPAN at 3:30 am reading from a phonebook.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 6:05 PM on November 16, 2012 [49 favorites]


It would be nice to be able to put obstruction in visual form for the nightly news, but every step towards making obstruction harder also means the Republicans can pass more next time they are in power.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:12 PM on November 16, 2012


Do we all measure Congressional "productivity" the same way?

Perhaps gridlock is the best we can hope for.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:13 PM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


*West Wing theme rolls*
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:23 PM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


It would be nice to be able to put obstruction in visual form for the nightly news, but every step towards making obstruction harder also means the Republicans can pass more next time they are in power.

Maybe, but they've certainly gone out of their way to make it worth killing.
posted by Artw at 6:29 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


every step towards making obstruction harder also means the Republicans can pass more next time they are in power.

I don't think you'd find any shortage of passionate Democrats who'd be willing to pull an all-nighter for something they believe in.

This "let's just say the word 'filibuster' and go home" is what allows Republicans to abuse it.
posted by Aquaman at 6:34 PM on November 16, 2012 [32 favorites]


Nothing will change.
posted by wrapper at 6:39 PM on November 16, 2012


Do we all measure Congressional "productivity" the same way?

Perhaps gridlock is the best we can hope for.


I'd prefer my elected officials work for me, since I'm paying them to do so.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:39 PM on November 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


Obama must kill the debt limit.

Imagine the explosions if both happened.
posted by Artw at 6:43 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ok I haven't read about this in a while but as far as I remember filibusters are amazingly easy to do under current rules. Rules not ensconced in the constitution by the way.

All a senator has to do is file an intent to filibuster then go home. The supporters of the filibuster DON'T have to show up to support it, or do anything really.

Those who would stop or oppose the filibuster must then have enough people present, as actually in the Senate chambers, to vote the filibuster down. 60 live people.

So some clown, files intent, goes home for the weekend, his supporters all goof off and laugh, while those who would stop the filibuster have to actually show up in chamber and garner 60 votes to overturn it.

THAT IS WHAT HAS TO CHANGE. The onus of voting the (absentee) filibuster down falls on the members who want to vote it down to be present to do so not vice-versa.

A simple change could be as easy as having a majority of PRESENT members having the ability to vote it down. It would force supporters of the filibuster to at least BE THERE when the vote was cast. And it would also encourage participation in the process of governing.

Fight for what you believe in.
posted by Max Power at 6:46 PM on November 16, 2012 [43 favorites]


Seems like this would have been a fine idea to pursue in, say, 2009. Preferably right after the ridiculous "our priority is a one term president, make this Obama's Waterloo," etc. comments debuted. Not so much when Republicans have a majority in the House, likely for the next decade.
posted by Rhaomi at 7:04 PM on November 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


Secret holds and absentee filibusters are what have been going wrong in the Senate since they were introduced.

The purpose of a filibuster wasn't that you needed 60 votes to get anything done -- it was that you needed Senators to stay in the building, talking until their voices were gone and practically sleeping on cots in the aisles to PREVENT a majority from closing debate and putting a bill to a vote.
posted by chimaera at 7:05 PM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


I totally agree with getting rid of the secret hold. Talk or vote -- that's what we need.
posted by BentFranklin at 7:20 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


When we hear about filibusters, many of us think of the rousing speech from "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"

So does Greg Sargent, and he's against it.
Malarkey.

The idea that Republicans would surrender if only they were forced to stand up and fight for their views is, well, totally divorced from the reality of what politicians are like. Republicans — any minority party, on almost any issue — would be very happy to hold the floor indefinitely. It’s free publicity for them. And they care little that nothing else can get done in the meantime. They’re in the minority; the things they want aren’t going to happen anyway!

That’s why it’s the majority party that benefits from avoiding live, talking, filibusters. Indeed, under current rules, the majority could force a live filibuster at any time; there’s just no point in doing it. The demise of live filibusters isn’t what caused the explosion of filibusters, and forcing live filibusters by itself isn’t going to end anything.
Steve Benen thinks that lowering the threshold for votes from 60 to 57 or 55 might be more effective. I think he's right.
posted by maudlin at 7:23 PM on November 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


I love that this would force them to talk. Love it.


"Well, basically we stand in opposition to this bill because we strongly believe the President is a Muslim, a Communist, a Socialist, and a Fascist, who hates babies and old people and Christians and freedom and wants to make all our children into homosexual atheists. Also, he's not even American... I mean... just look at him."



"...And that's why you are filibustering this bill...."

"YEP. Also, we strongly suspect the President has cooties."



"...that provides jobs for veterans."


"YEP."




"Please, do go on."
posted by louche mustachio at 7:34 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


The problem with the filibuster mostly has to do with how Romanticized it has gotten, mostly thanks to Capra. I mean, it is literally just a procedural rule allowing for indefinite public hold on a bill by a single member of the Senate, but thanks to the manner in which it was classically done, that required something of an heroic effort.

I think Greg Sargent is wrong. The current system instead just makes everything a matter of simple process. Democrats present a bill, some Republican files his intent. Done. It is specifically a rule designed to make a majority vote meaningless. The old way, yes, allows for grandstanding, but that grandstanding would quickly grow tiresome both for the nation and for the Senators performing it if done at nearly the level done right now. And it has the added effect of putting names, faces and words next to the opposition, which run the risk of turning quickly into mailers to raise money against them.

If the filibuster needs to survive (and I'm no longer certain that's so very important, but then again my party is in power in that chamber at present) then it at least needs to take some effort and actually mean something.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:38 PM on November 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


The old way, yes, allows for grandstanding, but that grandstanding would quickly grow tiresome both for the nation and for the Senators performing it if done at nearly the level done right now. And it has the added effect of putting names, faces and words next to the opposition, which run the risk of turning quickly into mailers to raise money against them.

That was a feature, not a bug. A filibuster is SUPPOSED to be tiresome. It is SUPPOSED to put names and faces on the opposition of a bill. These are deterrents to prevent abuse -- deterrents that have been sidelined and.... whoa surprise! The filibuster became massively abused.
posted by chimaera at 7:45 PM on November 16, 2012 [17 favorites]


You know what, I totally misunderstood the angle you were taking, Navelgazer. Consider my comment not a riposte, but an expression of vehement agreement.
posted by chimaera at 7:46 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Democrats are starting to wake up to the fact that not only can they retain the senate, they have actually gained serious ground in the House. Changing the filibuster rules will allow them to promise stuff house moderates and mercenaries might like in a final bill... funding for a new visitor center at a certain national park, for instance, or naming a Coast Guard cutter after a popular former politician from your district and party.

This is irrelevant. Reid has shown he's serious about the nuclear option - Senate Republicans will knock off the bullshit, or they'll be nuked into a toothless rump-organ.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:49 PM on November 16, 2012


here you go:

The Rules for a Filibuster
posted by Bwithh at 8:13 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean, it is literally just a procedural rule allowing for indefinite public hold on a bill by a single member of the Senate, but thanks to the manner in which it was classically done, that required something of an heroic effort.

It's actually just the rule that all Senators get to say their piece, if they so desire, and are granted the privilege of speaking until they are done. Unless 3/5 of the members vote to shut them up. The rule is meant to encourage collegial and complete debate on a topic.

But yes, the rule allowing for the phantom filibuster should be thrown out. It has to cost something, or else nothing gets done.
posted by gjc at 8:16 PM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Republicans — any minority party, on almost any issue — would be very happy to hold the floor indefinitely. It’s free publicity for them.

You think that. But there's nothing like running a stupid position on the nightly news over and over to shut that down.

The problem with the current system is you just declare intent and you're done. You're fuckheaded position never appears on TV.

That's the mistake Dems are making. No, make them *express their views, over and over* on the floor of the Senate.

This stand, BTW, is why the Civil Rights act passed. Strom Thurmond filibustered it. But he had to stand there, alone, spewing his hate to do so.

Gradually, those who supported him faded away.

If you, and 40 of your colleagues, believe that a proposed bill is *truly* evil, then you and your colleagues will stand and speak against it, as long as it takes -- the entire session, if need be. The current system allows anybody to just say "No." and it's done.

It's broken. Thank god that Reid may *finally* realize this. Not like we didn't say so 6 years ago, but, well, we're dirty fucking hippies, who listens to us.
posted by eriko at 8:26 PM on November 16, 2012 [22 favorites]


We still filibuster the old fashioned way in Canada. The Canadian opposition parties pulled off a three-day nonstop fillibuster last year to try to prevent the government from forcing a contract on the postal workers' union.

Video of some very sleepy opposition members of parliament.

A real filibuster carries a cost. It grinds all government business to a complete halt, so the opposition would look terrible if the issue wasn't plausibly momentous. Also, a filibuster means unscriptedly talking into a camera for hours on end, so if the opposition is not both passionate and extremely well informed on the issue they will just be providing fodder for attack ads come the next election. It's part of the Canadian system but it's not an everyday tactic.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:52 PM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I didn't know anything about the "phantom" filibuster.

I wrongly imagined it to be remarkably similar to Kabaddi, but with the words FILIBUSTER FILIBUSTER FILIBUSTER used to drown out debate opponents.

This may be because I am English, and a similar tactic is used in the houses of Parliament. Rather than the word FILIBUSTER, a noise apparently peculiar to Parliament is used, where the mouth is left opened, and a set of unhappily conjoined vowels are brayed affrontedly and incoherently together until the offending speech ceases.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:00 PM on November 16, 2012


Uuuuuuuuaaauuuuooooooooooaaaaaaaa!!!

"If the Gentleman from Coddledegg-on-Wrye would..."

Aaaaauuuoooooooooaaa!!!

"..."

"Uuuooaaooouaaa."

"Fair point. Next order of business..."
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:04 PM on November 16, 2012


I've got to say, I'm all for this reform. Just as I'm all for requiring legislators to actually sit and listen while the bill reader reads the text of bills under consideration (rather than the way it works now--at least at the state level--where the legislature just remains in pro forma session while some guy reads the bill under his breath to himself with no one else in the room listening). I realize the bill reader wishlist item might be a little unrealistic for extremely complex, technically-oriented bills in the process, but then, part of the point of having bill readers is supposed to be keeping laws clear and succinct enough to be comprehensible by unqualified laymen (like those voting on them).
posted by saulgoodman at 9:11 PM on November 16, 2012


Republicans — any minority party, on almost any issue — would be very happy to hold the floor indefinitely. It’s free publicity for them.

Nah. Putting your name and face on live video as the very model of gridlock is not going to play well in your reelection efforts. People do not like Congress, you don't want to make yourself the target of that dislike.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:12 PM on November 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


Republicans — any minority party, on almost any issue — would be very happy to hold the floor indefinitely. It’s free publicity for them.

Well in that case I'm sure the Republicans will support the change.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:23 PM on November 16, 2012


Agh! My burning, passionate desire to see the assy politicians talk is butting right up against my burning, passionate desire to see them shut the fuck up!
posted by mynameisluka at 10:04 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really think they're missing the opportunity to just eliminate the whole filibuster business in favor of single combat. If you're really that upset about an ongoing motion, you either throw a glove down and have everyone shuffle out to the Mall for a nice quick round of pistols at twenty paces, or shut the hell up.

But if we can't have that, I suppose requiring talking in order to sustain a filibuster is at least a step in the right direction.

Nate Silver's infographics would be great, though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:45 PM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just nuke the stupid antidemocratic thing and be done with it once and for all. Yes, that does mean that if the Republicans get control of the Senate they will be able to pass all kinds of stupid fuckheaded laws. But that is what democracy is about; if you win control of the chamber you should get to move your agenda through it. If the people don't like it, they can vote you out.
posted by yoink at 10:49 PM on November 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


When I look at how filibusters work in the Senate today, it strikes me as similar to the liberum veto in the Polish Commonwealth. We are going under some of the same problems, our leaders acting and speaking like anarchists and making stupid decisions about inaction. I wonder if any of the other nasty things that happened to the Sejm are happening to us right now.
posted by curuinor at 11:54 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mister Fabulous: "Nothing would make me happier than seeing some junior republican senator on CSPAN at 3:30 am reading from a phonebook."

Yeah, but that means that some poor sod* also needs to be up at 3:30 to keep the feed on the air.

Actually, it's a not-insignificant number of poor sods, myself potentially among them. Unnecessary floor time in the Senate is actually pretty expensive as far as these things go. If we're going to reform the filibuster, it'd be awfully nice to do away with the formalities associated with the Senate's pro-forma meetings as well (even in the absence of a larger discussion regarding what it really means for Congress to be in or out of session).
posted by schmod at 12:13 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Governfail.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:35 AM on November 17, 2012


Elizabeth Warren: The First Week in January

It's Elizabeth Warren's Senate, Not Bob Kerrey's
posted by homunculus at 12:55 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I prefer gridlock to bad bills and such. Unfortunately all the really bad stuff seems to go through with bipartisan report. ie. Patriot, NDAA, TARP.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:41 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really think they're missing the opportunity to just eliminate the whole filibuster business in favor of single combat.

I think trial by utility. While you filibuster, you must simultaneously feed homeless people, work in disaster relief, or, at least, knit warm clothes for needy school children. This would provide an interesting spectacle, have a societal good, and teach our legislative branch useful skills.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:06 AM on November 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


This may be because I am English, and a similar tactic is used in the houses of Parliament. Rather than the word FILIBUSTER, a noise apparently peculiar to Parliament is used, where the mouth is left opened, and a set of unhappily conjoined vowels are brayed affrontedly and incoherently together until the offending speech ceases.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:00 PM on 11/16


It's not just Parliament...this is a perfect description of my baby's response to inadequate provision of breast milk.
posted by medusa at 4:38 AM on November 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


My opinion of Harry Reid has been elevated during this election. If he pushes through the filibuster reform, I believe he will be lionized. Go, Harry, go!

I still want to know what he knows about Romney's tax returns
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:06 AM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm amazed that there seems to be no consensus among democracies simply to ban filibustering as an abuse of process. In Australia, they deal with it by having time limits on speeches.
posted by raygirvan at 7:06 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


yoink: "Just nuke the stupid antidemocratic thing and be done with it once and for all."

This is my preferred end state as well, but I've come around to the fact that to get there, we're going to need at least one congressional term with a reformed filibuster. This reform is not sufficient, but it is necessary, because if the leaders of this movement (Udall, Merkeley, Harkin) had started off with an "End the Filibuster or GTFO" position, we wouldn't have the dozen or more Senators (including, I think, every incoming Democratic freshman) on board with any reform at all.

I don't buy the "Democrats will benefit from the filibuster some day" logic, because the GOP is much more of a maximalist party, whereas Democrats are natural born compromisers. However, the prospect of one day needing the filibuster to block some disastrous GOP legislation is no doubt in the backs of the minds of some of the Democrats who will need to be persuaded to join in the majority vote to limit the filibuster's use. Starting off with a less ambitious reform proposal increases the chance that we can some day end up in the desired end state of no filibuster whatsoever.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:36 AM on November 17, 2012


raygirvan writes "I'm amazed that there seems to be no consensus among democracies simply to ban filibustering as an abuse of process."

In a parliamentary system it's essentially the only true power a minority opposition has and is therefor vital to the functioning of the system.

This is one of the many problems with Stephen Harper's approach to government. Not happy to use a majority to advance his policy he's taken to packaging everything into omnibus bills then restricting debate. Plus that bullshit post office strike legislation was an obvious good use of filibuster by the opposition.
posted by Mitheral at 10:24 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the fillibuster rules should basically be the same as Just A Minute, except that successful challenges ("Bzz! Repetition of 'America'") would open a trapdoor underneath the previous speaker.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:39 AM on November 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


In a parliamentary system it's essentially the only true power a minority opposition has and is therefor vital to the functioning of the system.

The minority party has the power to publicize the dumb things the majority is doing, point out the negative consequences as they occur, and try to win the next election. But the majority party should get to enact their agenda.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:48 AM on November 17, 2012


@mitheral: In a parliamentary system it's essentially the only true power a minority opposition has and is therefor vital to the functioning of the system

Why should they have "true power"? I'm not saying this to be awkward, but it's an assumption of democracies of that form that an absolute majority has the mandate to get its way. Besides, filibustering isn't used purely as some kind of democratic safeguard; in the UK, it's regularly used by majority parties to scupper Private Member's Bills (proposals for law changes that don't come from Ministers).
posted by raygirvan at 11:42 AM on November 17, 2012


Max Power: Rules not ensconced in the constitution by the way.
Article 1, Section 5:
...Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, ...

They are absolutely ensconced in the Constitution. It's not a long document; read it.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:22 PM on November 17, 2012


Reid to McCain: ‘I refuse to allow the Senate to be used as a venue for baseless partisan attacks’
posted by homunculus at 5:28 PM on November 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Mr. Broom,

Each house can also make rules that on Mondays everyone must wear dresses. Still not IN the constitution. Lighten up Francis.
posted by Max Power at 5:36 PM on November 17, 2012


Max Power: Mr. Broom,

Each house can also make rules that on Mondays everyone must wear dresses. Still not IN the constitution. Lighten up Francis.
Excuse me. The right for each house of Congress to make whatever rules they see fit is ensconced IN the constitution. Even the one you proposed, if they so desire.

And my name is Broom, not Francis, Max.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:54 PM on November 17, 2012


I think you two are talking past each other.

Yes, the ability to make the rules -- the rule-making power -- is in the Constitution.

The filibuster rules as set by the current Senate are not ensconced in or required by the constitution. All the specific rules set by various Senates over the years are not set in the Constitution. As Bill Cosby once kind of said, the Senate brought these specific rules into the world, and they can take them out again. Because taking these specific rules out would be -- setting new rules. And the Constitution says they can set all kinds of wonderful, wacky, heartbreaking, country-destroying rules.

They just shouldn't make up new rules exactly like that current ones, please. No need to emulate Cos or his dad in everything. Also: not the sweaters, please, for the love of God.
posted by maudlin at 6:38 PM on November 17, 2012


raygirvan writes "Why should they have "true power"?"

Because without at least a measure of power there isn't any need for debate at all. The Government could merely seat enough members for a guaranteed pass and everyone else could stay in their offices writing press releases.
posted by Mitheral at 10:43 PM on November 17, 2012


Also, "Lighten up, Francis" is a Stripes reference.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:03 PM on November 18, 2012


For all you die-hard fans of debates over arcane Senate procedure, Up With Chris Hayes devoted four segments to a fascinating discussion of the filibuster reform proposal this morning, with Senator Jeff Merkeley, Constitutional law prof Akhil Amar, and the recently-retired parliamentarian of the Senate, among others. Nothing changed my view that the filibuster is an impediment to a functioning democracy, but I do think the filibuster supporters defended their position well.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:01 AM on December 1, 2012


Reid: Filibuster Reform Is Happening Whether Republicans Like It Or Not
posted by homunculus at 10:25 PM on December 5, 2012


« Older Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman appeared in 1976... an...  |  An Alabama fan, an LSU fan, an... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments