Watered-down Filibuster Reforms Emerging


Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Senators who have been in the Senate for far too long and cherish their antiquated, and anti-democratic parliamentary rules of debate are going wobbly in the knees for any effective filibuster reforms. Watered-down filibuster reforms, far less effective and satisfactory, are emerging. Sigh. Filibuster Reformers Settle On Modest Plan:

Reformers are closing ranks behind a more modest proposal by Majority
Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that they believe could pass with a 51-vote
threshold when the Senate returns next week and chip away at the
minority party’s power to obstruct. It represents a concession that the
full “talking filibuster” they want may not happen. But accepting the emerging Reid proposal would ward off a competing plan that they consider weaker than Reid’s.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) says he’s still fighting for the talking
filibuster and believes it can pass. His aide said he isn’t convinced
the Reid plan would take on the core problems of the Senate, but Merkley didn’t rule it out.

“I believe that when Majority Leader Reid says, ‘Here is my package
and I need you all to back it,’ he will have 51 votes behind him,”
Merkley told TPMPrime members during a live chat Wednesday.

Leaders of Fix The Senate Now, an outside pro-reform coalition, also
prefer a more robust talking filibuster, but have signaled openness to
embracing the Reid plan, wary of seeing the whole effort to reform the
filibuster collapse.

* * *

Reid’s emerging package would require a filibustering minority of
senators to occupy the floor and speak after the debate has begun. But
they would retain the ability to force a 60-vote threshold for the first
motion to begin debate (which reformers would prefer to also get rid
of). After that, the plan would shift the burden from the majority
seeking to advance legislation or nominations to the minority seeking to
block them.

* * *

“Right now I have it set up so it’d be done post-cloture, but still,
that creates a little talking on the floor that we don’t have now,” Reid
recently told a Nevada TV station. “If somebody wants to stall things let them stand and stall, not hide back in some office someplace.”

His plan
would also eliminate a rule requiring a 30-hour gap between cloture and
a final vote on a measure and would make it easier for the Senate to go
to conference with the House.

The heart of the proposal by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Udall
(D-NM) is what they call the “full talking filibuster,” which would
require a minority trying to filibuster any Senate business to occupy
the floor and speak ceaselessly until one side gives in. As badly as
proponents want this, they don’t want to demand it at the expense of
losing critical Democratic votes and seeing Reid’s partial talking
filibuster plan collapse.

* * *

Merkley said that among 55 Democratic senators, some are still
studying the proposal, but there’s only one clear opponent of using the
constitutional option to change the rules.

“As of this point, the only person who has said that he will
definitely oppose Reid’s package if it is to be done with 51 votes is
Senator Levin,” he told TPMPrime.

Only in America, "the world's greatest democracy," would we invent an extra-constitutional Senate rule that is anti-democratic. Sigh.

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AZ BlueMeanie
The Blue Meanie is an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, as well as pen filled with all the colors stolen from Pepperland, the Blue Meanie’s mission is to pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media – which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them. Don’t even try to unmask him or he’ll seal you in a music-proof bubble and rendition you to Pepperland for a good face-stomping. Read blog posts by the infamous and prolific AZ Blue Meanie here.


  1. That’s an interesting point. A lot of people have been talking about the following scenarios as if they were equivalent, even though they are not. Really, really not:
    A) Talking filibuster with 60 votes required for cloture, versus
    B) Talking filibuster with 41 votes required to continue debate.

    In scenario (A), the majority needs to keep 50 senators on or near the floor, so they can muster a quorum at any time. Otherwise the filibusterer would just force an adjournment (due to absence of quorum), get some rest, and get recognized sooner or later the next day. The minority needs only one person to do the filibustering. That’s a 50:1 ratio in favor of the minority.

    In scenario (B), the majority still needs to keep 50 senators on or near the floor, but now the minority needs to keep 41 senators on or near the floor for the duration of the filibuster. That’s a 50:41 ratio. The burden on the filibustering /person/ is roughly the same as in the previous scenario. You might think the burden on the filibustering /party/ has gone up by a factor of 41, but that would be an overestimate, because only one of the 41 would is required to stand and speak. The other 40 can nap, go to the restroom, et cetera. Still, they are (mostly) not free to go home, and this will make them pretty cranky pretty fast.

    It is hard to know what’s really going on, but I have not seen any credible evidence that anybody on Capital Hill is currently giving option (B) any serious consideration. It would be fine with me, but I don’t have much say in the matter.


    Note that scenarios (A) and (B), along with all other reasonable versions of the talking filibuster, are *finite* … limited by human endurance. A talking filibuster can delay a bill, but cannot kill it. This is categorically different from the way things have been done in recent years, where a single senator could effectively kill any bill by “pseudo-filibustering” i.e. objecting forever without needing to stand and talk.

    Also note that there are lots of obstructionist tactics that do not fall within the category of filibustering, strictly speaking. That is to say, the topic of “fixing the senate” is distinctly broader than “reforming the filibuster”. You could do away with the filibuster altogether and still have a dysfunctional senate.

  2. If you think about it, the vote required to begin debate really should be flipped, so that only 41 votes are required to begin debate. The logic of the filibuster is that if a substantial minority feel really, really strongly about a bill, they should be able to continue the debate. Well, if that same substantial minority feels strongly about a bill, shouldn’t they also be able to initiate the debate? The current rules are flat-out illogical. The cloture rule provides for increased debate,but the 60 votes required to start debate actually stifles debate.

  3. According to Jonathan Bernstein: “It’s hard to tell right now what’s up with Senate reform….. The Senate is still out this week; they’ll return to Washington next week. If Democratic senators come back and tell Harry Reid that they’ve been hearing an earful from key constituencies about filibuster reform, Reid will probably move forward with the toughest possible package. If, however, they haven’t been hearing about filibuster reform — maybe they’re hearing guns, or debt limit, or nothing in particular — then Reid is going to be very reluctant to push hard on this one.”

    Rest of Bernstein article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2013/01/16/the-key-remaining-question-on-senate-reform/
    Background information: http://fixthesenatenow.org/pages/us-senate-rules-reform-why-it-matters

    Sign online petition http://fixthesenatenow.org/page/s/signthepetition/
    Another online petition http://www.reformthefilibuster.com/
    Contact Carl Levin https://www.levin.senate.gov/contact/email/
    Contact Harry Reid http://www.reid.senate.gov/contact/index.cfm
    Contact Jeff Merkley http://www.merkley.senate.gov/contact/index.cfm