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View Diary: Changing the rules: my inside story on the fight to reform the filibuster (60 comments)

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  •  The chimaera of the "real" filibuster (1+ / 0-)
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    Making Senators "hold the floor" in order to filibuster will change exactly nothing, except perhaps to make the filibuster even more asymmetric.  I see that asymmetry, that the Rs can abuse it freely to create an effective requirement for a supermajoiryt for almost all Senate votes, while the Ds are blackmailed by threat of the nuclear option into never using it for anything the Rs really want, as the problem itself.  Let's not make the problem worse.

    Depending on exactly how the rules are worded, the requirement to hold the floor either kills the filibuster, or does absolutely nothing to restrain the minority from using it.  There really is no middle way that it can impose.

    Back when the Senate had unlimited debate, and even a single Senator could do what we call the filibuster today, prevent a vote, the rules on holding the floor were the way this privilege was limited.  If the rule is that the Senator preventing a vote had to stay on his feet, orating away, no sleep, food or bathroom breaks, then what you have isn't at all unlimited debate, what you have is debate limited by whatever bodily function the rules won't let the Senator use without breaking his hold on allowing debate to end.  

    Now, what ended unlimited debate, and led to its replacement by the filibuster, a hold on voting that can be broken by a cloture vote, was when Senators started tag-teaming the bodily functions limitations.  They would take turns holding the floor, and when they had to quit at nature's call, the next Senator on their team rotation would insist on unlimited debate of the same measure, or, if the rules didn't allow that, just any random next measure on the calendar, so that business could not proceed until the majority gave up on the targeted legislation.  Cloture meant that you had to get at least a third of the Senators on your team to keep debate open and prevent a vote.

    This "real filibuster" idea is just the same ground.  If the idea is that we force the filibustering minority to hold the floor so that they can't, or won't be willing to, do that for the excessive numbers of votes the Rs have done it to -- well, that's exactly the briar patch that filibuster abusers want to be thrown into.  It's not the minority's clock that will be running down as they tag team an endless stream of filibusters of everything under the sun.  The majority has to have enough time to get the people's business voted on.  Let the minoirty take as much of that time as they want, and they have the majority hostage in the same way as those tag teams had the Senate hostage back before cloture had to be added to the rules to curb this abuse of unlimited debate.

    Sure, you could add to your reform of making the filibusters hold the floor, other restrictions that would prevent them from tag-teaming or staging so many filibusters as to enable them to hold the calendar hostage.  But that's the same as ending the filibuster.  The majority just lest the filibusters maunder on holding the floor until they can't anymore, and after they've used up their quota of filibusters, then the majority rams through all their truly wicked stuff on bare majority votes.  Why not just end the filibuster?

    The present situation is that the Ds, when in the majority, just let the Rs insist on a supermajority for (just about) everything, because the alternative is letting them burn up all the time on the calendar, blocking not just the targeted measure, but everything else as well.  The Rs, very appropriately, and quite correctly, refuse to play that game when in the majority, and won't let our team filibuster anything they really want passed, under threat of the nuclear option.

    Any Senate rule giving the the minority an ability to block the will of the Senate majority is a minority privilege that our side willfully wants to pretend is some sort of right.  The other side suffers under no such delusion.

    Just as unlimited debate had to be ended by the majority in response to its systematic abuse by the minority, so now the majority has the clear duty to end its successor, the filibuster, for the same reason.  Dithering with half-measure that do nothing to curb the abuse does nothing but lessen the PR hit for the other side to control our filibusters when they are in the majority.

    We should have destroyed the presidency before Obama took office. Too late now.

    by gtomkins on Sun Jan 30, 2011 at 07:13:57 PM PST

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