ONTD Political

Filibuster Reform: Democrats, GOP Gear Up For Fight

WASHINGTON — A brewing and potentially bitter fight over Democratic efforts to curb filibusters is threatening to inflame partisan tensions in the Senate, even as President Barack Obama and Republicans explore whether they can compromise on top tier issues such as debt reduction and taxes.

A potential showdown vote to limit Senate filibusters would not come until January. Democrats are threatening to resort to a seldom-used procedure that could let them change the rules without GOP support, all but inviting Republican retaliation.



That fight is looming as the newly re-elected Obama and GOP leaders prepare to use the lame-duck session of Congress that starts Tuesday to hunt for compromise on the "fiscal cliff" – the nearly $700 billion worth of tax increases and spending cuts next year that automatically begin in January unless lawmakers head them off.

That effort will be contentious enough without added animosity over efforts to weaken the filibuster. Unless a filibuster compromise is reached, the dispute could produce sour partisan feelings that might hinder cooperation on legislation when the new Congress begins work in January.

Filibusters are a procedural tactic that lets the minority party block bills that lack the support of at least 60 senators. Democrats seem likely to command a 55-45 majority in the new Senate, making 60 a difficult hurdle.

Frustrated by the GOP's growing use of filibusters, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is considering a Senate vote in the new year to limit their use.


"I think that the rules have been abused and that we're going to work to change them," Reid, D-Nev., told reporters this past week. "We're not going to do away with the filibuster, but we're going to make the Senate a more meaningful place, we're going to make it so that we can get things done."

Democrats say that vote to change the rules would require a simple majority of senators, and they argue that the Constitution lets Senate majorities write new rules for the chamber. That, in effect, would mean Democrats could change the rules over GOP opposition, assuming 51 Democrats go along.

Republicans say they filibuster legislation because Reid blocks them from offering amendments. They also note that Senate rules require that the body's procedures can be changed only by a two-thirds majority.

Changing Senate rules by simple majority, rather than a two-thirds vote, is rarely done and referred to as "the nuclear option" because it is considered an extreme move that can trigger all-out partisan battling.

The Senate's arcane procedures require the consent of all senators to do almost anything. An embittered minority party can use the chamber's rules to force repeated votes and delays that can grind work to a virtual halt.

Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would not say what Republicans would do should Democrats try changing the rules by simple majority vote.

"We hope Democrats will work toward allowing members of both sides to be involved in the legislative process – rather than poisoning the well on the very first day of the next Congress," Stewart said.

Republicans also note that in public remarks Reid made on the Senate floor in January 2011 during a discussion with McConnell, Reid agreed to oppose "any effort in this Congress or the next to change the Senate's rules other than through the regular order." That was a reference to Senate rules requiring two-thirds majorities for rules changes.

Democrats say it is Republicans who broke the January 2011 informal deal the two leaders discussed because McConnell said he would use procedural delays "with discretion."

Instead, Democrats say, Republicans frequently have used stalling tactics to prevent the Senate from even beginning to debate bills. They then bog down debate by insisting on votes on piles of amendments, including many on unrelated issues that are designed to score points in future election campaigns, Democrats say.

Reid wants to prevent filibusters on "motions to proceed," which let the Senate begin debating a bill, and aides say he might consider other restrictions as well. Reid plans to discuss it with fellow Democrats in the postelection session. Discussions with McConnell could occur as well, Democratic aides said.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon has proposed filibuster limits that include requiring senators delaying legislation to talk continually about it on the Senate floor, much like the senator portrayed by the actor James Stewart did in the 1939 movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

That type of filibuster has been extremely rare for decades.

The use of filibusters by senators, usually those in the minority, is one of the key ways the chamber differs from the House, where the rules usually let the majority prevail unimpeded. Senators in the majority often complain about the minority's excessive use of filibusters, but are usually cautious about limiting the procedure because they know their own party can fall back into the minority after any election.

According to the Senate Historian's Office, the number of "cloture petitions" – a procedural step that sets up a vote to end a filibuster – was 68 in the two-year session of Congress running from 2005 to 2006, the last time Democrats were in the minority.

But that number has exceeded 100 for each of the past three two-year sessions, all of which have seen Republicans in the minority, peaking at 139 in the 2007-2008 session. There have been 109 in the current 2011-2012 session, with several more weeks of lame duck meetings expected.

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said that while Democrats are open to compromise, McConnell "has got to know that the American people on Tuesday completely rejected his entire approach to governing, obstruction and gridlock at every turn."

McConnell spokesman Stewart said Republicans already compromised in the informal 2011 agreement that Democrats broke.

"Doing hyperpartisan actions doesn't lead to partisan compromise," he said.

Source



The First Week in January by Elizabeth Warren

I'm honored to serve the people of Massachusetts in the United States Senate, and I'm grateful for everything you've done to help send me to Washington.

When I'm sworn in just a couple of months from now, I want to fight for jobs for people who want to work. I want millionaires and billionaires and Big Oil companies to pay their fair share. And I want to hold Wall Street accountable.

But here's the honest truth: we'll never do any of that if we can't get up-or-down votes in the Senate.

Remember Jimmy Stewart's classic film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? I love that movie. That's what most of us think of when we hear the word "filibuster" -- a single passionate senator speaking for hours about legislation they fiercely oppose until they literally collapse with exhaustion.

But that's not what today's filibuster looks like. In reality, any senator can make a phone call, say they object to a bill, then head out for the night. In the meantime, business comes to a screeching halt.




Senate Republicans have used this type of filibuster 380 times since the Democrats took over the majority in 2006. We've seen filibusters to block judicial nominations, jobs bills, political transparency, ending Big Oil subsidies -- you name it, there's been a filibuster.

We've seen filibusters of bills and nominations that ultimately passed with 90 or more votes. Why filibuster something that has that kind of support? Just to slow down the process and keep the Senate from working.

I saw the impact of these filibusters at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Forty-five senators pledged to filibuster any nominee to head that new consumer agency, regardless of that person's qualifications. After I left the agency, they tried to hold Richard Cordray's nomination vote hostage until the Senate agreed to weaken the agency to the point where it could no longer hold the big banks and credit card companies accountable.

That's not open debate -- that's paralyzing progress.

I learned something important in my race against Senator Brown: voters want political leaders who are willing to break the partisan gridlock. They want fewer closed-door roadblocks and more public votes on legislation that could improve their lives.

On the first day of the new session in January, the senators will have a unique opportunity to change the filibuster rule with a majority vote, rather than the normal two-thirds vote. The change can be modest: If someone objects to a bill or a nomination in the United States Senate, they should have to stand on the floor of the chamber and defend their opposition.

I'm joining Senator Jeff Merkley and six other newly elected senators to pledge to lead this reform on Day One, and I hope you'll be right there with us. Our campaign didn't end on Election Day -- and I'm counting on you to keep on working each and every day to bring real change for working families. This is the first step

.
idemandjustice 17th-Nov-2012 04:43 am (UTC)
This would be fantastic. I think the filibuster is too important to go away, but I would love to see it returned to what it once was.
world_dancer 17th-Nov-2012 03:17 pm (UTC)
Yes. I would much prefer the minority to have to work its butt off and for the two side to see that some reasonable compromise needs to be made for a bill if there's a real objection.

I think it would cut out the petty crap because who wants to work 24/7 for weeks on end over pettiness? And it would still be there for something that truly needed to be halted and which the people believed in.
pseudovirus 17th-Nov-2012 04:45 am (UTC)
weiiird, I was just explaining what filibusters are to my mom the other day and how annoying/abused they are. definitely sending her these links..
doverz 17th-Nov-2012 06:04 am (UTC)
Filibuster reform would be so awesome.
jadehunter 17th-Nov-2012 08:54 am (UTC)
Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon has proposed filibuster limits that include requiring senators delaying legislation to talk continually about it on the Senate floor, much like the senator portrayed by the actor James Stewart did in the 1939 movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

That type of filibuster has been extremely rare for decades.


At the very least, THIS. Freaking MAKE them stand up and put some effort into it, don't just crumple at the first threat.
bushy_brow 17th-Nov-2012 05:05 pm (UTC)
At the very least, THIS. Freaking MAKE them stand up and put some effort into it, don't just crumple at the first threat.

THIS! And not just make them work for it, but make them be SEEN obstructing, as opposed to it all happening with a phone call. If they want so badly to make the government STOP working, they need to own it and have the guts to be the FACE of government not working.
mirhanda 17th-Nov-2012 05:19 pm (UTC)
+1
zeonchar 17th-Nov-2012 05:20 pm (UTC)
A+
emofordino 18th-Nov-2012 04:16 pm (UTC)
ABSOLUTELY THIS.
emofordino 18th-Nov-2012 04:25 pm (UTC)
i was actually reading an article or some kind of explanation of merkley's filibuster reform plan before the election, and i remembered thinking it was a really good idea. i'm going to try to see if i can't dig up the link to post here.

anyway, i think the gist of it was that for the first phase, there had to be a certain amount of senators on the floor who opposed a bill for like, 12 hours. then, a slightly increased amount of senators who opposed on the floor for the next 24 hours, and then slightly more senators on the floor for 36 hours for the rest of the time that they're fighting the bill. at any time during this process, a senator could call for a vote, and if the required minimum of senators on the floor aren't there, then the amendment proceeds as planned and the filibuster is over.

i believe merkley himself said that this wasn't a foolproof plan, but it would at least require senators who were trying to filibuster a bill STAY on the floor and actually work by arguing their positions instead of just being obstructionist and uncooperative. i would really like to see a plan like this pass!
hinoema 17th-Nov-2012 09:46 am (UTC)
Democrats are threatening to resort to a seldom-used procedure that could let them change the rules without GOP support, all but inviting Republican retaliation.

I'm sorry, but what they're doing now- voting no on everything just because and abusing the fuck out of filibusters- isn't 'retaliation'? Fuck them.
little_ribbit 17th-Nov-2012 11:16 am (UTC)
The expected retaliation in this case would be the Republicans doing the same kind of day one rule change in 2015, if the Republicans win that election. Or otherwise doing something big and structural with long-lasting effects on how the Senate does business.
hinoema 17th-Nov-2012 01:30 pm (UTC)
Well, I hate to tell them this, but there's a difference between what the Dems are trying to do here, which is rectify a rule that's been compromised to the point of uselessness, and flat out rigging the deck.
kyra_neko_rei 17th-Nov-2012 05:26 pm (UTC)
Like they wouldn't negate the filibuster the instant they're in charge again anyway. They were the first ones to threaten it, after all.
zeonchar 17th-Nov-2012 05:21 pm (UTC)
Yup.
recorded illinois people17th-Nov-2012 01:49 pm (UTC)
Groan. Mark Kirk is against filibuster reform. Tweet him to stop being an asshole.

IDK about anyone else, but I hate those "write your congress person" forms that demand all your info. Not sure twitter is effective in ~reaching congress people~, but hey better than nothing.
girlwonderrobin Re: illinois people17th-Nov-2012 02:30 pm (UTC)
If you spam them from all angles--social media, phones, email, etc--you're more likely to get the desired response.

Personally, imho, I think if you're an elected official, your personal beliefs stop at the office door. You believe what your constituency tells you to believe, you vote the way they tell you to vote, because they're the ones who voted to put YOU in. Don't go on a fuckin' power trip and think YOUR opinion is the ~end of discussion~.
emofordino Re: illinois people18th-Nov-2012 06:02 pm (UTC)
i wish this was a mandatory memo/contract thing that all elected officials had to sign before getting sworn in, because it seems that quite a few of them (mostly republicans, but it's not a partisan problem by any means) have forgotten what it means to be a representative in a representative democracy.
ragnor144 17th-Nov-2012 02:44 pm (UTC)
I would really like to see filibusters go back to the old timey keep talking until you drop version. If this is important enough to filibuster, then it is important enough to have to give up you time and energy.
girlwonderrobin 17th-Nov-2012 03:03 pm (UTC)
*pictures every Republican in office passing out from lack of oxygen attempting to filibuster.*







Meanwhile the Democrats? Face palming and then:



Edited to add another relevant gif...

Edited at 2012-11-17 03:06 pm (UTC)
veracity 17th-Nov-2012 06:17 pm (UTC)
Oh my god. Brady Black. Now I want a lot of Sami .gifs to keep on my computer because she's got a face for every reaction.


That is all.
layweed 17th-Nov-2012 04:33 pm (UTC)
make a phone call, say they object to a bill, then head out for the night

That's ridiculous. They should at least have to stay in the chamber and on the dais for the period.

Though, it does make me wonder... As long as they aren't doing anything, could they watch movies on the projection system? (assuming they have one)
girlwonderrobin 17th-Nov-2012 04:39 pm (UTC)
I'd like to see the ladies filibuster for a screening of Magic Mike.
layweed 17th-Nov-2012 04:49 pm (UTC)
lolol, I was just thinking a 12 hr long LotR marathon or something.
girlwonderrobin 17th-Nov-2012 04:49 pm (UTC)
Can you imagine the looks on the faces of all those stuffy conservatives if they got it?
layweed 17th-Nov-2012 05:47 pm (UTC)
They wouldn't get it.

Hmm, I wonder what other movies would be good. Like I can imagine movies that would be good if you want to end a filibuster, but not one that would be good to filibuster.
girlwonderrobin 17th-Nov-2012 05:55 pm (UTC)
Well, let's see, if it's something the Republicans want to happen and you don't, you can always play Brokeback Mountain.
tabaqui 17th-Nov-2012 05:02 pm (UTC)
Omfg, the GOP whining about amendments - how about your amendments suck, take us backward and/or generally have nothing whatsoever to do with what the bill is about?

We do desperately need filibuster reform, and i hope it happens. We're with you, Senator Warren!
zeonchar 17th-Nov-2012 05:19 pm (UTC)
Filibusters make me sick. The fact that they were even conceived of in the first place is really taking advantage of the constitution.
thenakedcat 17th-Nov-2012 08:43 pm (UTC)
Norm Ornstein makes a good point that the filibuster as originally conceived served a valid purpose: if a minority of senators had concerns about a piece of legislation serious enough that they were willing to talk 'til they dropped and sleep in the chamber, they could delay a vote long enough to hopefully force the majority faction to reflect a little and delay spectacularly enough for their objections to attract the attention of the media and the public. It was a check on a majority faction simply rubber-stamping bills through without the minority even getting their objections on the record. If we go back to the marathon talk-fest filibuster, a future Democratic minority would still have a way to register protest against egregious shit without constipating the entire government.
kyra_neko_rei 17th-Nov-2012 05:20 pm (UTC)
Republicans say they filibuster legislation because Reid blocks them from offering amendments. They also note that Senate rules require that the body's procedures can be changed only by a two-thirds majority.

Changing Senate rules by simple majority, rather than a two-thirds vote, is rarely done and referred to as "the nuclear option" because it is considered an extreme move that can trigger all-out partisan battling.


Funny . . . I remember first hearing "filibuster" and "nuclear option" when it was Republicans threatening to use the nuclear option if Democrats filibustered one of George W. Bush's Supreme Court nominations.

I didn't hear anything about a two-thirds majority from them then.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon has proposed filibuster limits that include requiring senators delaying legislation to talk continually about it on the Senate floor, much like the senator portrayed by the actor James Stewart did in the 1939 movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

Yes yes yes this. If it's important enough that you block it, it's important enough that you put some work into it. Get up there and talk instead of sitting on your ass and doing nothing. Then the American people can watch you talk and decide for themselves whether you're full of shit or worth cheering on.

Anybody remember Senator Bernie Sanders standing up to talk for ten hours last session, to filibuster a tax bill? That was awesome. That is what filibuster should mean, regardless of who is in charge.
girlwonderrobin 17th-Nov-2012 05:24 pm (UTC)
I agree totally. When did we as a country start letting them get away with the easy option? If you want to hold up legislation, please, give me a good reason, or stand up there and ramble incoherently until you pass out. At least then we'd all get a laugh out of it, and as soon as they cart your dumb ass away to the hospital, they'll pass it anyway.
kyra_neko_rei 17th-Nov-2012 08:32 pm (UTC)
I would actually love to be a Senator with this sort of rule involved. If I'm in the majority, lots of time to play Angry Birds while listening to some Republican ramble on and on and on; if I'm in the minority, potential time to stand up in front of the Senate and construct elaborate metaphors connecting tax reform to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, abortion rights to some obscure Star Wars species that shows up once in the Expanded Universe, same-sex marriage to something Megatron said in Beast Wars, and health insurance to Nyan Cat.
thenakedcat 17th-Nov-2012 08:55 pm (UTC)
Or take a page from Keith Olbermann's playbook and stand up there reading Thurber short stories. Which would suddenly seem a LOT less surreal in comparison to the context.
kyra_neko_rei 17th-Nov-2012 09:34 pm (UTC)
Hehehehe.

I wonder where the cutoff point would be in terms of acceptability. Unfortunately I could all too easily see someone reading Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey aloud to chase from the room anyone who has no stomach for emotionally abusive relationships presented as the romantic ideal.
thenakedcat 17th-Nov-2012 09:35 pm (UTC)
But then the majority party could livesnark the text from their smartphones!
girlwonderrobin 19th-Nov-2012 02:36 pm (UTC)
You are diabolical, and I LOVE it.

I personally would find the most graphic piece of well written erotica I could find, and read it out loud. And every time I took a break for water, I'd be like "I can go as long as I need to here, and I will bring out visual aids. Who wants to see a ball gag in action? Shall I demonstrate on John McCain to keep him from further alienating the country from your party? Or maybe you'd like me to shove this vibrator in the mouth of Lindsay Graham and turn it up to the highest speed. Oh look, it's a ten speed!"
elmocho 19th-Nov-2012 10:38 pm (UTC)
I can never unsee this.
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