Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The Nascent Movement to End the Filibuster

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Interesting post by David Dayen at Firedoglake:

Frustrated by the lack of action in Washington after a mandate for change in 2008, liberals and Democrats inside and outside of government have begun to question the Senate filibuster rule, which they attribute to the growing legislative paralysis.

The filibuster (the Dutch word for “pirate”), the process by which Senators can endlessly continue debate on any bill until being cut off by a cloture vote requiring a super-majority, has been part of the Senate rules since the establishment of the body. They used to be available to members of the House as well, until rule changes limited that ability. Senators have been threatening to end the filibuster rule since Henry Clay in 1841, and over time the rule has changed in scope. The cloture vote, allowing a super-majority to end debate, didn’t exist until 1917, and the votes needed to invoke cloture were lowered from 67 to 60 in 1975.

However, while the rules governing the filibuster have arguably loosened, the use of the filibuster has skyrocketed, turning the Senate into a body that needs 60 votes to move anything. This has especially become true since 2007, when the Democrats recaptured the majority. While news reports repeatedly warned Democrats while in the minority that they wouldn’t be able to hold filibusters for political reasons, since 2007 they have become commonplace, with no such media concern-trolling. In the 110th Congress, 70% of major bills were filibustered, as opposed to 8% in the 1960s. Political leaders just didn’t see the filibuster as an impediment a few decades ago.

One rule change, allowing for “dual tracking” of bills, which meant that a filibuster wouldn’t effectively end all pending legislation in the Senate, has really led to the normalizing of the 60-vote super-majority requirement, because it made the filibuster relatively pain-free. In addition, the ideological homogeneity, particularly of the Republican caucus, has made it easier for those members to want to hang together and wield the filibuster as a political tool to deny any changes to the status quo. This of course is easier for a conservative death cult of a party more interested in winning politically than governing.

As the obstructionism has worsened in the Senate – the four agonizing weeks it took for an unemployment insurance bill that eventually won 99-0 on the floor being an example – more and more observers are targeting the filibuster as the main impediment to change, and calling openly for its elimination. This includes CAP blogger Matthew Yglesias, who notes that the filibuster adds another layer of checks and balances onto an already checked and balanced process: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2009 at 10:54 am

Posted in Congress, Government

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