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

Excellent piece on filibuster reform

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David Waldman has an excellent and thoughtful analysis of the recent filibuster reform:

Okay, before we decide once and for all whether this is a win or a loss, there are a few things I want out on the table. And the first point, appropriately enough, is that whenever you’re talking about the Senate, since the answer to any question about it is either “well, yes and no,” or, “it depends,” the answer to whether this is a win or a loss will be the same. Yes and no. And, it depends.

There’s little sense in trying to tell filibuster reform activists that this was a win. We here at Daily Kos were pushing for some specific reforms, aimed at increasing the burden of conducting a filibuster and placing it where it belongs: on the shoulders of those seeking to thwart the will of the majority. To be sure, there were those of us who questioned and still do question why that should be allowed at all, but accepting for the moment the idea that our bicameral legislature can allow for (and indeed, was designed for) experimentation with different processes and procedural rules, we still thought there was no good reason to allow thwarting the will of the majority to be an easy thing to do.

We didn’t get those reforms. Conducting a filibuster is still going to be easy.

So it’s a loss, right? Well, things did change for the better, and I’ll explain how some of those changes might end up being bigger than we think. And, of course, because this is the Senate we’re talking about, we’ll talk about the down side of getting changes that might be bigger than we think.

But in addition to the small changes inside the Senate, we need to talk about the big changes we created outside. And we’ll do that below the fold.

First of all, the results of the deal must be understood as having many moving parts. And when it comes to the elements of the deal, there are three different levels of change offered, and each one comes with a different level of commitment to those changes. As you might expect, the bigger the potential change, the less willing Senators were to committing to them.

At the highest level of permanence, and therefore the lowest level of impact, there are actual changes being made to the standing rules of the Senate. These are the most minor pieces of the deal, which stands to reason because they’ll be put in place permanently. So they’re exactly the ones you would think would have to be smallest in order to get the Republicans to agree to them. Next, there are temporary changes in the operation of the rules that will be adopted as a standing order, good only for the balance of the 113th Congress, which is to say for the next two years. These are somewhat broader in scope, and represent the changes Republicans were more skeptical of, but were willing to try out on a temporary basis. And lastly, there are changes on which Republicans would only commit to a handshake deal. (We know how well those tend to work out from the last round of the reform fight.) But these include versions of proposed reforms we liked a little better, but watered-down to the point where Republicans were willing to say, well, we’ll experiment with them and see if they’re really as horrible as we said they were, but we won’t commit to allowing them to continue if we really hate them.

And what are those changes? The standing rules will adopt a new short cut on the motion to proceed, bringing it to an immediate vote if a cloture petition garners the signatures of the majority and minority leaders, plus those of 7 senators not affiliated with the majority and 7 more not affiliated with the minority, and cloture is then invoked. What does that save? Well, not much. Thirty hours of post-cloture debate, potentially. Though in reality that time is often waived under the current rules. In addition, the rules will now reflect that the three motions necessary to go to conference with the House to settle differences in bill text will be collapsed into one non-divisible motion. That cuts out two opportunities to filibuster right there.

The standing order will, for the next two years, limit debate on motions to proceed to four hours, meaning they can’t be filibustered. But in exchange for that, each side is guaranteed the right to offer two amendments apiece, rotating in order and beginning with the minority. In practice, this will likely mean that those amendments will frequently come to the floor under unanimous consent agreements requiring 60 votes to pass. That’s the old “painless filibuster,” and in that respect, not much will have changed from current practice, except that the chief complaint of Republicans will have been removed. It was always their contention that they filibustered motions to proceed because they objected to being shut out from the opportunity to offer amendments by Harry Reid’s parliamentary maneuvering. Now we’ll see if that was just an excuse, I guess.

Finally, there’s an informal agreement, described this way by HuffPo’s Ryan Grim and Sam Stein:

First, senators who wish to object or threaten a filibuster must actually come to the floor to do so. And second, the two leaders will make sure that debate time post-cloture is actually used in debate. If senators seeking to slow down business simply put in quorum calls to delay action, the Senate will go live, force votes to produce a quorum, and otherwise work to make sure senators actually show up and debate.

That’s at least reminiscent of some of the proposals to “flip the burden,” like the “talking filibuster,” or even the “listening filibuster” I proposed the other day. It’s a far cry from the force of the original ideas, but it’s at least a nod in the direction of some of the problems associated with filibuster abuse that we’ve highlighted in our campaign.

On top of these many layers regarding the substance of the deal (such as it is), there are likewise multiple moving parts regarding the procedure we used to get here. And on that level, there are two main branches: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2013 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Congress

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