Free Markets, Free People

Democratic Senators want to limit filibuster and change other Senate rules

Well of course they do – it gives power to the minority and prevents them from running roughshod over that minority as they attempt to push their agenda through the Senate (as is pretty much done in the House).  That said, I don’t have a problem with this:

Among the chief revisions that Democrats say will likely be offered: Senators could not initiate a filibuster of a bill before it reaches the floor unless they first muster 40 votes for it, and they would have to remain on the floor to sustain it. That is a change from current rules, which require the majority leader to file a cloture motion to overcome an anonymous objection to a motion to proceed, and then wait 30 hours for a vote on it.

“There need to be changes to the rules to allow filibusters to be conducted by people who actually want to block legislation instead of people being able to quietly say ‘I object’ and go home,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

This year, McCaskill lined up backing from more than two-thirds of senators for elimination of secret holds, which allow a senator to block action on a bill or nomination anonymously. She said that Democrats will also push plans to force senators who place holds to do it publicly.

I think that "secret holds" are anathema to open government. If a Senator objects, he or she should take ownership of that objection and have to do so publicly. That’ll take care of some of the petty nonsense that is fairly routine in those sorts of holds. But:

Adding to the momentum for change, say proponents, is a push by Udall to seek a simple majority vote on changing Senate rules at the start of the session, rather than a two-thirds majority, that is gaining steam. Such a move could come at the start of next Congress, shortly after the Senate returns on January 5th.

Uh, no. Supermajority means you have to convince the minority of the efficacy of the changes. One of the reason it is so important to have the minority retain its power was illustrated in the defeat of the 1.2 trillion dollar pork package called the "Omnibus spending bill". The minority was able to kill it. I understand that really has no bearing on an internal rule change to go to a simple majority vote to make rule changes, but as with all things, that means Democrats wouldn’t have to have a single minority vote to change the rules.

I say "no way". One of the most powerful and moderating things about the Senate is it almost forces negotiation with the minority before it can accomplish anything. I wonder if the "No Labels" crew will be coming out with a statement saying "keep the rules that protect the minority in the Senate".  Yeah, I doubt it too.

Filibuster reform in the way McCaskill is pushing for (no more secret holds) is a good thing I think.  The time change to less than 30 hours on the motion to proceed is no big deal.   Changing the rule on the number of votes necessary to change the rules – i.e. go from a supermajority to a simple majority – is not a good thing and should be rejected.



5 Responses to Democratic Senators want to limit filibuster and change other Senate rules

  • The unfortunate need for the secret hold is that the person asking for the hold will be singled out for massive vilification from the media.  None of the Republicans have the spine for it.
    The other need for a hold is to slow down bills from being ramrodded through before the public can react to them.  This is especially pertinent in treaties where the Senate acts alone and where I suspect Obama will focus the efforts from his remaining time.
    In fact I don’t think these procedural changes are just general in that the Democrats want to retain control.  I suspect there is an agenda out there and keeping the public in the dark is necessary to what they plan to do to us.

  • As usual, these are the sorts of changes (ie, requiring only a majority vote for changing Senate rules) that you wind up regretting when the other party winds up winning enough seats to gain control of a chamber.  It’s pretty typical for the minority party to embrace the filibuster and other rules that give them a voice, and for the majority party to grumble about those same rules and procedures that prevent them from running roughshod over any opposition.  But the two parties lose and regain control all the time.  Why vote for changes that would leave you out in the cold when the inevitable power-shift occurs?

  • I disagree with this. When it comes to government, I have two goals (amongst many):

    1) limited government
    2) open government

    This change in the senate rules pits those two goals against each other and prefers open government over limited government. It does this by increasing the ability of government to expand by making the creation of laws easier.

    I’m all for open government. But not at the expense of limited government.