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I wonder about this myself
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Kevin Drum asks a question:
FILIBUSTERS....I wonder how many Americans understand that you can't pass legislation in America with 50% of the votes in Congress? How many of them understand that, outside of budget resolutions, you need 60 votes in the Senate? That a filibuster isn't a matter of Jimmy Stewart talking himself ragged for hours on end, but of merely declaring an intention to filibuster? And that this is done for all but the most routine matters? With the result that the 60-vote minimum is no longer reserved for occasional high-profile issues, but has been institutionalized for virtually all legislation of any consequence?

I figure maybe 2%. What's your guess?
I wonder about this myself.

The real center of power is and has been in the Senate for both the 109th and 100th Congress. And that center of power has resided in the Senate Minority leader's office, not the Majority Leader's office.

Additionally, this isn't a partisan thing. They are the rules of the Senate. That's how business is now done in the Senate. So its a bit misleading to call the requirement a 'filibuster' as that alludes to a purposeful blocking of legislation. A 60 vote majority is required to pass anything out of the Senate now, and has been for a while.

Obviously that is a boon for the minority party in this closely divided Senate. It requires the majority party to deal with them vs. being able to ignore them as is done fairly routinely in the House. Democrats must lure a dozen or so Republicans to their side to pass anything, which means ramming something through on a majority vote isn't going to happen.

To me that's a good thing. If, however, either party ever manages 60 seats in that august body, that all changes.

Another little something to keep in mind as the elections approach next year.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Was Drum concerned about this lack of knowledge when the Dems had this power to require 60 votes to pass Republican legislation?
Written By: JWG
URL: http://
His comments section is priceless, reading all of them whining about the GOP use of fillibusters.

HAHAHAHAHA.....their agita is like the sweetest nectar to me.

Payback is a b*tch and all of that.

Written By: shark
URL: http://
Well as a modest proposal:
1) End "earmarks"-additions tot he budget specifying specific amounts to specific groups; and
2) Return to the older filibuster rules, to filibuster you MUST FILIBUSTER, you must drag yourself and your friends tot he floor for a non-stop speechfest!

Doing that would make the Senate a little less a drag on the system, if Robert Byrd can talk for 20 hours or Trent Lott, then fine if not well, "So Solly."

Yes I know that makes the Republicans weaker as the minority, but, 1) it’s a democracy the majority, not a SUPER-majority ought to rule and 2) it plays to our fear, I know we’re going to be in the majority, and soon, so this helps us when we are. Don’t play defense and prevent offense, be confident that you will have majority in the Senate and soon....
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I’m with Joe. If someone threatens a filibuster, make them filibuster. I suspect that after they are forced to go to the trouble of actually doing it a few times, the threats will be a little more selective.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
The current rules were put in place in the 1970’s or 1980’s it’s not like they have been "sanctified" by centuries of common usage.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
It started when the rules were changed so that it required 60 votes for cloture instead of 67 (you can guess which party was in the majority when that happened). There were all sorts of editorials from the NYT decrying the filibuster as an obstructionist anachronism.

Then when the Dems were in the minority, they took the unprecedented step of filibustering judicial nominees, and the GOP talked about changing the rules for nominations to avoid it. And we heard from the NYT how the filibuster was a sacred tenet of our democracy that protected the rights of the minority — even when not being used for legislation.

Now that Dems are in the majority again, we’re once again hearing how awful the filibuster is.
Written By: TallDave
All of this is precisely why I’ve been saying for years, that blaming the majority party for x or y happening, or NOT happening is ludicrous, when that majority only runs the tune of under ten individuals. the only way either party could be effective (as an example the republicans actually being able to reverse 60 years of Democrat damage) would be to have a insuperable majority.

An insuperable Republican congressional majority; it’s the only thing of all the lists of the possible that hasn’t been tried in the last hundred years at least.

That it is Drum’s worst nightmare it doesn’t reduce its attractiveness in the least.

What does reduce its attractiveness, is that the republican party is not monolithic; The chances of having an entire Congress of republicans, who actually vote like republicans...

Written By: Bithead
Nothing pass unless there is overwhelming support for it. What is Drum complaining about? It is a great idea!
Written By: Minh-Duc
URL: http://
It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad................
There are many more rules and arcane operating procedures......
Look into it if you dare............
Government doesn’t function the way they told us in school it did.

some rejoice in it
others are smothered by it
damn shame it just can’t be more honest
Written By: darohu
URL: http://
The position of the New York Times on the flibuster in 1995 and 2005, that TallDave mentioned:

Time to Retire the Filibuster
The New York Times | Editorial
January 1, 1995

The U.S. Senate likes to call itself the world’s greatest deliberative body. The greatest obstructive body is more like it. In the last session of Congress, the Republican minority invoked an endless string of filibusters to frustrate the will of the majority. This relentless abuse of a time-honored Senate tradition so disgusted Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, that he is now willing to forgo easy retribution and drastically limit the filibuster. Hooray for him.
For years Senate filibusters - when they weren’t conjuring up romantic images of Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith, passing out from exhaustion on the Senate floor
- consisted mainly of negative feats of endurance. Senator Sam Ervin once spoke for 22 hours straight. Outrage over these tactics and their ability to bring Senate business to a halt led to the current so-called two-track system, whereby a senator can hold up one piece of legislation while other business goes on as usual.
The two-track system has been nearly as obstructive as the old rules. Under those rules, if the Senate could not muster the 60 votes necessary to end debate and bring a bill to a vote, someone had to be willing to continue the debate, in person, on the floor. That is no longer required. Even if the 60 votes are not achieved, debate stops and the Senate proceeds with other business. The measure is simply put on hold until the next cloture vote. In this way a bill can be stymied at any number of points along its legislative journey.
One unpleasant and unforeseen consequence has been to make the filibuster easy to invoke and painless to pursue. Once a rarely used tactic reserved for issues on which senators held passionate convictions, the filibuster has become the tool of the sore loser, dooming any measure that cannot command the 60 required votes.
Mr. Harkin, along with Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, now proposes to make such obstruction harder. Mr. Harkin says reasonably that there must come a point in the process where the majority rules. This may not sit well with some of his Democratic colleagues. They are now perfectly positioned to exact revenge by frustrating the Republican agenda as efficiently as Republicans frustrated Democrats in 1994.
Admirably, Mr. Harkin says he does not want to do that. He proposes to change the rules so that if a vote for cloture fails to attract the necessary 60 votes, the number of votes needed to close off debate would be reduced by three in each subsequent vote. By the time the measure came to a fourth vote
- with votes occurring no more frequently than every second day - cloture could be invoked with only a simple majority. Under the Harkin plan, minority members who feel passionately about a given measure could still hold it up, but not indefinitely.
Another set of reforms, more incremental but also useful, is proposed by George Mitchell, who is retiring as the Democratic majority leader. He wants to eat away at some of the more annoying kinds of brakes that can be applied to a measure along its legislative journey.
One example is the procedure for sending a measure to a conference committee with the House. Under current rules, unless the Senate consents unanimously to send a measure to conference, three separate motions can be required to move it along. This gives one senator the power to hold up a measure almost indefinitely. Mr. Mitchell would like to reduce the number of motions to one.
He would also like to limit the debate on a motion to two hours and count the time consumed by quorum calls against the debate time of a senator, thus encouraging senators to save their time for debating the substance of a measure rather than in obstruction. All of his suggestions seem reasonable, but his reforms would leave the filibuster essentially intact.
The Harkin plan, along with some of Mr. Mitchell’s proposals, would go a long way toward making the Senate a more productive place to conduct the nation’s business. Republicans surely dread the kind of obstructionism they themselves practiced during the last Congress. Now is the perfect moment for them to unite with like-minded Democrats to get rid of an archaic rule that frustrates democracy and serves no useful purpose.

The Senate on the Brink
The New York Times | Editorial
Sunday 06 March 2005
The White House’s insistence on choosing only far-right judicial nominees has already damaged the federal courts. Now it threatens to do grave harm to the Senate. If Republicans fulfill their threat to overturn the historic role of the filibuster in order to ram the Bush administration’s nominees through, they will be inviting all-out warfare and perhaps an effective shutdown of Congress. The Republicans are claiming that 51 votes should be enough to win confirmation of the White House’s judicial nominees. This flies in the face of Senate history. Republicans and Democrats should tone down their rhetoric, then sit down and negotiate.
President Bush likes to complain about the divisive atmosphere in Washington. But he has contributed to it mightily by choosing federal judges from the far right of the ideological spectrum. He started his second term with a particularly aggressive move: resubmitting seven nominees whom the Democrats blocked last year by filibuster.
The Senate has confirmed the vast majority of President Bush’s choices. But Democrats have rightly balked at a handful. One of the seven renominated judges is William Myers, a former lobbyist for the mining and ranching industries who demonstrated at his hearing last week that he is an antienvironmental extremist who lacks the evenhandedness necessary to be a federal judge. Another is Janice Rogers Brown, who has disparaged the New Deal as "our socialist revolution."
To block the nominees, the Democrats’ weapon of choice has been the filibuster, a time-honored Senate procedure that prevents a bare majority of senators from running roughshod. Republican leaders now claim that judicial nominees are entitled to an up-or-down vote. This is rank hypocrisy. When the tables were turned, Republicans filibustered President Bill Clinton’s choice for surgeon general, forcing him to choose another. And Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, who now finds judicial filibusters so offensive, himself joined one against Richard Paez, a Clinton appeals court nominee.
Yet these very same Republicans are threatening to have Vice President Dick Cheney rule from the chair that a simple majority can confirm a judicial nominee rather than the 60 votes necessary to stop a filibuster. This is known as the "nuclear option" because in all likelihood it would blow up the Senate’s operations. The Senate does much of its work by unanimous consent, which keeps things moving along and prevents ordinary day-to-day business from drowning in procedural votes. But if Republicans change the filibuster rules, Democrats could respond by ignoring the tradition of unanimous consent and making it difficult if not impossible to get anything done. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has warned that "the Senate will be in turmoil and the Judiciary Committee will be hell."
Despite his party’s Senate majority, however, Mr. Frist may not have the votes to go nuclear. A sizable number of Republicans - including John McCain, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Lincoln Chafee and John Warner - could break away. For them, the value of confirming a few extreme nominees may be outweighed by the lasting damage to the Senate. Besides, majorities are temporary, and they may want to filibuster one day.
There is one way to avert a showdown. The White House should meet with Senate leaders of both parties and come up with a list of nominees who will not be filibustered. This means that Mr. Bush - like Presidents Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush before him - would agree to submit nominees from the broad mainstream of legal thought, with a commitment to judging cases, not promoting a political agenda.
The Bush administration likes to call itself "conservative," but there is nothing conservative about endangering one of the great institutions of American democracy, the United States Senate, for the sake of an ideological crusade.

Will they change their position again, or did they learn their lesson?
Written By: ABC
URL: http://

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