Fix the filibuster?
Published Mon, Jan 7 2013 9:15 PM
A long time friend of mine recently shared a link on Facebook from a group demanding that we “Tell the Senate: Fix the filibuster”. The summary text with the link said:
“The filibuster is an antiquated provision in Senate procedure that has given a minority of right-wing senators the ability to paralyze the Senate. Speak out and tell the Senate to fix the filibuster.”
I seem to recall just a few years ago back when the Republican Party held the majority of the Senate (albeit by a thin margin) that the filibuster gave a minority of left-wing senators the ability to paralyze the Senate and block many a judicial and ambassadorial nomination, not to mention block passage of many acts that the majority wanted to pass. Why in 2003 the Junior Senator from the great state of New York said (although I don’t believe she was talking about filibusters, but rather speaking in favor of minority dissent in general)…
“We should stand up and say we are Americans and we have a right to debate and disagree with any administration.”1
There was talk then among the right-wingers that the Senate needed to fix the filibuster, even a reference to the “nuclear option”, yet nothing was done.Why? Because even then the majority knew that political winds shift and that they might not always be the majority. Now the majority is discussing blocking the ability of the minority to block cloture (again, but it’s a different majority this time, and a big shift for them). In 2005 the Democratic pollster Westhill Partners found only 30% support for changing the rules to allow a simple majority to end a filibuster.2
I’d like to see real filibuster reform myself. Once upon a time the filibuster meant something. If you wanted to block cloture you had to have the floor and keep it. Tales of Senator Byrd’s bladder control are legendary, although even fourteen hours and thirteen minutes wasn't enough to block passage of the Civil Rights act.3 Now all you’ve got to do is find 40 like-minded people that don’t want something to come to the floor for a vote and you can go about your business.
Now, I know that the Senate, and our current President (constitutional scholar though he claims to be) willfully ignore the constitution – especially article 1 section 7 – as well as parts of article 1 section 5 (you know… about when and for how long the House or the Senate may be in recess) and parts of article 2 section 2 (you know… about how the president may fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate), but I’m sure that there is at least one part that the current majority in the Senate will hold dear…
“Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.”4
Yes, that’s the second paragraph of article 1 section 5. And you know that the Senate will want to make sure that that part of the constitution at least is honored. (By the way, I’ve heard from the right calls to “impeach Nancy Pelosi” – this is why it can’t be done, even though I’d love to see her out of the House. You can’t impeach a member of the House of Representatives or of the Senate. In theory it should be easier to get rid of one – after all it only takes two thirds of a single house. In reality? It’s not going to happen.)
Well, if they can pass the rules change so be it. It won’t be the first time that Democrats OR Republicans have tried. But the winds will eventually shift again. The Senate ultimately gets to decide how it goes about its own business. If they want to eliminate a long standing Senate rule designed to keep the majority in check and to allow any senator to “speak as long as necessary on any issue”, that’s up to them. Now if we could only get them to remember the rest of the Constitution too.
1 Hillary Rodham Clinton Quotes
> 2 Nuclear option - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
> 3 History of Filibusters
> 4 Transcript of the Constitution of the United States - Official Text
Trackback URI for this post: http://perrinelson.com/track.aspx?postid=1513
Permalink URI for this post: http://perrinelson.com/2013/1/7/1513.aspx
Subscribe to this entry's comment feed
David responded with:
Well, despair is a deadly sin, but I've still almost lost hope of seeing a legitimate federal government in my lifetime.
Comments to this entry are closed.