Saturday, December 8, 2012

Senate Democrats Might Do Something About The Filibuster, Kinda...

Image credit: public domain/Wikimedia

Frustrated by years of "obstructionism", in which the Republicans have used the power of filibuster to block measures that the Democratic Senate caucus probably didn't want to pass anyway, the Democrats have finally focused their righteous anger and are, maybe, willing to so something thoroughly underwhelming about it. Yesterday, Talking Points Memo's Sahil Kapur writes:

Currently the minority party can mount “silent” filibusters, so long as the majority can’t muster 60 supportive votes. That means they can block a bill from moving to debate or to a final vote without necessarily occupying the floor and speaking, just like the iconic scene in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. If even a single member of the minority objects quietly to a simple-majority vote on a piece of legislation or a nominee, the majority must muster 60 votes to end debate.

The Democrats want to alter these incentives by implementing a “talking” filibuster that shifts some of the burden to the filibustering minority. The reforms under consideration would take away obstructing senators’ shortcuts in scuttling a bill, forcing them to occupy the floor and speak ceaselessly until one party or the other loses its will and gives up.

How Democrats’ Main Filibuster Reform Would Work

Don't get me wrong - this is not nothing. It does at least make the minority party earn its filibuster, making it somewhat more costly for them to block legislation, including making some poor schlub stand up and waste the Senate's time in a visible and very public manner. Sad to say, it does nothing to make it more costly for the majority party to counter.

To break a filibuster, the majority party needs to have at least 60 Senators ready to vote for it at the next opportunity. The minority party only needs to have the one speaking, and a couple of relief Senators at any time. As things stand now, that still gives the Republicans an advantage.

And that, I think, is the point. They still don't want to honk off their benefactors by doing what their supporters want.

As long as that's true, real change is worth about as much as a filibustering Senator's words.

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