Social Question

Zuma's avatar

Is it time to get rid of the filibuster?

Asked by Zuma (5908points) August 30th, 2009

The framers of the constitution envisioned a Congress in which it takes a simple majority to pass legislation. The House conforms to the constitution in this respect, but the Senate allows any senator to invoke a filibuster, essentially stopping progress on any given bill until 60 votes can be obtained.

There used to be a cost in doing so, since the senators would have to hold up the business of the whole Senate as they read chicken soup recipes into the Congressional Record, making themselves either very popular or unpopular depending on the cause. But now, there is absolutely no political cost to invoking a filibuster. Any anonymous senator can file a motion to set the bill aside and the business of the Senate marches on.

In the present Congress, the Republicans are invoking a filibuster on every piece of legislation; in effect, requiring a supermajority on every vote. All it would take is 51 votes to end this this practice, and unblock the logjam of legislation that has been created. Do you think we ought to do this?

As you can see from this chart the filibuster is being invoked at twice the rate as has historically been the norm.

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

20 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

It depends whose Ox is being gored. 2 years ago the R’s wanted to kill the filibuster and the Ds didn’t. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

dalepetrie's avatar

I personally think a filibuster is an important part of a Democracy in which there is minority representation. Remember, some times it’s the least popular ideas that need protecting, if everything can get passed with a simple majority, it simply becomes a game of ping pong, when the opposite site gets into power, they just reverse it back. The framers of our system realized that some times there are going to be issues where it’s just too important to let majority rule, which is why we don’t have a genuine Democracy, but a Representative Democracy. Indeed, I believe if we had a simple Democracy in place, I shudder to think of what our government would be these days, given our society’s seemingly insatiable appetite for illusion over reality. We saw facism take root for 8 years, where we were constantly being lied to repeatedly until the lies became the truth for most people, and if we’d had a simple majority rule action take place then, I suspect we’d have even bigger problems than we are facing now.

Though politically speaking, I’d love to do anything to force certain legislation down the throats of the opposition, I recall writing to former Senator Norm Coleman one time about this so called “nuclear” option wherein they could have changed the whole shebang to 51 votes. He was in favor of doing just that, and his politics are the polar opposite of mine, and I told him that he’d better consider that maybe in 2 years, maybe 4, maybe longer, but eventually at some point because the pendulum of politics ALWAYS swings, that if he were to support this now, when the pendulum swung back, he would regret it, he’d be talking out of the other side of his mouth. Just like @pdworkin pointed out, the shoe was on the other foot then, and I told my Senator at the time that shoes would be changing eventually and it’s best not to stifle minority descent, especially when the minority could some day become the majority.

Now, I think it’s despicable that Republicans vote so lock step on everything, if the party wants something, the party gets it, and I suppose that’s a defining characteristic of Republicans….they value loyalty over everything else. So it puts the opposition in a really shitty place, when the opposition is more prone to an open exchange of various ideas and has a hard time achieving cohesion on anything, even when they have the 60 vote supermajority the American people GAVE them. So, because it’s antithetical to the very core belief of the Democratic party to whip support the way Republicans do, you have a LOT more defectors, people believe in voting their conscience (or let’s face it, we’re talking about politicians here, I should say they believe in voting their self interest).

Here’s what I propose though. I don’t like that we’ve gotten away from the meaning of a fillibuster. I want to see some of these Republicans wetting their pants. I want to see Congress sit there and force these motherfuckers to read the whole damn NYC Yellow Pages until they have to just plain give up and let the damn bill come up for a vote. The whole POINT of a filibuster is that if something is SO important to one side, that even though they don’t have the votes to block legislation, they’re willing to stand up and fight for it, then we give them that power. But if we just say, OK, any time the Dems put through ANY legislation, we’re going to block it and all we have to do is get one defector, and we don’t have to do anything to put our money where our mouth is, then that’s a flawed system.

I believe part of our Democracy is also that these votes are part of the record. If Republicans want to insist on blocking legislation that the majority of America really wants, then it’s their political funeral come re-election time. I would make it so that anyone who wants to filibuster is going to have to suffer to do so, that will show if you really believe in what you’re saying or if you’re just being a roadblock. But I’m not really in favor of invoking parliamentary rules because once you open that can of worms, you’ve effectively destroyed the minority representation part of our Democracy, and less representation is never a good thing.

whatthefluther's avatar

@dalepetrie….Thank you….very well said

upholstry's avatar

To summarize @dalepetrie ‘s answer,

* Filibuster = good, because it keeps change from happening too fast by giving the minority party some recourse
* Senate will never change existing laws, because four years from now, there could be a GOP majority
* Dems should force these motherfuckers to read entire NYC yellow pages
* Don’t destroy minority representation by getting rid of filibuster

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@upholstry Thanks. I was beginning to think @dalepetrie was attempting his/her own filibuster of sorts.

torch81's avatar

Sure, you could try to amend the rules and take out the filibuster. But, how would you get around the filibuster to bring it to a vote in the first place? If someone proposed such legislation, couldn’t the party that was using the filibuster on other legislation also filibuster a rule change?

Zuma's avatar

@torch81 No, a rule change is not a bill; it is not subject to a filibuster.

@upholstry There is a long and persuasive article in The Nation which makes the case that the filibuster is a holdover from the days of slavery and segregation. And that when you get right down to it, it really hasn’t served progressive interests.

What bad thing, he asks, were we saved from in the Bush II Administration because of the filibuster? It was intended to be a once in a blue moon tactic for things that are really objectionable, not an automatic challenge to every piece of legislation that effectively moves the goal posts to require a supermajority on every piece of legislation. Look at the chart. The Republicans are abusing the process. At the very least, they should have to stand up and make fools of themselves before the whole nation.

dalepetrie's avatar

@MontyZuma – The problem isn’t that we have the tool, the problem is that we’re not using it properly. To argue that we should get rid of the tool because someone is misusing it would be like making it illegal to produce guns because people shoot people, rather than keeping the guns out of the hands of the wrong people. What we need to do is like you said, make them stand up, make them actually filibuster, make them talk for 14 hours until they piss themselves. Restore the tool to what it was meant to be, don’t take it away altogether. The problem is, Republicans abuse it, and Dems let them…if our Democrats in congress had a pair of nuts among them, our government would actually still function. And it doesn’t matter to me what the rule is a holdover from, if we shut out minority representation and allow a simple majority to rule on everything, how do we stop the next power hungry leader who wants to steamroll over the will of the people? No, the filibuster didn’t serve progressive interests, but that’s not the Republicans’ fault now, is it?

Zuma's avatar

@dalepetrie Check out The Nation article. It makes a good case that we really don’t need the tool at all. Historically, it has only served the most regressive, reactionary and anti-democratic factions in what is already the least democratic of our governmental institutions (save maybe the Supreme Court).

If it is all that valuable, it only takes 51 votes to restore it.

dalepetrie's avatar

@MontyZuma – OK, I’ve read it. I understand the case, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t possibly consider removing it temporarily…I am of the opinion that some times there are things that are too important to be jettisoned by corporate interests. I would use the change sparingly and for very specific targeted purposes, and I would try to legislate these things in a way that they could not be undone by a simple majority. Because the pendulum will always swing. Even in this article, I sense the writer being someone optimistic about the near term, he talks about how we will have 62 or 63 dems and may get to 64….chances are that probably won’t happen. Look at a) history of mid-term elections and b) Nate Silver’s analysis over at 538 and you’ll see that the dems will probably lose some seats in 2010, not gain on our margins. So, perhaps that’s all the more reason to jettison the filibuster? Well, I still don’t think so. I still believe that if we get rid of the changes that were made in ‘75 and give meaning to a filibuster, we retain an important part of the Democratic process.

Now, just because past history shows a fairly thin record of filibuster saving us from a horrid fate, doesn’t mean that it never has, nor does it mean it never will again. I think once one side makes that decision to pull out the stops and go to a 51 vote majority, it will be like opening a legislative Pandora’s Box….even if the openers try to stuff it all back inside, it will be too late, because the other side will retaliate at one of the first opportunities, and eventually the tit for tat will make it impossible to even keep a filibuster option in place. In other words, take it away for even one mega important piece of legislation on this highly polarized political climate, and you might as well revoke it for good. And my point is, if you do that, it’s really about the what ifs, not the specific examples. Our founding fathers recognized the importance of a minority voice and put it into existence for a reason…not because it was relevant to a specific issue they were dealing with at the time, but because they had foresight to know that some things are of too great of importance to simply allow majority to rule no matter what. Again, if you exact a price for using it, if you require people to publicly declare their opposition in a very painful way, you’re not going to get people doing this to tow the party line, you’re going to get people who passionately believe in what they are doing, and that’s what a filibuster is for.

And minor point here, but you stated that the Nation article “makes the case that the filibuster is a holdover from the days of slavery and segregation.” This is not correct. What the article actually says is, “Of course, I know there are all sorts of arguments made for the filibuster. For example: “But the filibuster is part of our country’s history, and there’s much to be said for respecting our history and tradition.” Yes, well, slavery and segregation are also part of our history, and that’s what the filibuster was used to defend. I’m all in favor of history and tradition, but I see no reason to go on cherishing either the filibuster or the Confederate flag.” Essentially it makes two points….one is that we can’t respect every institution because it’s historical because not all of history in this country is just. Very true, and not the argument I think any of us makes. Two, it basically points out that pro-slavery and pro-segregation Senators used the filibuster as well. Again, true, it can be used for bad as well as good, but one can argue that those who did use the filibuster to disenfranchise other people must have truly believed that they were right, even if they WERE on the wrong side of history. My goal would not be to make 100% of the Senate agree with everything I believed….that would be a utopian ideal, yes, but it’s not realistic….my feeling is we need to make the Senate more honest and to make sure that people fight for what THEY believe in and not just what the status quo from their party demands.

mattbrowne's avatar

It seems to get out of hand in the US.

Kraigmo's avatar

Instead of getting rid of the filibuster, we should just return it to the old rule: The Senator or Congressmen must actually stand on the floor of their House, and give a speech that lasts as long as the filibuster. That’s how it’s supposed to be done. Like others above have said.

In latter years, they’ve allowed the physical speech part to go by the wayside. Which makes it too easy.

dpworkin's avatar

I’m with @Kraigmo. Let ‘em filibuster if they have to keep the floor the whole time.

Mandomike's avatar

I say we go back to when congressmen were public servants instead of lifetime money suckers with one agenda, never leave.

dpworkin's avatar

When was that?

Mandomike's avatar

The term “public servant,” congers up an image of police officers, firemen, or soldiers who risk their lives each day. However, a person who amasses wealth, power, and influence while on the public dole does not meet my qualifications for a “public servant.”

Congress was established with the view that its members would gather, discuss issues germane to the Republic, approve or reject proposed laws, and return to their homes and businesses. This grand concept for American public service has long since turned into a monster which betrays the public trust.

In 1857 the House of Representatives was established in the South wing and in 1859, the Senate in the North wing of the Capital. In 1879 the Capitol received electric lighting. In 1916 Jeannette Rankin was elected as the first woman in Congress. In 1932 Hattie Caraway was elected as the first woman in the Senate.

During the early years of our Republic the majority of Congressmen and Senators were farmers, merchants, or plantation owners. They conducted the nation’s business and then returned to their planting, harvesting, or businesses. As time went on, more and more lawyers came to Washington as public servants. The trend of doing the Republic’s business and then returning home continued until the advent of modern air conditioning in the 1950’s at which time our public servants made Washington, D.C. their home.

With the advent of modern air conditioning the term “career politician” became a reality. Robert Byrd leads the list in longevity having served almost 57 years in the House and Senate combined. Five others have served more than 50 years in Congress. Thirty-four others have served more than 40 years, and 85 have served at least 36 years. Presuming the United States human life span to be about 78 years, this would mean that several politicians have served most their life, and essentially all their adult life, on Capitol Hill. The Kennedys, Dingells, Rockefellers, and others have made politics a family business.

Until 1815, Congress only received a “per diem” of $6.00 a day when in session; that was “public service.” In 1815, Congress began receiving an annual salary of $1,500.00; still “public service.” As of October 1, 2006, the average retirement pension for retired congress members was $60,972.00. Congress members have free travel back and forth from their state or district and a “slush fund” of more than $1 million. They can keep all political contributions left over from their campaigns as ordinary income. How could anyone have the unmitigated gall to suggest that working 3 days each week, on the weeks they work, while receiving $174,000.00 a year, plus all the “perks” of their position, constitutes “public service?”

Congressional politicians become so mesmerized by their opulent lifestyle, influence peddling, and income potential that it becomes intoxicating. They very quickly adapt to the principal of doing that which keeps them in office as opposed to what is best for the people.

This brings us to the only recourse that “we the people” have; vote every incumbent out of office at the next election. I know, they are all crooks except mine. But that is the mindset which has this nation in its current state; mine cumulatively becomes 538 of the rascals. By voting every incumbent out of office, politicians would receive a message that would resonate for years. The President has no power to offer, vote on, or debate legislation. He can only sign or veto what Congress sends him.

Let me be clear. It is counter intuitive to presume that a Congress member needs 50, 40, 30, 20, or even 12 years to correct the mess that he or she helped create in the first place. The only solution to affect better government is to change the faces in government. Think about it!

dpworkin's avatar

Where are you quoting that from? Just curious.

Mandomike's avatar, Sorry I will have the source shortly.

dpworkin's avatar

(this is intended only kindly: it is conventional on Fluther to tag quotations and name the source)

Mandomike's avatar

@pdworkin, sorry it took so long, the quote comes from my uncle Bill Shuey, A conservative that fought in the Vietnam war.

Answer this question




to answer.
Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther