Filibuster Reform

Filibuster Reform

by: SarahLawrence Scott

Fri Jan 28, 2011 at 13:00:00 PM EST

There was a lot of activity around the possibility of filibuster reform at the start of this year’s Senate. So how did it work out?

At the end of last year, I argued that something was likely to happen, in part because a split House and Senate gave the Republicans incentive to change the filibuster rules as well.

And indeed, some changes were accomplished by negotiation between the Democratic and Republican leadership. Notably, secret holds are now history. In addition, some mid-level nominations will no longer require Senate confirmation, and we’ll be spared from some of the “read the amendment in full” theatrics. But the other three changes I identified in my post from the end of last year didn’t happen: no requirement for a “talking filibuster,” no reduced waiting period, and no limit to the kinds of things that can be filibustered.

Why not? Did the Republicans use parliamentary maneuvering to block a vote? Did the Democratic leadership refuse to bring the issue up? No. Votes were held. It’s true that they were held in such a way that they required 67 votes, rather than the “constitutional option” of 50+1, but the votes were held.

And the reform package only got 44 votes.


Details below the jump. 

SarahLawrence Scott :: Filibuster Reform

Democrats voting no: Baucus, Kohl, Pryor, Reed, Reid, Webb

Democrats not voting: Feinstein, Inouye, Kerry 

Republicans not voting: Hutchison, McCain

No Republicans voted yes, and independents voted with their caucuses.

Reformers tried again, this time with a proposal to require the “talking filibuster,” but without the other changes. They managed to get up to 46 votes, flipping Kohl, Reed, and Webb, but losing Levin.

The Democratic defections were, admittedly, symbolic. With a deal negotiated between the leaderships, the Republican rank and file weren’t going to defect on a rules issue, and with the vote requirement set at 67, that meant the measures would fail.

But given that the vote was symbolic, why did Democrats defect? After all, every one of them reportedly signed a letter supporting filibuster reform just last month. (I wish we had the full text of that letter, but I don’t think it’s been made public.) And 50+ votes in favor of real reform would have sent a message. In fact, if the Democrats had remained together, it would have strengthened Schumer’s hand in the negotiations (and note that he was a yes vote!), and the compromise would probably have been stronger.

The list of defectors suggest that it was not pressure from the left, although some groups were luke warm on the idea.

It’s also not just people in the leadership, and in fact, some of the leadership voted in favor. 

And the defectors weren’t quite the usual suspects that often thwart Democratic initiatives: Lieberman, both Nelsons, and Landrieu voted yes, for instance.

But they do tend toward the moderate side. I’ve tried to find statements from them explaining their decision, but they appear to have kept it pretty low key.

Is it possible that these Senators opposed filibuster reform because it would reduce their personal power? Fewer votes that require 60 members mean fewer desperate attempts to get Senators like Pryor on board.

I prefer to give people–even politicians–the benefit of the doubt when it comes to motives. But until someone, preferably the Senators themselves, explains these votes to me, it looks bad, and it looks like it cost us the opportunity for negotiating stronger reforms.

The floor is open for your comments. 

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Filibuster Reform | 2 comments

by: you @ soon

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  • budget reconciliation (0.00 / 0) I am not too worked up about filibuster reform.  Over all it is probably a good thing that action requires consensus.

    I am more concerned with budget reconciliation.  I would like to see a rule that the reconciliation process could only be used for the purpose of deficit reduction.  Most of health care reform passed with 60 votes, and only the clean-up bill required the reconciliation process.  What really bothers me is how reconciliation was used in 2001 for the budget-busting tax cuts.  The streamlined process should only exist for helping to balance the budget when there is a deficit.  IF there is a surplus, the full filibuster rules should apply before spending the surplus on either spending or tax reductions.

    by: Peter Zenger @ Sun Jan 30, 2011 at 09:44:11 AM CST

    by: you @ soon

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  • Action (0.00 / 0) It isn’t so much that action requires consensus, as that stalling does not. The current filibuster rules allow a minority to freeze up everything for long periods of time. If it were just that 60 votes were required for final action, things could rapidly be voted on and then set aside. But instead every step can be filibustered, and there are mandatory waiting periods between steps, so doing anything–even something that there are 95 votes for–can eat up more than a week of the Senate calendar.

    That’s what the Udall-Merkley-Harking reforms were trying to change. There would still have been 60 votes necessary to actually implement anything.

    by: SarahLawrence Scott @ Sun Jan 30, 2011 at 16:43:55 PM CST [ Parent ]

    by: you @ soon

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  • Filibuster Reform | 2 comments

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