Gagging The Teabaggers: Senate Majority Leader Pushes Filibuster Reform

Picture of Madd Hatter droning on and on while the doormouse dozes off.

With apologies to John Tenniel, illustrator for Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

While progressives bask in their post-election glow and conservatives recover from their apoplectic hissy fits, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is rolling up his sleeves and getting back to work. During Reid’s press conference on Wednesday, he announced that he intends to reform filibuster rules so his GOP colleagues can no longer abuse them to thwart legislation:

“I think that the rules have been abused and that we’re going to work to change them … We’re not going to do away with the filibuster but we’re going to make the Senate a more meaningful place.”

Stephen Dinnan from the Washington Times adds that the GOP has “repeatedly used that strong minority to block parts of President Obama’s agenda on everything from added stimulus spending to his judicial picks.”

What Is a Filibuster?

The filibuster allows senators to delay votes on legislation they oppose — and which is likely to pass — by taking the floor and speaking for as long as they want. Unfortunately, with politicians, this can be a very … very … v-e-e-e-r-r-y long time. This procedural device dates from Roman times, and allows legislators from a minority block to protect their constituents’ interests by forcing a majority bloc to hammer out a compromise with them. Unfortunately, filibusters only serve the American people well if both sides are actually willing to compromise — and the Republicans refuse to do so.

This year’s Senate rules require 60 votes (out of the total 100) to override a filibuster (a process called “cloture”). The 112th Senate has 100 seats, with 47 Republicans, 51 Democrats, and two independents who usually vote with their Democratic colleagues. This isn’t quite the majority needed to squash obstructions from their “severely” conservative colleagues.

The American people don’t even get any entertainment value out of this deal. Today’s wussified extremists don’t even put their physical presence where their mouths are, to actually stand on the Senate floor and talk people’s ears off. They simply rely on the technicality of cloture not being invoked, and go off to solicit gay prostitutes, rape little boys, roll around in giant pools of money, snatch food away from babies, or whatever the heck “severe conservatives” do for fun these days.

Strom Thurmond

Senator Strom Thurmond filibustered The Civil Rights Act of 1957 for 24 hours and 18 minutes back in 1957. Now there’s a racist who really stuck to his principles.

Back in the good old days, reactionaries actually knew how to put on a show. On August 27th, 1957, pro-segregation Senator Strom Thurmond stood on the Senate floor and filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for a record 24 hours and 18 minutes (he brought provisions, dehydrated himself in a steam room so he wouldn’t need to pee, and read state statutes and other government texts aloud). Back then, men were men, racists were “Racists” with a capital “R,” and the farm animals were “skeered shitless.”

How The GOP Abuses Filibusters To Block The Will Of The American People

Because it requires 60 votes (out of the total 100) to override a filibuster in the Senate (that “cloture” process again), the GOP has been able to deliberately and repeatedly obstruct the will of the American people. In 2008, Democrats won the presidency and the senate with a mandate for change and reversing the disastrous course of former President George W. Bush’s administration. Since then, many Americans have felt frustrated by the stalled economic recovery and ongoing congressional gridlock. Much of this can be directly attributed to the GOP’s abuse of the filibuster.

On January 20th, 2009 — the day of President Barack Obama’s first inauguration — Republican strategist Frank Luntz gathered Republican members of the newly-minted 111th congress together for an unprecedented meeting which literally appears first in a Wikipedia article entitled “Obstructionism,”  I kid you not. This august gathering included seven representatives (most notably, Paul Ryan), five GOP senators, and — for reasons beyond anyone’s comprehension — Newt Gingrich, the scandal-slimed former Speaker and loathsome toad with the three wives and the disturbingly enormous head.

In the face of the worst financial crash since the Great Depression — which was caused by their own policies — these GOP stalwarts resolved to “show united and unyielding opposition to the President’s economic policies.” Eight days later House Republicans unanimously voted against Obama’s economic stimulus plan, and have maintained a stubborn and unified opposition ever since. The Senate once enjoyed a more mature, collegial, and statesman-like reputation compared with the more volatile House, but their former civility has been replaced by corrosive divisiveness in recent years.

According to a US Senate chart, the 111th Congress (2009-2010) filibustered 112 of the 139 motions introduced in the Senate. Reid was able to muster support for overriding 63 of these, while the other 49 died ignominious, lingering deaths. In many of these cases, the Republicans weren’t even filibustering against actual legislation, they were filibustering against discussions about legislationand thereby preventing the Senate from conducting day-to-day business and giving due consideration to bills and other measures.

How Reid Plans to Stop Filibuster Abuse

Luckily for Reid, a new legislative session is coming up — after the new year, when the 112th Congress ends and the 113th Congress officially begins — and that means the Senate can vote on new procedural rules. Sam Stein and Ryan Grim from the Huffington Post report that “Sources close to the majority leader say the intervening time period has hardened his belief that the Senate is too dysfunctional to leave its rules untouched.” In a previous HuffPo article, Stein further explains that although Reid’s options are currently unclear, he will have many factors on his side, including a sympatico Senate Chair in Vice President Joe Biden (yet another one of a veep’s obscure duties), a larger Democratic majority, and the fact that some Republicans might go along (just in case they happen to win a majority in 2015).

According to Daily Kos, Senator Jeff Merkeley (D-OR) has taken the lead on filibuster reforms. In a nutshell, Merkeley’s proposals would preserve the underlying purpose of filibustering by allowing it as a delaying tactic for bringing legislation to a vote, but regulating its use for delaying motions to proceed (bringing laws to the Senate floor for consideration), discussions of amendments and assignments to conference committees, nominations for government appointments, and other essential day-to-day business:

  • Eliminate the use of the filibuster on motions to proceed, so the majority leader can bring a bill or other matter to the floor for deliberation.
  • Ban filibusters for discussions of amendments and limiting them in conference committees.
  • Expediting nominations to key government appointments, so the Senate can fulfil its legal obligation to provide timely “advice and consent.”
  • Require filibustering senators to be physically present while holding the floor so they bear the consequences of their obstructionism — including missed bathroom breaks and having their obnoxiousness broadcast on CNN.

The above proposals sound very fair and reasonable, which is why those stinkin’ tea baggers are unlikely to adopt them.

Elisabeth Parker is a writer, Web designer, mom, political junkie, and dilettante. Come visit her at ElisabethParker.Com, friend her on facebook, or follow her on Twitter.