Work in Progress: “Reform the Filibuster”

Got an email from my new Senator (yes, I love saying that) Elizabeth Warren:

On the first day of the new session in January, the Senate will have a unique opportunity to change the filibuster rule with a simple majority vote, rather than the normal two-thirds vote. The change can be modest: If someone objects to a bill or a nomination in the United States Senate, they should have to stand on the floor of the chamber and defend their opposition. No more ducking responsibility for bringing the work of this country to a dead stop.

I’ve joined Senator Jeff Merkley and four other senators to fight for this reform on Day One. Will you join us? Sign Senator Merkley’s petition now.

Senate Republicans have used the filibuster 380 times since the Democrats took over the majority in 2006. We’ve seen filibusters to block judicial nominations, jobs bills, campaign finance transparency, ending Big Oil subsidies — you name it, there’s been a filibuster.

We’ve seen filibusters of bills and nominations that ultimately passed with 90 or more votes. Why filibuster something that has that kind of support? Just to slow down the process and keep the Senate from working.

I saw the impact of these filibusters at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Forty-five senators pledged to filibuster any nominee to head that new consumer agency, regardless of that person’s qualifications. After I left the agency, they tried to hold Richard Cordray’s nomination vote hostage unless the Senate would agree to weaken the agency and limit its ability to hold Wall Street banks and credit card companies accountable.

That’s not open debate — that’s paralyzing progress….

The other Senators sponsoring the petition are Jeff Merkley (OR), Tom Udall (NM), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Tom Harkin (IA-Sen), Amy Klobuchar (MN-Sen), and Jeanne Shaheen (NH).

95 replies
  1. 1
    Corner Stone says:

    Like a lot of “traditions”, the reasonable purpose for the filibuster has long since passed.

  2. 2
    redshirt says:

    I like it – keep the filibuster, but make it more difficult to implement. IE – used only in extraordinary situations, rather than everytime the Dems try and have a vote.

  3. 3
    TOP123 says:

    It certainly is a work in progress, if all they’re going to end up with is a requirement to continually speak on the Senate floor… hopefully that’s just window dressing to the real reform.

  4. 4
    FlipYrWhig says:

    I feel like the filibuster used to make some sense as a way for a cohesive minority in the senate to pipe up in protest. But back then politicians, even the racists, idiots and assholes, had some shame and a sense of fair play and good sportsmanship. Now that’s gone. So, fuck ’em.

    Win a majority and you get to try to put your agenda into practice. When Democrats are in the minority, they’ll have the same opportunity: either vote against stuff, or bargain your way into something you can support, but, for the love of Secular Non-God, let’s go back to trying to use the government to solve social problems.

  5. 5
    moops says:

    I’d make it even more explicitly obstructionist. You have to stand and read. Anything. You are on the news that night, reading the phone book. We still need the filibuster in the extremes, but the filibuster is extreme, and egregious behavior might be forgiven by constituents.

    When the last orator sits, the vote is held.

    Also, it is time to start proposing rules to prevent 30+ votes on the same topic over and over (ie. repeal ACA). I know, nothing can happen in the House like that, but we need to start lobbying.

  6. 6
    Cargo says:

    I want to see a senator who wants to filibuster to really get up there and actually read the phone book or whatever. Pee into a bag strapped to his leg. Freakin’ own it, Mr Smith goes to Washington style.

  7. 7
    dmsilev says:

    While the filibuster definitely needs to be reformed, I’m not convinced requiring Senators to be on the floor gabbing is the right way to do it. For starters, given our media environment, it would probably just encourage more grandstanding.

    If I were writing Senate rules (hah!), I’d go with:
    1) No filibusters on motions to proceed.
    2) For filibusters on actual bills, repeated cloture votes require successively fewer votes. Start with 60, then on a second attempt require say 57. Then 55, 53, and finally 51. That way, a determined minority can delay but not ultimately stop legislation.
    3) No filibusters on Executive Branch nominees. Still allowed for Judicial Branch though; lifetime tenure should be more difficult to get.
    4) No honoring of ‘secret holds’. If you have an objection, you have to say so publicly.

    (For ‘no filibusters’, read ‘zero-delay 50-vote cloture motion’ if you prefer).

    That would cut out a lot of the nonsense, and still preserve some semblance of minority say.

  8. 8
    Ben Franklin says:

    @Corner Stone:

    The filibuster was originally intended to keep hijinks abated at he end of a term, or legislative session. It has been perverted beyond all fucking recognition.

  9. 9
    Mark S. says:

    In case anyone was wondering, Ross Douthat is still a dickhead. People only vote for Democrats because they are losers, unlike the Fox News Watching Master Race.

  10. 10
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @moops: But do you think they wouldn’t still do it? I don’t see how they would care how they looked. I just about guarantee that the news wouldn’t cover it as a big deal, in which case the change would be at least as bad as the status quo ante.

  11. 11
    Mark S. says:

    I’m not convinced requiring Senators to be on the floor gabbing is the right way to do it. For starters, given our media environment, it would probably just encourage more grandstanding.

    Nah, these guys are really fucking lazy. They only work like three days a week.

  12. 12
    Allen says:

    Sen. Merkley is my Senator. Replaced our last, and hopefully last, Republican Senator, Gordon Smith.

  13. 13
    mai naem says:

    Wash Monthly had a blurb saying that they don’t have the votes for reforming the filibuster. I think it was Ed Kilgore. He said the old farts don’t want to change it. Off the top of my head I can only think of Manchin,Landrieu, Pryor and Baucus who wouldn’t be for it. And I think it’s supposed to be Baucus’s last term so unless he’s getting paid off for his future lobbying, he should sign up for it. I can’t believe old farts Lautenberg and Leahy would be against it especially since Lautenberg’s probably going to need the votes for FEMA funding for NJ. If I was Reid, I would approach Susan Collins and offer her something if she turns indy. She’s going to face a teabagger anyway.

  14. 14
    FlipYrWhig says:


    That way, a determined minority can delay but not ultimately stop legislation.

    And I think that’s much more of the spirit of the thing, too: a _Twelve Angry Men_-style cooling-off period to avoid acting in undue haste.

    The problem of course isn’t in coming up with a better system. It’s getting individual senators to accept having less power than they do now. And that’s not a left-center-right issue, either. Russ Feingold, f’rex, didn’t want to rethink the filibuster.

  15. 15
    HB in Boston says:

    How filibuster reform is done really makes a difference. If the Merkley proposal is pursued, then ANY future Senate majority can change the rules. This has potentially very bad consequences. What we need is, however difficult, is to get a reform package that 2/3 of the Senate will approve. Lacking that, at some point a right-wing Senate as much as a left-wing Senate can radically change the rules and protection of minority rights in national legislation expires. Dmsliev’s agenda is wholly honorable. But it could all disappear when the opposition party controls the Senate. Just think, if Romney had won the election and the Republicans achieved control of the Senate (both within the realm of possibility) where would we be without the filibuster?

  16. 16
    jonas says:

    Word. The filibuster, properly used, has its purpose, namely to keep the majority party from ramming its bills through without having a proper, public debate. The current GOP abuse of cloture votes is aimed at doing the opposite, however, namely shutting down debate before it even happens so as to oppose legislation without having the cojones to actually stand up and say you oppose it. If something is so egregious that you have to bring the Senate’s business to a standstill to stop it, fine — just be willing to actually get up and speak into the record about why you oppose it and don’t yield the floor. Pee into a jar if you have to, but dammit, we will know why you’re doing this. Same goes for these idiotic “secret holds” senators place on appointments.

  17. 17
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @dmsilev: It should require the person wanting the filibuster to have to keep it active, not require those who don’t want the filibuster to end it. And it should require the person(s) dong the filibuster for any reason, including blocking judges, to have their name attached to it; no more hiding.

  18. 18
    Robin G. says:

    @FlipYrWhig: Personally, I don’t believe they’d do it if they actually had to REALLY filibuster, no. In addition to the bad optics (campaign commercials of pure gold — “Senator X would rather read the phonebook than vote for the Cute Puppies Bill!”), I personally believe most of them are fundamentally lazy douchebags. They don’t *actually* care enough to stand up there if it’s going to take work. They’d much rather let it pass on party lines and go straight to getting fellated on Meet the Press.

  19. 19
    moops says:


    The consequences for actual filibuster legends has been mixed. Some Senators were destroyed in their following elections with long accounts of their filibusters in the news.

    On the other hand is Strom Thurmond, the record holder, filibustering the civil rights act. It made him a hero on the right, and also failed to stop the legislation.

    This was all in a pre 24hour news cycle world. The lunatic filibustering would not just be a slice of the evening news. It would be on the screen over and over and over, with commentators discussing the topic they are filibustering. Their would be a scroll or a clock graphic under them, and their party affiliation.

    Everyone would ask “What is so horrible about this appointment again?”

    It would no longer be a narrative of “both sides do it”, or “a pox of both houses”

    One side would risk being outed as actual reckless obstructionists, or just plain nuts.

  20. 20
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @mai naem: This article from 2010 in The Hill notes as Democratic skeptics (to varying degrees) of filibuster reform…

    Ben Nelson

  21. 21
    Ted & Hellen says:

    BRAVO for Elizabeth Warren, who is also MY new Senator, and bravo for this petition!

    My only question is how will Reid and establishment power brokers shut her down?

  22. 22
    SFAW says:

    @Mark S.:

    In case anyone was wondering, Ross Douthat is still a dickhead.

    What a coincidence – I WAS wondering.

    Well, actually, no, I wasn’t. It would be like wondering if Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

    He is. And Douthat is still a dickhead. And water is wet. Et cetera.

  23. 23
    yam says:

    I’m quite pleased to see my Senator’s name on the list. Amy Klobuchar has been pretty wishy-washy and I’ve never been a fan. I feared I may have had to call her office to make sure that she signs on. Happily there is no need.

    Conforming the Senate from a morass of angry old men into a deliberative body once again is a wonderful thing.

  24. 24
    mai naem says:

    Being the shallow fashionista that I am, I just have to say Nancy Pelosi’s hair’s been looking like sheet recently. She is using too much heavy hold hairspray or product. She needs to use mousse or something.

    Also, Chris Hayes finally wore a shirt that fits him better. Not sure if it’s the collar or that it was a pattern, not the blue solid he usually seems to wear. Now, he just needs to change his glasses. I know he thinks they’re hip but he looks like he’s wearing Rachel Maddow’s and he’s not a girl. How about getting the kind that Olbermann wears?

  25. 25
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @moops: @Robin G.: Hmm. I think they’d love the attention at the beginning, and that the novelty would wear off, to the point where it would cease to be newsworthy, which would mean that they got away with being even worse punks than they are now. That’s why I’d prefer to see some tinkering with the vote thresholds instead. It preserves the idea of the deliberate delay (in the spirit of wanting the majority to reconsider what it’s doing) without making it either an unending spectacle or, eventually, a soul-deadening routine.

  26. 26
    SFAW says:

    Anne –
    Thanks for the link to the Merkley/Warren sign-up sheet, by the way.

  27. 27
    Ted & Hellen says:

    Probably threaten to keep her off the finance committee…

  28. 28
    moops says:

    The real question is, how to get the votes? what level of compromise would everyone accept ?

    This is taking some power away from Senators, then asking Senators to vote on it.

    What power could be granted in return? How else can you empower Senators that caters to their lazy nature?

  29. 29
    WaterGirl says:

    @mai naem: I believe that was Katherine Greir, subbing this weekend, and I thought the title left a much more negative impression about support for the filibuster change than the actual article did. IIRC, the blog post itself said something like “there aren’t enough votes to change it yet, but we are still working on getting the votes”.

  30. 30
    Ted & Hellen says:

    @mai naem:

    f I was Reid, I would approach Susan Collins and offer her something if she turns indy. She’s going to face a teabagger anyway.

    What evidence do you have that Reid wants filibuster reform?

  31. 31
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @moops: Yup, that’s exactly the question. Frankly, I feel like part of the answer is that it must suck to be a senator if you can’t make interesting policy on big important issues, which is probably why the people who want to make a change are the new guard, not the old guard. I can see why there are all these rumors flying around about Mark Warner returning to Virginia to run for governor instead of slogging through the stupid senate. Or, for that matter, Elizabeth Warren herself!

    If you’re in politics because you want to get something done, why would you want to be part of an institution that barely functions? If you’re a Type A personality, you’d almost certainly rather be a governor or an issue-advocate than a senator twiddling your thumbs. That’s what’ll probably start to change what’s going on: senators saying, look, if we don’t change this stupid policy, I’m not going to run for re-election.

  32. 32
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Ted & Hellen: One data point from the article I linked above:

    Reid told more than 2,000 liberal activists at a political conference held over the weekend in Las Vegas that he would work to change the filibuster rule.

  33. 33
    aimai says:

    I like that I heard from her. I never heard from Kennedy or Kerry about anything.


  34. 34
    mai naem says:

    @yam: I like Klobuchar, I don’t know crap about her, I just like her on an instinctive level. I wish she would run for president. As far as filibusters, the Dems are never going to act like the Repubs. There’s a good chance we’re going to lose the Senate in 2014 but regain it in 2016 so you do what you can at this point and you have the president to veto stuff. The demos are going in our favor. Hope we win the presidency in 2016 so that its not an issue for the minority.

    OT, I think we have a very hawt looking Senate on the democratic side. Actually, on the House side too. In fact, our side is hotter than the Repubs. Neener, neener. Our president was also way hotter than their candidate. Not that I’m being shallow or anything here.

  35. 35
    moops says:


    It wouldn’t have to be novel and news worthy. For one, the filibuster would get rarer, and thus still novel.

    Second, actual filibusters would all be publicly recorded and used in follow-on election material.

    Third, I’d start up and keep video of all the douchebags, in a searchable database, with great highlight reels.

    Fourth, I’d love them to actually spend some time reading the Constitution out loud, and the Declaration of Independence. Most of them seem to have forgotten the parts they aren’t specifically in love with.

    Fifth, douchbags filibustering can’t be out fundraising, or drafting legislation, or meeting lobbyists, or campaigning, or at their home state making appearances.

  36. 36
    JohnK says:

    @yam: What’s up with Al?

  37. 37
    mai naem says:

    @Ted & Hellen: He’s said a couple of times that he made a mistake not changing the filibuster. I am assuming that means he would do it this time around.

  38. 38
    mai naem says:

    @JohnK: I am pretty sure Al was one of the ones who was for changing the filibuster last time around.

  39. 39
    Ted & Hellen says:


    Talk is cheap.

    He’s had ample opportunity and has DONE nothing.

  40. 40
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @moops: I see your points, but I have a bad feeling it would remain a potent tactic for running out the clock on each Congressional session. It grinds the work of government to a halt, which is something Republicans actually _want_. So we’d have to see filibusterers get voted out for their behavior before that behavior would diminish. And I’m just not confident that it would happen.

  41. 41
    TOP123 says:

    I don’t see how a speaking requirement would be such an onerous burden on the minority; whether or not you believe Senators are lazy people, certainly you’d have to also believe that they were not attention-seekers and that they had an aversion to being on television! If anything, a speaking requirement could be seen as a plus for the minority party–it gets them plenty of airtime when they are not otherwise in a position to set the general agenda and direction in the Senate.

    As to their public image taking a hit? They’d gladly say, on FOX, ‘hell, yes, I AM reading out of the phonebook, lest the KENYAN RE-SURPER’s nefarious agenda pass—these names, and I’m only up to G, are all that stands between real Americans and tyranny! That and my own personal political courage!’

    (edited for spelling)

  42. 42
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Ted & Hellen: Uh, because… he didn’t have the votes then, in 2010. Which is what the story was about. And he might not now either, because the old guard that’s still in place actually likes things the way they are.

  43. 43
    Ted & Hellen says:


    Flip, really, why are you so credulous?

    Reid stands for nothing.

    Or did I somehow miss his extended, passionate media campaign to bring votes to his side?

  44. 44
    HB in Boston says:

    Interesting in peripheral way, the comments that Senators who filibuster “live” can “pee into a jar” assumes that the Senators in question are male.

  45. 45
    gwangung says:

    @Ted & Hellen:

    He’s had ample opportunity and has DONE nothing.

    Now that’s just stupid.

    He’s had one chance with a Dem president, not ample.

    Try harder; being lazy isn’t even amusing.

  46. 46
    bmoak says:

    IIRC, changing the filibuster rules to require the filibustering Senator to actually stand up and talk would actually make it more difficult for the Dems. The Senate has to have a quorum of 51 members in the chamber to pass a motion, so if there are fewer than 51 members, the filibusterer can just say there’s not a quorum and declare the senate closed until the next day, with the filibuster continuing then. This means that the Dems would have to keep almost there entire caucus there while the Pubs would only need to keep one, and rotate every 2-3 hours.

    Might help optics-wise and media-wise. I’m sick and tired of news articles with headlines like: “Senate Dems Fail to Pass Jobs Bill” every time the Pubs invoke cloture.

  47. 47
    Robin G. says:

    @yam: Yeah, I was surprised too. Never been a big fan of Amy’s. (And I still haven’t forgiven her for asking Kagan during confirmation hearings whether she was Team Edward or Team Jacob. I don’t care that she thought she was being funny; as a Minnesotan I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.)

  48. 48
    mai naem says:

    @Ted & Hellen: I don’t think Reid expected the Repubs to act the way they did. I don’t think Obama expected Romney to lie the way he did the first debate and I think it threw him off his game. The Repubs always but always throw away the standard unwritten rules and take things to an extreme and it surprises the Dems. It shouldn’t by now, but it does. I honestly think the only time a Dem has taken stuff to an extreme was when Clinton was trying to avoid the Lewinsky thing. The fvcking Republicans held up the nomination for the head of the Printing Office for crying out loud. We aren’t talking lifetime judgeship here, just a stupid printing office. Jeezus.

  49. 49
    Schlemizel says:

    @Ben Franklin:

    Ben, I had never heard that the filibuster was designed to stop end of session stupidity. I have always heard the founders wanted a more deliberative body that could cool passions and ensure that the majority didn’t steamroll the minority. Can you give me some references because I find this sort of stuff really fascinating.

    Reading what the framers actually wrote about some of these issues is very enlightening. Its amazing sometimes to see what really concerned them and the compromises they made to get the deal done

  50. 50
    1badbaba3 says:

    @mai naem: Blue Dogs need to step the fuck off or get crushed like the rest of their ilk. Those who stand in vocal opposition to Obama never get their way, ending up in the heap of irrelevance. If they posess some utilty, then, and only then, will Obama show mercy, rescue them, and bring them into the fold. Blue Dogs didn’t go away by accident. And they didn’t go away by choice. Obama Akbar!

  51. 51
    Denali says:

    Petition signed. Thanks for the opportunty. It is time that being in the majority has meaning.

  52. 52
    Ted & Hellen says:


    Now that’s just stupid.
    He’s had one chance with a Dem president, not ample.
    Try harder; being lazy isn’t even amusing.

    What is your personal emotional investment, that you have to go straight to insult?

    Secondly, why does he need a Dem president, I would think a Dem Senate would be more important. He had that. He didn’t even try. Why?

    One of our tasks as citizens is to hold elected officials’ feet to the fire, to be cynical and suspicious and demanding, rather than constantly helping them to make excuses.

    Why do you take the opposite tack?

  53. 53
    Schlemizel says:

    @mai naem:

    My complaint with Klobuchar is that she voted with Bush during her first 2 years and when I called her DC office to express disappointment they lied to me about how she had voted. She has shied away from some strong stands & stuck with touchy-feely stuff that insure she will be re-elected as long as she draws breath.

    That is not who she presented herself as when she first ran. She is still way better than the alternatives and I supported her re-election she just has not been everything I had hoped for.

  54. 54
    Ted & Hellen says:

    @mai naem:

    I don’t think Reid expected the Repubs to act the way they did. I don’t think Obama expected Romney to lie the way he did the first debate and I think it threw him off his game.

    If you REALLY believe this about Reid and Obama then they are not only naive, but stupid, and quite possibly severely cognitively disabled.

    Again, people, have some standards! Hold their feet to the fire! Make them do it!

  55. 55
    Schlemizel says:


    I plan on calling him on Monday and asking him whats up. I would be very surprised if he doesn’t stand up for reform

  56. 56
    Schlemizel says:

    @HB in Boston:
    Interesting in peripheral way, you assume that only male Senators “pee into a jar”.


    I have a good friend who lives to hunt and fish, his wife does too. They had no sons so they took his two daughters with & taught them both to pee standing up. I never witnessed it but the wife explained it to me & it sounded easy enough.

  57. 57
    magurakurin says:

    My idea for reform. Put a formal limit on the length of debate on a bill as exists in the House, but stipulate that debate can be extended if minority (40 votes) wishes to do so. This way the minority has to keep 40 votes on the floor at all times or the majority since the majority can call for cloture at any time. The minority can bring in porta potties, cots and chinese food and stay as long as they can hold 40 on the floor. Theoretically forever, or long enough to force the majority to change the bill in order for Senate business to proceed. They could even make the minority requirement at first to 10, then increase by increments, say 10 a day, until it gets to 40, where it stays.

    never happen, though.

  58. 58
    Schlemizel says:


    Read what Humphrey had to do in ’64. The Dixiecrats had 4 members working in rotation and HHH had teams so that there were always pro Civil Rights Act Senators on the floor to stop that tactic. The had everyone on standby in the event the whole Senate was needed but that is actually a rare thing unless they needed an actual vote.

    Seriously, everyone should read the story of the ’64 filibuster. It dragged on for 57 working days and required very interesting tactics and strategy on both sides. You also see how much great tactics run by experts like LBJ and HHH can do something people thought impossible,

  59. 59
    Ben Franklin says:


    Sorry. Couldn’t re-acquire the link for that point. This may provide some consolation.

    In the end, the Constitution prescribed six instances in which Congress would require more than a majority vote: impeaching the president, expelling members, overriding a presidential veto of a bill or order, ratifying treaties and amending the Constitution. And as Bondurant writes, “The Framers were aware of the established rule of construction, expressio unius est exclusio alterius, and that by adopting these six exceptions to the principle of majority rule, they were excluding other exceptions.” By contrast, in the Bill of Rights, the Founders were careful to state that “the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
    That majority vote played into another principle, as well: the “finely wrought” compromise over proper representation. At the time of the country’s founding, seven of the 13 states, representing 27 percent of the population, could command a majority in the Senate. Today, with the filibuster, 21 of the 50 states, representing 11 percent of the population, can muster the 41 votes to stop a majority in the Senate. “The supermajority vote requirement,” Bondurant argues, thus “upsets the Great Compromise’s carefully crafted balance between the large states and the small states.”
    Establishing that the Founders intended Congress to operate by majority vote is different than saying that it’s unconstitutional for Congress to act in another way. After all, the Constitution also says that Congress has the power to “determine the Rules of its Proceedings.”

  60. 60
    1badbaba3 says:

    @Robin G.: Tough crowd, jeez.

    @Schlemizel: I hear you with the Bush thang, thoroughly unappealing. But how has she done since? Often it’s not so much how you start, as how you make up for voting along with a jerkwad.

  61. 61
    Smiling Mortician says:

    @mai naem:

    There’s a good chance we’re going to lose the Senate in 2014

    Hmm. Well, there’s a chance, but not really a good chance.

  62. 62
    Shalimar says:

    @Ted & Hellen: Nothing was going to change in 2009, because the split was going to be 60-40 and there were at least 20 Dem Senators who loved the idea of being that 60th vote on different issues and getting lots of goodies in exchange.

    Reid had a chance in 2011, but there weren’t even close to enough votes. Reid was on the fence at the time, and we have no idea whether that was because he personally didn’t want the filibuster rules changed or because he knew it wasn’t worth wasting political capital on something that had very little chance of happening.

    Now it is 2 years later, and the chance of change is much stronger. Reid has said he’s in favor, which presumably means he is actually lobbying fence-sitters behind the scenes. The vote won’t be for another 2 months, it is way too early to say he is doing nothing.

    I’m not a Reid fan. He’s a moderate and his Senate has ended up aligned with his views far more often than I would like rather than pursuing real change to help people in need. But he isn’t inept, or worthless.

  63. 63
    Robin G. says:

    @1badbaba3: It was a Senate confirmation hearing for a potential Supreme Court justice. There’s a time and place to be cute, and that? That was not it.

  64. 64
    Some Loser says:

    @Ted & Hellen:

    Nothing is actually my preferred platform. We must all face the nothingness that is death someday!

  65. 65
    Shalimar says:

    @Ted & Hellen: Holding feet to the fire is different from what you were implying to begin with. By saying Reid believed in nothing and had done nothing, you were strongly implying that he was lying and nothing is going to happen on filibuster reform no matter what we do. Which is very defeatist, since nothing is going to pass without Reid’s support.

    I would guess everyone here is in favor of constant pressure on Senators to make sure reform happens. Two months is a long time, hopefully the votes for a specific package will solidify.

  66. 66
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Ted & Hellen: He tried, and didn’t have the votes, so he stopped trying. What kind of “extended, passionate media campaign” is going to make that list of senators I provided (dateline 2010) throw away something that makes them powerful? That’s the issue. Democratic Senators who have been in the minority don’t want to give up a special perk they have, and won’t do it unless (as moops pointed out earlier) there’s something they’d trade it for. What would that be?

    I mean, think of yourself as an example. When was the last time you changed your mind about something just because a bunch of people whose opinions you don’t respect told you things would be marginally better if you did? You don’t have to be a wishy-washy “moderate” like Ben Nelson to act like this; progressive stalwart Russ Feingold didn’t want to change things either. The ones who don’t want to do it… really don’t want to do it. And the general public can’t give two shits about procedural mumbo-jumbo, either.

    Let me guess the solution: I can haz moar bullie pulpitz plz.

  67. 67
    Some Loser says:

    We didn’t even have 60 votes in Congress I believe. It was more like 57. Senator Specter hadn’t changed party, and not too long after, two senators would be in the hospital, unable to fulfill their duty.

    Also, it took Al Franken a while to be elected.

    We had 60 votes for like 4 months in total.

  68. 68
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Shalimar: Reid’s moderateness is probably a big part of the reason why he gets to remain as majority leader. Someone more progressive wouldn’t be embraced by the conservative side of the caucus, which is large. IMHO Reid is more progressive than the conservatives and more conservative than the progressives, so as The Human Median he gets the gig.

  69. 69
    Lojasmo says:

    @mai naem:

    Ugh. Klobuchar isn’t presidential material. Trust me. She would require years of voice coaching to get rid of the minnesota twant.

    Also, she’s a political milquetoast.

  70. 70
    sdhays says:


    If I were writing Senate rules (hah!), I’d go with:
    2) For filibusters on actual bills, repeated cloture votes require successively fewer votes. Start with 60, then on a second attempt require say 57. Then 55, 53, and finally 51. That way, a determined minority can delay but not ultimately stop legislation.

    I totally agree with points 1, 3, and 4. When I read this, I also found myself nodding in agreement for #2 as well. However, as I thought a bit more about it, I’ve become a bit more skeptical. I think that the end result would simply be that while more bills would actually get passed, the Senate would still be slowed down to the point where it basically is now: every single bill would face a filibuster that would take successive votes to finally resolve.

    The critical problems with the filibuster are that it’s arcane and baffling to the average American and so much of it happens without the public actually even knowing about it (the secret holds you mention doing away with are the most egregious example; the concept of some random turd of a Senator being able to anonymously put a hold on anything is just mindbogglingly absurd – if something is important enough to you to put a hold on it, then it’s important enough for the public to know that you’re the one holding it up). It’s easy to do and involves basically no risk, except to your future agenda, which is no longer considered an issue (who knows what the future holds, anyway). We need the filibuster to become rare again, used only on extremely controversial issues. I think, combined with your other points, making the filibusterers physically filibuster is the best way to make this happen.

    In the near term, you may be right: Republicans will simply be encouraged to grandstand on the Senate floor with Fox News cheering them on. But I’d like to point out: how has that worked for them recently? The last two years has seen Congress’ approval rating sink to below the Communist Party because of the crippling gridlock ushered in by the Tea Party Congress. Republicans lost seats in the Senate and the House in the 2012 elections (and the White House remains in control of the Kenyan Usurper), with the Republicans holding onto the House simply because of the redistricting wizards in various states. People blamed Republicans for the worthless Congress, and that was without having the story out of Washington constantly being “Senate Shutdown Continues as Republicans Keeping Talking”. And with an active filibuster, each filibustering Senator will have to stand up and actively support the action; no hiding. They would really be risking a backlash.

    The idea shouldn’t be about making filibusters fail; it should be about making them costly so that they happen only when the minority thinks that the risk is worth it and is willing to defend themselves to the public. That’s democracy. Simply requiring successively fewer votes for cloture on a bill keeps the filibuster incomprehensible to the average American and basically costs the “determined minority” nothing for slowing the Senate to a crawl (when it comes to legislation). I think that would still leave us with a serious problem and also leave us without an actual effective tool to protect Medicaid/Medicare/Social Security if/when the Republicans regain control of the Senate. On the other hand, a live filibuster would give the minority three options: 1) filibuster Bill X that’s not really that controversial or has serious public support. 2) quietly let the bill pass while voting against it (unlikely, but an option), or 3) threaten a filibuster in order to get some concessions from the majority. #3 is the healthiest option as it gives the minority the ability to influence legislation while still letting the majority drive.

    Yikes. This ended up a lot longer than I had intended…

  71. 71
    Lojasmo says:

    @Ted & Hellen:

    Well, he fucking said it, so…

  72. 72
    Lojasmo says:


    All will vote to change it.

  73. 73
    moops says:


    Historically, during the old way filibusters worked, only truly safe Senators could get away with it. Senators in contested seats would often have their seat flipped.

    Fox news might be triumphant, but there are several avenues here. Even the WSJ would have to sacrifice opinion “leaders” to put lipstick on this pig.

  74. 74
    1badbaba3 says:

    @FlipYrWhig: Well that’s okay because we are a center right nation.

  75. 75
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @sdhays: Isn’t the problem you raise solved by having both a live filibuster _and_ a successively decreasing number of votes to override it?

  76. 76
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @1badbaba3: I don’t know if we’re a center-right nation, but the median voter might be. Figure there’s like 20-25% liberals, 35-40% conservatives, and a big chunk that doesn’t really follow things very closely and hence wants conflicting things, like lower taxes and more aid for the poor and tighter regulation of banks and for the government to butt out of people’s lives. Sigh.

  77. 77
    Nora says:

    Glad to see my Senator, Gillibrand, pushing for this. She’s been involved in filibuster reform for years, and she just got re-elected by a substantial margin, so she’s certainly got nothing to lose if she pushes harder on this issue.

  78. 78
    moops says:

    so what do we tell our own Senators in our written and mailed correspondence?

  79. 79
    Schlemizel says:

    @Ben Franklin:

    Thanks – deff want to read more about this

  80. 80
    Schlemizel says:


    She has not been out front and vocal on issues that might be ‘controversial’ She made her name on ‘mom’ issues like safer toys etc. I don’t want to down play how important those issues are but I wish she were as vocal about bigger issues as she wsa on the campaign trail.

    My fear is that as time goes by she will become more and more comfortable with just being Senator. I think it happens even to the best, but time will tell. She should be safe though because she appears to not offend anyone – even people who should be offended. Maybe that is what she feels she has to do in order to be in a place to help where she can but having the model of Humphrey & Wellstone makes me think it does not have to be that way.

  81. 81
    Smiling Mortician says:

    @moops: Well, here’s a rough draft of what I’m planning to send to my two senators (Cantwell and Murray):

    Today I signed the petition from Senators Merkley, Udall, Gillibrand, Harkin, Klobuchar and Shaheen, as well as Senator-Elect Warren, urging the Senate to enact meaningful filibuster reform as soon as the new Congress begins in January. I was disappointed not to see your name on the list of senators actively pursuing a solution to the unprecedented obstruction carried out by Republicans in a true tyranny of the minority in recent years. Nevertheless, as a consistent supporter of you and your performance in office, I remain hopeful that you will add your name (and your vote) to those who support strong reforms that will restore the senate to a functional body that works to better the lives of all Americans.

  82. 82
    Schlemizel says:


    I particularly like this bit:
    “The idea shouldn’t be about making filibusters fail; it should be about making them costly so that they happen only when the minority thinks that the risk is worth it and is willing to defend themselves to the public.”

    My fear is if we give up the filibuster it won’t be there if we need it. But making the filibustering side pay a price, particularly when they want to foil the majority for cheap political purposes is the right way to go.

  83. 83
    1badbaba3 says:

    @FlipYrWhig: I meant to add “At least that’s what I hear on Fox and Friends and Morning Joe.” But I hit send by mistake and then FYWP would not let me add snark to my previous comment. The center right thing is crap, but it sure makes the Reich feel all spooji. Ah well. They will not be invited to the pah-ty anyhoo

  84. 84
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @1badbaba3: Oh, no, I know, it’s a running joke. But the sad fact is that there really are a lot of center-right politicians who these days get elected under the umbrella of the supposedly center-left party, and they have a lot of influence in the caucus because if they lose they get replaced by drooling nutjobs. And if you tell them to go piss up a rope, you might end up with a senate that has like 24 earnest liberal Democrats, 65 crazy people, 10 smirking plutocrats, and Susan Collins.

  85. 85
    EnfantTerrible says:

    my new Senator (yes, I love saying that) Elizabeth Warren

    Just wanted to say, someone should set that to music.

    Back to our enlightening discussion of the Constitution and Senate rules.

  86. 86
    sdhays says:

    @FlipYrWhig: How would that work? I guess the details of how long the minority would be allowed to talk before the majority forced the (initially failing) votes would make a big difference in how this would play out in practice.

    You’re right, though. They’re not mutually exclusive ideas. Interesting.

  87. 87
    Groucho48 says:

    Not weakening the power of the filibuster because if we do Republicans will take advantage if they ever get a majority back isn’t much of an argument. As soon as they are in charge, the filibuster will be history, anyway. Heck, they’d bar Democrats from hearings and committees if they could.

    On the other hand, as long as Republicans hold the House, fixing the Senate won’t make much of a difference.

  88. 88
    shortstop says:

    my new Senator (yes, I love saying that) Elizabeth Warren

    I would be saying it all the livelong day if I lived in Massachusetts. You say it, girl — early, often and loud.

  89. 89
    Walker says:


    On the other hand, as long as Republicans hold the House, fixing the Senate won’t make much of a difference.

    Presidential appointments.

  90. 90
    fuckwit says:

    Didn’t this get so bad over the last few years that the Rethugs were filibustering the motion to end a filibuster?

    And they DON’T ACTUALLY HAVE TO FILIBUSTER TO DO THAT! That’s what’s got to go. I think Warren and crew are right on the money.

    Make. The. Fuckers. Actually. Filibuster!

    Jimmy Stewart style. Stand up, and hog the floor. Be heard, be counted, let the TV cameras register your assholery.

  91. 91
    Thatgaljill says:

    I emailed both of my senators to support the rules change. Which is really just a change back to the original form.

  92. 92
    someguy says:

    They can reform the filibuster but what matters more is getting the Majority Leader to actually send bills to the floor. Reid hasn’t been doing that. A lot of the other D’s are expressing discontent with him over it.

  93. 93
    Ruckus says:

    The filibuster is a necessary rule, it just isn’t working the way it is now. But going backwards isn’t all that great an idea either. How about a much better system for open floor debate or at least exposure to the minority view which was the intent in the first place.
    1. No hidden holds. You want it you own it.
    2. No filibuster on executive appointments and simple majority to approve/disapprove.
    3. Senator wanting to filibuster has a set amount of time to make his/her view. I say 4 hrs. Must speak about the bill in question, no phone book nonsense, that’s is just wasting more time.
    4. At the end of the time speaking senator can turn floor over to another member of their party. This is limited to 4 speakers. At that point a vote must be taken to end “debate” with 60 votes necessary to carry.
    5. If 60 votes not available the process can proceed again but this time only a simple majority is necessary to end debate.
    The minority gets it’s time in front of the cameras/nation and much less time is wasted in bullshit.

  94. 94
    The Other Chuck says:

    This “unlimited debate” idiocy must stop. None of this “make them speak” crap, I want them to STOP speaking. If a piece of legislation is still rotten after X hours of debate, then FUCKING VOTE AGAINST IT.

  95. 95
    chris9059 says:

    After four years of Republican obstruction via the filibuster the Democratic Party leadership finally gathers the courage to implement reform. Just in time to ram through a Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security slashing “grand bargain”. Obama and the rest of the party leadership may not be homophobes and misogynists like the Republicans but they are every bit as much the sycophants and servants of the .01%.

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