More Thoughts on the Filibuster

Following up on this post. I would be willing to permit the continued existence of the filibuster with one caveat. That those who are threatening a filibuster actually be forced to do so. This is not a novel idea as it has been discussed quite a bit since the Democrats took control of the Senate in January of 2007. But I would like to bring it up for debate once again.

I think there are at least two benefits of forcing Senators to carry out their filibuster threats. First, the logistics of actually maintaining a filibuster over a long period of time is in itself a rather daunting task. As the hours turn into days, some wavering Senators might be moved to vote for cloture.

Second, the optics of a minority group of Senators holding up the business of the chamber would be a far more powerful motivator of public opinion than is political rhetoric (and campaign ads) making generic allegations of gridlock. Imagine the evening news or the 24 hour cable news networks covering day after day of a filibuster. I’m sure it would only take a number of days for one of them to come up with some sort of catchy slogan about Senate held hostage, day number x. Aside from the hard core partisan supporters of the filibustering group, public support would crater.

And this is as it should be. Harry Reid and the Democrats have been far too willing to allow the threat of a filibuster derail legislative process. The voting public does not really understand cloture and filibuster threats. But what they will understand is the sight of minority group Senators reading from the phone book or the Bible or whatever else they might select. The American people expect their Senators to accomplish things, to make up or down votes. They care little about parliamentary tactics in the abstract. But when they see Senators on their television, or computer screen, rambling on and on for no reason other than the prevent an up or down vote, you can rest assured that come election time they will remember who did their job and who did not.

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2 thoughts on “More Thoughts on the Filibuster

  1. I completely agree that we should really see Senators step up and filibuster, not just threaten to do so. That following through on the threats would change the political landscape in a way that the endless threats don’t.

    Correct me if I’m wrong but my understanding is that the effort to break a filibuster is much, much harder to organize and comes at a cost (fundraising, business, travel plans, etc…) to the party attempting to break the filibuster.

    Though you might be saying that the majority should force the filibuster without launching a full effort to invoke cloture to force the optics of a Senator holding up business.

    • I think that both sides face costs w/r/t filibusters, which is perhaps why Reid has not forced the Republicans to actually filibuster. All of the Dems would have to be on hand or else the filibustering party could simply observe that a quorum was not present. And I think we all know how much Congresscritters hate to stick around DC on the weekends!

      While I believe the optics would be bad for the filibustering party, many have pointed out that the Democrats face potential repercussions, too. How many average voters will look at the proceedings and say to themselves, “geesh, the Dems control all of DC and they can’t even get a bill voted on.”

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