Roll Call: David Hawkings – Whiteboard: What is a Filibuster?

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Source: Roll Call

Source: This piece was originally posted at The New Democrat

David Hawkings is right about what an actual filibuster is. Its generally one Senator or a group of Senator’s who take to the Senate floor and talk forever basically, or till they run out of breath, faint, have to use the bathroom, discover they have lives, perhaps miss their kids and wives, etc. Maybe the Senate Leader finds the 60 votes that he needs to cut off the Senator or Senator’s that are speaking.

And generally but not always filibusters are performed (if you want to call filibustering a performance) by a member or members of the minority party. The Senate has a filibuster and the cloture rule, but its really the cloture rule is used by the Minority Leader who rounds up enough votes to stop the majority from moving ahead on legislation that is used by the minority to block legislation.

Instead of minority members speaking indefinitely about a particular bill, the Minority Leader will round up 41 or more votes to simply prevent the majority from moving to final passage on a bill that probably has no minority input on it and perhaps didn’t even go through committee. And then the Minority Leader or his deputy who is generally the lead minority member on the committee that has jurisdiction of the bill, will argue that the Senate simply hasn’t had enough time to consider the legislation and the minority simply can’t support this and isn’t ready to vote on the bill.

The minority party blocks legislation all the time with the cloture rule. The Minority Leader will announce that they intend to block the legislation. The Leader will then move to final passage, but to get to final passage of legislation which is the final vote, the majority party needs 60 votes to accomplish that. Which generally doesn’t happen on partisan legislation because Congress tends to be very divided at least in the last 40 years or so. Even when on party controls both the House and Senate, their majorities tend to be fairly small, especially in the Senate. And the Senate minority party tends to have at least 45 members which is more than enough to block legislation on their own, if the Minority Leader keeps them unified against partisan legislation that the majority party wants to pass.

I’m somewhat divided on the Senate filibuster myself. Even as a Democrat who sees his party both as the minority party in Congress, but as the opposition party and in the White House. Filibusters themselves I’m not a fan of. The idea that one Senator or even a group of them can command so much attention and power by themselves, which makes them as powerful as both the Minority Leader and Majority Leader, even if there’re a freshman and perhaps have no other experience in Congress other than their first year or 2 in the Senate, seems counterproductive and makes the party leaderships seem very weak.

But on the other side as a Liberal who believes in both limited government and is against absolute power even if the Democratic Party is the party with complete control over the government, I don’t want the Senate to become like the House of Representatives. I actually believe the House is too much like the House and not calling for the House minority party to be able to block legislation on their own that majority brings to the floor, but the House minority should at least be able to offer relevant amendments and alternatives to all legislation that majority brings to the floor and committee. And at the end of the day if the majority party has a simple majority or more to pass legislation, then they would be able to do that even if not one minority Representative votes for the bill.

What Congress needs to return to is regular order. Where if the majority parties in either the House or Senate, decide not to work with the minority on legislation, then their bills at least have to go through the relevant committee or committees where hearings are held, amendments and alternatives are offered, debated and voted on. And then if the final bill passes out of committee, then the bill goes to the floor where the same process is done all over again, but this time with everyone in the chamber able to debate and offer amendments to the bill.

If Congress both the Senate and House did this and you eliminated gerrymandering, you could see less obstruction and partisanship in Congress. Because the majority party in both chambers would then know they can’t steamroll the minority and be able to pass partisan legislation with very little if any debate and probably no amendments. And the minority party in both chambers would then know that they have a stake in the game (so to speak) and know they’ll be able to offer amendments and alternatives to all legislation that the majority brings up and be able to force the majority to take tough votes and have new issues to run on the during the next election.

I’m not a fan of the filibuster because it makes both the Minority Leader and Majority Leader weak. It makes back-benching Senator’s seem as powerful as the two leaders. But I don’t like absolute power especially when one party controls both the White House and Congress. So you need to strengthen the leadership’s while protecting minority rights and our checks and balances.

So I would eliminate the filibuster and say for legislation to be blocked from final passage in the Senate, it can only be done by the two leader’s. Have a motion to table that only the Leader and Minority Leader can propose and similar to the cloture rule when the Minority Leader moves to table the bill, the Leader can overcome that with 60 votes.

Along with the new amendment process where the members of both parties can offer relevant amendments to all legislation and the minority can offer alternative bills to all legislation. And then I believe you would see less partisanship because now both parties would be able to debate and even legislate and just need to the votes for the amendments to do that.

And I believe you would also see less obstruction from the minority party, because instead of the Minority Leader trying to block legislation by himself, he might just decide to let legislation go through once it has been fully debated with a real amendment process and use those votes as election issues.

The filibuster is outdated but checks and balances aren’t and absolute power with the opposition having no ability to hold the party in power accountable is un-liberal democratic. This is not a one-party state or a parliamentary system where the party in power doesn’t just have the power to govern, but the power to rule. We’ll always need checks and balances especially when one party has complete control of the government.

Roll Call: David Hawkings- Whiteboard: What’s a Filibuster?

 

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About Ederik Schneider

Blogger on a whole host of subjects.
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