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The talking filibuster as a component to an overall reform of the filibuster in the Senate seems to be pretty popular. Jeff Merkley has pointed out that some of the more popular recent pieces of legislation like the DISCLOSE Act and the Veteran's Jobs Bill would've passed if the Republicans had been forced to publicly air their opposition through a classic filibuster rather than procedural sleight of hand.

So, make the old blowhards talk and make the entire country aware whenever the jerks have taken an unpopular position on some much-needed legislation.

Actually, that's a terrible idea and it won't solve our filibuster problem at all.

To begin with, in this era of constant filibustering that forces the Senate to muster 60 votes to pass anything at all, it's important to remember the purpose behind this filibustering. Most of this legislation isn't something that any individual senator opposes. It's a matter of an entire political party grinding the process to a halt. The Democrats in the majority have the ability to force a filibustering senator to stand up and talk any time they want. The reason we have silent filibusters is to move along the legislative process. Even with popular legislation that would survive a cloture vote, it'll take more than a week to get it passed after it gets to the floor with the Republican minority routinely dragging its feet. If we let some dipstick jabber away, that only adds to that amount of time.

Worse, while a senator holds the floor, no other business can be brought up. That would be a Republican dream since it would not only delay whatever bill the senate is working on, it would delay everything else for however long they cared to talk. And boy would they talk.

The problem with envisioning the quixotic Jimmy Stewart hoarsely making his case or Strom Thurmond pissing in a bottle while reading the phone book is that the filibusters these days are organized by an entire party. It wouldn't be some dude talking for hours; it would be a relay of a dozen dudes talking for days. No matter how popular a bill is, there's going to be a big enough bunch of Republicans that are absolutely fireproof in terms of national opinion and in no danger of losing re-election. Worse, anything that they can even remotely make a case against will be used to delay everything else. A vital hurricane response bill could be subject to delays by whatever happens to be before it on the calendar.

Finally, when it comes to making their case, the Republicans are under no obligation to do so. Standing up to say his piece, a Republican senator can just tell dirty jokes. The most likely thing that will happen is that on any given piece of legislation we can expect the Republicans to simply lie. We just had a presidential nominee spend more than a year essentially lying his ass off 24 hours a day. It's no great stretch to think that a mere senator could manage it for a couple hour shift. And once they start talking, there's no way to shut them up.

With the delaying power of a talking filibuster, the GOP could afford to engage in one relatively rarely in order to make it newsworthy. At the same time, it wouldn't take more than a few a year to bog down the Senate to its current level of ineffectiveness.

The only real solution to our current filibustering nightmare is to change the rules regarding what is debatable and how many votes it takes to end debate. The best ideas I've heard bandied about include making motions to proceed non-debatable, and Tom Udall's plan of gradually lessening the number of votes needed to invoke cloture on any one issue.

However filibuster reform shakes out, so long as one party is willing stand in opposition to everything the other party wants to pass, we're still going to be screwed. No matter the rules, absolute opposition will make it tough to do the people's business in the Senate. Giving the Republicans the chance to talk out a filibuster will just make it harder to accomplish anything no matter how satisfying it is to force those blowhards to work for it.

Originally posted to stealthisbook on Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 11:03 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Good argument (6+ / 0-)

    Sometimes I wonder if the Senate Democrats truly wish to break the logjam or are content to merely appear so. This isn't the first time the issue of reform has been raised and simply forcing the Republicans to talk through the filibuster, as argued, may not be effective at moving things along and could make matters worse.

    I can appreciate, however, the risks if/when Republicans may have a majority again someday (may it be far far off) and a filibuster by progressive Democrats might be the only thing to stand in the way of currently unimaginable future horrors. We wouldn't want it unavailable then.

    Yet, I suppose, there would be nothing to stop Republicans from instituting all sorts of troublesome minority rights squashing rules at the start of a term no matter what is done in January. Any apparent respect for tradition on their part today is artifice.

    I just flushed my Ronald Wilson Reagan Exclusive Economic Zone. Whaddya know, trickle down theory actually works somewhere.

    by cal2010 on Sun Nov 18, 2012 at 12:37:14 AM PST

  •  Lots of people only believe what they see. (18+ / 0-)

    They can't imagine legislators holding things up, if they don't see it. So, if they don't believe it, they'll have no reason to vote them out of office. People, whose influence doesn't depend on doing things in the dark or the cloakroom, can't imagine that their "honorable" leaders engage in underhanded maneuvers. So, they have to be shown. Most people don't appreciate the effect of FOIA and government in the sunshine requirements. Public officials know it well and go to great lengths to evade the lights. Being under the Klieg lights is no fun.

    We organize governments to provide benefits and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Sun Nov 18, 2012 at 03:41:04 AM PST

    •  as if the media would actually report on this n/t (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LeftArmed
      •  I think they would, wu ming. C-Span would for sure (0+ / 0-)

        Being out in the open...WHO is obstructing and WHY they are doing it...would be much more revealing that shutting things off with one whispered threat (as is done now - quick, quiet and dirty).

        It could not possibly be more hampering of senate action than what's now in place.

        And it would be very inconvenient & physically taxing on those who use this maneuver for obstruction.  I believe we'd see much less filibustering if they had to "put up, stand up & show up".

        "Evil is a lack of empathy, a total incapacity to feel with their fellow man." - Capt. Gilbert,Psychiatrist, at the end of Nuremberg trials.

        by 417els on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 02:24:01 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Wrong on several levels (18+ / 0-)

    First of all, the solutions you propose (which I agree with) lead to talking filibusters anyway.

    Secondly, this election and the Todd Akins of the world demonstrate that we win when Republicans go in front of the cameras and talk.

    More talking filibusters means we win more often.

    •  Maybe, maybe not (0+ / 0-)

      giving unmitigated liars unfettered (and unchallenged or unrebutted) access to media (even CSPAN) is not the best idea. Add to that the fact that these mendacious pukings will be reiterated endlessly on Fax and other conservative media, and you have a bad recipe for unchallenged propaganda unleashed nationwide.

      If only there was a way to call the liars out... hmm.. mainstream media, take note - time for you to return to DOING YOUR JOB and calling OUT LIARS.

      For a better America, vote the GOP out of office whenever and wherever possible and as soon (and as often) as possible!

      by dagnome on Sun Nov 18, 2012 at 12:05:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  It's the nature of the Senate (0+ / 0-)

      to allow unlimited debate. Any senator at any time can engage in a talking filibuster just by not yielding when it's their turn to debate-- cloture is the only mechanism (relatively recently enacted) to essentially have the preponderance of other senators sit on the windbag's head. Making it easier to invoke cloture and limiting the areas that are up for debate are the only way outside of the mythical comity of the Senate to avoid absolute stasis.

      Unfortunately, the more we reform the Senate to avoid hostage-taking and obstruction, the more it becomes like the House. From being the most deliberative body in the world to just being another legislative chamber does seem to lose something.  

  •  Not much is getting through now (16+ / 0-)

    so what's the difference if they hold up business? As it is, they can prevent the bills we need from moving, while getting the stuff they want done. If it froze up the Senate to fight off a popular bill and the opposition's other business was blocked, it gives them some incentive to sit down and shut up.
    The real value of the talk-a-thon filibuster is C-Span. Prior to the rule change, filibusters were not visible to the public contemporaneously. They were written about for the newspapers and occasionaly, pieces were broadcast on radio.
    If the Republicans have to get out in front of cameras and do their dirty work in the glare of Tv lights, the repercussions for them will be brutal.
    The fact that they can kill a popular bill without the public being aware of who the perpetrators are, without their having to even be in DC, not to mention in the well, makes it much too easy to misuse this tool.
    That said, Udall's plan makes sense also. Allow debate, even disruptive debate, but put a reasonable cap on it.

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Sun Nov 18, 2012 at 08:05:45 AM PST

  •  Something has to be done. Probably all of (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ringer, CuriousBoston, 417els, DuzT

    the things mentioned in the diary. It doesn't make sense to have minority rule. And then the miserable bastards complained that when the Dems had control of both houses, they still didn't get anything done. And the press let them get away with that, continuing to say that everything "requires" 60 votes. No. Everything requires a majority, 50 + 1 votes. I say let 'em talk and expose their obstruction.

  •  Make them talk (7+ / 0-)

    They should have to talk about the subject at hand, not some obscure topic.
    They should have to answer direct questions from the other senators.
    The rule should be there to give the minority the ability to question a majority bill, so things cannot easily be run through congress. Nothing should ever be easy to pass. But on the other hand, a rule like the filibuster should not stop all progress if it is not used to offer debate or new suggestions.

    •  Requiring the discussion be germane (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      phastphil40

      is something that happens in our state legislature. It's helpful, but against a united obstructive party that doesn't mind burning bridges I don't know that it would work. For one thing, our legislature has a single subject rule for bills that simplifies the process of determining whether debate is germane. One of the senate's regular omnibus bills would provide enough cover subject-wise for a platoon of republicans to spout off.

      One disruptive senator that won't shut up can be escorted out by the sergeant at arms. I don't know that Harry Reid (or whichever poor schmuck gets the gavel that day) has the marbles to deal with a party-wide level of disruption.

      The Republicans have reached the point now that they routinely play chicken with constitutional crises.

    •  Do you really think that Republicans posess (0+ / 0-)

      the speaking skills to hold the floor without going off on some horribly racist rant or stumbling for lack of a teleprompter? But if you are going to do a filibuster then do it under the obligation that the Sargent at arms can compel all of them scheduled speakers to remain in the Senate. No leaving for dinner, or sleep, or whatever else they do at night. (Either fund raising or something unspeakably horrible). Round them up heard them into the Senate and make them sit and listen to the speeches. See how long that lasts.

      They will beg for a cloture vote in less than 24 hours and be far less likely to do it in the future. Bring in PortaPoddies. That will teach the bastards.

  •  They filibustered a jobs bill for veterans. (6+ / 0-)

    I would have liked to see them standing up and explaining why, but instead they were able to pass out talking points and go have a beer.

  •  rec'd (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Surly Cracker, codairem

    But I do have to take issue with one thing:

    The Democrats in the majority have the ability to force a filibustering senator to stand up and talk any time they want.
    This is a common mistake, but no, they don't.  There is no mechanism to force a senator to stand in the well and talk.

    If the majority doesn't have 60 willing to support cloture, the lone senator blocking whatever bill only has to stay near the floor to object to unanimous consent requests to move the thing to a vote.  S/he doesn't have to actually debate.  If there are fewer than 50 Senators in the chamber, this person can further delay things by suggesting the absence of a quorum, which forces an attendance roll call.

  •  Unconstitutional (3+ / 0-)

    The Constitutition clearly states majority rule in the Senate with rules to break a tie. Anything that subverts the Constitution IMHO is Treason. Hundreds of little overthrows of the government each year with fillibusters. If the goal is to promote dialog, require the Senators to actually be there when a bill is debated instead of a Senator, someone at the chair, and a carefully placed CSPAN camera. Each Senator should be given 10 minutes to talk if they want then vote up or down. The rules now are designed to allow the maximum of time to solicit bribes from lobbyists and make fund raising calls.

    If the Senators want a process that doesn't change anything vote no on all the bills.

    •  Point me to the spot in the constitution where it (0+ / 0-)

      says that. I agree with you in spirit but treason is too strong a word. We have been recklessly called traitors in the past and we have no business in sinking to their level. The courts have consistently upheld the right of the chambers to set their own rules.

  •  agreed (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    codairem, Chaoslillith

    this hope that forcing the GOP to filibuster physically and that that in turn would lead to unflattering media coverage and public outrage forcing the filibusterers to stand down is just ridiculous, in this day and age, having seen the press utterly fail to report on all manner of GOP skullduggery that would sink them if reported.

    end the filibuster. dems don't use it anyways, and the GOP uses it to excess. bring the senate to a simple majority, and end this madness where the minority runs the chamber.

    •  Well... it's a gain and a loss (0+ / 0-)

      As much as the filibuster has blocked good legislation and turned the federal courts and executive branch into skeleton crews waiting for appointments, the filibuster has been helpful for the Democrats.

      I certainly wouldn't have enjoyed a Supreme Court that seated some of Bush's nominees-- my mind boggles at the concept of judges worse than Roberts and Alito. ANWR was also protected by a Democratic filibuster in 2005.

      The Democrats don't pull a filibuster unless it's absolutely the last possible chance on something pretty crucial. That they still have used it means that it does have a use. It's worth the loss of a potential tool to make the Senate into a democratic body again.

    •  Your Theory Does Not Survive Collision With Facts (0+ / 0-)
      having seen the press utterly fail to report on all manner of GOP skullduggery that would sink them if reported
      Yeah, that's why nobody who wasn't there at the time heard what Akin or Mourdoch said.

      Oh. Wait. That's not what happened at all.

      On the Internet, nobody knows if you're a dog... but everybody knows if you're a jackass.

      by stevemb on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 07:11:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  exactly... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CuriousBoston, Chaoslillith

    ...if the Senate is going to have a filibuster they should at least force them to actually show their obstructionist faces while doing so; however, as you've pointed out, doing that and that alone is not likely to stop the obstructionism.

    The Senate, in my opinion, should do away with the filibuster altogether, but, if not that, minimize its use...make it harder to use, make the cloture voter a simple majority instead of that insane 60 vote majority required to overturn a filibuster and, if they do choose to retain that insanity known as the filbuster, make them actually filibuster.

  •  But stopping the silence isn't Markley's only ... (0+ / 0-)

    ... proposed reform.

    Even if it were, we need to see those Naysayers being sly, obstructionist, irrelevant gridlockers. That - alone - will waken people up to the fact that Congressional gridlock ain't two-sided.

    And Yes, some day, we will be the Naysayers. And we will be limited in what we can apply our favorite filiblustering to. Works both ways, thank goodness, for Democracy's sake.

    FORWARD to 2014: Win back the House. Build up the Senate.

    by TRPChicago on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 06:19:19 AM PST

  •  Here is an idea... (0+ / 0-)

    At the start of the congress make the only rule you change the part of Rule XXII which says it takes 67 votes to end debate on a rules change to say it only takes 50 votes to end debate on a rule change.

    This way you can at least have the hammer over the Republicans that if they abuse the filibuster the rules will be changed during the session.  Kind of giving them one last warning.

    Also, since you do not know all the tricks they will pull over the session to delay it is good to have the rule change option to adjust as needed.

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