Posts Tagged ‘Filibuster’

Fair elections depend on canceling the filibuster

July 8, 2021

Democracy is impossible if the election process is corrupted. 

The greatest threat to the election process is voter suppression and other manipulations by Republican state governments. 

The proposed For the People Act provides a way to protect the integrity of the election process. 

But the act may not pass because of a Senate filibuster.

The top priority of the Biden administration therefore should be to get rid of the fiilibuster—both for the sake of the preservation of what’s left of American democracy, and for the sake of the future of the Democratic Party.


The For the People Act Filibuster and the End of American Politics by Osita Nwanevu for The New Republic.  This is the key link.  The rest show that the threat is real.

Threats Against Election Officials Are a Threat to Democracy by Sue Halpern for The New Yorker.

Republicans Fall Short in Voting Rights Crackdown While Adding Hassle at the Polls by Ryan Teague Blackwith, Allison McCartney and Mira Roianaskul for Bloomberg News.

The Republican Party Has Turned Fascist And Is Now the Most Dangerous Threat in the World by Patrick Cockburn for Counterpunch.  I’d say one of the most dangerous threats.

Uncovered: Illegal Attacks on 384,000 Georgia Voters by Greg Palast.

Something Extraordinary Is Happening in Texas by Judd Legum for Popular Information.

Sauce for the goose: the 41-vote rule

September 9, 2015

I strongly criticized the 41-vote rule in the Senate when the Republican minority used it to block legislation and appointments proposed by President Obama.

imbalanceNow Democrats are using the same rule to prevent the Republican majority from disapproving the Iran nuclear inspection deal negotiated by President Obama and other world leaders with the Iranian government.

I am glad of the result, but I still think it is a bad rule.

The rule allows Senators to use a kind of virtual filibuster to block Senate action, which can be over-ridden only by a vote of 60 Senators.  It is not part of the Constitution.  It is not a law.  It is a rule of the Senate itself.

The United States already has more checks and balances than any other contemporary democracy.  Laws, appropriations and taxes require approval of a House of Representatives elected by popular vote, a Senate elected on the basis of state sovereignty and a President elected by a hybrid system through the Electoral College.

Even then, the Supreme Court, which is appointed not elected, can overrule decisions by the President and Congress.

I don’t think the United States needs more checks and balances than are provided for in the Constitution.


Filibusters and our undemocratic Senate

November 26, 2013

      The one provision of the U.S. Constitution that cannot be amended is equal representation for the states in the Senate (see Article V).

This guarantee was the price of having all 13 original states agree to a Constitution in the first place.  So we’re stuck with the theoretical possibility that Senators representing 51 states with 18 percent of the population could cast a majority vote.

This doesn’t matter much with enactment of laws.  For a bill to become a law, it must also be approved by the House of Representatives, which is chosen on a population basis, then signed into law by the President or passed over his veto by a super-majority.   But to appoint judges, ambassadors and other federal officers, the President only needs the advice and consent of the Senate.

Most democratic nations have parliamentary forms of government, in which the parliamentary majority chooses the Prime Minister and routinely approves the PM’s proposed laws and appointments.  If the executive and the legislature disagree on any important measure, the people get to vote on who is right.

These systems work well most of the time.  When they don’t work, it isn’t because of the tyranny of a majority, but because there are multiple parties than can’t work together.  I don’t think the people of any democratic country would want to create the equivalent of the U.S. Senate.

We Americans don’t have a choice because the principle of state sovereignty is baked into our Constitution.   I think there is a case to be made for our exceptional system of checks and balances, but I don’t think we need to carry it beyond what our Constitution requires.


At home & abroad: Links & comments 11/21/13

November 21, 2013

The Wahhabi-Likudnik war of terror by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Sandbagging Negotiations between U.S. and Iran by M.J. Rosenberg for the Washington Spectator.

The Coming Drone Wars: Iran Unveils Its Own Drone, With a 1,200-Mile Range by Juan Cole.

President Obama deserves credit for responding to Iranian peace overtures, but he faces greater obstacles both at home and abroad than did Presidents Reagan and Nixon did in making peace with the USSR and China.

Iran embassy bombing scene

Iran embassy bombing scene in Beirut

Foreign correspondent Pepe Escobar speculates on who was behind the suicide bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut, an act of terrorism that left 170 wounded and at least 23 dead.  M.J. Rosenberg discusses the forces in Washington that oppose U.S.-Iran peace negotiations.  And Juan Cole notes that Iran is developing its own flying killer drones, probably based on reverse-engineering a U.S. surveillance drone that was captured in Iranian air space.

U.S.-Afghan Security Pact in Doubt After Hamid Karzai Rejects Provision by Reuters.  Hat tip to Psychopolitik.

Kerry, Karzai put pact before jirga by Radio Free Europe.  [added later]

Kerry, Karzai reach Afghan security agreement by the Deutsche Welle broadcasting network.  [added later]

The U.S. government won agreement of Afghan President Hamad Karzai to allow 13,000 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely, without being subject to the jurisdiction of Afghan courts.  Their mission will be to advise and assist Afghan forces in resisting a Taliban return to power.  Before the agreement goes into effect, it must receive approval from the loya jirga, a traditional Afghan council, for approval, and then ratification by the official Afghan parliament.  [rewritten to reflect the Kerry Karzai agreement].

Obama Meets Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki as Terror Rages Across Country by Stephen Collinson of Agence France Presse.

Two years after the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, Prime Minister Al-Maliki asks for U.S. high-tech armaments to put down an insurgency which he says is led by Al Qaeda.  What will happen if his request is turned down?  Will he get the weaponry he wants from Russia or China?  From the U.S. standpoint, there are no good options, except to try to minimize U.S. involvement in other nations’ conflicts to begin with.  Getting-out-of is always harder than getting-into.  [revised]


Nuke the filibuster!

September 3, 2010

A majority of U.S. Senators wanted to include a public health care option in the Affordable Care Act.  Yet they couldn’t get it in.  A majority of U.S. Senators favored the Employee Free Choice Act which helps protect workers who want to organize labor unions from employer pressure and retaliation. Yet they couldn’t get it through.

Under Senate rules, it takes 60 votes, not 51, to allow a bill to be brought to a vote. Without the 60 votes, individual Senators have unlimited time to talk – “filibuster” –  and delay action.

Reform of the Senate is litmus-test issue.  It is an issue that overrides all other issues. Without Senate reform, no other meaningful change can take place.

While the use of the filibuster was once an emergency tactic used in unusual circumstances, it has now become routine means by which the minority party prevents the majority party from enacting its program.

It’s not just the filibuster.  The routine business of the Senate requires not just 60 votes, but unanimous consent, in order to proceed.  By threatening to withhold consent, an individual Senator can have any appointment put on “hold.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama accept this as normal.  They say that if the mean old Republican minority uses filibuster threats and “holds” to block their program, there’s nothing they can do about it except complain.

The problem is that the same rule which requires 60 votes to break a filibuster requires 67 votes to change the rule. Yet there is a solution.  It is what the Republicans first called the “nuclear option,” then the “constitutional option” when they were in the majority and the Democrats threatened to filibuster the Supreme Court appointments. Proponents of the “constitutional option” quote Section 1, Article 5, of the Constitution, which says “each House may determine the rules of its proceedings” and say that the Vice President, who presides over the Senate, may at the beginning of the new term propose a new rule to be voted up or down by the majority.

The Constitution specifies a two-thirds vote by the Senate only to ratify treaties, propose constitutional amendments, override presidential vetoes, expel members or impeach federal officials.  If the majority gives up its right on any other issue, it is because it chooses to do so.

Why don’t the Democrats get behind the “constitutional option”?  Why don’t they make an issue of the filibuster?  Why do they allow the minority to stymie their key programs?  One reason may be that they want the filibuster as a weapon in reserve when they are back in the minority.  Another is that there would have to be a reform of Senate procedures going beyond just the filibuster.  Otherwise the angry minority could put all of the Senate business on “hold.”

The United States has more checks and balances in its system of government than any other important democracy.  Under parliamentary systems, a Prime Minister is chosen by the majority party or a majority coalition in the legislature, and can normally expect to see his or her bills enacted into law.  When the legislature rejects an important bill, there normally is an election to choose a new Prime Minister.

Under the U.S. system, a bill must be passed by the House of Representatives, which is elected on a population basis for two-year terms, and then by the Senate, which is elected on a state sovereignty basis for staggered six-year terms, and then signed into law by the President, who may be of a different party, and then possibly be vetted by the Supreme Court.  We don’t need anything additional that is not in the Constitution.

Click on Fix the Senate Now for a filibuster reform web site. [Added 12/23/10]


The trouble with us liberals

August 11, 2010

Robert Gibbs

Evidently we liberals are like a bunch of whining little children.  No matter how much President Obama does for us, we’re never satisfied.  That’s what I hear from pundits on TV and what I read in off-the-record comments by White House staffers, and now on the record as well.

During an interview with The Hill in his West Wing office, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs blasted liberal naysayers, whom he said would never regard anything the president did as good enough.

“I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested,” Gibbs said. “I mean, it’s crazy.”

The press secretary dismissed the “professional left” in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying, “They will be satisfied when we have Canadian health care and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”

Of those who complain that Obama caved to centrists on issues such as health care reform, Gibbs said: “They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.”


Let’s stipulate, for the sake of argument, that we liberals are a bad lot, and that I myself am the worst of the bunch, and that it is a waste of time to consider what people like me think.  This doesn’t really matter.

What matters is whether President Obama’s program is enough to make a difference to Americans who are out of work, worried about their savings or unable to pay medical bills.  Was the stimulus bill enough to jump-start the economy?  Will the financial reform bill avert another financial meltdown?  Will the health reform bill actually make medical care more affordable and available?

The answers to these questions, as it seems to me, are (1) clearly not, (2) clearly not and (3) it’s hard to tell.  I could be wrong, and, for the sake of my fellow Americans, I hope I am wrong.  In a few years the facts will show, one way or another, who was right.


The Founding Fathers on the filibuster

July 4, 2010

From the Declaration of Independence:

To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. … Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its power in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

If our forefathers could throw off the rule of monarchy because it did not represent the will of the people, we ought to be able to change a mere Senate rule that thwarts the will of the people.

Another reason to end the filibuster

June 25, 2010

Long-term unemployment is the highest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking long-term unemployment.  Even under the optimistic projections of economic growth, it will be years before the job market gets back to 2007 levels.

And that doesn’t count the so-called “under-employed” – people like friends of mine with computer and engineering degrees who’ve scraped by as substitute school bus drivers or night managers in homeless shelters.

Yet 40 Republican Senators and one Blue Dog Democrat have the power to block the 57 Senators who want to extend unemployment compensation benefits.  Unless the Democrats make an issue of the filibuster, the opposition will have the power to (1) block anything they try to do and (2) blame them for failing to do anything.


The nuclear (or Constitutional) option

March 3, 2010

Way back in 2005, the Democrats threatened to filibuster President Bush’s Supreme Court nominations.  Senate Majority Leader Bill First threatened them with what came to be called the “nuclear option” but Frist preferred to call the Constitutional option.

This was simply for Vice President Cheney, as presiding officer of the Senate, to determine that the filibuster was unconstitutional.  This ruling could be appealed, but could be upheld by majority vote.

The Constitutional argument is that the Constitution requires supermajorities for only certain things, such as ratification of treaties by the Senate or overriding the President’s veto.  By implication, everything else is decided by majority vote.  The Constitution says that “each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings.”  The Constitutional argument is that every two years there is a new Congress, which is entitled to set new rules without being bound by precedent.

The Senate Democrats responded with outrage.  They threatened to use procedural tactics to bring Senate business to a halt, but in the end they gave in.

Now the shoe is on the other foot.  The Republican minority in Congress is exploiting every possible procedural tactic to stall routine business.  I believe there is a place for the filibuster, the “hold,” and the objection to unanimous consent as a way to make the Senate stop and think twice rather than acting heedlessly.  But this requires restraint on the part of individual members so that the Senate can transact its business.  Without such restraint, the so-called nuclear option might be the lesser evil – if the Democrats had the gumption to attempt it, or even threaten it.

The nuclear option is not the same thing as budget reconciliation, which has been used routinely by Congress no matter which party is in power.  This occurs when the House of Representatives and the Senate pass bidget bills that are similar, but not quite the same, and a joint committee hammers out a compromise bill to reconcile them, which can be passed by majority vote with no filibuster.  It is intended for just such situations as health care reform, when the Senate has passed a bill, the House of Representatives has passed a bill and minor changes are needed to reconcile them.

When I studies political science in college, we contrasted the practical, pragmatic American political culture with the ideology-driven French and the inability of their Chamber of Deputies to form a stable government nor address national problems.  Now it is our government that is in gridlock.  Americans are admired for many things, wrote foreign correspondent James Fallows in The Atlantic Monthly recently, but in all his world travels, he never heard anybody say, “I wish we had a Senate like yours.”

Senate’s hostage crisis resolved

February 9, 2010

Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala) this morning announced that he would release his “hold” on the 70 pending nominees for federal office, but threatened further “holds” if the Obama administration doesn’t appropriate money for certain military contractors in his home state.

Under the customs and rules of the Senate, a single Senator can veto any federal appointment, so the Obama administration’s need to make appointments necessary for a functioning government was being held hostage to a single Senator’s demand for $40 billion worth of prok.

I’m not sure whether Senator Shelby thought better of holding up the nation’s business, or whether the Republican leadership in the Senate called on him to back down lest he provoke the Democrats to a showdown. A showdown wouldn’t have been a bad thing. No government can function if the minority party has a veto over the majority.

Under our Constitution, a bill can become law only if approved by a majority of the House of Representatives, which is elected on a population basis; approved by a majority of the Senate, which is elected on a state sovereignty basis; signed by the President (or passed over his veto); and vetted for Constitutionality by the Supreme Court. This is enough checks and balances; in a parliamentary democracy such as Britain or Canada, all it takes is a majority in Parliament.

There is no Constitutional or legal basis for the filibuster or “holds.” They are the internal rules of the Senate, which change all the time. Originally the Senate had unlimited debate; no bill could be voted on as long as any Senator or group of Senators wanted to go on talking. Cloture was enacted in 1917, during World War One, at the behest of Woodrow Wilson, when anti-war Senators filibustered a bill to allow arming of American merchant ships. The requirement for a cloture vote was lowered from two-thirds of those present to 60 percent of those eligible to vote in 1975.

Congressional rules are changed all the time – well, maybe not all the time, but sometimes. Once committee chairmen were all-powerful and were selected by seniority only. Until this was changed, committee chairmen from the (then) one-party South were able to bottle up civil rights legislation.

The whole history of democracy is a story of abuse of power, followed by reform, followed by reform of the abuses of previous reforms. This history isn’t over yet.

I’ll link to some articles giving background on this issue in the first comment section