Monday, January 18, 2010

Is It Time To End The Filibuster?

Is it time to end the filibuster? I say yes!

First a little history. Nothing is said in the Constitution about filibusters. The House and Senate set their own rules and that includes the filibuster. The House doesn't have it. The Senate does, but it can be stopped (cloture) with a vote of 3/5th of the Senate (60 votes).

It wasn't always that way. Initially, both the House and Senate followed the common practice of the time. Debate could be stopped with a simple majority vote. In 1806, the Senate modified their rules and removed the provision to bring a motion to end debate. No other provision was put in place to end debate. Hence the possibility of a filibuster was created. Members could continue to debate without end to block a vote on a bill.

It was first used in the 1830 by Democrats who sought to prevent a Whig-supported bill involving the Bank of the United States from coming to the floor.

In 1917, the Senate (Democratic majority) changed the rules (Rule 22) so that two-thirds of the members of the Senate could vote on “cloture” to end a filibuster and bring votes to the floor. The new rule was first applied in 1919 when the Senate invoked cloture to end a filibuster against the Treaty of Versailles.

In 1959 (Democratic majority), Senate rules were slightly modified to allow for cloture with 2/3 present as opposed to 2/3 of the entire Senate.

In 1975 (Democratic majority), Senate rules were again changed to the current 3/5th of the Senate lowering the number of votes required to end a filibuster from 67 to the current 60.

The filibuster is a rule, not a law. The Senate can do whatever it wants to. I say it is time to go back to a simple majority to end debate. The other option is to put a time limit on debate, but I like the majority vote better.

The Senate is set up to give individual states equal power. Each state get two votes, unlike the House where the number of representatives is based on population. By allowing a minority the power to prevent a vote on a bill gives excessive power to the minority.

It is time to re-balance the scales. The Democrats have been the ones to do it in the past, and they should be the ones to do it now.


  1. With the filibuster in place, it's wonder anything ever gets passed. The minority does not whipped in US politics, unless it enjoys being whipped, there are checks and balances built in and the fact that, in the Senate, Vermont has as much voting power as California or Texas, the needs of the minority are catered to. I think both partys like it, because they never know when they will need it. It's time the end the filibuster.

  2. YES, Jerry Critter, YES!

    Why don't they just do away with it?

    I like the cut of your jib!

    All the best,

    Tom Degan

  3. Jerry, I fully agree that the filibuster has outlived its usefulness. It needs to be canned, or at least modified considerably. Unfortunately, changing that rule requires 67 votes. :-(

  4. I say end the fillibuster only when Democrats are in the majority. Like it or not, it has been useful in keeping several ridiculous Bush judicial appointees from the bench.

    There has to be a better way though as TomCat alluded to.

  5. The filibuster could be eliminated with the "Nuclear Option". It requires only a majority vote. Here's how Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was going to do it in 2005:

    1. The Senate moves to vote on a controversial nominee.
    2. At least 41 Senators call for filibuster.
    3. The Senate Majority Leader raises a point of order, saying debate has gone on long enough and that a vote must be taken within a certain time frame. (Current Senate rules requires a cloture vote at this point.)
    4. The Vice President -- acting as presiding officer -- sustains the point of order.
    5. A Democratic Senator appeals the decision.
    6. A Republican Senator moves to table the motion on the floor (the appeal).
    7. This vote - to table the appeal - is procedural and cannot be subjected to a filibuster; it requires only a majority vote (in case of a tie, the Vice President casts the tie-breaking vote).
    8. With debate ended, the Senate would vote on the issue at hand; this vote requires only a majority of those voting. The filibuster has effectively been closed with a majority vote instead of a three-fifths vote.

    Only 51 votes required, not 60 or 67. Of course it works both ways. Democrats would not be able to filibuster when republicans regain control of the Senate.

  6. Jerry, that works only where the confirmation of nominees is concerned. To change the filibuster rule, there are actually two ways. One requires 67 votes. The other requires only 51 votes (or 50 plus VP). But the latter can be done only on the first day of a new session, at which time, the rules for that session are set. We just missed the deadline, and the next opportunity will be next January.

  7. If the opportunity arises, it sounds like the current VP should be on board.

  8. I freely admit I was wrong and Jerry was right.