Some Hope on the Filibuster

The best news I’ve heard in a while — Joe Manchin has blinked, a bit, on the filibuster. Politico:

Sen. Joe Manchin said Sunday he is open to altering the Senate filibuster to make it more “painful” for the minority party to wield, while reiterating his opposition to ending the procedural hurdle altogether.

“The filibuster should be painful, it really should be painful and we’ve made it more comfortable over the years,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Maybe it has to be more painful.”

Manchin (D-W.Va.) has previously supported efforts to require senators to filibuster by talking on the chamber floor in order to hold up a bill, an idea he raised on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“If you want to make it a little bit more painful, make him stand there and talk,” Manchin said. “I’m willing to look at any way we can, but I’m not willing to take away the involvement of the minority.”

Forcing Republicans to resort to an old-fashioned talking filibuster to delay votes would, first, mean that they’re not going to block everything just to block it. And when they do try to block a bill, they would have to draw a lot of attention to themselves in doing so. and if they stop talking, the bill could pass with a simple majority. The current Senate rule that requires 60 votes to allow a bill to be voted on is just too easy. The Constitution says that bills can pass with a simple majority, not a two-third majority.  If they’re going to block legislation that people want, let them work for it and stick their necks out for it.

Note this from Josh Marshall:

Got that? Changing the rule would not be ending the filibuster but preserving it (wink, nudge). Josh Marshall continues, “Don’t pop any corks yet. This is going to be a process that plays out over a good bit of time. But this is about the most optimistic I’ve been yet that we’re going to see real, game-changing change on this issue.”

See also Joe Manchin opens the door to filibuster reform and How the filibuster broke the US Senate at Vox.

8 thoughts on “Some Hope on the Filibuster

  1. "This doesn't end the filibuster.  It preserves the filibuster."

    That, THAT, is exactly how the RepubliKKKLANs would message this if the foot was on the other leg…  Or the shoe was on the… Whatev's!

    That John Lewis Voting Rights Act won't pass itself.

    The only way it passes is with Harris being the 51st vote.

    And that means that the filibuster was either eliminated, or bypassed somehow.

    So, UpChuck Schumer, either outright eliminate the filibuster, or show me some RepubliKKKLANs doing their very best impression of Jimmy Stewart a-filibusterin' an' a-talkin'-an-talkin'-an-talkin'!!!

    And then after they're done a-talkin', make sure that the HR 1 John Lewis bill gets passed!

    Because if it doesn't, it'll be a long, long time before Democrats will be able to get near the gears of power again.

    If ever…

  2. Manchin is quoted elsewhere as saying “It takes listening to the minority to make sure the majority is getting it right.”  I think this resolves the bewilderment as to whether he is posturing, playing some sort of game, or just plain stupid, because that remark is…just plain stupid.

    Him aside, it will come down to messaging, and the argument against the filibuster is the argument against supermajorities.  Not only are they definitionally un-(lowercase 'd')emocratic, they have perverse and unforeseeable results.

  3. Parliamentary procedure has developed over centuries to make the process of legislation in a democracy more fair. It didn't start in the US – England was well along with a thoroughly corrupt system when the colonies declared independence. It becomes corrupt until it gets repaired and then goes back to brokeen. 

    It's important to recognize the roots of the filibuster, which is currently a pair of votes, the first vote requires a 'supermajority' before the second vote, which is the actual vote on the bill, passed by a simple majority. The first vote is a vote for 'cloture' – that is a closing of debate. In other words, we're through talking about the bill. Let's vote on it.

    There is a reason for the vote to close debate. If there's not a requirement that the minority can force discussion before the majority passes a law, the majority can ram legislation through without a hearing about what is in the law. So the parliamentary understanding is the majority will be allowed to pass the law but not before the minority has had a chance to list the reasons they object. And that's fair.

    At one point in our distant past, the Senate passed a lot of legislation and did a lot of work. The process of allowing the minority unlimited debate morphed into someting tidy. When/if the majority couldn't get an agreement to end debate, they postponed the legislation. And moved on to other business. Which worked until hyper-partisanship and the rule became a vehicle to block ALL legislation from the majority. 

    Kiddies, it's hard to imagine but in the time after airplanes but before rockets, a Democrat might vote to end debate, a yes vote on cloture, and no on the bill itself. Using the gentleman's filibuster to totally block a bill was RARE. 

    Hard as it is for me to admit, I agree with Joe Manchin here. If the Democrats want to pass a bill that the Republicans want to block, make it a contest of wills. Keep the Senate in session for as long as the Republicans can stand it. When the speaker can go on no more, then the democrats call for a vote and the bill will pass or fail based on the vote of Senators present when the vote is finally held. 

    This could cut into a lot of Senator's sleep – for both parties. If you are in the majority, and the fillibuster ends when your folks are off-campus or unavailable, you could lose the vote even though you hold a slim majority. A cage-match fillibuster like Joe seems to be proposing creates an incentive for a change in the rule so the majority can always get a bill up for a vote eventually, with a set of rules that doesn't require marathon sessions in Congress. 

  4. Well, if they are intent on reforming it maybe they should allot a special time so incoming senators who want to make their debut and signal to their fellow senators their dedication to the art of obstructionism they could allow for an on camera reading of Green Eggs and Ham by that particular senator. Of course it wouldn't effect the need for a simple majority vote to pass a bill, but it would satisfy the need to placate some political egos.

  5. "… If there's not a requirement that the minority can force discussion before the majority passes a law, the majority can ram legislation through without a hearing about what is in the law. …"

    Elections have consequences.

    • I strongly disagree with the pure tyranny of the majority. That's an honest statement because  'my' side is in the majority. The power of the majority should not be exerted to silence the minority

      • I'm with Doug.  Real Democracy implies that the Minority should be heard, but should not be able to block anything easily or forever.  I'm annoyed at Manchin, but all for his proposal to make Filibuster more "painful" – personally (even physically) & politically – for any Senator who does it.

        And next time Ron Johnson calls for a "Reading of the Bill", make him read it out loud to the [empty] Senate himself, and make it illegal for anybody to bring him water or pizza while he's doing it!

  6. Honestly, just switching back to the 1975 rule, where 2/3rds of the senators *present* could invoke cloture, is probably enough, even without having to hold the floor. Right now, anyone can force 60 votes any time they want to, without any cost or consequences. Pre-1975, the minority needed to be sure that the majority couldn't get a 2-1 numerical advantage on the floor, meaning the minority needed a careful count of who could rush to the Capitol to avoid being outmaneuvered. That was, at least, a cost.

    I do agree, having to hold the floor makes the cost higher, but I suspect it would cause problems because the Republicans are always willing to attack anything, so long as they can tie it to *something* unpleasant – you know, like a pun about how Trump could name a son "Barron" but couldn't make him a baron, "OMG THEY IS ATTACKING THE PRESNINTS SUN!!!!" Speak off the cuff, you'll say something that sounds bad; read from the phone book, "see how little they care about the substance?" etc..

    Apropos of nothing specific, it must have been interesting to live in a country where everyone could agree that there's no way the cloture threshold of 60 yea votes could become routine and arbitrary. If someone told me a legend about how several Republican negotiators knew *exactly* what they were doing, and just kept their powder dry for the next 17 years, until it seemed like "now is the time!:" I'd believe it to be highly possible.


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