Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cloture Reform

The Senate is broken. The Republicans have now established that all legislation requires 60 votes except the budget which is exempt from the filibuster rule. This supermajority requirement is in contravention of the US constitution and exists exclusively as an accident of Senate parliamentary procedure. For the better part of two centuries the filibuster has served as a check on extreme legislative behavior by allowing a few senators to hold up debate for long periods of time. Since the filibuster stopped all legislative activity and required nonstop speaking, it was an extremely radical tool that required great personal effort.

Cloture - the ability to cut off debate - was not introduced until the 1917 century, where 2/3 vote was needed. This was reduced to a 3/5 vote in 1975 by the last Democratic supermajority (61 Democrats) but the requirement modified to be for 3/5 of all senators enrolled, not 3/5 of all present. This means that 60 senators must show up to vote; it cannot just be 3/5 of those in attendance. This is why you have to wheel in senator Byrd. And why Republicans like Senator Coburn publicly prayed for Senator Byrd's death. The 1975 cloture rule was coupled to a 'gentleman's filibuster' rule that allowed other senate business to go on if a bill was being filibustered. This was a mistake also. The result is that there is almost no cost to the minority party for invoking the tactic.

The easiest cloture reform to make would be to change it to 3/5 of all senators present. This, at least, would require the filibusterers to show up to vote! Another change would be to require a 2/5 vote (40) to continue debate, putting the onus exclusively on the filibusterers. These would not disturb the 60/40 ratio which would be the hardest to change. Evidently there is still a strange little rule requiring 2/3 vote to invoke cloture if there is a filibuster on a motion to change the Senate rules. So 60 votes isn't sufficient to change Senate rules. A deal could be struck about removing the filibuster for judicial nominees, which the GOP wanted.

41 comments:

Dr. Strangelove said...

The "Historical Backdrop" section of Wikipedia's nuclear option article is well worth reading. It indicates that the change from 2/3 to 3/5 was done only after the "nuclear option" had been invoked three times. The Democrats surely would need to do this again (or threaten to do so) in order to implement any of the changes needed--and the graph of skyrocketing filibusters shown in Wikipedia's cloture article backs up what LTG is saying here.

I think the options that LTG suggests make sense. By changing to 3/5 of Senators present or to 40 votes to continue debate, it forces the filibusterers to show up and be counted. Nate Silver suggested that the Democrats invoke the "nuclear option" only when they have a specific, popular issue that the Republicans are blocking--in particular, he suggested to do so when the Republicans filibuster regulations aimed at fixing the banking and credit card industries. Silver's article is worth reading too.

Anonymous said...

Just a note: this speech by Mitch McConnell might (emphasis on tentative) be the start of a new tone for some of the GOP... If so, it would be interesting.

-Dr.S

Raised By Republicans said...

I think LTG has also suggested forcing filibustering senators to actually stand up and talk without breaks or leaving the chamber. If physical hardship were imposed on Senators to do this, they wouldn't apply it to every little thing.

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