Kent Pitman

Kent Pitman
New England, USA
Philosopher, Technologist, Writer
I've been using the net in various roles—technical, social, and political—for the last 30 years. I'm disappointed that most forums don't pay for good writing and I'm ever in search of forums that do. (I've not seen any Tippem money, that's for sure.) And I worry some that our posting here for free could one day put paid writers in Closed Salon out of work. See my personal home page for more about me.


JANUARY 22, 2013 6:26AM

Restore the Talking Filibuster

Rate: 7 Flag

There’s really no time to lose. This whole inauguration thing is a complete distraction.

To watch a lot of the news shows, you’d think it was time for touchy-feely reflection about all the lofty things we want to do in the next four years. In my opinion, that’s exactly wrong. It’s nothing that Obama should be doing, and it’s nothing that the US public should be indulging.

The problem with a first administration is that one comes into office with a lot of starry-eyed ideas of what’s possible. Like having a nation not of red and blue, but of purple. That simply did not work. Determined to deny legitimacy to the very idea of an Obama presidency, for reasons that it’s hard not to see as racial, the Republican “leadership” declared a War of Obstruction on every aspect of Obama’s vision.

I use the term “leadership” in what are sometimes called scare quotes because these Republicans holding leadership titles have been doing anything but lead. They have been scared into perfect lockstep with one another, never daring to deviate, because the scariest thing they can imagine is not an America ruled indirectly by Plutocrats but rather something so pedestrian and selfish as losing their own paycheck. How sad for them. How sad for us.

Although President Obama accomplished a great many things, much of his first term could have been even more powerful had he been a little less trusting of the Republicans. It’s understandable how he screwed up. He wanted to believe they wouldn’t sink that low. But they proved him wrong. So, to quote the most recent President Bush, “Fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—You can’t get fooled again.” The metaphor of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown to kick was repeatedly used in the media to describe what the GOP did to Obama in the first term.

So let’s just hope he’s not doing anything starry-eyed. Let’s hope instead he’s gained a certain sense of focus and he’s noticed a few obvious things that need fixing: Citizens United, election funding, voter ID, and the filibuster.

On the opening day of the new Senate session, it’s possible to easily change the Senate rules with a simple majority vote. That is, just the Democrats could do it—by themselves. That “day” has been administratively extended until today, the first day the Senate reconvenes.

Now is the time to reform the Senate rules to fix the filibuster. Now. Today. It’s not time to talk about the inauguration. That can be talked about next week. It’s not time to talk about lofty visions of the future or touchy-feely remembrances of the past. It’s time for every voter to communicate, whether by web, phone or carrier pigeon, to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to their own senator, to President Obama or Vice President Biden that they want the silent filibuster retired and the talking filibuster restored.

The filibuster has been increasingly overused, but the worst of it is that the overuse is invisible, done behind closed doors. The filibuster has the very powerful effect of transforming the vote threshold from majority vote to super-majority vote. That effect was intended to be used out in the open for all to see. A super-majority was never intended to be the threshold for passing the normal business of the Senate. Yet if the filibuster is invoked every time, as it has come to be, that’s the practical effect. Abuse of the filibuster gives the minority party the ability to stop work completely in a way that is hard for the general public to detect and understand. It’s all too easy to accidentally blame on the majority party for such inaction, which of course is what the GOP wants. It must be fixed, and fixed for all time, regardless of which party holds the majority. If the filibuster is to be used, let it be in the open. Period.

Republican abuse of the filibuster has kept much important business of the Congress from happening, and it’s time to drastically tighten it. The easiest and best change is the talking filibuster. Then the public can know when it’s being used and can judge whether it’s used properly. Anything else is not adequate to support democratic oversight of elected leaders. We need to see when and why things are being held up in this way. Harry Reid must accept no substitutes.

Everyone needs to take the time to communicate their desire to see a return to the talking filibuster. All news shows should be covering nothing but this for today. It matters, and it matters a lot. The cost of this deadlock is perpetual extortion by a minority party in a land that was designed to live by majority rule. What an irony that the GOP, the party that alleges concern about “original intent” should have permitted this to happen. But it’s time now to fix it.

Tell Harry Reid, tell your Senators, tell the Oval Office, and tell your friends:
Fix the Senate.
End the Silent Filibuster.
Restore the Talking Filibuster.
Follow the issue on Twitter or on Facebook, and spread the word.

If you got value from this post, please "rate", "like", and/or "share" it.

Oh, and, Harry Reid, if you’re reading this, please make sure you read Melissa Harris Perry’s recent on-air letter to you about your leadership on gun control, because the same advice she gave you there about leadership could apply equally well here about the filibuster. I keep hearing you want a watered down version of the talking filibuster. I hope that’s just false. That is not what’s needed. Be a leader. You were given a national leadership role for a reason: to best represent We The People. And it’s just clear what We need. We need a clear rule, not that too-complicated, weasely rule you have bargained down to instead. If by chance you can’t bring yourself to lead, it’s time to give someone else have a chance. Now. There’s no room for inaction or wimpy action at critical moments like this. The nation is depending on you. If you can’t pass the talking filibuster on a simple majority vote of members of your own party, you’re not much of a leader. But at least bring it to a recorded vote so we can see who obstructed it and make sure they don’t get re-elected.

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The fact that none other than Mitch McConnell has said, "We now live in the era of liberalism" speaks volumes about the prospects for some kind of significant reform. And the fact that Obama's inaugural address was basically a game changer doesn't hurt things either.
I often championed the cause of the "ya gotta talk to filibuster", but there are considerable downsides to that method also.

The constant calls for quorum votes with Senators scurrying to meet the suggestion of a lack of a quorum is a tough nut with which to deal. And so long as there are members willing to talk (which there are) a filibuster can go on for a very long time...during which the Senate would not be able to act on other measures.

I don't think it is going to happen. The change may prove more debilitating to the legislative process than the short cut filibuster...and even if the change somehow is made, I think they may regret it and change back next session.

The senators will never give up their prerogatives.
Lefty, those things were historic, but I'll give it some time before I think them real structural changes. I know the public wants to change, but the GOP is working as hard as it can to defy what the public wants, and they might yet score political wins on some things that are tactically critical even if at the expense of democracy.

Frank, C-SPAN should keep an inappropriate forever filibuster from going on. It would immediately infect the public consciousness and be on YouTube, and the delay woud be correctly attributed. These are positive things.
Don't get me wrong, Kent, I still favor trying the old rule, again. I was just calling attention to the "be careful what you hope for" aspect...and the "law of unintended consequences."

C-SPAN should keep an inappropriate forever filibuster from going on. It would immediately infect the public consciousness and be on YouTube, and the delay woud be correctly attributed. These are positive things.

Unfortunately, C-SPAN has relatively few viewers...and those viewers would often relish the spectacle of a Huey Long or Strom Thurmond style filibuster.

We'll see. But if these guys continue to refuse to get their shit together, I seriously doubt any procedural maneuvers will impact significantly on the quality of legislation coming from them.

Our country truly is in a sad state right now, but we may merely be paying the true cost of democracy.
Frank, it only takes one C-SPAN viewer to alert others of something wrong. People can tune in as needed. C-SPAN is interesting for its verifiability, not for its popular appeal.

I am not suggesting changes to rules based on a theory that my party is in majority, so I am not worrying about rules based on a theory of what happens if we're in minority. I only fear gross abuse of power, not legitimate exercise of fairly acquired majority power, and sadly I think the GOP is intent on that, but if the silent filibuster is all that remains of our great Constitution's protection against that, much of the battle is already lost. The recent Supreme Court's willingness to indulge a gerrymandering of their own morality doesn't help.

The talking filibuster isn't perfect but it's easy to explain, understand (at least procedurally, if not in effect), and audit. Those are not all the things one might wish, but in an error of rampant corruption and public distrust those are big deal things.