Death by a Thousand Filibusters
by Charles Lemos, Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 05:30:57 PM EST
Perhaps not quite a thousand but you get my drift. Our government isn't hanging itself (and us by extension) but committing us to the death of a thousand filibusters. From the New York Times:
The frequency of filibusters -- plus threats to use them -- are measured by the number of times the upper chamber votes on cloture. Such votes test the majority's ability to hold together 60 members to break a filibuster.
Last year, the first of the 111th Congress, there were a record 112 cloture votes. In the first two months of 2010, the number already exceeds 40.
That means, with 10 months left to run in the 111th Congress, Republicans have turned to the filibuster or threatened its use at a pace that will more than triple the old record. The 104th Congress in 1995-96 -- when Republicans held a 53-47 majority -- required 50 cloture votes.
The first filibuster in US Senate history began on March 5, 1841, over the issue of the firing of Senate printers, and lasted six days. Later that year, a second filibuster over a banking bill introduced by Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky lasted two weeks. Even so over the rest of 19th century fewer than two dozen filibusters were enacted. The filibuster would remain a rare legislative tactic until the Civil Rights era when Southerners turn to its use to block President Eisenhower's civil rights legislation. It's been downhill ever since.
The only way to stop one is by invoking cloture — which forces a vote to take place. Cloture, adopted in 1917, used to require two-thirds of the Senate to agree to stop the talking. But with a two-thirds vote difficult to obtain (just four out of 23 cloture movements were successful between 1919 and 1960), the Senate changed the rule in 1975 to require just three-fifths' approval, or 60 votes.
Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly adds:
The scope of this abuse is unlike anything we've ever seen in the United States. A discredited minority decided that elections no longer have consequences, and that blocking the Senate's ability to vote on the majority's agenda is entirely acceptable.
Of course, our political system encourages this misconduct -- the less than gets done, the angrier the public. The angrier the public, the more likely the majority party loses. Ergo, the minority has a powerful incentive to make sure nothing gets done.
I suspect the frustration felt by President Obama must be pretty intense. The country has effectively told him, "We need you to rescue an economy in freefall, oversee two costly wars, fix a deteriorating job market, address a crushing debt, and fix health care, energy policy, immigration, a housing crisis, a collapsing U.S. auto industry, the Gitmo mess, and America's reputation around the world. Oh, and for the first time in American history, literally every measure and nomination of any significance will be blocked by a Senate filibuster. Good luck."
And the great irony is, the party that's responsible for the gridlock and unprecedented obstructionism is poised to be rewarded for their ridiculous behavior.
I continue to think observers should characterize Republican filibuster abuse for what it is: an extraordinary political scandal that undermines the American government's ability to function.
Steve is right on so many points but I'll add one more. Too many Americans just have no idea how the government works. They see the gridlock but they don't understand, largely because they do not know, the basics workings of the government. The arcane rules of the Senate certainly need reworking but it is just as imperative to educate the American public on the machinery of government and how that machinery has ground to a halt over the increasingly used brake known as the filibuster.