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Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See for full contents of our site

February 12, 2010


Sam Smith - The corporate media hawks the bipartisan myth that we are trapped forevermore with Senate filibuster. It is a myth and, at the very least, every two years at the start of a new session, the Senate could by majority vote, eliminate the filibuster. It just doesn't want to.

The Constitution states that "Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member."

Note that the only reference to a two-thirds vote concerns the expulsion of a member.

It is conveniently argued that the Senate is a "continuing body" because only a third of it is up for reelection every two years. Therefore, it is argued, it can't undo what it has previously decided except by the rules of the past.

The problem with this theory can be seen if one imagines that, every two years, one third of the senators are new to the body. Under the continuing body theory, they would be effectively second class senators because what they think about the rules just doesn't matter.

As Ronald Rotunda of the Cato Institute wrote:

"[The continuing body status] does not give the senators of a prior generation (some of whom were defeated in prior elections) the right to prevent the present Senate from choosing, by simple majority, the rules governing its procedure. For purposes of deciding which rules to follow, the Senate starts anew every two years."

And he gives an interesting example:

"In 2005, a group of Republican senators led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), responding to the Democrats' threat to filibuster some judicial nominees of President George W. Bush to prevent a vote on the nominations, floated the idea of making a rules change to eliminate filibusters on judicial nominees with the justification that the current Senate rules can be changed with a simple majority based on the Constitutional stipulation that each Congress can set its own rules. This idea, called the 'constitutional option,' had been used to defeat filibusters in a few select cases in the history of the Senate, including passing continually filibustered Civil Rights legislation in 1959. Senator Trent Lott, the junior Republican senator from Mississippi, named the plan the 'nuclear option.' Republican leaders preferred to use the historical term 'constitutional option,' though opponents and some supporters of the plan continue to use 'nuclear option.'. . ."

So when you hear talk of a "nuclear option," remember that there's nothing nuclear about it all. It would just be the Senate observing the Constitution.


Blogger Samson said...

The filibuster has been around for ages.

Which means that strategies for dealing with the filibuster have also been around for ages.

The real question is, why don't the Democrats use them?

For example, one strategy is to attached the bill you want to get past a potential filibuster with another bill that the side filibustering wants to see passed.

So, if the Republicans want say the Homeland Security Big Pile of Pork Bill to pass, then you attach health care reform to it and create the "Protection America, the Health and Homeland Security Act of 2010".

So, why do the Democratic leadership insist on keeping Health care reform, such as it even is, as a stand-only bill that can be filibustered?

Or, it would probably be very good politics to have a much stronger health care reform bill that would strongly improve everyone's lives, and then let the Republicans filibuster it on national TV.

Make a big show of passing such a bill in the house. Show how every average American will get much cheaper health care from this bill, then let the Republicans be the bad guys and filibuster it.

That would be great politics for the party on the left. If there were such a thing.

What you are really seeing is the Democrats breaking all of their promises to the electorate and especially to Obama's base vote in the primaries.

All of this talk about the Senate and filibusters is just hot air and distraction to try to keep people from noticing exactly what they really get when they elect Democrats.

February 12, 2010 7:20 PM  
Blogger Samson said...

And the real interesting question is this ..... why didn't the Senate Dems drag Bush's agenda to a similar standstill during his term.

Its not like the filibuster is a new rule.

To understand what's going on, you have to understand that the Democrats willingly supported Bush's agenda by NOT filibustering any of it.

Its all theater.

February 12, 2010 7:21 PM  

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