In Defense of the Filibuster 20100213

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Recently we have seen quite a bit of controversy about the filibuster.  Most folks do not even know what that term means, and with good reason.  The rules for it changed, as I recall, in 1975, after damned old Nixon got booted, and, in my opinion, for ill.

However, the politicians, the pundits, and the public do not understand (or, if they do, are misleading folks) about its nature.  The Republicans mostly say that it was the will of the Framers, and that is just not only incorrect, but a lie.  In fairness, the Democrats said the same thing when they were in the minority.  Most of the pundits have it wrong as well.  Please follow and I shall explain what it was, and now is.

Under the Constitution, two houses of Congress were established, the House of Representatives and the Senate.  The House is composed of directly elected people (originally, only men) that serve for two years, and the Senate of people (again, only men) selected by the legislature of the various States.  This is a bit different now, since women have the vote and the eligibility to run for, and hold office, and a Constitutional amendment far back at the turn of the 20th century requires a vote of the People to elect a Senator.  This is just for historical perspective.  My point is that NOTHING in the Constitution requires nor prevents a filibuster.

The Constitution clearly states that each house can form their own rules for procedure, for acceptance of new members, and for ejection of aberrant members.  The point is very simple:  each house makes their own rules.

Well, using the Constitution as a model, the Senate devised a rule called the “Filibuster” many years ago that said that two-thirds of the Senate (plus one vote) is required to bring controversial legislation to the floor.  The House of Representatives has no such rule, and the thought was the Senate was the cooling saucer for hot legislation from the House.

You must remember that when the Constitution was framed, the politics were very different than they are now, and BIG MONEY was not nearly as much of a factor.  With the new Supreme Court decision, that will certainly get worse.

In keeping with the Constitution, the Senate devised a rule that demanded debate, sometimes for weeks.  The rules that they established, under the Constitution, allowed that the minority party could debate a bill to death, but BY DEBATE.  Actually, parties were not recognized by the Constitution, but were rapidly accommodated. (My personal preference would be that the Constitution would ban them, but I rarely get my wishes).

Thus, if some faction did not agree with a bill from the House, or from the Senate, could debate its merits until two thirds of the quorum voted to end the debate.  Today, that is 67 Senators, assuming that all are in the body.  Remember, it is not the gross number, it is the fraction of those who are present.  This requirement has not changed since the Constitution was ratified.

But it is not required by the Constitution, as many would ignore.  That is a rule the the Senate adopted, and, whilst in keeping with the Constitution, is not required by it.

So now we go to the change in the rules in 1975 when only 60 votes are required.  That is what is erroneously referred to as the “super majority” now, but it is just an artifact of changing Senate rules.  The two thirds majority is still required for treaties, but the Senate had diluted many other things, and has magnified the super majority unwisely.  Here are the facts:

Both the House and the Senate should act on bills with simple majorities.  Since the House has no rule requiring a two thirds or a three fifths vote, a simple majority is all that they can do.  The Senate can require whatever majority it sets in its rules, and now for  confirming Cabinet members, or other Constitutional appointees, it is two thirds.  But for allowing a new bill to come to a vote, they use the new three fifths rule.  This is wrong.

Many of us, but Progressives and Conservatives, recommend this return to the old rule:  the Senate, considering a new bill, must debate it until all debate is finished.  That means ceaseless debate, with no regard for sleeping, eating, nor everything else, until the members either fag out, agree, or just quit.  I am talking about hours, days, or even weeks with no break for any of those folks who just want their political favor.

These days, they just take a vote, and everyone goes home.  I say make them stay on the floor until it is settled.  MAKE THEM WORK FOR THEIR FOOD!

Warmest regards,



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  1. to make Senators do their jobs?

    Warmest regards,


  2. … that a motion to move the matter to a vote is in order, and required a simple majority of the Senate to pass.

    I mean, why stop at the early 1900’s rule? At one time, after the original Senate rules but before the 2/3 of those present in a quorum rule, there was a period when there was no cloture. But then, why stop there? It was Aaron Burr who removed the motion to bring a matter to a vote not on the rationale of allowing endless debate, but on the rationale that it was not necessary.

    Well, on that rationale, Aaron Burr blundered, and its time to correct his mistake and re-instate the original rule.

  3. … the Constitution does set limits on what the Senate can do with Revenue bills. Allowing Revenue bills to be filibustered in the Senate is clearly in violation of the intent of the framers – if a majority of Senators concur by amendment, it should go to the President’s desk. Preventing that from being determined is not Constitutional.

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