Harry Reid on the Filibuster

Libertarians are always somewhere between irate and amused at how the Coke and Pepsi parties suddenly change their principles based on who is in the White House.  The latest example:  As the left cries foul on the Republican use of the filibuster in the lame duck session, Democratic leader Harry Reid once praised the filibuster, at least back in the day it was a bull-work against Bush-Cheney fascism:

"¦when legislation is supported by the majority of Americans, it eventually overcomes a filibuster's delay, as public protests far outweigh any senator's appetite for filibuster. But when legislation only has the support of the minority, the filibuster slows the legislation, prevents a senator from ramming it through and gives the American people enough time to join the opposition.

Mr. President, the right to extended debate is never more important than when one party controls Congress and the White House. In these cases, the filibuster serves as a check on power and preserves our limited government. "¦

For 200 years we've had the right to extended debate [i.e., filibuster]. It's not some procedural gimmick. It's within the vision of the founding fathers of our country. "¦ They established a government so that no one person and no single party could have total control.

Some in this chamber want to throw out 214 years of Senate history in the quest for absolute power. They want to do away with Mr. Smith, as depicted in that great movie, being able to come to Washington. They want to do away with the filibuster. They think they're wiser than our founding fathers. I doubt that that's true.

I like the filibuster most all the time.  I once suggested that the rules be changed to not allow filibuster when the Senate is exercising its duty to approve administrative officials and judges, but I am not sure I support even that exception.


  1. perlhaqr:

    If I ever manage to get elected (not that this seems likely) it's been my plan to filibuster every bill that goes up for vote... by reading it out loud.

  2. Hasdrubal:

    I'd honestly prefer to see filibuster replaced by something like a vote of substance: Any substantive issue requires a 2/3 majority (or maybe 60%) to pass, non substantive issues can pass with a simple majority. And no procedural "hard vote to end discussion but easy vote to pass the bill" tricks, if it's a vote of substance it needs a 2/3 majority to pass. All it should take is one or a couple senators to declare a bill substantive in order to make it so.

    It's not just Coke verses Pepsi party stuff, it would help prevent a small majority or vocal minority from abusing the democratic process. After all, do we really want things like Defense of Marriage acts or legalizing drugs to be decided by the slightest of majorities? Or should major, society changing laws require a super majority to enact?

  3. dullgeek:

    A friend of mine suggested a change to the constitution that I find interesting. The idea (*) is that you requires a 2/3 majority to enact any new law and a simple-majority to repeal it. The idea being that you'd better be darn certain that the law is going to be a good one before you enact it. And if it turns out to have been a bad idea, it's easier to get rid of it.

    The impact of this would be that *ALL* legislation would be harder to create than even overcoming a filibuster.

    So count me in that group who likes the filibuster, no matter who's in charge.

    (*) My friend said that this idea came from a Science Fiction book that, at the moment, I can't recall the name of.

  4. caseyboy:

    The filibuster is an excellent tool that facilitates deliberative legislating. It is yet another example of the wisdom of our Founding Fathers. If something is good for the country you should be able to get 60 votes for Cloture in the Senate. If not it may take an election cycle or two for the will of the people to shape the Senate and get popular legislation enacted or unpopular legislation repealed. I'm glad the Dem's put so much lead time into the full roll out of Obamacare. Of course they had to do that so they could balance 10 years of tax revenue against 6 years of expenses. But the point is that we could get rid of that can of worms with another election cycle if we stay focused.

  5. DrTorch:

    I'd like to see a "term limit" on all legislation passed. That way the legislators spend their time reviewing and revamping (even improving!) existing laws, instead of finding new areas that "needs" their legislative touch.

    A 60/67% requirement for passage might be a good step to reduce rubber-stamping legislation through.

  6. JimV:

    I like the "term limit" on all legislation passed... why should dead legislators be in charge?

    Along those lines of wishful thinking, I'd like to see our legislators chosen by lottery. This would automatically term-limit them. Anyone interested in serving could put their name in the hat, so we'd only see people who had at least some interest in "serving". To be re-elected, they'd have to be really, really lucky, or cheat. While we're dreaming, those lottery chosen legislators would select the president from among their ranks. This approach would solve a whole bunch of problems. It could start as an experiment in one of the states, and the results of the experiment would help inform other states whether it has merit. Fantasy, I know, but what we have now is a failed experiment.

  7. caseyboy:

    Term limiting legislation sounds nice, but do you really want every law expiring on a date certain. Term limited laws impacting tax/finance/economics/trade would create tremendous uncertainty in the business community. We are currently watching the circus around extending the term limited tax reduction law signed by President Bush. That's one that should have been permanent from the get go. If this remains unresolved after 12/27/10 the stock market will take a big hit as taxpayers sell investments to take gains at the lower capital gains rate. High volume selling will drive prices down. Short the market that week and then get off the short, because the investors will likely reload in the new year.

  8. Roy Lofquist:

    Definition of BULWARK
    a : a solid wall-like structure raised for defense : rampart b : breakwater, seawall
    : a strong support or protection
    : the side of a ship above the upper deck —usually used in plural

    What's a bull-work?

  9. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:

    I've always liked a proposal thrown out by RAH -- two houses of Congress:

    One house has the job to pass laws by a 2/3rds supermajority.

    The other has the power to repeal laws by a 1/3rd minority.

    The idea is that, if 1/3rd of the people don't like it, it probably shouldn't be law, anyway.

  10. IgotBupkis:

    Dullgeek: the book is either Starship Troopers or The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress -- I think it was the latter but am not certain.