Ben Buchwalter


Restructure, Don’t Abolish, the Filibuster
February 19, 2009, 10:17 am
Filed under: Congress, General Politics | Tags: , ,

One hangover from the stimulus debate is the role of the filibuster in modern American government. Many are calling for the abolishment of the filibuster, or some sort of extreme restructuring.

To me, the most effective argument against the filibuster is that elections should have consequences. Too often, it seems that whether Clinton or Dole, Bush or Gore, Kerry or Bush, or Obama or McCain wins won’t make too much of a difference. To a certain extent, if the opposition is united enough against the President’s agenda and that agenda is contrary to the public’s wishes, then it won’t succeed.

The American people should know that if they overwhelmingly vote for Democrats in a few elections in a row, then Democrats will be able to make a lasting impact for American public policy without the constant nagging of the GOP. The more cynical observers have even suggested that the GOP’s primary goal in opposing the stimulus package is to weaken it, making it less likely to succeed and destroying chances for Democrats in 2010 and Obama to seek reelection in 2012.

It is not necessary for everyone to agree. Democrats and Republicans have very different economic philosophies that inform their stances on the stimulus package. But instead of voting against this increase in government spending, many Republicans spent a week demanding spending cuts to the bill. Once they got what they wanted, they still voted en mass against it.

That’s change I can punch in the face.

So maybe Drum, Yglesias, and Klein are right – that it’s time to end the filibuster. But thinking long term, it is comforting to know that Democrats could have a voice even while in the minority. The questions should not be, as Drum suggests, whether the filibuster was intended to “become a routine requirement that all legislation needs 60% of the vote in the Senate to pass.” The question should be whether it’s beneficial that the minority has that option.

The filibuster has been weakened a few times in the past, most notably to reduce the number required to force a filibuster from 67 to 60. So let’s reform the filibuster to make it harder to use. But it is not necessary to do away with it entirely. 

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2 Comments so far
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“That’s change I can punch in the face.” My favorite quote in a long time. Except for the stuff in the Joe Cocker video.

In terms of it not making a difference who was elected president, come on. We would have had a mass suicide around the country to have had another 4 years of BushCain. No matter how hard it is right now, we still have the FeelGoods.

Comment by lisabu

That’s true. In the case of the Bush elections and Obama/McCain there was a huge difference in who was elected. But in terms of legislative process, I think that the President’s plans are often validated or negated by how unified the opposition is and how receptive the public is to the President’s agenda.

Whether or not there’s a filibuster, the opposition party will always be a pain in the President’s ass.

Comment by Ben




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