Democrats & Liberals Archives

What is a Filibuster?

Do you know that in this year alone there were 40 filibusters in the Senate? You may ask how this is possible since you know that some famous past filibusters lasted several weeks and descriptions of the ridiculous talk daily filled American newspapers. Today there is nothing about filibusters in the news. So the question before you is: What is a filibuster?

Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly explains the modern filibuster:

Thanks to a gentleman's agreement reached several decades ago, you no longer have to actually take to the Senate floor and talk until you drop. You just announce your intent to filibuster, the majority leader takes you at your word, and shortly thereafter schedules a cloture vote. No muss, no fuss. All you have to do is write a note and the bill in question suddenly requires 60 votes to pass, not 51. As a result, if the minority party feels like it, they can pretty easily force every bill to require 60 votes.

And this is exactly what Senate Republicans are doing, according to Senator Kent Conrad:

I had a Republican colleague tell me it is the Republican strategy to try to prevent any accomplishment of the Democratic Congress. That is set in their caucus openly and directly that they don’t intend to allow Democrats to have any legislative successes, and they intend to do it by repeated filibuster.

You can see how the Republicans are doing it with reference to the Iraq War. Senator Jim Webb offered an amendment that would allow troops to take 2 years off for each year of combat duty. This is the way things used to be. Senator Lindsey Grayham, who is always talking about how he is worried about the troops, got apopleptic in his argument against Webb's amendment.

However, the amendment did not come to a vote. Senator Reid was told there would be a filibuster and he assumed there would be. But no actual filibuster occurred. Then a call for cloture was made as though Senators had been talking day and night for weeks. Cloture was missed because it achieved only 56 votes, 4 votes less than the necessary 60. However, it is obvious it would have passed without the fiction of a filibuster.

Since Republicans are not living up to the gentelman's agreement and using the filibuster as a tool to prevent Democrats from accomplishing anything, it's time for Democrats to force Republicans to partake in an actual filibuster. Let the people see that Republicans are obstructionists. Force the media to report the nonsense that the Republican filibusterers spout.

Maybe we can end the Iraq War. If not, it will be obvious to all citizens who are the warmongers: the filibusterers.

Posted by Paul Siegel at July 16, 2007 3:47 PM
Comment #226560

I agree. It’s pointless to just let them have their fun without working for it.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 16, 2007 3:52 PM
Comment #226563

And it seems Harry Reid agrees with us! Republicans want to pull an all-nighter? Fine with us!

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 16, 2007 4:03 PM
Comment #226565

Good Article Paul. I agree with you 100%.
Now THAT felt weird…

Posted by: TheTraveler at July 16, 2007 4:08 PM
Comment #226570

++Since Republicans are not living up to the gentelman’s agreement and using the filibuster as a tool to prevent Democrats from accomplishing anything, it’s time for Democrats to force Republicans to partake in an actual filibuster. Let the people see that Republicans are obstructionists. Force the media to report the nonsense that the Republican filibusterers spout.++


And see, it’s MAKING the Republicans do the actual work rather than just calling them “obstructionists.” I objected to that use of that term over on Campaign for America for that very reason. It’s far too easy to call someone “obstructionist” than it is to make them use the tool that defines the word.

Ditto with the “up or down vote” business. I hated it when Republicans tried using the term when they were in power and I hate it now.

But MAKING someone use the actual filibuster? I like it. Do it. Do it frequently.

Posted by: Donna at July 16, 2007 5:11 PM
Comment #226572

I have to say… I always read with amusement when the Blue and Red columns on this site so blatantly accuse each other of things like this… newsflash Paul and all y’all blue-column faithful… The Dems did it, too! For 6 years! My my, how fickle we can be…

Kinda like the pot calling the kettle black… or, in this case… kinda like the blue pot calling the kettle red…

Posted by: Doug Langworthy at July 16, 2007 5:32 PM
Comment #226573

Come on Doug, quit living in the past.
Besides, its “different” when the Dems do the same thing.

Posted by: kctim at July 16, 2007 5:36 PM
Comment #226577

kctim… you’re absolutely correct… I’m living in the past… I shouldn’t remember stuff like that, eh? If only I, too, were more fickle… Mybe then things like this wouldn’t bug me as much.

Maybe, one day, Libertarians and Greens will be able to fillibuster the other’s legislation, too, so that we too can call each other dirty names in columns like this…

Posted by: Doug Langworthy at July 16, 2007 6:02 PM
Comment #226579

Save your sanctimony for someone else. When the Repubs were in control of the house and the Dems wanted to filibuster, the Repubs wanted to use the ‘Nuclear option’ and rewrite the house rules to get their own way.

Terrific article!

Posted by: john trevisani at July 16, 2007 6:08 PM
Comment #226580

The Rpblcns are always trying to play a game of some kind. I say let them filibuster for real. Some of the twenty that are up for reelection in 2008 might make fools of themselves, and help give the Democrats a real majority in the Senate.

Posted by: ohrealy at July 16, 2007 6:09 PM
Comment #226581

john… john, john, john… no such sanctimony here, my man. I was simply pointing out that the Dems did the same thing when the Reps were in power… the only sanctimony I see here is from your blue side complaining that those dirty Reps are doing the same thing to you…

It just seems peculiar to me that such seemingly otherwise intelligent people can be so blinded by party loyalty that they never seem to realize that their own side uses the same exact tactics as those dirty bullies on the other side of the aisle… c’mon poeple… are we really that naive?

BTW… please… please, please, please do not confuse me with the Reps… that’s about the worst insult one human could give to another… right up there with someone calling me a Dem… that would just make me feel so dirty

Posted by: Doug Langworthy at July 16, 2007 6:31 PM
Comment #226583

You’re not pointing anything out really. Both parties are horrible examples for a representative government.

Fact is: the Republicans cried and threatened for months that they would ‘go nuclear on the dems a$$’ if they filibustered. They were going to go an rewrite house rules and get rid of the filibuster because they felt that it was being used too much. Big whoop, repubs; them’s the rules and now you like the filibuster as much as the dems did. This time, at least the dems aren’t going to blow up house rules to advance their misguided ideals.

My sincere apologies if i confused you with the blinded Repubs.

Posted by: john trevisani at July 16, 2007 6:40 PM
Comment #226584

john… your apology is accepted.

Another thing I find amusing is when one side or the other says something like this:

“Well, at least the ______ (insert ‘reps’ or ‘dems’ here) don’t ______ (insert the justification for whatever it is their side is going to do that is the same exact thing that they are accusing the other side of doing here) like those dirty _____ (insert ‘reps’ or ‘dems’ here).

I love that…

Oh… and by the way… it is not “House” rules they would have had to re-write… filibusters happen in the Senate.

Posted by: Doug Langworthy at July 16, 2007 6:56 PM
Comment #226587


the nuclear option you speak of was in response to the dems refusing to give judicial nominations an up or down vote, and had nothing to do with normal legislation. both parties have played this game for years with out actually having to stay up all night and run thier big yaps. what a bunch of over paid lazy baffoons. they don’t do it anymore as a courtesy, that way none of them has to be inconvenienced, or miss dinner at thier favorite upscale restaraunt. BTW as far as i know there is no such thing as a fillibuster in the house, only the senate. to say the reps are playing dirty is like saying everyone elses sh*#@t stinks except yours. nice try.

Posted by: dbs at July 16, 2007 7:27 PM
Comment #226589

I’m glad John Trevisani said this:

“When the Repubs were in control of the house and the Dems wanted to filibuster, the Repubs wanted to use the ‘Nuclear option’ and rewrite the house rules to get their own way.”

I was on the verge of a grand mal seizure!

Posted by: KansasDem at July 16, 2007 7:40 PM
Comment #226591

One comment on the gang of 14:

Two of the seven “lefties” were Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Joe Lieberman!

We Dems have been playing lap-dog ever since Clinton’s cigar incident.

Sheesh, time to grow up!

Soon we’ll find the word “wimp” in the dictionary has a new definition: “like a democrat”.

Posted by: KansasDem at July 16, 2007 8:01 PM
Comment #226596

The problem isn’t the constituents, it’s the politicians, and the real ironic thing is that though there’s a great deal of political calculation in these acts, the direction they’re taking is positively tin-eared.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 16, 2007 8:20 PM
Comment #226600

Stephen… I completely disagree with your statement about where the problem lies… it is ALL on the constituents, and not the politicians…

Let’s be honest with outselves… those politicians that we love to hate are just doing the job that we the people elect them to do year in and year out. Both parties are involved in scandal after scandal, never get anything accomplished, and (at the core of the original post above) accuse each other of doing things that they themselves do… we the constituents know this and yet we elect the same clowns year after year after freaking year… it’s not their fault… it’s ours.

The question is… what the eff are we going to do about it?

Posted by: Doug Langworthy at July 16, 2007 8:40 PM
Comment #226604

As Reid well knows, if he goes too far in altering either the Senate’s rules or traditions when it comes to respecting the filibuster (especially when it comes to getting floor votes on Iraq), his actions could seriously backfire.

For one thing, the filibuster is only one of many procedural strategies available to the minority, and Senate Republicans have all kinds of ways of dragging things to a halt if they wanted to retaliate.

Besides that (especially if this over Iraq), Reid know he could lose Lieberman. Just imagine the danger: Reid changes the rules in order to get an anti-war vote, Lieberman jumps ship and caucuses with the Republicans, and then the Republicans have the majority and the Dems no longer have the filibuster.

As others have pointed out, a lot of Republicans were furious last year when the Republican majority ultimately decided not to pull the trigger on the “nuclear option.” The tune has certainly changed now.

The filibuster is not going anywhere anytime soon, and I doubt that Reid will go through with his threats. That’s because despite all the bluster, neither party would dare change the rules or traditions because nobody knows who is going to in the majority in the near future.

Personally, I’d love to see an old-style filibuster though, complete with cots set up in the hallway where Senators sleep until it’s their turn to show up on the floor and give a speech. It would be a very engaging spectacle that would focus a lot of public attention on the issue and trigger a lot of useful debate.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at July 16, 2007 9:02 PM
Comment #226606

Should be entertaining if Ried goes through with it and keeps the Senate insession for a filibuster.
I actually do not like this amendment much. It allows Bush to keep troops in Iraq but supposedly redefines their mission.Troops will be allowed to protect US and coalition assets,train Iraqi troops and fight terrorist. How is this different that what they are doing now? Bush has already started calling everyone in the insurgency Al Queada. Looks to me that is is an attempt at CYA for the Reps supporting it.Just change the names and keep doing what we are doing.

Posted by: BillS at July 16, 2007 9:09 PM
Comment #226608

BillS, I don’t like the bill either because it follows right on the heels of another bill which authorized and funded the surge and which promised a review in September. I’ve been a critic of the war myself, but it’s just wrong to commit the troops to a specific strategy—to authorize it with your votes—and then try to pull the rug out from under them while they’re in the middle of enacting it.

Why are the Democrats doing this when they know that even if they broke a Republican filibuster the bill is just going to be vetoed anyway?

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at July 16, 2007 9:26 PM
Comment #226620

this bill has several Rep sponsers. The Dems are doing it for political reasons. That is not automatically a bad thing. One big reason they got back the majority is because most Americans want a change of direction in the war and congress is the peoples house.Personally I would prefer the Fiengold bill.

Posted by: Bills at July 16, 2007 10:49 PM
Comment #226630

I believe it would be better to pull the rug out
with live Soldiers on it than leave them there
dead under the Rug!

Posted by: -DAVID- at July 16, 2007 11:45 PM
Comment #226634

Paul- You must have hit a real nerve with this Post
because I see you attracted a fringe Spoiler, I always
wondered how they would perform when confronted’
when a serious problem developed? Now I know.

Posted by: -DAVID- at July 17, 2007 12:10 AM
Comment #226639

“Soon we’ll find the word “wimp” in the dictionary has a new definition: “like a democrat”.
Posted by: KansasDem at July 16, 2007 08:01 PM


Hey, you guys already earned that when you turned tail and abandoned the boys in Iraq three years ago.


Posted by: JD at July 17, 2007 1:45 AM
Comment #226653


I like your idea. If nothing is happening in the Senate, people are entitled to see why.

Posted by: Woody Mena at July 17, 2007 7:58 AM
Comment #226659

The real abandonment would be leaving them over there to endlessly suffer the results of a strategy that has insufficient political backing among the Iraqis and insufficient troop numbers on our end to work. It’s not fear that makes us want to leave, it’s disgust and frustration with the leadership of this war, and the sense that things have already been pushed past the point where the numbers this president has been willing to commit will get the job done.

You know, the Right has basically taken an argument that no matter how bad things get, willpower and moral support at home can win the war. And obviously, like you, they are going to blame us for not cheering on the war, which is the only way they accept cheering on the soldiers.

But why is that? Why do we have to cheer mindlessly for a war that’s not working, has never worked, as promised? Why can we only support the troops if we support a war that from our point of view, is killing and wounding them without buying any progress towards final victory?

We never turned tail. The Republicans tell us we’re cowards so they can believe that by insisting on staying, they’re doing the courageous thing, when in reality, the courageous thing would be to protect American interests by admitting the defeat, and freeing up our forces to be able to confront other threats, rather than engaging in further fruitless actions to try and control a civil war with insufficient troops. That, or demand a draft, political consequences be damned.

Instead, the whole thing is support the current status quo of the war. The status quo isn’t cutting it.

This country is tired of chasing the goalposts this president keeps moving, tired of seeing American blood spilled so that politicians in Washington can avoid admitting they screwed up.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 17, 2007 8:42 AM
Comment #226662

Doug Langworthy-
Ask yourself: why is Congress unpopular at the moment. It only got this unpopular after it caved into Bush. A vast majority of this country believes we are on the wrong track. Only when our people start doing what Reid’s done, and that is confront and triumph over those fighting to keep the status quo, will my Party get the wind at our backs. The people have stepped up to the plate. It’s time for the politicians to do what they’re asking.

Theoretically, Lieberman could jump ship. Theoretically, the Republicans could retaliate. Theoretically, Reid could back down here.

Though no outcome is certain, here’s what’s going on: in 2008, everybody will be surprised if the Republicans hold onto, much less increase the number of seats they have. Fundraising for the Republicans, opinion polls about the Senators, all indicate that they are going to lose seats.

If Lieberman jumps ship, he’ll end up climbing aboard the good ship Smaller Minority. If the Republicans make enough of a show of resisting the Democrats, and obstructing them, a number of them might even miss that boat in the next election, because the Democrats in Washington are pushing issues that people actually want.

Reid’s no fool. He knows that his constituency is getting rather angry with the lack of guts on his majority’s part. He knows that the time to simply blame the other side is over. If he wants to take advantage of the overwhelming support of change in the government, he’s got to actually make some of it go through, and letting just a simple declaration of the intent to filibuster suffice to knock down legislation is not going to win him any points. My late Aunt Mimi had a saying when we were playing checkers and I had a jump I could take: Shoot Luke, or give up the gun.

If the Republicans want to promote gridlock, fine. But it won’t be like it was before. They won’t get to do this in committee. Let them go out, in front of the American public, and publically oppose what the majority of them want. Let them make it real clear that they think the average person is wrong.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 17, 2007 9:08 AM
Comment #226670


I agree. Lieberman would be a fool to jump ship. First of all, it would do little to help extend his beloved war. The Republicans are already defecting. Secondly, as you pointed out, the Democrats would almost certainly get the majority back in 2008 and he would be stuck with his new pals in the minority.

You left out the best reason for Democrats to be confident about the Senate. They only 12 seats up for re-election, compared to 22 for the Republicans. So the Republicans are really playing defense this time.

Posted by: Woody Mena at July 17, 2007 11:48 AM
Comment #226682

“Hey, you guys already earned that when you turned tail and abandoned the boys in Iraq three years ago.”


I’m curious just what “moniker” you’d attach to a Republican CinC and his Pentagon “toady” for ignoring the militaries request for MRAPS for years?

I suppose you’ll tell me that the Army Times is liberal biased:
DoD repeatedly balked at pleas for MRAPs

Hundreds of dead American troops because Bush & Co. chose to ignore requests made by “the commanders on the ground” that he’s so quick to support with empty, worthless rhetoric.

IMO everyone involved should be charged with negligent homicide and then given the choice of taking a long walk on a short gang-plank or serving a 36 month tour of duty in Iraq!

Posted by: KansasDem at July 17, 2007 4:42 PM
Comment #226684

Paul, your clumbsy attempt to vilify Republicans for following the same rules that Democrats used in previous years reminds me of the joke about the two little boys taken to the principals office for fighting. When asked who started the fight, little Billie responded, “It all started when Tommy hit me back!”

Posted by: Jim at July 17, 2007 4:55 PM
Comment #226687

Woody, the number of Senate seats each party has to defend in 08 is slightly misleading without taking a closer look at the actual races.

The way I see it, there are really only about 11 races out of the 33 overall that could shape up to be actual contests. It just doesn’t make sense, for example, to wonder if Jeff Sessions might lose to a Democrat in Alabama or John Kerry might lose to a Republican in MA. And it’s not as if all eleven (or so) of these contested seats are currently Republican either.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see, for example, Republicans lose seats in New Hampshire and Colorado. But it also wouldn’t surprise me to see Democrats lose seats in Louisiana, Montana, and South Dakota. Odds are that Democrats pick up a net of maybe 3 seats, but I don’t see them picking up more than five. Even if the Republicans melt down worse than they already have, it’s not as if Democrats in red states (or anywhere for the matter) are enjoying soaring popularity themselves. Probably there’s a lot riding on the coattails as well of who the presidential candidates end up being and which groups’ turnouts are either energized or depressed.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at July 17, 2007 5:42 PM
Comment #226689


You are right of course. Most of those seats will not be competitive.

Charlie Cook has 8 GOP seats listed as competitive and 3 Dem.

+3 for the Dems seems like a good guess at the moment.

Posted by: Woody Mena at July 17, 2007 6:19 PM
Comment #226697

Contrary to what some may have heard, The quorum works for the Democrats, rather than against them.

According to Greg Sargent at TPM, when a quorum of senators isn’t around for a debate, the Democrats, who would naturally be the majority at that point (If they know what’s good for them) Could direct the Sergeant at Arms to go and get, arrest if necessary, the absent Senators.

The Democrats have a win-win situation. If the Republicans back down, we win. If the Republicans sit around speaking themselves hoarse for thirty hours, they provide concrete evidence of their obstruction, instead of quietly being able to deep six legislation supported by a simple majority. If at any time they fail to keep the debate going, we can pass the legislation with a simple majority.

This is a big victory for Democrats in the Senate, who are finally understanding what it means to be a majority party, instead of acting like the passive minority they were beforehand.

Want to keep debate going? Go ahead, Take your time. And if you find yourself getting tired of all this, you can simply decide debate is over, and we can get around to an actual vote on the issues.

It’s fine with me if Republicans want to filibuster. The days of letting them get away with a filibuster without a filibuster are over.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 17, 2007 7:31 PM
Comment #226701

Stephen, personally I hope the Republicans participate if only to give us all a bit of political theater. Even it it happens, I don’t see how it’s a “win win” for anybody except those who’d enjoy a bit of of “Mr Smith Goes to Washington” showdown oratory.

I seriously doubt, however, that Reid is going to start sending the Sergeant at Arms out to start arresting senators (if they can even be found). He could do it in theory, but as I mentioned before, the filibuster is only one of many measures that are available to a minority who wants to throw a wrench into the works. If Reid wants to galvanize and unite the minority, he could hardly come up with a better way.

Another thing is that I believe Democrats have seriously misread the polling on Iraq if they think that the public supports a hasty withdrawal.
In fact, a Rasmussen poll released just today indicated that 51% of Americans think we should wait until September’s progress report before making any major change in direction.

The problem with so much of the spin over polls is that Democrats insist on reading widespread frustration with the war as a vote for retreating when the true source of frustration is a desire to find a strategy to win. The majority of the public doesn’t like Bush’s approach, and that is reflected in polling, but it doesn’t mean that they like the Democrats’ approach any more.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at July 17, 2007 9:14 PM
Comment #226720

The Minority is already uniting to frustrate Democratic Party legislation. This filibuster threat has become like a Bush Veto threat, rolled out but not carried out, often for the sake of inhibiting our legislation. I think we’re to the point where we know you’re not cooperating anyways, where we know the president won’t cooperate, so why should we let your obstruction remain quiet and behind closed doors.

I’m not so hypocritical as to call filibustering unconstitutional, but I think it’s only fair to point out that you folks said just that, that you treated it as if we were pulling down the pillars of Democracy. Now you folks have used that threat dozens of times. It’d be safe to assume that the charge was just partisan politics then.

As for whether we’ve misread the polls? Not really. Nothing we suggest supports the notion that we support a hasty withdrawal. If people want to wait ‘til Sept., fine, but it’s not likely to change many people’s opinions, not unless they present some hardcore evidence of success.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 18, 2007 9:15 AM
Comment #226724

Speaking of the filibuster, take a look at this video from the floor of the senate last night. This is a tad long, but the most impassioned speech of the night.


Posted by: PaulD at July 18, 2007 9:51 AM
Comment #226732

PaulD…thanks for the link. I’d vote for her! OF course, we know that the vote went down just a short time ago, so we press on.

Posted by: Sandra Davidson at July 18, 2007 11:31 AM
Comment #226733

I’d probably vote for her too Sandra. Scary huh.

Posted by: kctim at July 18, 2007 11:57 AM
Comment #226738

Here’s a media outrage for you: Diane Sawyer reported that the DEMOCRATS were going to filibuster the Iraq bill. You can see the video here:

Posted by: Woody Mena at July 18, 2007 12:28 PM
Comment #226740

So much for the “LIBERAL” msm….don’t know who the other speaker was who was laughing about Reid fillibustering his own bill…..

Posted by: Sandra Davidson at July 18, 2007 1:01 PM
Comment #226742

Hey, kctim….we don’t have any problems with picking up defectors…!! ;)

Posted by: Sandra Davidson at July 18, 2007 1:35 PM
Comment #226743

Now don’t get carried away Sandra. Senator Landrieu is a Democrat, not a liberal. HUGE difference!
You guys would be in power for a long time if you had more like her and Ike Skelton. Heck, I’d probably even vote Democrat in a national election sometimes if that happened.
Instead, you guys give us pelosi and gore.

Posted by: kctim at July 18, 2007 1:44 PM
Comment #226748

kctim…those two are more than a fair trade for Graham, Lott…Voinovich…. ;)….

Posted by: Sandra Davidson at July 18, 2007 3:25 PM
Comment #226831

Hmm, Am I wrong, or didn’t the Democrats filibuster a number of Bush judges and call it “democracy”?

Now they call it: “obstruction”.

But if the democrats lose the Senate in “08”, I have a feeling they would call the filibuster (as they used it again) “democracy”!

So whose fooling who here? I think no one.

Posted by: Stephenl at July 19, 2007 4:57 AM
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