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Filibustering Is Not the Same as Voting "No."


Speaking of the filibuster, it's worth pointing to Matt Yglesias's post noting that 58 senators passed a bill eliminating funding for the F-22. Fifty-eight. Not 60. You do not need 60 votes to pass a bill in the United States Senate. You need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. Another way of saying that is you don't need 60 senators to vote to pass a bill. You need 60 senators to allow a vote in which 50 senators can vote to pass a bill.

But it is entirely possible to vote against the filibuster and against a bill. Ben Nelson could vote with his party to reach cloture -- which is to say, to shut off the filibuster -- but against his party on health-care reform. That would lead to the bill passing 59-41 and becoming law. The question with the Senate centrists is not whether they will oppose health-care reform. It's whether they will oppose a vote on health-care reform. Those two things are very different.

Photo credit: Bill O'Leary -- The Washington Post Photo .

By Ezra Klein  |  July 22, 2009; 2:11 PM ET
Categories:  Government  
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Next: Nancy Pelosi on Health-Care Reform


Ben Nelson would probably make the argument that, if he was against the bill, voting no on cloture would be a more effective expression of his opposition. I don't think it is unreasonable to state at this time that Democrats have a solid 50 votes for whatever bill comes out onto the floor, so there is virtually no way to stop the bill if it moves to a final vote. Not saying that it is right for Nelson to do that, though.

Again, I know that the filibuster is becoming too institutional for the good of the political process, but we're glad it is around when Republicans are controlling things. And, perhaps, on grand legislation like health care reform, it should require a super-majority of Senators to at least support the vote. Maybe not on F-22s or stem cells, but on health care, maybe.

Posted by: smhjr1 | July 22, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I really, really want to see the democrats force the republicans to fillibuster these things. What is more ready-made political fodder than saying that, in these dire economic times, republicans aren't even letting the congress do ANYTHING?

Posted by: goinupnup | July 22, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

This insight assumes that Ben Nelson (a) actually supports the underlying bill, but is fearful of its impact on his electoral prospects, and (b) that he's more concerned about how the electorate perceives him than the (corporate) interest groups who provide campaign contributions, since Nebraska isn't exactly chock full of liberal donors.

Both of these have to be true, but I see little evidence that either of them are.

Posted by: NicholasBeaudrot | July 22, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, I wrote a little more than the comment box would allow here:

Posted by: smhjr1 | July 22, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Wow, I have heard some very flawed logic in my lifetime, but this takes the cake.

Filibustering Is Not the Same as Voting “No”. True, but you fail to prove the converse which means you are knowingly hiding something. I wonder why that is?

What you fail to note is that the converse is true, voting for cloture is the same as voting yes – even if you vote no. Sounds convoluted, but stick with me here.

If the fifty votes are there and you are instrumental in allowing those votes, then you de facto support the legislation, and no amount of posturing, including a subsequent nay vote, will convince the public otherwise.

In joining the ranks of the Washington elitists you now share company with the likes of Pelosi, Reid, Obama, and the rest of the liberal establishment and rubber-stamp pseudo-journalists in insulting our intelligence. Really Ezra, ya think we be that stoooopppid?

Posted by: geraldmerits | July 22, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I don't completely agree with Klein's approach to this issue, but it's not "flawed logic" to say that there is a difference between a vote for cloture and a vote for the legislation. They are two separate parts of the process.

Posted by: smhjr1 | July 22, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Excellent point on cloture. I admire Nelson (somewhat) but he really is a stick in the mud at times.

Posted by: vermtown | July 22, 2009 7:41 PM | Report abuse

What's up with using the same photo over and over again?

Posted by: AronB | July 23, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

What Nick Beaudrot said above.

If Nelson's trying to impress his *constituents* by voting against something, he can vote for cloture, then vote against the bill.

But if he's trying to impress *corporate interests*, they'll be watching the cloture vote, because that's where the action is.

rt42, aka low-tech cyclist

Posted by: rt42 | July 23, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

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