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Filibuster vs. Reconciliation

Ask a kid who just took civics how a bill becomes a law and she'll explain that Congress takes a vote and if a majority supports the bill, the bill goes to the president. That's what we teach in textbooks. In reality, the Senate is a contest to find who's better at manipulating the rules for purposes that they were never meant to serve. For the minority, everything depends on its skill with Rule XXII. For the majority, it's all about its understanding of the budget reconciliation process. For the country, it's a mess.

That's the beginning of my latest column, which looks at the secondary costs of letting the Senate become a war between filibusters, with their days of delay even when you break them, and the reconciliation process, with its weird rules that force you to write legislation to have more budget impact than is necessarily wise. You can read the rest in Newsweek or in the Washington Post. Totally up to you.

By Ezra Klein  |  March 7, 2010; 10:34 AM ET
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Might you encourage the WP to adopt a policy of actually moderating comments? If you look at the ones for op-eds, you'll see a small number of civic, rational ones and a large number of nasty, personal ones (and my judgment in this regard is not equivalent to my political views). The NY Times has an actual personal moderating their comment sections and they have a range of views without the vitriol and name-calling.

Posted by: mainer2 | March 7, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

As I commented on the Post version, your history is in error. Here's a NYTimes article on the Senate's passage of the bill.

As it says, Congress was passing piece-meal spending measures with no overall budget and Nixon and Congress had been struggling with "impoundment". The lack of an overall budget meant the heads of the appropriations subcommittees in the House had much authority (and the Speaker less).

Impoundment meant Nixon's OMB would impound the money and not allow the agency to spend it. Think of it as a line-item veto under a different name. If I recall, Nixon lost the court fight and eventually the Presidency and Congress reached agreement on the "recission" process we have today.

Posted by: bharshaw | March 7, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

"she'll explain that Congress takes a vote and if a majority supports the bill, the bill goes to the president. "

Poor Ezra. You've still never come to terms with the fact that a majority of Congress has never supported "the bill". A majority of the Senate supported the Senate bill and a majority of the House supported the House bill, but a majority of Congress has not yet supported a single bill.

But go ahead and continue wailing about Republican obstrucionism and the filibuster and reconciliation and Stupid Stupak if that helps you avoid facing the fact that you guys still have not met the threshold outlined in the kid's civics book.

Posted by: bgmma50 | March 7, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Talk of filibuster might lead some folks to believe, incorrectly, that the Senate is ploddingly slow; in fact, the rules of the House tend to produce final results more slowly.

HR 3590, The Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act, was passed by the House after 40 minutes of debate, was then passed to the Senate, and, on 21-Nov-2009, was amended by the Senate to become what is now known as the health care reform bill. During a period of 33 days, the Senate intermittently considered the bill, passing the bill on 24-Dec-2009. On 29-Dec-2009, the Senate returned the bill to the House.

The health care reform bill was before the "slow" Senate for a maximum of 792 hours (21-Nov through 24-Dec) and now has languished in the "fast" House for 1,632 hours (30-Dec-2009 through 7-Mar-2010). The health care reform bill has been held more than twice as long by a single individual -- Speaker Pelosi -- than all Republican Senators combined. Given that there were 40 Republican Senators when the bill was considered in the Senate, Speaker Pelosi is 82 times more obstinate than the average Republican Senator.

Posted by: rmgregory | March 7, 2010 9:40 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, I'm on your side except you make an assumption that the Senate is capable of doing some business, any business. Even without the filibuster the Republicans would obstruct.

They are secretly racist and will do anything to ensure that Obama fails no matter what he tries. The unfortunate part is Obama is so wimpy he will continue to try to enlist their cooperation.

Posted by: Hawaiianstyle | March 7, 2010 11:48 PM | Report abuse

This is pure partisan drivel, in addition to being inaccurate. Not that it ever stopped Klein from making any of his adolescent arguments.
If the shoe were on the other foot and the Democrats were in the minority, Klein would be wailing and arguing the exact opposite.
How dumb does he think we are?

Posted by: parkbench | March 8, 2010 12:32 AM | Report abuse

stunningly enough, bgmma50, this happens all the time. it is rare that the house and senate pass the same precise language; that's why there is a process by which the differences are worked out. there's nothing special here.

but at least your comment makes some sense, unlike the addled material provided us by parkbench. in actual fact, parkbench, this is not "partisan drivel;" this is congressional procedure. this is not "inaccurate;" it is accurate.

and if the democratas were in the minority and the republicans were using reconciliation to shove through controversial and fiscally irresponsible tax cuts (just to pick a random example of accurate description of the history of reconciliation), klein would critique the policy but not the fact that reconciliation was being used.

in the big scheme of things, the founders made it perfectly clear when they wanted more than a majority....

Posted by: howard16 | March 8, 2010 12:47 AM | Report abuse

Forget the fillibuster and reconcilliation. The real story about CORRUPTION IN DC has to do with willful ignorance of Chris Dodd/Kent Conrad on taking sweetheart mortgage AND tax delinquincy of Charlie Rangle, BUT A DEMOCRAT CONGRESSMAN WHO VOTED 'NO' ON HEALTHCARE HAS TO FACE A HOUSE INVESTIGATION BECAUSE HE APPARENTLY SAID SOMETHING TO AN AIDE AT A NEW YEARS EVE PARTY!!!!

Is there any level that Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama won't stoop to to get SINGLE-PAYER TROJAN PASSED?

This is the biggest story to hit this town in a while!!!

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | March 8, 2010 6:57 AM | Report abuse

"stunningly enough, bgmma50, this happens all the time. it is rare that the house and senate pass the same precise language; that's why there is a process by which the differences are worked out. there's nothing special here."

Yes, that's my point. They usually use conference committees to blend bills, and opted not to do so this time because of the filibuster, but there's no guarantee a conference committee would have had any better luck putting together legislation that would garner a majority vote of both houses of Congress. They might have had a little more wiggle room, but they would still have had the same problems with Stupak, the public option, funding, etc.that they are dealing with now.

Posted by: bgmma50 | March 8, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

In the end, we elected members of Congress to do the serious work needed for our best interests as a nation. The last year has not shown that we are getting what we elected them to do and they are not really earning their pay. The administration foretold in the campaign the main topic of work for the first year. The public elected the administration and expected work to be done.

Instead, we have gotten no more than the egotistical, arrogant and ignorant rants against the subject from every Republican in office and every wing nut in the country who got access to either a pencil, a crayon, or a television microphone. Our economy is nearly collapsing under the weight of spiraling health care costs. The pending legislation is there to help fix the problem and will do so without changing the time-tested legal precedents on abortion. But Republicans flatly reject anything that interferes with their special interest insurance company alliance, and the Bart Stupak Brigade against women's rights is trying to derail the law of the land that has been tested and retested and proven to be valid. It is time for the real issue of what we need and not the fringes to be dealt with in a timely manner. If Stupak wants to visit the abortion matter, he has the rest of his life to work on it. If they can't get done what we sent them to do, they should turn in their time and go home.

Posted by: ronjeske | March 8, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Your authorial voice in the Newsweek piece is interesting. You write:

"A single, committed crank (cough, Jim Bunning) can waste weeks..."

where I might expect to see:

"A single, committed crank like Jim Bunning can waste weeks..."

I'm haven't made up my mind yet if I like this or not.

Posted by: adamiani | March 8, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

#1. The laws to be passed for the American people have to be equally for the Senate and legislators, unless they are not Americans.
2. The Senators and Congressmen live by a different set of rules which incudes "above the law."
3. The laws are created by them 'for us.' not them. Do you get it out there.

Posted by: svenskasandy | March 9, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

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