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Filibustering the legislative process

As it looks like all 41 Republicans will filibuster financial reform today, it's worth being clear about what, exactly, they're filibustering.

First, they're not filibustering the bill itself. The Senate hasn't looked at the bill. In fact, it hasn't even seen the version that combines Dodd's proposal with Lincoln's derivatives language. This filibuster isn't preventing a vote on anything. Rather, it's standing in the way of debate and amendment.

The specific motion being filibustered is the motion to move to debate the legislation. That is to say that Republicans who want to see the bill debated and changed are filibustering the process in which the bill can be debated and changed. They're not filibustering legislation so much as the legislative process itself. It's a strange move, as letting the bill be amended and debated doesn't preclude a filibuster against a vote on the legislation. But Republicans have gotten so used to filibustering everything that they filibuster whether it makes sense or not. As it turns out, filibusters are a bit like Pringles: Once you pop, you just can't stop.

By Ezra Klein  |  April 26, 2010; 12:58 PM ET
Categories:  Financial Regulation  
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NPR said this morning that, once the bill enters the debate and amendment stage, Republicans are scared that Democrats can filibuster any amendments the Republicans offer, and thus the Republicans would rather try to make their changes beforehand. But, thinking about it now, it seems exceedingly unlikely that the Democrats would filibuster anything related to this bill. Why not just let the amendment vote go through, and vote it down with a simple majority? Maybe NPR was just repeating a Republican rationalization for the filibuster.

Posted by: foomanji | April 26, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Republicans are just trying to buy time till they get the kinks out of their own alternative bill: big banks must put aside 10 chickens (at a 9 hen to 1 rooster ratio) for every $1 mil in deposits...poultry will reproduce, thus increasing capital to meet new minimum requirements...if banks fail in the future, this fund will be tapped and all depositors will be paid chickens (or farm fresh eggs if they so opt) in lieu of cash.

Posted by: tnoord | April 26, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

The first commenter is absolutely correct. Once the Senate gets to floor consideration of the legislation, it will basically take 60 votes to make any changes to the version of the legislation Dodd offers on the floor. That's why Rs and some Ds are trying to force changes to the legislation before it gets to the floor. Voting against cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill gives them leverage to force those changes.

Posted by: mglepage | April 26, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

party of no...nuff said.

repubs are so scared of this bill, they don't even want it to be debated. Repeat this every hour on the MSM. Repubs are voting to not discuss financial reform.

Posted by: srw3 | April 26, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

What would happen if the person who was the chair of the senate (president pro tem?) just said something along the lines of "Your objection is noted" and then let the motion move forward anyway? I guess they can go back and say that doesn't count, but i just wonder what would happen if someone got up there with the gavel and was totally unconcerned with the Roberts rules or order approach and said screw it were moving on.

one can daydream...

Posted by: roycommi | April 26, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Taking what roycommi said a step further, this would be the ideal situation for the Dems to start changing the Senate rulebook.

Under Senate Rule 22, cloture on rules changes requires a 2/3 majority. But Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution gives to each house of Congress the power to set its own rules.

This is where the Senate Dems should say, "We're invoking our power under Article I, Section 5 to set our own rules, and declare no cloture vote necessary for a Motion to Proceed. The Constitution says the Senate can set its own rules. It doesn't say we have to be bound by the rules last altered by the Senate of 1975, and we're not going to be."

They would then let the bill move to the floor for debate, the Republicans would object and request a ruling from the Senate Parliamentarian, who would support their objection. And then the Vice President, in his role as President of the Senate, would disregard the Parliamentarian's ruling and allow the bill to move forward. (By custom, the Parliamentarian's rulings have been treated as official, but legally, his opinions are strictly advisory, and the President of the Senate is free to disregard his rulings.)

The Republicans would have no recourse but to the courts, who have been reluctant to rule on disputes between the other two branches, let alone disputes within a branch of government.

And while the wingnuts would wax wroth, and the Villagers would wring their hankies, nobody would be able to explain to Joe and Jane Sixpack just how the Republic was being endangered by dispensing with the right of a minority of Senators to extend debate over the question of whether a bill should or shouldn't be debated. The Dems would be able to nuke the filibuster of the motion to proceed, and pay no price.

Posted by: rt42 | April 26, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

It is really the political analysis of the Republican leadership that being seen as obstructing legislation to deal with Wall Street excesses and recklessness will be electorally popular? Really?

"Senator ___ voted to give Wall Street a free pass to take your money. S/he opposed any new regulation of the banks that wiped out your job and your life savings." Kinda writes itself.

Posted by: RalfW | April 26, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

The funny thing is, how do you think this will be retold in the evening news?

Option A - "Republicans filibuster Wall Street Reform"

Option B - "Republicans filibuster the motion to move the Wall Street legislation to debate on the floor"

I'm willing to bet it's Option A. Which isn't something Republicans should be looking to do, unless I'm missing some master strategy somewhere.

Posted by: JERiv | April 26, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Interesting comments, guys. We should watch to see how this is covered in the mainstream media.

It's quite a struggle over appearances, because there is indeed a "center" or "swing" portion of the electorate. The sizable group of swing voters who will decide 2010 and 2012.

I think certain Republicans are thinking more along the lines: if Democrats pass financial reform, then most of rhetoric on healthcare, etc., looks cynical. So we have to take the risk of blocking financial reform, and keep claiming it creates a "perpetual bailout", etc.

It's a truly cynical political strategy.

But there are some real believers, too, who refuse to comprehend that not bailing out the financial sector in 2008-2009 would have resulted in another great depression.

That idea of leting-them-fail=great-depression is intolerable to true believers in the pure free market etc. stuff.

Instead, the great depression is to be maintained (comfortably) as the fault of the Fed and of Smoot-Hawley tarrifs, etc. That is, the fault of government, not in any degree of the free market itself.

Ideological purity of belief. This is widespread.

So, on the Republican side, there is a group that is cynical and calculating, and then there is a group that is pure in belief and impervious to information and facts.

Posted by: HalHorvath | April 26, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

What if the Dems just allowed the Repubs to filibuster? I don't know why people try to stop it with a vote of cloture. Just let this one happen, and, as someone else wrote, then the campaign ads will write themselves.

Posted by: Lonepine | April 26, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

Republicans are just trying to maximize their influence in the final product just like the Democrats would do if the positions were reversed. Once the bill gets to the floor the Democrats, as they did with healthcare, will en masse vote against every Republican amendment and count on picking off one of the liberal Republicans like Snowe or Collins. There is a lot to not like in this bill: big tax increases, huge amounts of new government regulation, creation of a large new government agency, reduction of consumer choice in banking and investing, etc. Also, where's the reform of Fannie and Freddie, two of the biggest culprits in the financial meltdown.

Posted by: RobT1 | April 26, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

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