The GOP counts on the People’s Misunderstanding of the Filibuster

January 4, 2012

Cover of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"

Obama did not get much of anything he wanted despite the emerging right wing talking point to the opposite.   He has had to put a brave face on a record level of congressional obstruction not seen in history before his administration.  Even though the dems held both house and senate for two years, not much happened without huge give aways to the right wing.  This is because nearly every effort to pass bills through the senate was barricaded by the GOP with by procedural delays such as calls for quorum and threats of a filibuster.

The only stimulus bill to help get the economy back on track was passed in the last days of the Bush administration.  After Obama’s inauguration, conservatives have actively blocked any further attempts by the congressional majority to help along a more successful economic recovery.  The GOP needs to have a crisis they can try to blame on Obama.

The 1939 movie with James Stuart,  ‘Mr Smith Goes to Washington’ dramatized the use of the filibuster as it came into uncommon use.  In a filibuster, senators may hold the floor and speak out on any subject for as long as they wish purely to obstruct the debate on the bill from going forward.

In recent years, the senate leadership has preferred to avoid the filibuster in order to proceed on other business.  For the convenience of allowing debate on other issues, it went from being a process requiring all day and all night speech on the floor to a short procedure, after which the senator may exit the door.

Until the senate leadership changes its policy on avoiding the filibuster, all the senator must do these days is threaten the filibuster and force a motion for cloture and the issue is closed.   Now that it is such an easy process, the GOP has used it to hold off Democratic initiatives such as the various jobs bills.  The cloture process has been used more in the last two years than in all preceding years combined.  This is an abuse of this arcane parliamentary procedure allowing the GOP to obstruct the recovery of our economy.

The current leadership should call the bluff of the GOP threats to filibuster and force them to stand in the well of the senate until their bladders explode and all phone books have been read into the record.   Maybe then we will see a rollback in the use of this procedure.

Filibuster Chart, Talking Points Memo, Brian Beutler

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