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Debate: Filibuster

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*'''The filibuster is a barbaric, outdated tool in a democracy.''' [http://fairvote.org/reports/1995/chp6/richardson.html Elliot Richardson. "The Case Against the Senate Filibuster". 2005]: "Just as we forswear using chemical weapons in war, senators should forswear using filibusters in legislative combat. Such scorched-earth tactics may win a battle but leave the democratic process in ruins." *'''The filibuster is a barbaric, outdated tool in a democracy.''' [http://fairvote.org/reports/1995/chp6/richardson.html Elliot Richardson. "The Case Against the Senate Filibuster". 2005]: "Just as we forswear using chemical weapons in war, senators should forswear using filibusters in legislative combat. Such scorched-earth tactics may win a battle but leave the democratic process in ruins."
-*'''Filibusters are antiquated abused tools.''' [http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1392459/posts 'Time to Retire the Filibuster." 1995]: "The U.S. Senate likes to call itself the world's greatest deliberative body. The greatest obstructive body is more like it. In the last season of Congress, the Republican minority invoked an endless string of filibusters to frustrate the will of the majority. This relentless abuse of a time-honored Senate tradition so disgusted Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, that he is now willing to forgo easy retribution and drastically limit the filibuster. Hooray for him. For years Senate filibusters--when they weren't conjuring up romantic images of Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith, passing out from exhaustion on the Senate floor--consisted mainly of negative feats of endurance. Senator Sam Ervin once spoke for 22 hours straight. Outrage over these tactics and their ability to bring Senate business to a halt led to the current so-called two-track system, whereby a senator can hold up one piece of legislation while other business goes on as usual. +*'''Filibusters are antiquated abused tools.''' [http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1392459/posts "Time to Retire the Filibuster." The New York Times. 1995]: "The U.S. Senate likes to call itself the world's greatest deliberative body. The greatest obstructive body is more like it. In the last season of Congress, the Republican minority invoked an endless string of filibusters to frustrate the will of the majority. This relentless abuse of a time-honored Senate tradition so disgusted Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, that he is now willing to forgo easy retribution and drastically limit the filibuster. Hooray for him. For years Senate filibusters--when they weren't conjuring up romantic images of Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith, passing out from exhaustion on the Senate floor--consisted mainly of negative feats of endurance. Senator Sam Ervin once spoke for 22 hours straight. Outrage over these tactics and their ability to bring Senate business to a halt led to the current so-called two-track system, whereby a senator can hold up one piece of legislation while other business goes on as usual.

Revision as of 04:19, 16 July 2009

Is the filibuster an important tool in the US Congress, or should it be abandoned?

Background and context

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Pro

  • The Filibuster helps protect minority views. Joanne Mariner. "In Defense of the Filibuster". History News Network. December 9, 2002: "The use of the filibuster is undemocratic, and unquestionably so, to the extent that democracy is equated with simple majority rule. But if democracy is seen as a more complex process in which minorities, too, deserve a voice--and which even recognizes that public officials who belong to a political minority may nonetheless represent majority views on certain issues--then filibusters may have a legitimate role to play."
  • Filibuster helps flag a controvercial issue for the public. Joanne Mariner. "In Defense of the Filibuster". History News Network. December 9, 2002: "Because of its potent nature, the filibuster is a means not simply of counting heads, but of assessing the intensity of views on a given subject. Simply put, the use of the filibuster raises the stakes in a debate, signaling to the public that an issue, or a nominee, is worth getting exercised over."
  • Filibuster blocks small majorities ramming through unpopular laws Brien Jackson. "In Defense of the Filibuster". Below the Fold. February 17th, 2009: "having the filibuster as an option still restricts a relatively small majority that may not even acurrately reflect the will of the electorate from ramming through unpopular aspects of their agenda. [...] The most picture-perfect argument for the Senate is, ironically, that old bugaboo, the 2000 election. Until Jim Jeffords bailed on the GOP, Republicans controlled the House by 9 votes, had the majority of a 50-50 Senate split based on the tiebreaking vote of the Vice-President, and, of course, had control of the White House despite getting fewer votes for the office than the Democratic candidate. Additionally, they lost seats in both houses of Congress in 2000, including 4 in the Senate. Is there any real argument that this unified government was the result of the country’s overwhelming preference for the GOP agenda? Obviously not."


Con

  • General statements against the filibuster. "The Senate and the Filibuster--Posner". The Becker Posner Blog. July 5, 2009: "The filibuster is an incomprehensible device of government. A supermajority rule, whether it is the rule of unanimity in criminal jury trials or the supermajority rules for amending the Constitution, makes sense when the cost of a false positive (convicting an innocent person, or making an unsound amendment to the Constitution) substantially exceeds the cost of a false negative. But it is hard to see the applicability of that principle to Senate voting, given the other barriers to enacting legislation."
  • Filibuster hamstrings the productive passage of legislation Elliot Richardson. "The Case Against the Senate Filibuster". 2005: "If the Senate operated by majority rule, Congress would have passed a campaign finance reform law last year. It also would have adopted the first major telecommunications reform law in 50 years, reined in the giveaway of taxpayer-owned gold to private mining companies and perhaps adopted a compromise health-care reform. [...] Each of these bills was killed in Congress because a filibuster frenzy has made majority rule the exception rather than the rule in the Senate. Filibusters also took place on school funding, toxic-waste cleanup and other legislation."
  • Filibuster creates unintended system requiring 60-vote majority. Ezra Klein. "Debate the filibuster. The filibuster would want it that way." The American Prospect. February 17th, 2009: "Instead of some loophole forcing a 60-vote majority, let's simply decide what the Senate should be. If it's to be a 60-vote institution, then make that the number required to pass a bill. If it's meant to be a majority body, then let that vision rule the day. But whatever the decision, it should be legitimate, the product of, well, thoughtful and sustained debate. The sort of deliberative process, ironically, that the filibuster was designed to ensure."


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Pro

  • Without filibuster, more productive legislature gains legitimacy. Ezra Klein. "Debate the filibuster. The filibuster would want it that way." The American Prospect. February 17th, 2009: "I’d argue that the central question is 'legitimacy.' We have a party-based electoral system that, particularly in the Senate, pushes towards a relatively even division of power. The question then becomes whether we’re more comfortable with the consequences of a system where the minority can block good policy or the majority can pass bad policy. I’d prefer the latter: The policies of politicians we voted for have more democratic legitimacy than the system’s structural preference for inaction. Elections should be about the bills passed by the majority rather than the obstructions erected by the minority."
  • Eliminating the filibuster would require amending the Constitution. Brien Jackson. "In Defense of the Filibuster". Below the Fold. February 17th, 2009: "But these sorts of unfortunate peculiarities have little to do with the origins and intent of the filibuster and everything to do with the way the authors of the Constitution designed the Senate . And because amending the Constitution is such an impossible proposition, we’re probably stuck with them."


Con

  • Threat of Filibuster is used to extort pork giveaways. Elliot Richardson. "The Case Against the Senate Filibuster". 2005: "In May 1994, for example, our government was forced to give away $10 billion of gold on federal land. Why? Because filibuster threats blocked efforts to fix the Gold Rush-era mining law requiring this giveaway and dozens more in the months ahead, giveaways of billions of dollars that come out of our pockets as taxpayers."
  • Filibuster perverts rules meant to promote debate. Ezra Klein. "Debate the filibuster. The filibuster would want it that way." The American Prospect. February 17th, 2009: "The filibuster is a byproduct of the Senate's right to unlimited debate. The idea was that the Senate would be a body of reasoned deliberation. The rule was meant to promote argument, not require super majorities. Indeed, it wasn't until Woodrow Wilson that the Senate could even vote down a senator trying to talk a bill to death. They changed the rules because the right to unlimited debate had changed: It had been transformed from a guardian of democratic deliberation into a tool for undemocratic obstruction. [...] So get rid of the filibuster. Now that the filibuster doesn't even require excess speech, it's come completely unmoored from the right to unlimited debate."
  • The filibuster is a barbaric, outdated tool in a democracy. Elliot Richardson. "The Case Against the Senate Filibuster". 2005: "Just as we forswear using chemical weapons in war, senators should forswear using filibusters in legislative combat. Such scorched-earth tactics may win a battle but leave the democratic process in ruins."
  • Filibusters are antiquated abused tools. "Time to Retire the Filibuster." The New York Times. 1995: "The U.S. Senate likes to call itself the world's greatest deliberative body. The greatest obstructive body is more like it. In the last season of Congress, the Republican minority invoked an endless string of filibusters to frustrate the will of the majority. This relentless abuse of a time-honored Senate tradition so disgusted Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, that he is now willing to forgo easy retribution and drastically limit the filibuster. Hooray for him. For years Senate filibusters--when they weren't conjuring up romantic images of Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith, passing out from exhaustion on the Senate floor--consisted mainly of negative feats of endurance. Senator Sam Ervin once spoke for 22 hours straight. Outrage over these tactics and their ability to bring Senate business to a halt led to the current so-called two-track system, whereby a senator can hold up one piece of legislation while other business goes on as usual.


Pro/con sources

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Con


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