Saturday, February 6, 2010


Nearly 100 years ago President Woodrow Wilson pegged the Senate filibuster for exactly what it was. Wilson asserted that the filibuster served only to enable "a little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own," to debase the Senate and turn it into "the only legislative body in the world which cannot act when its majority is ready for action."

Who is to blame for the filibuster? The answer is: those who are the Senators. A glance in the mirror is all it takes to see the enemy of democracy, the obstructionists, those who would willingly disable the Constitution. The filibuster is a creature of the Senate; wholly its own creation; thriving only at the pleasure of those who sit in that chamber today. Nothing in the Constitution mentions the filibuster or for that matter any rule or regulation governing the proceedings of Congress. Those who are the Members make their own rules. The Constitution is clear on that. They may change them at any time. And the procedure allowed for that change is really quite simple.

If you are being told that decades of Senate tradition are difficult to overcome, you are being purposely misled.

Here is exactly what the Constitution says about proceedings in the Senate. Article I, Section 5: “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.”

That’s it. Nothing more. Not a single word. Filibuster? Invented by Senators for Senators.

In March of 1975, the second appointed Vice-President of the United States, the never elected Nelson Rockefeller, made a courageous ruling from the Chair in his constitutionally mandated position as President of the Senate. Here is how the Constitution makes this designation in Article I, Section 3: “The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.”

Rockefeller ruled that each Senate – which is to say each meeting of this body following an election or every two years - is a separate body and is not bound by the rules of previous Senates. That means that each new Senate must either pass a complete set of procedural rules for itself or take affirmative action to subscribe to previous rules previously established. Further, Rockefeller ruled specifically that Senate Rule 22 – which is the filibuster rule – could be overruled, could be changed, could be altered or even eliminated altogether by a simple majority vote of those senators voting. He was the President of the Senate. Such was his perfectly constitutional ruling. Rockefeller’s dramatic declaration was indeed challenged, by senators from the right and from the left, by Republicans and by Democrats, by conservatives and liberals, by Southerners and those from other parts of the country as well. But when it came to a vote, the forces of reform – those who supported the Rockefeller ruling - won the day by a vote of 56-27.

However, the very same victorious senators then immediately turned around and agreed to negotiate with the defeated forces of the filibuster. Why? Why would the winner offer to settle? Losers settle. Winners celebrate, don't they? After all, they had already won the procedural battle. The President of the Senate was on their side. Game over. Who is to say why, but its true - they did. And so a modification to Rule 22 was passed reducing the number of votes necessary to stop a filibuster from two-thirds of all senators to three-fifths. In essence, after March 1975 it now took 60 senators to halt a filibuster instead of 67. And yet the Rockefeller ruling remained – and remains to this day – in place. A majority of senators may – at their pleasure – send the filibuster flying full force into the fires of Hell. The filibuster could be, as Chuck Berry might say: “Gone like a cool breeze.” All thanks to the legacy of Nelson Rockefeller.

That was 35 years ago. Now, in 2010, we see a federal government stymied by obstructionism in a Senate where using Rule 22 brings the entire Congressional system to a grinding halt. The Congress has been rendered impotent. Nothing the House passes matters because no bill can avoid Rule 22 when it reaches the Senate. And so, no legislation actually gets passed by the Congress as a whole and nothing at all gets sent to the President for signature. Also, the Executive branch cannot operate at full capacity because so many of its appointees require Senate approval and those appointments, like all other procedural matters, cannot reach the floor for a vote… because of Rule 22. Yes, that "little group of willful men."

It is time for the current Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, to rise up from his decades of legislative slumber – himself a nearly lifelong Member of the Senate – and his more recent Executive depression and take the Chair in the United States Senate – which is his constitutional duty – and, in the spirit of Vice President Rockefeller, Biden must declare Rule 22 as void. Pitch it into the dust bin of history. The Vice President should stand for the Constitution. A procedural rule that eliminates the possibility of tie vote in the Senate must be unconstitutional in the first place. How could the Constitution entrust the breaking of a tie vote - “…unless they be equally divided.” - to the Vice President if no such vote total is allowed?
Mister Vice President, we have a crisis. Step up and be counted. Take the mantle of Rockefeller and the myth from Jimmy Stewart. Its time to be the man!


Anonymous said...

Very good article, and I agree with you, entirely: we have a matter of democracy being obstructed, for special interests. But what I’ve thought long about, from observing how Congress works, especially in the Senate, I believe some of the current paradigms, such as that the Democrats are spineless, that they must compromise with corruption, like this mythology the filibuster is sacrosanct, are wrong. With the exception of a handful of honest “mavericks,” actually fighting for the interests of the American people, most of the Democrats are no different than the Republicans, bottom line. They’re creatures of the special interests, as much as the in-your-face corrupt Republicans. Here is how it works. The Liebermans of the world take the fall, for mucking meaningful change, the Democratic leadership wring their hands and commiserate, while actually doing nothing to end the obstructionism. And why? As long as they allow the Liebermans of the world to have their way and don’t actively combat the corruption, the supposed “good” Democrats, wringing their hands, will still get their special interest money, also, and their revolving door perks. The corporate masters don’t care about rhetoric, dog and pony shows seeming to oppose their ends, as long as the Democratic leadership doesn’t actually allow a good bill to be produced, that runs contrary to their will. Of course the Democrats have the power to end this carnival of the absurd, but, where the rubber meets the road, they're also corrupt in the main and only pay lip service to all this “change we can believe in.” There is one remedy, to, systematically, throw all the bastards out, every election, which the American people are not yet informed enough or suffering enough to do. Of course there are solutions, like ending the filibuster, but most all of Congress is, simply, on the take. Like murder being categorized as "collateral damage," bribes are "campaign contributions." What’s amazing is why this is so difficult for people to figure out. Ever heard that simple admonition, “Follow the money?”

Anonymous said...

Yes, "follow the money." Most of Congress is on the take from the K Street lobbyists who thwart democracy through buying votes with legal bribes.

Is this not treason?

The Republicans are Neocon-Fascists and most of the Democrats are DINO-Fascists.

There are no Democratic or Republican parties anymore. There is only the Unitary Fascism Party.

Kevin Schmidt

Anonymous said...

Fortunate that the U.S. has a Bill of Rights, it's more fascism-lite, from the standpoint fascism is usually also manifest in a more stern, dictatorial fashion, though you're right: it is textbook fascism. Many people believe that label extremism, meant to be pejorative, but they are fascists. I also believe the problem is more fundamental to bad character in the U.S., in that we have simple greed, hogs slopping at the trough, more than people with any real ideology: simple egoism and moral bankruptcy. Consider the corporate welfare these “free marketers” dole out, the bailouts, the near socialized medicine government employees enjoy, certainly the military, all the socialism that’s alright, if it’s pork doled out to their districts for “bridges to nowhere.” It’s not socialism, if it’s your earmark, your healthcare, your job and industry, your private jet, mansion, or golfing trip to Scotland. The point is, they have no character, are hypocrites who shouldn’t be able to look at themselves in the mirror. It’s simple greed, run amuck. And shame on the American people for allowing it, for providing these evil and corrupt politicians careers at the voting booths. The uninformed and careless voter isn’t innocent in all this, the guy who couldn’t care less about the plight of his neighbor, as long as he has a job and healthcare, who has the attitude it’s benefits to me, socialism for the other guy.

Robert E said...

It's not even the filibuster, really--we haven't actually seen a filibuster in a long time. It's the mere THREAT of a filibuster that grinds our Congress to a halt. At the very least, as an interim measure, the Dems should make the Republicans actually stand up and carry out that threat, at length, on live television--day after day, week after week, however long it took for the SOB's to finally calculate the political damage, shut up, and sit down.

Yes, it would bring Congress to a standstill. So why is that a problem? They're already at a standstill.

Anonymous said...

Why don’t the Democrats just let the Republicans filibuster and make fools of themselves? Again, people have it all wrong: they are MOST ALL, Democrats and Republicans, corrupt. They’re deceptive. The Democrats, at large, want you to believe it’s the evil Republicans and Blue Dogs holding everything up. They are taking the fall, but this something which is very convenient to the supposed “good” Democrats, who are also beholding to the special interests. Let’s look at another example, Democrats or Republicans in power. A borderline idiot could tell you that you must not give billions, trillions, of dollars to Wall Street, without strings attached. This is not rocket science. Do they have you thinking they simply failed to consider this? That they got rushed and dropped the ball on oversight? That strong financial reform is simply so difficult an issue to deal with, quickly? Or what about killing drug reimportation and even competitive bidding of drugs? Was this for the people, who are simply being bled, paying multiples what other countries pay for essential drugs? I could go on and on and on. Until you see you’re being had by both the Democratic and Republican establishments, on the take, one and all, nothing effective is going to get done, period, and the people will remain patsies. If they have you thinking they’re on your side, “Gotcha!” One thing you must realize, to have eyes, is that most politicians are consummate liars, skilled at tickling uninformed ears to get elected, and most adroit at shifting blame for problems they either create or allow. Take Barney Frank, during the bank debacle: it’s that corporation, it’s this Bush administration official, it’s the tooth fairy, while he has chaired the committee, for years, that should have been making all kinds of noise about the Wild West Show going on in the banking community and at the SEC. It all came crashing down on his watch, but it’s anyone and everyone to blame, but he. Can we for a minute just consider who it is that spends all the money the Bushes of the world are blamed for? It's the Congress that has the power to appropriate funds, not the President, the same Congress that blames anybody else for the fiscal calamity. Does that register? As long as you believe the “powers that be” are working for you, the average American, reform is hopeless, until America wakes up to the con game and begins to not look at what these people say, but begins to judge them by what they do, or don't do. The shame is that this is neither rocket science.

Anonymous said...

There was one thing about Barack Obama that I found quite unsettling during the campaign: he was too good a speaker. His speeches were just a bit too well CRAFTED, even “Yes we can!” echoes of Martin Luther King. The man could whip up a crowd and tell everybody just what they wanted to hear, much too well. He was too slick, making too many promises, rode a wave of populist euphoria right into the White House. Where did that man go? Now you hear, “He’s too nice.” “He’s got to try bipartisanship.” (This though it’s clear to everybody there is no winning over Republicans, who wish him to fail.) The explanation for his lack of leadership that’s most amusing these days, you hear all the time, “He’s playing chess.” But I’d offer another theory: he doesn’t stand on his convictions and fight for what’s right, because it was just rhetoric to get elected, in the first place. I say this, because a person of character fights for his convictions, for the tens of thousands suffering and dying for lack of healthcare, etc. A fighter, for a just cause, will go down swinging, not make backroom deals with the devil. Again, look at what they do, not what they say, and the view won’t be pretty. Obama has even surrounded himself with the same ilk as the previous administration, didn’t even consider giving economic posts to economists outside the good ‘ol boy network, even tried to put Tom Daschle in charge of healthcare, currently a paid shill of the drug and insurance industry! And what of all this transparency, when, right out of the gate, he was making a secret deal with the drug companies (Bush and the oil boys, redux), then, later, sent his goon, Rahm Emanuel, to kill Byron Dorgan’s drug reimportation legislation? Wake up, people!

Peter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter said...

This is mostly right. Except we should do it right now.

Friends, show your support for ending the filibuster here: