Feb. 5, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Senate Experts Argue to Save the Filibuster, Sort Of

Senate leaders routinely skip over the morning hour debate, but motions to proceed offered during the morning hour cannot be filibustered. But if Reid or another Majority Leader used the tactic Dove and Arenberg propose, the minority would be empowered to delay the Senate's other business by forcing votes on routine procedural matters, such as on approving the journal of proceedings, among other things.

The book spends a chapter on the related problem of "filling the amendment tree," the process by which the Majority Leader uses his procedural advantage to block other Senators from offering unwanted amendments. The current Republican minority has criticized Reid for abusing the practice to avoid holding floor votes on politically charged matters that could put Democrats facing tough re-election contests this November in a vulnerable position.

On that point, the authors side with Republican position, saying "the right of the minority to participate in the amendment process must be protected."

Arenberg and Dove thought that the so-called "gentleman's agreement" to curb filibusters of motions to proceed and filling of the tree that Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) entered into at the start of this Congress might actually succeed. In reality, neither side changed its tune all that much as the elections drew closer.

In one other area, the authors actually favor action that could slow down the Senate. They want to overhaul the budget reconciliation process, which has been exploited by both parties as a means around the 60-vote requirement to overcome filibusters.
The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts under President George W. Bush and the 2010 health care law were implemented with the assistance of the expedited budget process.

"Reconciliation was never intended to serve as a gaping hole in the regular Senate rules, including filibusters; was never intended to increase the size of deficits; and certainly was never intended for the passage of major authorization bills."

That Dove believes budget reconciliation has gone too far should come as no surprise. In a story that Roll Call broke in 2001, then-Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) pushed Dove out of the parliamentarian's job in the midst of a dispute about whether a budget resolution contained extraneous material.

Arenberg and Dove use a mix of scholarly research and personal anecdotes gathered in decades of Senate service to build their case. Both men now work in academia.

Despite decades working in the weeds of Senate process, the authors manage to craft a book that should be more accessible to people interested in the function of government but who may not have read or understood all 1,608 pages of "Riddick's Senate Procedure."

Before reaching that conclusion in the book, the authors detail the history of attempts to write and rewrite rules that govern filibusters, dating to Vice President Aaron Burr's farewell address as an important early point in the Senate's tradition of unlimited debate.

As those familiar with the origins of the filibuster know, before 1806 the Senate had a previous question motion that could theoretically end debate on legislation. The authors of the book point out that after the Senate changed its rules in response to Burr's suggestions, the chamber functioned for more than a century with no way to limit debate until the first cloture rule in 1917.

comments powered by Disqus




Want Roll Call on your doorstep?