Friday, December 21, 2012

Foreign Affairs: Lauren C. Bell: 'Fixing the Filibuster'

Source:Foreign Affairs- a blast from the past when the U.S. Senate actually had filibusters.

"By many measures, 2012 was the U.S. Senate's least productive year in two decades. Republicans blame the Congressional Democrats. Democrats blame the filibuster. 

Obstructionism is not unique to the United States. Most parliamentary democracies, including Great Britain's and Japan's, have also faced gridlock. In 1992, the Japanese opposition tried to stall a vote on whether Japanese self-defense forces should assist UN peacekeeping missions by introducing five motions that had to be brought to a vote first. They then resorted to ushi aruki (cow-walking), or taking as long as humanly possible to make one's way from one's seat to the ballot box 20." 

"This book remedies the near-complete lack of individual senator-level data available to scholars. Moreover, the dataset that Bell compiles represents a much more comprehensive list of Senate filibusters than any that has previously been compiled. Data are available for the entirety of the period from 1790 to 2008. The text provides a fully current (through the end of the 110th Congress) list of Senate filibusters from the first recorded instance in 1790. This new list undergirds a comprehensive historical analysis of filibusters and a full exploration of both micro-level (individual senator) determinants of filibustering and macro-level (institutional) factors that affect filibustering and its consequences. Beyond compiling and sharing the raw data on who filibusters what, Bell demonstrates that senators' filibustering behavior is frequently an extension of senators' legislative behavior more generally. The book makes it clear that filibustering is simply one strategy among many that senators employ as they try to advance their sometimes competing goals of representing their constituents, serving their political parties, and crafting good legislation. Building on work by Franklin L. Burdette (1940), Richard S. Beth (1994), and Gregory Wawro and Eric Schickler (2006). Filibustering in the US Senate offers a readable, accessible analysis that clarifies the meaning of important terms and offers practical insights into the uses-and abuses-of Senate legislative procedures. The timeliness of Filibustering in the US Senate, its interesting subject matter, and the accessible nature of the analysis will appeal to general and professional readers of political studies, as well as to practitioners in government.

Source:Amazon- Lauren C. Bell's book.

From Amazon

Lauren C. Bell is Professor of Political Science at Randolph-Macon College (Ashland, VA). She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of Wooster (Ohio) and Masters of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at The University of Oklahoma. She is a former American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow on the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary (1997-98) and a former United States Supreme Court fellow at the United States Sentencing Commission in Washington, DC (2006-07). She is the author or co-author of several books and has published single- and co-authored articles in several peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Politics, Political Research Quarterly, The Journal of Legislative Studies, The Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, and Judicature." 

Source:Amazon- author Lauren Cohen Bell.

From Amazon 

As a Liberal Democrat, (meaning someone who believes in liberal democracy) I'm a big fan of checks and balances, because I never want to see one party, or one individual, or a small group of individuals, ever have so much power, that they're no longer accountable to anyone or on anything. And in many cases that's the role of the filibuster, as well as it gives individual senators the ability to not just be heard, but to get votes and perhaps even their amendments attached to major legislation. 

But I'm not an absolutist on anything and I'm not comfortable with the Senate Minority Leader being as powerful as the Majority Leader or having as much power, since the Minority Leader has fewer seats, even when he leads a large minority (like today) and generally represents fewer people and voters. 

The country is so divided politically today and for other reasons, thanks to gerrymandering in the U.S. House and a lot of those members then getting elected to the Senate and bringing their hyper-partisanship to the upper chamber of Congress. As well as so much unchecked money in the political system. 

The Senate filibuster is longer used as a check against the House or a check against absolute power. It's now used today by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and before that by Harry Reid and Tom Daschele, simply to stop and prevent legislation from even being offered and even allowing for the Senate to take up debate on legislation. It is how used to stop legislation, as well as even nominees who have bipartisan support, from even getting votes. 

The Senate should be never be like the House and perhaps vice-versa. But it needs to be a place where it can get its work done, regardless of which party is in charge. The minority party should always have minority rights to not just be heard on all legislation and nominees, but to offer and get votes on their amendments and alternatives. But at the end of the debate, when all members have been heard, when all relevant amendments have been voted on, the Senate needs to be able to act, regardless of which party is in charge and who controls The White House.

The title of Lauren Cohen Bell's book is Fixing The Filibuster. So I'm thinking she's not for eliminating it either and neither am I. But if you are going to have a cloture rule in the Senate, filibusters need to be real. That means no more votes just to end debate and when those votes fail, everyone goes home or you just have another roll call or the Senate is in recess. 

At that point, led by the Minority Leader, you should need to have 41 or more senators stays on the floor, hold the floor, and talk about pending bill on the floor. With the Majority Leader able to call for a vote to end debate lets say every hour. 

No more filibusters on relevant amendments or executive or judicial nominees, motion to proceed, relevant amendments offered by either side, etc. That way both sides are involved at the Senate will finally be able to move again, unless the minority party really wants to talk a bill to death and has 41 or more votes to do that. 

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