Memo to Senate Democrats: Force Republicans To Actually Filibuster

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Jul 16, 2007 at 00:23


In an interview with the Young Turks on Friday, Senator Kent Conrad indicated that there was "growing consensus" in the Democratic Senate caucus to actually make Republicans stand in the well of the Senate and filibuster popular Democratic legislation.



Transcipt:
Cenk: Exactly, that's a perfect situation. We're actually going to make you physically filibuster it. Go ahead and give speeches for 24 hours a day. We're removing the rule that out of politeness and courtesy that we don't make you do that anymore. We're going to have you go and read the phone book, and tell us how much you're against stem cells or the minimum wage, or for rest for the troops.

Senator Kent Conrad: Yeah, I think there's a growing consensus that we ought to do that...I think that we could do a better job making our points, and one part of that is to let the American people see just how obstructionist this Republican minority is being. The leader has had to file cloture now over 40 times already this year. And cloture, as you know, is a special procedure to stop debate, to stop filibusters, in order to reach conclusion on legislation. I had a Republican colleague tell me it is the Republican strategy to try to prevent any accomplishment of the Democratic Congress. That is set in their caucus openly and directly that they don't intend to allow Democrats to have any legislative successes, and they intend to do it by repeated filibuster.

Good. This is would be a welcome step and tactical change. No more simply allowing Republicans to defeat Democratic legislation just by holding a cloture vote. It is time to actually make Republicans carry out the filibusters they threaten when they vote "no" on cloture. If they want to use the threat of unlimited debate on issues like raising the minimum wage and providing mandatory time at home between deployments to Iraq for American troops, let's actually make them engage in unlimited, or at least nearly unlimited, debate on those subjects and see what the American people think.

Politically, there is no way we can lose by employing this tactic. Check out the complete list of Senate legislation that enjoyed majority support in the Senate, but which minority Republicans were able to successfully defeat via filibuster during the 110th Congress:

Chris Bowers :: Memo to Senate Democrats: Force Republicans To Actually Filibuster

  1. January 17, Reid Amendment to Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007: a bill to provide greater transparency in the legislative process.
  2. January 24, Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007: a bill to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide for an increase in the Federal minimum wage.
  3. February 5, A bill to express the sense of Congress on Iraq: disapproving of the troop escalation in Iraq.
  4. February 17, A bill to express the sense of Congress on Iraq: disapproving of the troop escalation in Iraq (again).
  5. April 17, Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007: an original bill to authorize appropriations for fiscal year 2007 for the intelligence and intelligence-related activities of the United States Government, the Intelligence Community Management Account, and the Central Intelligence Agency Retirement and Disability System, and for other purposes.
  6. April 18, Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2007: a bill to amend part D of title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide for fair prescription drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries.
  7. June 11, No confidence vote on Alberto Gonzales: a joint resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales no longer holds the confidence of the Senate and of the American people.
  8. June 21, Baucus Amendment to CLEAN Energy Act of 2007: To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for energy advancement and investment, and for other purposes.
  9. June 26, Employee Free Choice Act of 2007: A bill to amend the National Labor Relations Act to establish an efficient system to enable employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts, and for other purposes.
  10. July 11, Webb Amendment to the national defense authorization act for fiscal year 2008: to specify minimum periods between deployment of units and members of the Armed Forces for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

I honestly do not know how this compares to the rate of Democratic filibusters against majority-supported legislation from 2003-2006, and I don't really care. The point of this post is not to argue that Senate Republicans in the minority have been more "obstructionist" than Senate Democrats were during their time in the minority. The point is, instead, to list the extremely popular legislation that Republicans have blocked, and to argue that Senate Democrats should have actually made them stand up in the well of the Senate and filibuster each one of these bills for multiple days.  Make them actually filibuster raising the minimum wage for several days.  Make them actually filibuster a vote of disapproval on the troop escalation for several days.  Make them actually filibuster lower prescription drug prices for several days. Make them actually filibuster cleaner energy for several days. Make them actually filibuster increasing workers rights for several days.  Make them actually filibuster mandatory time home between troop deployments for American soldiers in Iraq for several days. Make Senate Republicans tell the whole country, non-stop, for three or four days that they are opposed to each of these things. Make them stay in Washington over the weekend to do these things. Drive them to the point of physical exhaustion if they don't think American troops deserve any rest. Then, after long, sleepless nights of talking, watch them conduct interviews reporters afterwards to defend their actions. (Those should be fun to watch!) As Campaign for America's Future argues, make them do this to expose what they really stand for.

I am with Campaign for America's Future. If Republicans are going to block this legislation, make them pay a big price in the eyes of the American people for doing so.  Senate Democrats, led by Harry Reid, need to step up, because right now they are letting Republicans get away with blocking popular legislation basically for free.  That is not acceptable. That is not leadership.  It certainly is not a way to reinforce to the public what Republicans actually stand for.  Can you image the political price Senate Republicans would have paid for spending four days and three nights filibustering Webb's amendment on troop deployments?  That is the sort of thing that holds potentially catastrophic consequences on their image of years-talk about not supporting the troops! And that is exactly what Senate Democrats need to do.

If Kent Conrad it right, we are already close to seeing this tactic in action. So, let's do everything we can to push them over the edge. Help make Senate Democrats to their job by making Senate Republicans actually stand up and filibuster our most popular legislation. Sign the petition by Campaign for America's Future. More importantly, as always, call your Democratic Senators and tell them you want to see Republicans actually filibuster if they want to stop our popular legislation. Cloture votes are simply not enough. Make Republicans stand in the well of the Senate and give every fiber of their beings to support their unpopular causes.

Call your Democratic Senators. Tell them it is time for Republicans to be exposed. It is time to play hardball.


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Hardball (4.00 / 3)
Yes! In the current situation, with Senate Pugs (according to Conrad) having actually asserted their intent to obstruct Every Single Popular Democratic Initiative, this is a brilliant move. Best case outcome is that the Pugs will see that they're losing re-election voters by the bucket, and they stop obstructing good legislation. Worst case outcome is the electorate gets a clear view of the real reason nothing is getting accomplished by the 110th.

I can live with either outcome. Under the status quo, voters are apt to place a pox on both houses - "throw them all out". Which is exactly what the Pugs are hoping for.

PS By "best case" I'm referring to the short term - the 110th actually accomplishes something. "Worst case" is deferred accomplishment. Though with Bush in office to veto anything reasonable, I wouldn't argue with anyone who wanted to reverse the cases...


The reason vetoes won't stop everything (4.00 / 1)
is because many of these votes are on amendments to essentially must-pass legislation.  Unless the Democrats roll over after every veto and just give the President whatever he wants in the next vote, as they did on the Iraq Supplemental, Congress should be able to force the President to accept some good provisions that otherwise would not make it through.  So I'd stick with the hope of your best case.

"The lightning whelk is strong, attractive, capable of growing to be one of the largest shells on the beach--and it opens to the left."

[ Parent ]
Finally! My pounding headache is subsiding. (4.00 / 4)
I've been publicly pounding my head against a wall for 5 weeks about this. Finally, my headache is subsiding.

This is great news, Chris. Thanks very much for finding and sharing. Since I have no sources on the Hill, I had to get a sealed-lip press secretary to talk to me and I became very worried that the Senate Democrats weren't thinking seriously about this option. (Based on what he said, I think there may well be an actual buster on Reed-Levin proposal. He said that "everybody's gearing up for that bill").

In my very first diary here, I argued that there would be two big benefits to forcing the actual filibuster: 1. It'll make Republicans much more reluctant to use the filibuster threat in the future and 2. It'll probably win us enough (2-4) votes on the really close issues (Webb Amendment, Renewable Energy Subsidies) to put us over the top.

Damn I hope Dorgan is speaking for more than himself. Damn I hope that "growing consensus" already includes Harry Reid.


Republicans wasted most of last year (4.00 / 2)
Some factual ammo for the inevitable charge that Democrats are wasting time:
* The Senate has already had 247 votes in less than six months.  Under Republican control, there were 279 in all of the last year.

* Last year, the Senate was only in session for 138 days, a post-war record low.  Already this year, the Senate has been in session for 106 days.

Republicans spent most of their time in power on vacation, and now they're still trying to avoid passing popular legislation. 

end the occupation of Iraq


Hear, hear! (4.00 / 2)
The Webb amendment in particular was a perfect one to force a real filibuster.  I love the image of Republicans exhausting themselves in an effort to keep our troops exhausted.

This strategy is important not only because it makes the Republicans look bad (which it does, especially after all their endless carping on obstructionism and "up or down votes" when they had the majority), but because they might decide that some of these filibusters are not worth it and we might actually get better legislation as a result.

"The lightning whelk is strong, attractive, capable of growing to be one of the largest shells on the beach--and it opens to the left."


re: The Webb amendment (0.00 / 0)
i am ignorant -- can congress bring up The Webb amendment again to get the repubs to filibuster it?

[ Parent ]
What I am wondering (0.00 / 0)
This needs to happen. What I am wondering though: What would be the best time to first force a filibuster? I mean, I think some of these filibustered bills, if a filibuster had been allowed, would have probably not turned out all that great for the Democrats; the populace would have not understood what the idea is of fighting over that issue was even if they approved of the bill in principle, and in the end would have only thought less of the Democrats after the Democrats eventually backed down.

On the other hand some of these things, in particular the Webb Amendment, the filibuster could have only been good for the Democrats and (in the case of the Webb Amendment, given that as I remember the bill only needed like three more Republican defections to pass through filibuster) probably would have ended with the Democrats winning the filibuster and thus being able to show some small victory to the public.

I don't really know though, so I guess I just have a couple of questions for the room:

- Is it possible or likely the Webb Amendment could be brought back up for a second try, or otherwise sneak its way into the bill some other way?

- What would be the most advantageous time for the Democrats to first force the Republicans to follow through on a filibuster?

- Assuming they do it at all ever, what would be the most likely time that the current Senate leadership would be likely to attempt to first force the Republicans to follow through on a filibuster?


Amen (4.00 / 2)
Chris, you've got it perfectly right here.  It's time to draw a line in the sand and make the line really visible.  I'm all for preserving the right to filibuster, but it's got to be something you do to show yourself to be willing to put yourself on the line to block something you think is worth blocking.  I hope you're right that the caucus has something useful planned here.

I probably have better things to do with my time than this.

One Caveat (0.00 / 0)
"Politically, there is no way we can lose by employing this tactic."

At the risk of sounding like the Washington insider who doesn't understand political theater, let me offer one caveat.

The stated goal of the Republicans is to prevent the Democrats from any accomplishments so they can label them a "Do Nothing Congress." One of the annual responsibilities of the Congress is to pass an annual budget and 12 appropriations bills to fund that budget to keep the government operating.

I love the idea of forcing the Republicans to filibuster. But that tactic has to be employed judiciously. It can eat of days of floor time for every battle. There are only so many days between today and the beginning of the new fiscal year on October 1. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi need to finish the legislative year with the vast majority of those 12 bills completed or they will play into the Republican's hand. Reid needs to apportion the time of the Senate to both pass annual appropriations and force the Republicans to filibuster. As a result, part of the message to Democratic Senators is that they must be prepared to work seven days a week until further notice.


well (4.00 / 1)
Bush can and will veto bills to make that happen, regardless.

[ Parent ]
One of two reasons I wrote a diary on this last week (4.00 / 1)
1st TPM did a great post on the fact that when Democrats wanted to filibuster, the GOP and MSM screamed holy terror(collusion anyone)

2nd We know for certainty that Bush will eventually veto just about every congressional bill that hits his desk, and oh the timing, September, what a fucking coinky-dink, anyhow, Bush veto's congress gets blamed for pork barrel bullshit that forced Bush's hand blah-blah.  But wait, who gets blamed for holding up the bill for filibustering, let the GOP defend the indefensible.  Why wait till Bush veto's the bill when he can define the what and why of the veto, forcing the Dems to defend the bill then playing chicken with Bush for his signature or 267 votes.  Bloody the GOP up with an assinine filibuster.


[ Parent ]
So? (0.00 / 0)
Are you therefore saying that Reid and Pelosi don't need to put them on Bush's desk in the first place?

[ Parent ]
I hear you, but I still disagree (0.00 / 0)
Think of this as a political issue.  When's it going to do the GOP any good to make a fuss about this?

Next fall.  Fall of 2008.  That's when the elections are.

At that point, what difference is it going to make if the appropriations bills all get passed by September 30, 2007, or whether half of them don't get passed until mid-November?  Last year, the GOP just threw up their hands and decided they had better things to do than to pass any of them.

Meanwhile, what approach is ultimately more likely to help the Dems get some bills through the Senate?  Being willing to make the GOP actually filibuster some bills.

Obviously, the Dems can't do this on every bill that comes along, just for time reasons.  But the GOP Senators also have other things they need or want to do, so there's a cost to them too.  So if the Dems are prepared to do it fairly often, the more they call the GOP's bluff, the less willing the GOP will be to block cloture in the first place.  In other words, the Dems won't have to do it all that often, once they get the GOP to realize they aren't gonna pussyfoot around anymore.

Like I said, the Dems can't do this on every bill. They've got to decide which ones (a) are important enough, and (b) will resonate with the public enough, so that if the GOP blocks them, it'll cost the GOP.  But just the very fact of GOP filibusters right and left will get the message across of who's responsible for doing nothing, and what the proper remedy will be in 2008.

So let's make them filibuster now, and if that pushes a few appropriations bills back into October, or even November or December, that should work out just fine.

But the first thing is to make sure the GOP learns that if they want to block cloture, they'd better mean it.


[ Parent ]
Oops (0.00 / 0)
That was supposed to be a reply to your 'One Caveat' post, Spike.  I just replied to the wrong post.

[ Parent ]
Agreed (0.00 / 0)
I didn't mean to make Oct 1 sound like such an iron clad deadline. If they get it done by mid-November they'll be fine. But the MSM is already looking for opportunities to write the "Democratic Congress Unable to Govern" stories. And the right-wing noise machine is already endlessly repeating the "Democratic Congress has lower approval ratings than Bush" meme. My only point was that the filibuster strategy makes sense, but Reid and Pelosi also have some other marks to hit before the fall is over.

[ Parent ]
Well, indeed. (0.00 / 0)
"...part of the message to Democratic Senators is that they must be prepared to work seven days a week until further notice."

Lots of Americans work seven days a week just to put food on their families.  Lots of activists I know are working seven days a week to bring this disastrous occupation to an end.  And our troops in Iraq, I imagine, also do not get Saturday or Sunday off from being targets for both sides in the Iraqi civil war.

Whay should Congress get a five-day work week?


[ Parent ]
Five Day? (0.00 / 0)
Most of the time they're lucky to be in legislative session three days a week! :)

[ Parent ]
Thank God! (0.00 / 0)
This is about calling the Republicans' bluff - something we need to do more and more of. Asserting that you have the votes to filibuster is simply not the same as standing up there day after day reading the phone book till you're hoarse.

More of this, please!


This is a great idea. n/t (0.00 / 0)


We can call it "No Rest for the Wicked" n/t (0.00 / 0)


Hey, you stole my diary (0.00 / 0)
or great minds think alike, or I just wanted to toot my horn or I am Gosh darn happy that the Senate is thinking about the strategy

http://www.dailykos....


Sounds like a MyDD post of mine from January (0.00 / 0)
This one, and a whole bunch since then.

I've been banging this drum so often, I've almost been boring myself to tears by having to say it yet one more time.

So you bet I'm all for this.  They want to block cloture?  Fine - all that does is keep debate open.  The moment debate ends, there's a vote.  Make 'em filibuster!!


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