A real filibuster, going on right now on Senate floor

Sen Bernie Sanders of Vermont, perhaps the most vocal critic of the tax cut deal, has taken over the Senate floor and staged some kind of filibuster to denounce the deal. After two hours of Sanders speaking, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio took over. As I write this, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana is talking and I’ve never heard her like this before, talking about how the priests in her Catholic school taught the kids not to be greedy and not to take more than you need. She’s demanding that whichever Senate Republican asked the tax cuts be preserved by those with annual incomes above $1 million keep their tax cuts.

It’s live on Cspan2, if you get that on your cable, and it’s available online here. It’s pretty cool and Capra-esque if you have a chance to watch or listen to a bit of it. Landrieu claims to be finishing up. Not sure what happens next.

Update:  A couple of hours later, it’s still going on. No one other than Sander has had the floor for a long time. He’s not reading the phone book or anything, in fact he’s showing an fairly impressive ability to maintain coherence and momentum and the gospel he is preaching is the credo of what Paul Wellstone used to call the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

But, having railed against the filibuster earlier this year, I feel compelled to repeat that the filibuster is rendering our country ungovernable. I don’t believe Sanders is working under the modern fiilibuster tradition, where someone simply indicates an intention to filibuster and the issue is usually set aside until the the majority is able to assemble 60 votes for cloture.

Sanders is doing it the old-fashioned way, by claiming the floor and refusing to yield it (although no one is asking him to yield and very few of his colleagues are in the chamber). Anyway, I still believe the country would be better off if the Senate had a rule that allowed for some reasonable definition of full debate, but then a way of guaranteeing that the matter eventually comes to a vote under majority rule.

Last update: At 6 p.m. central time, Sanders just yielded the floor. He started at about 9:30 central. No other colleagues gave him a break after Brown and Landrieu, both of whom spoke, relatively briefly, in the first half of the day. I can’t claim to have listened to it all, or even most of it, but it what I saw was an impressive performance. I said above that Sanders’ views represented the credo of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. I should have noted that, although he caucuses with the Dems, Sanders is not one. He is technically an independent and considers himself a “democratic socialist,” possibly the only self-styled socialist ever in the Senate.

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by David Greene on 12/10/2010 - 01:28 pm.

    Why doesn’t the Senate always demand this? A filibuster should be the real thing. None of this “gentleman’s agreement” nonsense.

  2. Submitted by Patrick Steele on 12/10/2010 - 02:22 pm.

    So which side is saying this is unprecedented and which is saying it is a part of a healthy government? I can’t keep it straight.

  3. Submitted by Debra Hoffman on 12/10/2010 - 02:53 pm.

    Kudos to any Senator who participates in this filibuster. Senator Sanders is going through all the details of this truly disastrous “deal” and all of us should be listening to him. Many people don’t realize that this proposal does not help any of the 99’rs – those people whose benefits run out after 99 weeks (there are many more of these people than you would think – and many older workers fall into this category). Also, the two percent decrease in payroll taxes includes Social Security taxes, which begins the slippery slope to defunding Social Security. As we know from recent experience, once taxes are decreased it is almost impossible for them to be increased. This proposal would also preserve current estate tax breaks for the most wealthy. These people have estate planners who help them get around many of those taxes, no matter what the amount, so why not let them expire? I shudder to think what this country will look like in the not so distant future if we continue to go down this path. This is just a continuation of George W. Bush’s failed fiscal policies, which came precariously close to causing the economic collapse of our country.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/10/2010 - 03:04 pm.

    “Some kind” of filibuster? Dude this a what a real looks like. Frankly, it’s the only kind of filibuster that ought to be allowed.

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/10/2010 - 03:24 pm.

    Of course, there’s still the question of whether the Republicans WANT the country to be governable. So maybe Sanders is making a more basic point about our system (such as it is) while protesting a specific outcome: the inability of a Senate majority to pass a bill.

  6. Submitted by David Greene on 12/10/2010 - 03:35 pm.

    A simple rule that required the speeches to be germane to the issue would go a long way toward restoring the filibuster to what it was supposed to be, rather than the mockery of democracy that it currently is. Require those filibustering to really do it, Sanders-style, and require them to stay on topic (no phone book reading shenanigans).

  7. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 12/10/2010 - 05:00 pm.

    Responding to Paul and David, the reason filibusters don’t actually require constant speaking is that without cloture, the Senate requires unanimous consent to end debate, which is why one senator is enough to stop it. Cloture requires 60 senators, not 60% of those present and voting. This means in a ‘real” filibuster, the majority can’t have anyone leave the floor as they look for enough votes, while the minority just needs one person at a time to stay on the floor and object.

    Plus the Senate comes to a stop, not just on the one bill or nomination, but on all business. They tolerate filibusters in hopes of moving on to other business. Of course, when everything is filibustered, there is no such thing as moving on to other business.

    I agree with Eric: the filibuster is the main reason the country is becoming ungovernable. The Senate is dysfunctional. The ability of any one member to stop everything is just nuts.

  8. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/10/2010 - 05:22 pm.

    And of course there’s nothing in the Constitution about filibusteros (originally meant ‘pirates’) — it’s all a matter of Senate custom that could easily be changed.

  9. Submitted by David Greene on 12/10/2010 - 05:27 pm.

    So change the rule to require 60 senators for cloture and 40 senators to continue debate. Do a vote after every speaker. If one person can keep talking for days and days nonstop, more power to ’em.

    I know this requires changing the rules, which will never happen.

    Having the Senate grind to a halt is a good thing, in my mind. It makes it clear who is blocking things and why. There are real consequences. The fake filibuster lets everyone get away with doing nothing.

  10. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/10/2010 - 10:43 pm.

    What is he filibustering? I read on the web that there’s nothing on the table to filibuster.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/11/2010 - 09:44 am.

    Apparently there is a “nuclear” option, but no one has the guts to use it. Everyone knows that one day they will be in the minority and don’t want the lose the ability to gum up the works. But I think our democracy suffers. It’s gotten to the point where no matter who we elect nothing gets done. I say if you want to control congress you should have to win elections. You shouldn’t get to lose and still control congress. I know that’s a spooky scenario is some ways, but it’s not any spookier than what we have now.

  12. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/11/2010 - 12:33 pm.

    Jon–
    That’s why Sanders was not technically filibustering.
    He was protesting proposed legislation before it was actually presented.

  13. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 12/11/2010 - 04:17 pm.

    The New York Times tried to play this down by giving higher billing on its website to Bill Clinton speaking for Obama, and the Strib’s website has not covered Sanders at all.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/12/2010 - 10:06 am.

    Yeah, Obama hands off his economic argument to Bill Clinton. Disgusting. Obama and Clinton are both now arguing that tax cuts will save the economy. That’s what Bush said. They’re arguing for Bush tax cuts. I haven’t been this disgusted by Democrats in a long long time.

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