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Legislate like a pirate day: Filibustarrrr!

October 8th, 2012, 9:00am by Sam Wang

What’s wrong with Congress? One big answer is the filibuster. Nearly half of the filibuster threats that have ever happened have occurred since the Clinton impeachment – and they are on the rise.

Veteran nonpartisan Congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein offer professional diagnoses in It’s Worse Than You Think. As a former Senate staff member, I found this book to be very illuminating. In a Washington Post article they describe top priorities for reform. I’ve quantified one problem, distortions in voter representation that can occur with partisan redistricting (“The Very Hungry Gerrymander,” Oct. 4).

Another major target for reform is the Senate filibuster rule, which gives veto power to a two-fifths (40-vote) minority. When used (or threatened) excessively, as they have been, filibusters can cause legislative paralysis, no matter which party is in control. Now, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wants to reform the filibuster – if he is given the chance.

Filibusters are not in the Constitution. In 1917, filibusters came into their modern form involving the cloture vote, the source of the supermajority requirement. In nearly a century, 726 out of 1371 cloture motions – over 50% – have occurred since 1997, in the last 14 years. Cloture is out of control.

Commenter Steve16478 says “I would like to live in a modern Western democracy before I die.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has promised to take up filibuster reform in the new Congress, but commenter Pechmerle points out that there may not be 51 votes for this rule change, because it takes away power from individual senators.

MarkS wrote, “This is why I am directing all my contributions to…Senate candidates.” Fair enough. The current PEC Senate prediction median is 54 D/I (95% CI, 51-56 D/I). To drive that number upward, go here. If you like filibusters just fine, go here.

To learn more, read Atlantic Monthly’s James Fallows, a premier resource.


The thermometer is well over $100,000. That is four times the original goal. Parameter estimation is difficult. Thank you!

Tags: 2012 Election · Senate

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