Category Archives: filibuster

Hastert Rule/Filibuster Below60 – Obstructionist’s Toolbox


John Boehner and the Democrats in the House of Representatives are always invoking the Hastert rule to justify keeping bills from being brought to the floor for consideration. What on earth is the Hastert rule? Which party thought of that? Well it’s all on the internet of course. Dennis Hastert is the namesake give credit for the Hastert rule and he was, of course, a Republican. The Hastert rule allows the Speaker of the House to declare that if a vote doesn’t have a majority of the majority in favor of the bill it cannot come up for a vote. Does that seems kosher to you, and by kosher I mean Constitutional?

In the Senate they are always counting to see if there are 60 votes for a bill. If there aren’t 60 votes in favor then that bill is “filibustered” which used to mean someone would physically stand up and talk until it was too late to consider the bill, but now puts a bill in auto filibuster mode, tabling it just about indefinitely or in other words killing it, as happened with the Immigration Bill. Who thought of that; which party gets the credit (or blame) for that new and deliberate snafu in the democratic process? Once again the Republican brand is all over this.

I am in favor of making both the Hastert rule and the 60 vote filibuster go away. We all can see how much business gets done in Congress with these agenda blockers to fall back on. As you might guess, I am vindicated to learn that we owe both of these strategies to the GOP. These are the tools of obstructionism.

The Speaker of the House can use the Hastert Rule to block the minority, the Democrats and the Minority Leader in the Senate can block the majority by using the filibuster if the majority cannot come up with 60 votes (which they are apparently almost always unable to do). This is how a minority party takes over the Legislative Branch of our government and, although it all seems very much against the intentions of the drafters of our Constitution, it is apparently not illegal and Democrats seem to be unable to reverse the effects of these two rules. It would take the same kind of deep strategy sessions that the Republicans engage in to come up with the next “chess” move that could undo this blockade. Getting angry really won’t do it. Someone needs to figure out how to undo these very effective strategies which are allowing the Republicans to win even though they lost. This is why I refer to the activities of the Republican Party as a coup and why I consider them in revolt against our duly elected government.

Here’s the story on these two monkey wrenches which are holding back legislation and making it impossible for President Obama to pursue any part of the agenda we elected him to put in place.

The Hastert Rule

Why does Dennis Hastert rule the world?

Hastert is the originator of the “Hastert Rule,” which saith that no House Speaker shall bring to the floor any legislation not supported by “the majority of the majority” (i.e., the majority of the Speaker’s caucus).

The current House Speaker, Republican John Boehner, is quaking at the prospect that, to avoid an Oct. 1 government shutdown for which the GOP would almost certainly be blamed, he may have to strip a provision defunding Obamacare (or possibly some other yet-to-be determined demand) from the pending continuing resolution (i.e., temporary appropriation bill). Should Boehner bring a “clean” CR to the floor, he risks losing a majority of his caucus and relying on enemy Democrats to get the bill passed. Even if Boehner sells House Republicans on averting a government shutdown, he may have to violate the Hastert Rule yet again to raise the debt limit, which his caucus is similarly pressuring him to use as a vehicle to defund Obamacare.

Who was Dennis Hastert, creator of this unbreakable political rule? Some biblical prophet who in ancient times carried his admonition, carved into stone tablets, down from Mount Sinai?

Actually, no. State-of-the-art carbon dating establishes that Congress managed for 215 years to function without any Hastert Rule, until 2004. That’s when then-Speaker Hastert, a Republican, pulled from the House floor the bill creating the position of director of national intelligencebecause it lacked support from a majority of the Republicans he was supposedly leading. Far from being praised for this surrender of authority to the “majority of the majority,” Hastert was criticized for spinelessness. (The bill eventually passed with a few tweaks to appease two grumpy committee chairmen.)

Before Hastert, speakers ignored the majority of the majority whenever circumstances warranted it. The Atlantic’s Molly Ball recently noted that Tip O’Neill had no choice but to violate the yet-unwritten Hastert Rule many times because his caucus contained a lot of conservative southern Democrats. (O’Neill’s various triumphs over partisan division are nicely documented in Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked, by MSNBC host and onetime O’Neill staff aide Chris Matthews, due out next week.)

But O’Neill was hardly unique in this respect. House Speakers are expected to press forward with important legislation even when it’s not supported by a majority of their party.  Speaker Tom Foley, a Democrat (1989-1995) violated the Hastert Rule at least six times, as did his successor, Newt Gingrich. Even after Hastert codified his Rule, Nancy Pelosi violated it at least seven times.

A New York Times tally last April calculated that the Hastert Rule had been violated 36 times over the previous 22 years. Boehner has already violated it several times himself. At best the Hastert Rule is (to quote Bill Murray in Ghostbusters) “more of a guideline than a rule.”

What about Hastert himself? Today he is remembered for being the longest-serving Republican speaker in history (1999-2007), just nosing out “Uncle” Joe Cannon (1903-11). Cannon was the most powerful House speaker in history, and he was eventually ousted in a revolt. Hastert, by contrast, was a onetime gym coach elevated from deputy whip to the speakership as a sort of proxy for Tom DeLay, the powerful House majority whip, who knew he was too controversial to take the top job. During his speakership, Hastert (who now works as a lobbyist) was regarded as one of the Bush era’s less-consequential political figures. Once when writing a DeLay profile for George magazine, I asked Hastert if he had ever disagreed with DeLay about anything. He said he had but that he couldn’t remember those instances.

But perhaps Hastert had more spine than we give him credit for, because it turns out he violated the Hastert Rule no fewer than 12 times, or more than any speaker in recent memory (except perhaps O’Neill). If Denny Hastert must be elevated to the status of prophet, remember him not for the craven rule he invented, but for his willingness to violate it again and again. Hastert never suffered any notable consequences for these transgressions. Speaker Boehner, take note.


The Filibuster

From April to June 2010, the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration held a series of monthly public hearings entitled “Examining the Filibuster” to examine the history and use of the filibuster in the Senate. The Committee held the first such hearing, entitled “History of the Filibuster 1789–2008” on April 22. It held the second hearing, entitled “The Filibuster Today and Its Consequences”, on May 19. On June 23, the Committee held the third hearing, entitled “Silent Filibusters, Holds and the Senate Confirmation Process”.

On December 10, 2010, Independent democratic socialist Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont began a “Tax Cut Filibuster” at 10:25 am and finished at 6:59 pm later that day. on the floor of the Senate. Sanders’ office said the intention was to “speak as long as possible against a tax deal between the White House and congressional Republicans.

In response to the use of the filibuster in the 111th Congress, all Democratic senators returning to the 112th Congress, signed a petition to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, requesting that the filibuster be reformed, including abolishing secret holds and reducing the amount of time given to post-cloture debate.

On December 6, 2012, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader, became the first senator to filibuster his own proposal. Without giving a lengthy speech, he invoked the rules of filibuster on his bill to raise the passage threshold to 60 votes. McConnell had attempted to force theopposition Democrats, who had a majority in the Senate, to refuse to pass what would have been a politically costly measure, but one that would nonetheless solve the current ongoing debt ceiling deadlock. When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid(D-NV) chose to call a vote on the proposal regardless, McConnell immediately invoked the rules of filibusters on his own proposal, effectively doing the first self-filibuster in Senate history.

At the conclusion of the 112th Congress, the Senate debated filibuster reform. Negotiations on changes to the rules for filibustering were set to take place during January 2013.

On March 6, 2013, Senator Rand Paul launched a talking filibuster to stall John Brennan’s nomination confirmation vote for the position of Director of the CIA demanding an answer from the Obama Administration to the question: “Should a President be allowed to target, and kill an American by drone attack, on American soil, without due process?” John Brennan was considered to be the main architect of the drone program. After 12 hours and 52 minutes of talking, it became the 9th longest filibuster in U.S. history.

Negotiations between the two parties resulted in two packages of amendments to the rules on filibusters being approved by the Senate on January 25, 2013. Changes to the standing orders affecting just the 2013-14 Congress were passed by a vote of 78 to 16, allowing the Senate majority leader to prohibit a filibuster on a motion to begin consideration of a bill. Changes to the permanent Senate rules were passed by a vote of 86 to 9. The changes occurred through Senate Resolution 15 and Senate Resolution 16; Senate Resolution 15 applies only to the 113th session, while Senate Resolution 16 changed two standing rules of the Senate.

The series of changes to the filibuster rules announced represented a compromise between the major reforms put forward by some Democratic senators and the changes preferred by Republican senators. Those seeking reform, including Democrats and liberal interest groups, had originally proposed a variety of strong reforms including: ending the filibuster completely; banning the use of filibusters on the motion to proceed; re-introducing the “talking filibuster” where the minority would have to remain on the Senate floor and speak in order to impede passage of a vote; banning the use of filibusters on House-Senate conferences; and forcing the minority to produce 41 votes in order to block cloture. These more extensive reforms of the filibuster could only have been implemented by a decision from the Senate’s presiding officer declaring it unconstitutional.

The new rules remove the requirement of 60 votes in order to begin debate on legislation and allow the minority two amendments to measures that reach the Senate floor, a change implemented as a standing order that expires at the end of the current term. In the new rules, the amount of time to debate following a motion to proceed has been reduced from 30 hours to four. Additionally, a filibuster on the motion to proceed will be blocked if a petition is signed by eight members of the minority, including the minority leader. For district court nominations, the new rules reduce the required time before the nominee is confirmed after cloture from 30 hours to two hours. Under the new rules, if senators wish to block a bill or nominee after the motion to proceed, they will need to be present in the Senate and debate. Following the changes, 60 votes are still required to overcome a filibuster to pass legislation and confirm nominees and the “silent filibuster”—where senators can filibuster even if they leave the floor—remained in place.

Following the announcement of the new rules, Senator Dick Durbin, who was involved in the negotiations, stated that the deal reached was true agreement between the majority and minority leaders, and was overwhelmingly supported by Senate Democrats. However, the agreement was negatively received by liberal interest groups including CREDO, Fix the Senate Now, a coalition of approximately 50 progressive and labor organizations, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, both of whom had advocated for eliminating the “silent filibuster” on the grounds that it allows Republicans to filibuster progressive bills. Liberal independent Senator Bernie Sanders argued that the requirement for 60 votes to pass legislation makes it “impossible” to deal with the crises faced by the United States. Conservatives also criticized the reforms, arguing that the changes negatively impacted the minority party. In particular, Heritage Action for America argued that reducing the length of time for debate allows senior lawmakers to “avoid accountability”. Additionally, Senator Rand Paulcriticized the rules change for limiting the “ability of Senators to offer amendments”.

[Attribution numbers have been removed to make this article more readable; just follow the link if you want to see the source attributions.]

This is the view from the cheap seats.
This blog post is also available at



Change Senate Filibuster Rules Now

The two old “dogs” in the Senate, Harry Reid, Majority Leader and Democrat; Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader and Republican are going head to head this weekend on Sunday, Politics Day on TV.  They are deep in a battle about the filibuster and its overuse in the Senate. Today if there are not 60 votes in favor of a bill, there will be an automatic filibuster which will kill the bill. Every bill must meet the same test, from the least important decisions to the largest. Harry Reid wants to change this filibuster rule which has grown more restrictive with time and which is being used to hold up judicial appointments and cabinet appointments among other things.

Here’s Greg Sargent talking in this morning’s Washington Post in an article titled: The Morning Plum: Why the battle over the filibuster reform matters:

“All signs are that Harry Reid is serious about his threat to exercise the nuclear option and change the Senate rules — ending the filibuster on executive nominations — by simple majority. While Republicans could still cave and acquiesce to Reid’s demand for action on a slate of nominations — allowing Dems to avoid taking the ultimate step, which they would plainly prefer — it is increasingly likely Reid will have no choice but to hit the nuke button.

If so, an epic political battle will unfold over whether the move was justified — one focused on public opinion, and even more so, on elite opinion.”

“In fairness to Republicans, it is not easy to prove in a granular, numerical way that GOP obstructionism of nominations in particular is unprecedented, because there are many ways to cut and evaluate the numbers. But the broad strokes of this debate are overwhelmingly clear. It is plainly true that Republicans have effectively turned the Senate into a 60-vote, super-majority body for even routine business, in a way we haven’t seen before. It is plainly true that Republicans are obstructing Obama nominations (such as Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) for the explicit purpose of preventing the agencies themselves from functioning, rather than just out of objections to the nominees themselves.

I’ll have more for you on this case later, but for now, the point is that these things matter. What’s at stake is the functioning of our democracy, and whether all of this should simply be accepted as a new normal. It shouldn’t.”

“This debate is important. And I hope folks will make a serious effort to get to the bottom of it.”

“* WHY THE FILIBUSTER SHOWDOWN IS LOOMING: The Post’s Paul Kane makes an important point: The showdown is in part the result of the fact that Senate leadership on both sides is under increasing pressure from new arrivals to the Senate, with conservatives demanding more confrontation and obstruction, and liberals insisting on more reform.

On the Democratic side, the potential exercise of the nuke option is clearly the result of a new influx of energetic progressives who are genuinely focused on reforming the Upper Chamber and are impatient with Senate business as usual.

* GET READY FOR EPIC BATTLE OVER FILIBUSTER: The Dem-allied Americans United for Change is out with a new web video detailing the scope of GOP obstruction of Obama nominees and legislation alike, and its consequences, labeling the Republicans the “Grand Obstruction Party.” As noted above, this is likely to be a battle over elite opinion as much as anything else, and outside groups are gearing up.”

Me – The U.S. Constitution calls for a majority. A majority is 51 votes. Making it necessary to have a super-majority in order for a bill to pass is of fairly recent origin. It is time for this rule to go away because it is being used to obstruct the party in control of the Executive Branch and the party in control of the Senate. It is being used by that party, you know which one, the one that lost the last election, to obstruct the agenda of the current administration, to hold America in place until the GOP can rig future elections through voter laws and more gerrymandering (actually gerrymandering on steroids, drawn on a house-to-house basis) and their control over state governments to really put their agenda in place, an agenda that will hurt all Americans except the wealthiest. That filibuster rule should never have become the norm and this is the time to change most Senate votes back to votes that can be won by a simple majority.

Robert Reich, who you may think is as much of a lefty wingnut as many Republicans are righty wingnuts, wrote this intriguing little piece in The Huffington Post this week. At any other time in history I would think that his contentions are fear-mongering and extreme, but at this particular crossroads in history his thinking rings true to me. (See my blog about The Gray Men).

An Impertinent Question

Permit me an impertinent question (or three).

Suppose a small group of extremely wealthy people sought to systematically destroy the U.S. government by (1) finding and bankrolling new candidates pledged to shrinking and dismembering it; (2) intimidating or bribing many current senators and representatives to block all proposed legislation, prevent the appointment of presidential nominees, eliminate funds to implement and enforce laws, and threaten to default on the nation’s debt; (3) taking over state governments in order to redistrict, gerrymander, require voter IDs, purge voter rolls, and otherwise suppress the votes of the majority in federal elections; (4) running a vast PR campaign designed to convince the American public of certain big lies, such as climate change is a hoax, and (5) buying up the media so the public cannot know the truth.

Would you call this treason?

If not, what would you call it?

And what would you do about it?

Me – Sadly, I have felt for some time that there is an organized strategy coming out of Republican groups to change the face of America with the goal of drastically diminishing the power of the federal government, ending the social safety web, giving us a “Darwinist America” with a sink-or-swim principle that will turn life into a quagmire for most of us, instituting a flat tax and giving corporations, banks and financial markets free rein, without regulation. America will truly live out the “survival of the fittest” battle that rules most of the natural world without big brains. America will then become a business profiting some, rather than an ideal which attempts to bring out the best our big brains have to offer. 
As Americans we can see that simply adding layers of complex government programs without ever examining their effectiveness or tweaking their efficiency is leading to a federal government and budget that is a bit unwieldy, but streamlining laws and programs is not the same thing as just abandoning them. We could be making a dent in closing loopholes that allow for abuse in federal social safety net programs, but with the insistence on super majorities in both the Senate and the House we are unable to accomplish anything. We are in a massive tug of war for the future of America and the Republicans are toeing the line until they can tug the future in their direction, but they are also creating conditions on their side of the line that will give them an advantage when it is time for that next tug.

We need to encourage our Senators to change the current filibuster rules in the Senate right now because, you may think that you have your hands on the Republican rope and that you will win if you stay on that side, but you are not rich enough to be a Republican, and Republicans will change America in ways that will astound you and hurt you if we don’t wake up now and make some changes to end GOP obstructionism. We need to elect Democrats in 2014.

Tactics to Deny Obama Appointments

The Republicans are supposedly aghast that Obama tried to make recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board and that he appointed Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau when Congress, according to the Republicans, was not officially in a recess. Cries of “treason” and “unconstitutional” are ringing out once again from the GOP. Now they tell us how thrilled they are (like little girls) that a DC Circuit court consisting of three Conservative judges has declared that Obama’s appointments were unconstitutional. Obama will also be guilty of causing future Presidents to lose the right to make any recess appointments. How parental; this is like the parent who punishes one child by taking a privilege away from all of the children in the family, thus inciting backlash from the innocent children. Obama, you are a bad, bad boy.

Tangentially, Paul Krugman wrote an article in today’s (Monday, February 04, 2013) New York Timesthat shed a different light on this issue. In his article Friends of Fraud, he talks about Republican actions to block Obama’s appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This agency was recently created in the first term of Obama’s Presidency to protect consumers after mortgage irregularities led to hundreds of thousands of foreclosures, and after a number of predatory credit card practices.

The Republican’s supporters in the financial sector, says Krugman, want the GOP to put the kibosh on this agency. Between having a DC Circuit Court declare Obama’s recess appointment unconstitutional (discussed in a WSJ article) and mounting a filibuster in the Senate against approving Cordray’s appointment (discussed by Krugman), Conservatives seem to be working in tandem to obey the dictates of the financial sector.

Krugman tells us that Republicans are in denial about the role of the financial sector in our recent woes in the housing market and in other unsavory practices of the financial sector which rely on the lack of financial savvy in consumers. In his own words:

“How can the G.O.P. be so determined to make America safe for financial fraud, with the 2008 crisis still so fresh in our memory? In part it’s because Republicans are deep in denial about what actually happened to our financial system and economy. On the right, it’s now complete orthodoxy that do-gooder liberals, especially former Representative Barney Frank, somehow caused the financial disaster by forcing helpless bankers to lend to Those People.

In reality, this is a nonsense story that has been extensively refuted; I’ve always been struck in particular by the notion that a Congressional Democrat, holding office at a time when Republicans ruled the House with an iron first, somehow had the mystical power to distort our whole banking system. But it’s a story conservatives much prefer to the awkward reality that their faith in the perfection of free markets was proved false.”

First of all, as the op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal from Thursday, January 31, 2013 with the title Diminishing the Presidency tells us, Obama is not the first person to make appointments during a recess. This rule used to be applied when Congress was out of session for a long period of time, but Presidents have made use of the rule even in periods of very short recess. Since WSJ skews Conservative they tell us that recess appointments are only used in cases that involve important foreign issues. Obama used this “power” for relatively minor domestic appointments so he broke the rules and he must be punished.

From a more liberal point of view (mine), what choice did Obama have? Why should he stay in meek compliance while Republicans hold up almost every one of his appointments indefinitely? It is obvious that the GOP purposely kept a token presence in Congress so that Obama would not be able to make recess appointments (admittedly not a new tactic). However, you could reason that the GOP has no good reasons that would be acceptable to the American people to block Obama’s (a duly elected President’s) every move. From this perspective it follows that if the treason label fits anyone it is the Republicans who refuse to govern or to let anyone else govern even though, as I cannot stress enough, they lost in 2008 and 2012.

Obama saw a chance that his appointments might get through on a technicality so he took it. It was a gutsy move (and also not without precedent). This is the 21st century version of checks and balances; lots of checks, little balance. I, for one, hope the Supreme Court reverses the decision of that rather biased Circuit Court and allows the appointments to stand.

As for the obstructionist Republicans, well, the things they are doing to our first African-American president will be their legacy in the history books and the shame of it is something the party will have to live with forever, although forever may not end up lasting much longer. I find it embarrassing that people we trust to govern our country discuss and carry out such strategies to thwart this President for reasons that they will someday admit were wrong-headed and backward.