Tuesday, March 2, 2010
By Steven L. Taylor

Some fellow named hogan1 at RedState snarks in regards to Senator Bunning’s blockage of the unemployment bill:  It’s Not a Filibuster You Freaking Idiots.

After a paragraph or two of derision, he states:

A filibuster is one of two things. One, an actual filibuster where a Senator gets control of the Senate floor and will yield only for a question while continuing to speak, thereby delaying consideration of a measure. Picture Mr. Smith goes to Washington (if you haven’t seen it, do). Two, a “filibuster” under Rule 22 of the Standing Rules of the Senate whereby debate is continuous unless “cloture” is filed to shut off debate on a measure under consideration and the vote is 3/5ths or more of the Senate.

First, I am not not even sure the first type he identifies even exists anyone.  Second, yes, having the votes to deny cloture from being invoked under Rule XXII would be a filibuster.

However, in the modern Senate it seems to me that any move (or really, threat) by a Senator or set of Senators to take up floor time as a means of dissuading the full Senate from acting on a matter (either floor debate or a floor vote) can be called properly a “filibuster”—especially objecting to a unanimous consent agreement.

In fact, the evolution of the tactic is such that it is the threat of extended debate and the obstruction of Senate business that makes up the modern filibuster, rather than the extended debate itself.  Almost all the fun little tools of Senatorial power (like blocks and holds) derive from this threat, in fact.

I would note that the whole purpose of a unanimous consent agreement in the first place is to get a bill to the floor (or passed) without having to debate its it, so objecting to the UCA is all normally that it takes to block a measure (or, to effectively filibuster it) unless there is a great deal of will on the part of the Senate to fight off the objection.  Given the crowded nature of the Senate’s calendar, the Senate is usually willing to wait out situations likes Bunning’s rather than directly confront it (as thus the power of the modern filibuster).  Further, it should be noted that a UCA will have been been hammered out by the leadership of both parties, so this is not a case of majority trying to ram something down the minority’s throat.  If the Senate wished to react to Bunning’s objection, they would have to start floor debate on the subject, which would have taken time they were unwilling to commit.  Indeed, Bunning appears to have agreed to a compromise, which probably took less time to deal with than sticking it out on the floor.

I will grant that I haven’t taught the course on Congress in a number of years now, and therefore haven’t had cause to review procedures,rules, and terminology in a while.  I can’t think of really any better term to assign here. As such I think Mr. hogan’s derision for those using the term “filibuster” to describe Bunning’s action is unjustified.

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  1. His little “h,” not mine. []
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2 Responses to “Yes, You Could Call it a “Filibuster””

  1. MSS Says:

    In the comparative legislatures literature, “filibuster” is just generically any procedural action by a legislator or group of legislators to stymie the majority of the chamber.

    Not that I suspect hogan would have much interest in the comp-leg lit…

  2. Steven L. Taylor Says:

    Meguesses you are correct on that last count.

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