Finally! The Filibuster Explained

“Why doesn’t Harry Reid make them filibuster? We’ve got a majority in the Senate. Why do we need a 60-vote supermajority? Reid should make Republicans pay the political price for obstructionism: standing up there reading the phone book before C-Span and the world. What’s the gig?”

I’ve probably googled this question half a dozen times over the last years, and have never come up with any answer beyond “Harry Reid’s a wimp.”

Since he isn’t–like really at all–that explanation has always seemed…less than satisfying.

My latest google foray finally turned up the following February 23 post by Ryan Grim at the Huffington Post, drawing on and reprinting a memo on the subject from Harry Reid’s office.

Short story, they don’t have to talk. That’s only in the movies (and on The West Wing). The ‘pubs can absent themselves, while one of their senators sits on the Senate floor saying “there’s no quorum” every so often.

Now you can ask: would the C-Span visuals of a single ‘pub senator obstructing Senate business play well with the public? I just don’t know, but I gotta believe that Harry Reid asked himself that question a long time ago…

Here’s Grim’s piece, with an extract from the Reid office memo:

The Myth Of The Filibuster: Dems Can’t Make Republicans Talk All Night.

The byproduct of the cloture rule changes in 1917 and 1974 is you need to invoke cloture to proceed to a bill. Senators don’t have to speak to vote against cloture. If you can’t get 60, you can’t move it to the floor. On the motion to proceed, if a Republican chose to get up they can speak about any topic they want, or they can sit down and begin an endless series of quorum calls.