New Terms Needed For Unprecedented Circumstances

To be succinct, I agree with everything Scott Lemieux says about the Op-Ed in The New York Times by Barry Friedman and Andrew Martin. I would add though that what seems to be the biggest problem with the column is that the writers really don’t seem to have any idea how a filibuster works. And the same can be said for anyone whose idea for breaking filibusters is to actually make the minority talk endlessly.

The confusion, I think, stems from the use of the word filibuster itself. Basically people think of the filibuster as one person talking endlessly to try to run out the clock on a motion. But that’s not what Senate minorities are doing now by voting against cloture motions and denying unanimous consent. Basically, the issue is that the Senate has only two ways to end debate and proceed with business; unanimous consent and cloture. If they fail to get either one, they can’t close debate on a question to proceed to a vote. What Republicans are doing is denying consent to move on with business, and since you need a supermajority to do that, the motion fails. It makes no difference whether anyone is talking or not. This is a distinction a lot of people miss, and even have a hard time grasping after you explain it to them, and I think it’s because they can’t get past the term “filibuster” itself. But what’s going on isn’t a filibuster, it’s an unprecedented willingness by the minority to prevent the Senate from conducting business. I think a new term to denote this new practice would help create better public understanding of what’s going on.

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