The Best Filibuster Reform Is No Reform At All


One of the most blatant hypocrisies of Senator-elect Heidi Heitkamp’s ugly stampede to election day victory was that, even as she pledged more bi-partisanship and cooperative legislating, she’d already pledged support to a scheme to gut the Senate’s filibuster’s rule which exist as a protection of the minority party’s interests.

Today the Grand Forks Herald, while stopping well short of calling Heitkamp a hypocrite for this contradiction, urges the Senator-elect to engage in bi-partisan filibuster reform.

“Make filibuster reform a bipartisan project. That’s not an impossible dream,” writes opinion editor Tom Dennis. “Republicans will regain the majority someday, and Democrats will be back in the minority. So, it’s in both sides’ interest to make sure the Senate not only runs with both reasonable efficiency but also protects the minority party’s rights.”

That’s true. The view of the filibuster is woefully subjective. Back when Democrats had a minority in the Senate, current Majority Leader Harry Reid who spent millions through his PAC to get Heitkamp elected and is currently leading the effort to undermine the filibuster thought protecting the minority part was important. “It encourages moderation and consensus,” he said of the filibuster in a floor speech. “It gives voice to the minority, so that cooler heads may prevail.”

Republicans at the time, of course, hated the filibuster.

And even the supposedly even-handed editorial board of the Grand Forks Herald can’t write about the filibuster without injecting their own frustration into the debate. In Dennis editorial he gives a nod to Democrats “understandably upset with the Republicans’ filibuster abuse in recent years.” The folks at the Herald are upset with Republicans roadblocking a liberal agenda. No doubt they’d feel different if it were liberals roadblocking a conservative agenda.

The view of the filibuster is always subjective. You love it when you can use it against the opposition. You hate it when it’s used against you.

Yet, the filibuster is an important part of our legislative process. It’s hard for many to fathom in this age where federal policy reaches down into even some of the most mundane, day-to-day aspects of our lives but we should remember that our federal government was designed to work slowly and only with broad national consensus for a reason. There just aren’t that many policies that should be implemented on a national scale as opposed to a more local, regional application. If we’re going to pass a law that impacts the entire nation, it should be passed with more buy-in than a simple majority in both houses of the legislature.

The filibuster applies a higher standard, and despite all the partisan and ideological wrangling about it, that’s as it should be.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Roy_Bean

    At least Heidi is living down to the legacy of Comrad Conrad. I’m sure she has already talked to Angelo about a home loan.

  • Matthew Hawkins

    The problem with the modern filibuster is that it doesn’t do what the original filibuster was intended to. The original filibuster was created to encourage debate and compromise. It is now used solely to kill legislation.

    Every filibuster should stop all Senate action. This would encourage the Senators to come to resolutions or piss off the electorate.

    • Rob

      You say “stop all Senate action” as though that were a bad thing.

  • Anon

    It’ll be fun to compare what each party said in 2005 and what they say today now that control has switched. Even if filibuster reform passes, not a lot will change considering how the House is in Republican control, but reform can hopefully stop a handful of senators derailing what otherwise could’ve passed in both houses

    • Rob

      That the minority can hold off legislation in the Senate is a feature, not a bug.

      • Anon

        I’m sure you said the same thing back when Democrats were blocking Bush’s agenda in 2005.

        • Rob

          You should have read post more closely.

          I’ve actually been consistently in favor of the filibuster.

          • Anonymous


            “turn-around from the Halt-All-Senate-Business obstructionist stance Reid”

            “So the stage appears to be set! The Republicans appear to have the votes and the gusto to push this through. Owens, a very qualified nominee, is going to be the highlight [adds a nice personal touch to this dry rule-change argument]. And the Democrats seem to be backing off slightly, sensing they are going to end up shooting themselves in the foot.”


            “If this “deal” had not taken place last night, it would have all been over today and 214 years of Senate tradition would have been restored.”

            “If this deal had not happened, today the Dems would have been forced to filibuster Owens. Likely, the filibuster would have prompted the nuclear option and she would have received an up-or-down vote. With two centuries of Senate tradition being returned, Pryor and Brown would have also received an up-or-down vote. So what is it that we have gained? The deal gave the GOP those three nominees, threw overboard 7 others, and granted the Dems the “right” to continue a filibuster on anyone they feel is extreme.
            Bottom line is this: The GOP has thrown several nominees overboard in an attempt to be in a better political position later on down the road. And this deal is still a bad deal…”

            Whoever ran this blog back in 2005 clearly wanted an up-or-down vote on Bush’s judicial dominees.

          • Anonymous


            Here’s what I think Senate Republicans should do at this point:
            #1) Let the Dems filibuster their hearts out for a few weeks. It will get them loads of negative press and make them look like the babies they are to the American people.
            #2) Eventually change the rules to an up or down vote.

          • Anonymous


            “All the Republicans want is an up or down vote regarding Bush’s nominees for federal judicial appointments. The Democrats don’t want that vote. Why? Because they’re in the minority and the Republicans will appoint judges who will be averse to furthering leftist causes in the court system.Reid and his cronies need to quit acting like a bunch of petulant children and allow the Senate to get on with its duties in regard to judicial nominees.”

          • Rob

            I actually didn’t write any of those posts. Another contributor to SAB at the time did.

            Though I’d point out that expressing frustration at the use of the filibuster is not necessarily the same thing as supporting the end of the filibuster.

          • Guest

            So you disagree with the positions taken in these prior posts then? How curious one can’t find any postings supporting the Democrat’s position on the filibuster in 2005…

          • Rob

            I didn’t support their position. I supported their right to use the filibuster, though, to pursue a position I disagreed with.

            I support the filibuster. If I change my mind should the Republicans take back the Senate in the future, you’re free to call me a hypocrite.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, let’s make it even harder for Washington to get things done and require unanimity.

        • Rob

          National legislation should be judged on quality, not quantity, I think.

          But the filibuster hasn’t been the problem in the senate. Dems haven’t even gotten a budget out of committee. And budget reconciliation only takes 50 votes.

          • Guest

            I’d disagree that the Senate hasn’t passed a budget- The Budget Control act capped discretionary spending, which is 99% of what a budget does, and provided a process for entitlement reform for a period covering ten years. Moreover, the fact that the Senate has difficulty garnering 50 votes undermines the conclusion that requiring 60 votes to get anything done is a good thing. While the minority should be able to stop what they believe to be the more objectionable excesses of majority as they have in the past, the filibuster is now being routinely used to block legislation for no apparent reason at the mere threat of one. Personally, I think the best solution is to keep unlimited debate but force any senator who wants to filibuster to do so by literally standing up for his principles at a his Senate desk and talking until he can not stand anymore.

          • Rob

            The bca is simply not a budget. It doesn’t meet the criteria set out for a budget in the law.

          • Guest

            Yet it does almost everything a budget does.

          • Rob

            Except that it doesn’t.

            The BCA punted spending and revenue issues to a fiscal commission that accomplished exactly nothing. Now we’re facing sequester spending cuts.

            And besides, the Democrats have already voted to throw the BCA and its caps on spending on the scrap heap.


            Some “budget” you’ve got there.

          • Guest

            You’re acting like overriding the act to alter the appropriations for the post office repealed the bill. If the bill was simply thrown out like you say, there wouldn’t be any talk of sequestration. It might not have been the best budget or budget process, but it still set discretionary budget limits which Congress can always amend piecemeal.

          • Rob

            So what you’re saying was that it was a budget, but only kinda sorta, and one that could be ignored whenever it gets in the way of spending.

            Or, maybe you’re just wrong and the BCA is not, in fact, a budget.

          • Guest

            What’s a budget do? Set discretionary spending limits. What’d the BCA do? Set discretionary spending limits for ten years. Can the budget be later altered? Yes. Was the BCA amended? Yes.

  • Thresherman

    Let the Democrats double down on stupid, 2 years from now they will still trying to blame the GOP for their shorcomings but it will be a hard sell after a very public fight by Democrats to shut down bipartisanship.