Warning! This article is only for truly hard-core political and Congressional junkies and people who haven’t slept in days and need to fall asleep real quick. Great bedtime reading for your hard-core insomniacs. Because this is not just about Congress, but the Senate in particular and not just the Senate, but Senate rules and not just Senate rules, but a rule called the filibuster. One of those inside Washington words that people from outside of the beltway might think is from a different language. Let alone able to explain what that word is and what it means.
For people who need to fall asleep real quick I’ll give you a little background and history about the Senate filibuster to explain the current limitations of it today and for those people who see this they might be able to sleep for weeks after reading this.
Before then Senate Leader Harry Read and about 52 or so of his Senate Democratic colleagues nuked the filibuster as it has to do with executive nominations and judicial nominations in the fall of 2013 in the 113th Congress. The Senate Minority Leader (the person who leads the minority party in the Senate) and his party colleagues in the Senate could block almost every piece of legislation on their own. If they had at least 41 seats and votes in the Senate.
The only exceptions having to with the budget and what’s called reconciliation. Which is a Congressional term that has to do with the budget. Meaning that any bill that has to do with spending tax dollars like tax cuts and reforms and expansions of entitlement programs like Medicare, would only need 51 votes including the Vice President to break a tie to pass the Senate. Now for someone who is a Congressional junky like myself and loves studying and reading about Congress especially the history of it, the Senate filibuster and Senate rules in general are fascinating to me and learning any information about it like that would make me so charge up it might keep me awake until the next solar eclipse. But for your average insomniac this kind of material might send them into a coma.
Thanks to former Senate Leader Harry Reid and his Senate Democratic colleagues in the Senate, the majority party only needs 51 votes to not only move to voting on presidential nominations for both the executive and judiciary, but for final passage on those nominations. During the spring this year Senate Democrats lead by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, blocked President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch with the filibuster rule. I think Senate Joe Manchin, Senate Joe Donnelly, and Senate Heidi Heitkamp, were the only three Senate Democrats who voted to cut off any filibuster of then Judge Gorsuch.
And when Senate Democrats blocked Gorsuch, current Senate Leader Mitch McConnell moved to eliminate all filibusters of Supreme Court nominees which passed on a party-line vote. Which means almost everyone in one party votes one way and almost everyone in the other party votes the other way. Not people standing in line to go to some party.
So under current Senate rules the majority party can only eliminate filibusters on legislation if they have 60 votes. Meaning they either have 60 seats in the Senate (which rarely happens) or they get a compromise with the minority party generally the Minority Leader or the minority manager of the bill that is on the floor. And that compromise leads to at least enough minority members of the Senate to cut off any potential filibuster of the current bill.
Or to get back to that crazy arcane word of reconciliation and the Senate majority party brings up some legislation that has to do with the budget. Something that they want as part of the budget that has to be passed that year. And if they’re able to do that they pass tax dollar related legislation with just 51 votes including the Vice President of the United States.
But even reconciliation has it’s limits because that rule has to be passed first and the time for that is limited if a budget is not passed during that year in Congress, then bills can only be passed through reconciliation through September. And then if a budget is still not passed every piece of legislation that is considered in the Senate is subjected to the cloture rule (meaning the filibuster) and needs 60 votes to pass for the rest of that year. Which means again unless the Senate majority party has 60 seats (which rarely happens) the majority party needs cooperation and votes from the minority party to move legislation in the Senate.
I hope these explanations of the Senate filibuster and it’s usage and limitations help people who are interested in learning about Congress, especially the upper chamber which is the Senate. Or at the very least helps people who are in badly need of sleep finally get the sleep that they deserve.
I realize reading about Congressional rules or perhaps reading about anything outside of new technology and celeb culture especially in today’s world reality TV world and overdose of celebrity culture and smartphones which of course is far more important (to too many people) can seem intrusive and time consuming. And reading about how legislation that affects over three-hundred-million Americans as far as what laws we have to do live under and will our civil liberties, property rights, civil rights, will be protected or expanded. Will any of our relatives be sent to war, how much we’re going to have to pay in taxes, or in interest on the national debt and budget deficit. Just to show some examples of how Congress and the Federal Government in general can and does affect our lives.
But it’s worth learning and knowing about any institution in America that can have that much power over how any of us live in America. Because we all pay for the government that we get whether we think that government is interesting and worth our time knowing about it or not. Whether we like it or not.