mollyereynolds352 karma2021-03-31 16:54:42 UTC
There are probably some things the Senate could do to try to force senators to actually stay on the floor and actively speak on a matter rather than allowing so-called "silent" filibusters. One challenge here is that, for the majority, who has lots of things it wants to get done, there are potentially big opportunity costs to letting the minority hold up the floor. Here's a good explanation of why the talking filibuster might be not be the solution to all of the Senate's problems: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/03/17/biden-says-bring-back-talking-filibuster-would-that-really-let-senate-democrats-pass-bills/, and another piece (from 2012) about why exactly how a talking filibuster reform would work matters a lot: https://themonkeycage.org/2012/11/will-merkley-warrens-talking-filibuster-proposal-work/
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mollyereynolds337 karma2021-03-31 16:32:37 UTC
Sure! To filibuster something in the Senate means to use any one of a number of tactics to prevent something from coming to a vote. Senators can do this because there's generally nothing in the Senate's rules that restricts how long something can be debated for, or any way for a simple majority of senators to cut off debate. Instead, for most legislation, the tactic available for bringing debate to a close--known as cloture--requires 60 votes, or a supermajority. We're hearing so much about it now because Democrats have the narrowest of majorities in the Senate and have a number of high profile proposals they expect Republicans to obstruct.
For more on this, I'd recommend this explainer I wrote (it's short, I promise!): https://www.brookings.edu/policy2020/votervital/what-is-the-senate-filibuster-and-what-would-it-take-to-eliminate-it/
mollyereynolds236 karma2021-03-31 17:10:21 UTC
I wouldn't call it short, but this document, written by the Senate Rules Committee, has an incredibly thorough chronology that starts on p. 11: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CPRT-112SPRT66046/pdf/CPRT-112SPRT66046.pdf. My colleague Sarah Binder has a great overview of the high points of the history here: https://www.brookings.edu/testimonies/the-history-of-the-filibuster/.
mollyereynolds206 karma2021-03-31 17:07:15 UTC
This is an idea advocated for by my longtime friend, Norm Ornstein of AEI: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/03/02/manchin-filibuster-never-sinema. I agree that is has the potential to make the minority bear more of the cost of filibustering, but it's not clear how much of a difference it would really make. After all when we look at cloture votes over the past decade, those opposing cloture managed to get at least 40 votes almost every time: https://twitter.com/bindersab/status/1370079714015084545?s=20
mollyereynolds149 karma2021-03-31 17:15:05 UTC
How Republicans would respond if Democrats returned to the talking filibuster--or otherwise made changes to the way it works--is a hugely important question and one to which we don't really know the answer. Leader McConnell has certainly threatened a "scorched earth" approach and we have seen how, if one or more senators want to, they can really throw sand in the gears of the Senate's daily operations. (See: Ron Johnson insisting that the entire American Rescue Plan be read aloud on the floor.) But McConnell also threatened to retaliate after Democrats changed the procedures in 2013 for nominees, but didn't take the maximalist approach then. Would he now? Maybe. But at the end of the day, even Republican senators have things they want to get done that require having the legislative process work.
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