Senate Parliamentarian: Please pick up the citizen inquiry phone… [A working thread for selise about forcing the (real) filibuster]

As originally posted in the reader-diary section of; the post’s detailed and lengthy 2010 comment thread is available at that link.

Welcome, readers and commenters.

This ‘working thread’ diary is in furtherance of what amounts to a direct challenge to, and hoped-for dismantling of, one pernicious aspect of the conventional wisdom that’s preached far and wide by the powerful in Washington. Specifically, the aspect of conventional wisdom that claims that the 1930s-era "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"-style filibuster has somehow been rule-changed out of existence in the modern United States Senate, or is otherwise unfeasible, pointless, or impossible to conduct today.

It’s a working thread where informed and engaged citizen selise hopes – five days after she first started to try to contact him/them in the midst of historic D.C. snowfalls – to finally hear the Senate Parliamentarian’s take on the current feasibility of restoring and forcing the classic real physical filibuster in the Senate. And to hopefully confirm whether or not it is indeed possible (as I’ve asserted) to do so without need to either violate the rules (the "nuclear" option in its various forms) or to change the rules as they presently exist. As part of the drafting process for her own pending Seminal diary that will report on what she’s learned from official sources about the reality of today’s Senate rules as they apply to the real filibuster.

Selise and I and others here at FDL have been actively debating this point for some weeks or months now, have noted the many, often-misleading, takes of others around the blogosphere, and, increasingly of late, tangential comments from Senators themselves, and now selise would like to write a clear and definitive account that even the conventional wisdom-peddlers might have to heed, and which people just tuning in for the first time will be able to grasp. [Altogether, no small task, that…]

Speaking for myself, my interest in a return to the real, physical filibuster is not necessarily in being able to speed (bad, or even good) legislation through the Senate. [Yes, counter-intuitively perhaps, that could very well be the effect of the return of the real filibuster, as compared to the use of the delay-enabling, supermajority-instigating Rule 22 cloture process that’s constantly deployed by the majority to avoid mere threats by the minority to (supposedly) conduct physically-demanding filibusters.] It is also very much not my purpose to enable a simple majority to force its will on the minority at any and every opportunity, without consultation (as is basically, and regrettably, now done in the House), though that too could conceivably become easier to do.

Instead, what I, and I think selise, most want to demonstrate is that there is no present obstacle to the return of routine, simple-majority passage of legislation in the Senate today. No "60 votes" needed. No "67 votes" needed. No rules violation and thus no "nuclear" (in the Republican-majority era) or "Constitutional" (in the Democratic-majority era, as slightly modified) option needed. No rules change at all needed. No cloture motion or cloture vote necessary. Not even any reconciliation bill needed.

What’s needed instead? The courage and resolve of their convictions from majority proponents of legislation, a numerical simple-majority in favor of a proposal, and the will to join, on the Senate floor or off, or at least to endure, genuine public debate on sometimes politically-"tough" and emotionally-loaded subjects, which a real, physical filibuster, if forced to develop (by the withholding of cloture motions), might foster.

Because the alternative to exposing this truth, if it is a truth – the objective of selise’s upcoming diary is to try to ascertain its veracity – is to watch legislation continuing to be unnecessarily modified, and presidential nominations withdrawn, to please an unnecessary supermajority in the Senate – a supermajority that is not needed for the passage of legislation or nominations, so long as the majority is capable of waiting out any real, physical filibusters that may develop.

Ideally, of course [though probably not for rabid partisans allied, formally or informally, with those powerful politicians who control the Parties in Congress], that simple Senate majority first works with that minority, within the democratic confines of the Senate – in public, Democratic-majority committee meetings, and on the floor – without fearing genuine debate, or good faith input from that minority. So that reaching the stage of even a threatened filibuster, never mind a real one, becomes a rare occurrence in the Senate. And so that the segregation by Party recedes even as the Democratic majority maintains and wields the balance of power that the 2008 voters gave the Senate, when minds are being made up and votes are being cast in pre-markup discussions, and on amendments and bills and nominations and conference reports. That objective may (or may not) be furthered by restoring the real possibility that the majority may (force itself to) face the bracing tonic of a genuine, physical filibuster, conducted live on C-SPAN. But for the sake of the added, focused debate alone, it certainly seems worth a shot.

That’s a general summary of the many detailed comments, and a diary or two, that I’ve posted on this subject here, saying the same thing or something similar, in many different ways. So many detailed comments that I’ve started to lose track of which questions readers trying to understand this issue first have on the subject, or want answered, or find the most indecipherable. That’s where readers and commenters and selise’s pending diary come in: No question is too obvious, no confusion too petty to mention here. Lay it on us in the comments, and you will help us to understand what you need to understand, what we may need to further understand about the subject, and how best to shape a coherent explanation of the present state of affairs in the Senate. I’ve publicly asserted this case without being absolutely positive I’m right (since it’s a bit akin to proving a negative), and may thus be publicly proved wrong, but want to be proved wrong, sooner rather than later, if I am wrong.

Without further ado, I’ll post this diary and open the floor to selise to take it away as she sees fit.

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