Published on January 11th, 2011 | by Zachary Shahan3
Filibuster Reform: Is It on the Way? What Does it Mean for Cleantech?
January 11th, 2011 by Zachary Shahan
Susan has written a number of times on here how Republican Senators have used and abused the filibuster in recent years (especially last year). Really, a lot of people have — it is painfully obvious. As you may have heard, there’s a strong push now to pass some form of filibuster reform. Before we get into some of the details, maybe a little info on what a filibuster is…
What is a Filibuster?
A filibuster, in the U.S. Senate, allows a Senator or Senators to block a vote on some piece of legislation by not voting to end “debate” on the topic, unless three-fifths of the Senate (usually 60 out of 100 senators) overrides this obstruction. While in the past, this was used rather rarely, it has become all too common for the minority party in the Senate to use it purely to obstruct any progress on a topic by the other party. In other words, rather than act like adults leading a democratic society, they having been acting like spoiled children unwilling to let the country move forward as it rightfully should be able to because they are not in charge (do not have a majority).
As you probably could guess, Republicans have used this ‘tactic’ a ton more than Democrats. As Markos Moulitsas of The Hill wrote last month:
Indeed, Republicans just engaged in the most brazen obstructionism in American history. They will have engaged in over 132 cloture votes by the end of this term. In the previous term, minority Republicans called 112 cloture votes. Before that, the previous high in any term was 58.
Here are some graphs created back in March 2010 via News Junkie Post (note that ‘cloture’ is a motion to bring debate to an end and vote on legislation):
What is Filibuster Reform?
Well, filibuster reform could be many things, and many ideas have been put forth since Republicans started abusing this power. But in an effort to make it something that could get passed, a number of Democrats have proposed 5 basic changes. “It would eliminate the filibuster on motions to proceed, do away with secret holds, guarantee consideration of amendments from both the majority and the minority, cut down on the time spent debating nominations, and reinstate the talking filibuster,” Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones writes. You can read more on the details here: Filibuster Mini-Reforms Unveiled.
Basically, it would make the whole process of legislative decision-making more open to the public, more legitimate, and would require some real effort by the minority party (speaking or even just showing up) in order to block legislation from a vote.
While all 53 Senate Democrats recently said they supported filibuster reform and they could, theoretically, push it through without a three-fifths majority if party leadership chose to, not all of those Democrats have supported a specific package (like the one proposed) yet. Additionally, the preference would be to get broad support for a specific package.
The proposed package has actually gotten the support of both some filibuster lovers and, despite preferences for something a little stronger, from those who have been pushing for filibuster reform for a long time. So, it looks like it is very passable.
What Would Filibuster Reform Mean for Cleantech?
Well, as implied above, filibuster reform would mean that in order to stop the U.S. from progressing on energy policy (something beyond giving dirty energy the most subsidies possible) and catching up to China, India, and Europe, who are all blowing past us in the clean energy industry, the job-creation industry of the future and even of today, the minority party in the Senate (currently Republicans) would have to not only have more than 40 Senators blocking it but would have to speak openly to the public about why they are hijacking this country’s economic progress or progress of some other sort (of course, without outright saying as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel has that “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president“).
Of course, if the Republicans gained back majority of the Senate, filibuster reform would make clean tech (in particular, clean energy) policies enacted more vulnerable to attack, but overall I think it would probably be a huge help to moving this country into the 21st century with regards to energy policy and could open up the possibility of significant clean tech legislation in 2011 and 2012.
What You Can Do to Help Move Filibuster Reform Towards Reality
One key thing you can do is write a letter to your local newspaper (handy way to do so via that link) . As Chris Bowers of Daily Kos wrote in an email on that matter:
All Senate offices monitor the letters in the editorial page of their local newspapers to gauge support for their actions. If we can dominate these editorial pages for the next 17 days, it will go a long way toward keeping up the momentum for reform. This is true no matter whether your Senators favor, oppose, or are undecided about rules reform.
This is a critical step you can take to help improve our broken democratic process, broken Senate, and our country as a whole.
On January 24th, the Senate should be taking up this matter. Write your letters now or, at least, well before then!