Getting Buy-in

From today’s newspaper, a look at Jeff Bingaman’s approach to climate legislation:

[A]s we sat down for lunch last week to talk climate and energy policy, the first thing out of Bingaman’s mouth was an explanation of “the Byrd rule.” The topic helps illustrate the delicate way Bingaman prefers to play the legislative game. The arcane Byrd rule helps ensure policy measures cannot be slipped into the budget bill to skirt the Senate requirement of 60 votes to pass important legislation.


  1. “Delicate?” *snork*

    It’s amazing that people like Bingaman are allowed to get away with supporting the anto-democratic institution of the filibuster. Add to that the irony that the very much unarcane Byrd rule is authored by the unquestioned master of pork.

  2. Steve, why is the filibuster “undemocratic?” It is an internal parliamentary rule of a democratically-elected body. The original intent of the filibuster, in fact, is exceedingly (overly?) democratic. It was designed to ensure that the minority party could not be run over in debate, that it would take more than just a simple majority to shut down debate on a bill. It has been “repurposed” in the last few years, but the practical effect remains: it ensures that the minority has parliamentary rights, which is about as democratic as you can get.

  3. There’s a distinction between a procedure that ensures the minority is heard and one that imposes a super-majority requirement for action where no such thing was intended. Bear in mind that even without the filibuster the Senate is already heavily tilted in favor of small-population states, and racists continue to bar DC voters from representation.

  4. No doubt, but it’s still an internal rule of a democratic body. There is nothing anti-democratic about it.

    Its most important real effect is to slow down the process, which is almost always good, not bad. We have a body where the majority rules absolutely (the House) and one where real consensus is supposed to exist to pass new law. Yes, that has negative consequences, but the good outweigh the bad. If the R’s had no filibuster to stop them in 2004 you’d currently be dealing with the complete dismantling of consumer protections writ large, amongst a bevy of other nasties that the R’s tried to get through Congress during that session.

  5. “We have a body where the majority rules absolutely (the House) and one where real consensus is supposed to exist to pass new law.” Supposed to according to what? The Constitution makes no such distinction, and was the filibuster “advertised” in the Federalist papers?

    Did you know that the House also once had a filibuster rule? Would you consider it anti-democratic if they were to re-institute it or, for that matter, if the Senate were to get rid of the 1897 cloture rule and require unanimity for cutting off debate? I suppose you might, in which case perhaps we could agree that there is such a thing as too much democracy. 🙂

    I won’t disagree about the value of having some degree of inertia built into the system or that the Rs are a danger, but I still think that overall we’d be better off without the filibuster. Even better would be a parliamentary system with proportional representation, but that’s another discussion.

  6. Hi John,

    I thought you might be interested in covering a web conference that Nestle is putting on next week relating to their sustainability practices, including water usage. Please e-mail me back if you’d like more info.


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