Exploring responses to obstructionism

EXPLORING RESPONSES TO OBSTRUCTIONISM…. We all know that when Republicans stop the legislative process with filibusters, they’re not actually filibustering. That is, we don’t see Jim Bunning standing on the Senate floor, reading from telephone books, trying to literally talk bills to death.

But as GOP tactics undermine the integrity of the institution, and prevent the U.S. government from functioning as it should, there’s apparently renewed interest in the Senate majority exploring its options.

Basking in their political victory over Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R-Ky.) blockade of an extension of unemployment insurance, Democrats say that they may force Republicans to talk endlessly on the floor in the months leading up to November’s elections.

For months, House Democrats — and liberal activists — have implored Senate Democrats to let filibusters unfold over hours on the Senate floor, rather than try disposing of Senate business with cloture votes and unanimous consent requests.

Asked Thursday why Senate Democrats don’t force Republicans to carry out filibusters, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, “We may.”

Durbin added that the majority will “consider our options.”

If reader emails are any indication, this is a subject of great interest to many of you. But everything I’ve seen suggests Mr. Smith-style filibusters just aren’t an option. The Senate Majority Leader’s office put together a memo on this about a year ago, and found that a filibustering senator “can’t be forced to keep talking for an indefinite period of time.” Bob Dove, who worked as a Senate parliamentarian from 1966 until 2001, concluded that Reid’s analysis was “exactly correct.”

Jonathan Bernstein had a very good item on this a couple of months ago, explaining that forcing real, live filibusters wouldn’t work.

[T]here is simply no way, under Senate rules, for the majority to prevail over a determined filibuster conducted by multiple Senators and supported by at least forty-one Senators. No way. Can’t be done. If the majority forced a live filibuster — forced the minority to talk indefinitely — then, well, they would talk. Forever. Until, eventually, the majority, which has other responsibilities (appropriations bills, other must-pass bills) admitted a humiliating defeat, and moved on. […]

In real life, if the Democrats forced them to talk, Republicans would simply carve up the time in half hour or hour long intervals, something like that, speak their piece, and yield to the next in line. It wouldn’t be dramatic at all.

OK, so the concept of a real, live filibuster probably isn’t going to work out. But if Dems are considering their options, maybe there are heretofore unused procedural steps that the majority can utilize. I’d be interested to see what they come up with.