A Filibuster By Any Other Name Is a Lie

This is an old topic for both Jonathan Bernstein and for me. But count me again as strongly in Jonathan’s corner here:

The New York Times has a perfectly fine curtain-raiser on the 114th Congress today, except for the clunker in this part:

Because the House has been in Republican hands since 2011, the real test comes in the Senate, where the new majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is armed with a 54-46 majority. He will still have to find a way to make legislation passed by the House attractive to enough Democrats to assemble the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural obstacles and send them to the president’s desk.

“Procedural obstacles”???? What the article is talking about are (likely) Democratic filibusters. Without a filibuster, any bill needs only a simple majority to pass the Senate. There’s no need for a supermajority in the Senate rules — unless the minority makes the once extraordinary decision to filibuster. Only then does the majority need 60 votes to invoke cloture, which has become the standard way to try to defeat a filibuster.

It’s wrong to imply that the normal need for 60 is inherent in Senate rules and procedures, and not a response to tactics by the Senate minority. We don’t know if Democrats will filibuster everything the way Republicans have done for the last six years, but if they do reporters should call them out on it instead of pretending it isn’t happening.

I think this is just media laziness rather than a deliberate policy preference, but in any event, it’s wrong and needs to stop: a filibuster is a filibuster, and at a minimum needs to be treated as the freakish (and perhaps some day extinct!) incident it used to be.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.