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Pure Stalling

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Pure Stalling"

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A conversation I had yesterday made me realize that I’d actually been underestimating the pathology of the way the filibuster works. The crux of the matter is that it’s not just a de factor requirement that all bills get 60 votes in order to pass. It also means that a determined minority, even if it can’t block bills, can just engage in extraordinary acts of slowing things down. A minority of 40 or fewer Senators can, by engaging in filibustering both a motion to proceed and the bill itself can cause it to take about a week between when the majority rounds up its 60 votes and when the bill actually passes. First you need to file cloture on the motion to proceed. Then it takes about a day for cloture to “ripen.” Then there’s the cloture vote. Then a 30 hour waiting period. Then the vote on the motion to proceed. Then, even if there’s nothing left to debate, you need to do the whole thing over again. File for cloture. Take a day for cloture to ripen. Then the cloture vote. Then 30 hours. Then you vote.

One consequence of this is that if you have 100 small ways to improve the health care system, each of which piss off some small interest group, you can’t do the sensible thing and just bring each small idea to the floor separately and pass it. The sheer amount of time it takes to overcome some random bloc of Senators’ opposition makes it not worthwhile for most members. To get an idea enacted into law over determined opposition, you not only need at least 60 Senators to agree with it, you need them to be enthusiastic enough to let your pet plan eat up all this time.

Consequently, if you want to do something, the smart way to do it is to fold it into some larger endeavor. And that’s why you get things like a 2,000 page health care bill or a monster omnibus or weird things attached to appropriations bills.

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