Filibuster Hypocrisy Is One Sided

Republican FilibusterThe way that the Republicans have behaved for the last five years in Congress has greatly limited their options in terms of voicing their disapproval of anything—according to them, they disapprove of everything. While the Senate Democrats were in the process of eliminating the filibuster, many on the right claimed that they would retaliate. They could, it was said, stop the Senate from getting normal work done. There was even concern that Ted Cruz would again act as Speaker of the House and get the Republicans there to misbehave. There was just one problem: Congressional Republicans were already doing everything they could to stop the the Democrats from doing anything.

As it was, the only action in Congress was appointments. The House acted as though they were the only branch of Congress and passed law after law that had no chance of passing the Senate. And Speaker Boehner refused to allow votes on popular bipartisan laws coming from the Senate—even ones that had been jointly negotiated. In the Senate itself, the Republicans filibustered any and every nominee as though Obama were offering them nothing but major figures in the Nation of Islam. So what exactly did the Republicans have up their sleeves to make Congress work even less? Other than some post offices not getting named, I don’t see anything.

That left the reaction to the Democrats’ filibuster change to a lot of finger pointing from the mainstream press. It has portrayed those on both sides of the political divide as hypocritical. The story goes something like this: in 2005, the Democrats wanted to keep the filibuster because they were in the minority, whereas the Republicans wanted to get rid of it then because they were in the majority; but now thing have flipped. Hypocrisy! I don’t see it that way at all. Yes, the Republicans are a bunch of hypocrites—at least publicly, because secretly, I think they are thrilled. The filibuster was not that bad back in 2005 when they thought they had to get rid of it. Now that it is far, far worse, they think it is important to keep.

The Democratic situation is not hypocritical at all. They wanted to keep it in 2005. They even made a deal to keep it that effectively meant that there was no filibuster except in name. Then, in 2009, when ending the filibuster would have been the most politically expedient things to do, the Democrats did nothing. As far as I’m concerned, that was a major mistake and I knew it at the time. But maybe I’m just cynical. I knew that the Republicans would do everything to stop the Democrats from enacting their policies. But the Democrats hoped for the best. Remember the administration thinking they would get 20 Republican Senators to vote for the Affordable Care Act? They ended up getting zero.

FilibusterDuring the years of the Bush Jr administration, the Democrats had actually brought the number filibusters down, all the way until 2007 when the Republicans became the minority party. Even though the Republicans still controlled the White House, Senate (Republican) filibusters doubled from the 2005 Senate (when Democrats were in the minority) to 2007 (when Republicans were in the minority). So there is no hypocrisy on the part of the Democrats.

Consider an analogy. It’s sunny outside, so you don’t use an umbrella. The weather gets worse and it starts to drizzle. Still you use no umbrella. The weather gets worse and it starts to pour. So you get out your umbrella and use it. That just makes sense. But the way the Republicans have acted, they use their umbrella when it is clear and drizzling. But when it is pouring, they put the umbrella away. These two approaches to rain protection cause many in the media to claim that both Democrats and Republicans are hypocrites because they changed their minds about umbrella usage. It’s just a silly way to look at things.

As Republicans have made the filibuster a worse and worse policy, the Democrats have come to think it is a bad thing. It is only the Republicans who seem to think the filibuster is a bad thing only when they are in the majority. I have no problem calling the Republicans hypocrites. But the Democrats are not—at least not on this one issue.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “Filibuster Hypocrisy Is One Sided

  1. The one thing that no one seems to be mentioning is that ever greater numbers of the Democratic base were learning or being reminded that a majority vote should do the trick.

    A Senator that tried to blame the filibuster for a failure to pass a bill could start to be view as little Johnny claiming that a dog ate his homework.

  2. @Jack – Yes, but on the other side, I’ve never understood why the Republicans decided that it wasn’t enough to simply vote against something; they had to filibuster it. Is the voting public so understanding of the process that they would hold not filibustering against a candidate? If that’s so, then the filibuster certainly had to go.

  3. To stay successful politicians must please at least two important groups – their voters and their sources of funding. IMO: No politician would be likely to meekly accept a losing vote rather than filibuster. A more realistic question to me is – why they did not ( or could not ) make a deal to avert the filibuster. I suspect that is what historically limited the number of filibusters. I really have no idea why that happened.

    As a democrat(small d) – I would much prefer both houses of Congress to be parliamentary bodies, as our Supreme court ruled back in 1892. Parliamentary bodies decide issues based on majority voting by the members.

  4. @Jack – I think the reason there was no deal is that the Republicans wanted to end the filibuster. From their perspective, it had done all it was going to do. Now is the time to change it. First, the Democrats get the blame. Second, they know that Obama really is a moderate who won’t appoint anyone radical. (Most of the filibustered appointments were approved overwhelmingly once they got a vote.) And third, they want to be able to run the country when they get their chance–which they will.

    That’s a good short article you’ve linked to. Let me make it clearer for other readers:

    [url=]The Filibuster: More Apparent than Real[/url]

    (Note: we don’t use "nofollow" links around here, so search engines actually count them!)

    And I’m with you about democracy. Although I think the people are often wrong, over time they work it out. I’m willing to let them rule, even if they keep voting against GMO labeling laws even though they start by being for them.

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