How often do filibusters really happen?

The Georgia run-off is tomorrow and theres a lot of talk about not giving the Dems a blank check. But do filibusters really happen all that often? A party hasn’t had 60 members in nearly 30 years, so it seems like nothing would ever get done if there could always be a filibuster.

This was the way it used to be-nothing would happen in the senate with a filibuster. However, after a rule change, Filibusters happen fairly often. Wiki sez:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filibuster

The senate rule change (in the 60s, I think-due to civil rights era filibusters), changed everything. Before that, someone who wanted to filibuster had to ACTUALLY SPEAK for the whole filibuster. (see Mr. Smith goes to washington).

The way one worked is that the filibusterers wouldn’t physically let the bill come up for a vote-they’d start speaking, and keep speaking, and could only be stopped with a two-thirds vote, unless they stopped on their own accord. Until one of those happened, the bill simply couldn’t be voted on-the debate wouldn’t end.

For elderly men, often with prostate issues, this was rather unpleasant. Further, it stopped all other business in the senate until the bill 1) passed (by the filibuster ending due to a vote of cloture, or the filibusterers losing the floor). or 2) was withdrawn.

So the rule was changed, to allow a member to “filibuster” without actually speaking for the whole time. This meant:

  1. It was much easier to filibuster. No risk of soiling oneself/fainting.
  2. It was much less politically damaging to filibuster. Nobody would appear in newspapers (or on C-Span) standing up, reading the phone book.
    3)The senate would still get stuff done during a filibuster. Hence, a filibuster doesn’t have the same “stop everything” effect. It kills the bill in question, but lets the senate keep going about its business.

Under the “old” filibuster, if someone was filibustering, a lot of people would get upset-nothing else would move in the senate. It would be saved for special occasions. It would be dramatic. There was a risk that the political cost would get too high because nothing else could be done/the filibusterers would get tired, and the vote would go through anyway.

These days, there’s little cost to filibustering. There’s no risk of the filibuster failing due to lack of stamina, or lack of anything else getting done.
Hence if the other party disagrees with a bill, they will, in practice, require that it gets 60 votes instead of 50.

So why don’t we see even more? Simple. The majority won’t bring a contentious bill (i.e. one with a filibuster threat) to a vote until they have 60 votes locked up.

So the bill would be filibustered if it came up for a vote, and some are, but more just die quietly.

Nowadays, they don’t usually actually filibuster – they say that they will unless they get concessions. Legislation does get passed when you find enough people on the other side of the aisle to count for 60 votes, or when the minority party doesn’t want to use the tactic.

Usually, yes, the bill doesn’t come up. But, in fact, there are quite a lot of “actual filibusters.” They just don’t look like old-school filibusters anymore-so nobody notices in the same way we used to.

From USA Today, August 2007:
Bickering tops 110th Congress’ agenda

The number has gone up since then.

For reference: here’s a better work on filibusters
http://www.senate.gov/CRSReports/crs-publish.cfm?pid='0E%2C*PLW%3D"P%20%20

The rule that allows “modern” filibusters appears to be rule XXII-the cloture rule. under this, the process seems to be that, once a filibuster is started, a motion can be made to hold a vote to end debate (for cloture)-which ends the filibuster, if approved. (it has to be made on the issue before the senate).

Once the motion is raised, however, the vote is held two days afterwards (“on the following calendar day but one”). However, in the intervening time, the senate doesn’t need to debate the question on which cloture is sought (i.e. the bill/nomination that’s filibustered). So they can get on with other business for two days (and the two-day period can, and often is changed by unanimous consent-so it could be weeks before the vote for cloture comes up).

Once the vote is taken, and (assuming it loses), the filibuster continues–but another motion for cloture can be raised. Rinse, repeat.