It's Not a Filibuster You Freaking Idiots

Dennis Miller once joked about those who would mispronounce certain words on the Senate floor, “now color me reactionary, but I don’t think you should vote on this sh*t unless you know how to pronounce it.” Well, I think we should amend it to say that you shouldn’t report, comment or vote on anything you aren’t smart enough to understand.

As I noted in a previous post, and as is increasingly well known to those who actually are capable of comprehension, Senator Jim Bunning – for the simple reason he wishes it to be paid for – is objecting to a repeated unanimous consent request by Senate Democrats to call up and pass a bill that would temporarily extend unemployment benefits, transportation funding, medicare reimbursement, COBRA subsidies and other expenditures to the tune of another $10 billion or so. Again, Democrats are requesting that each U.S. Senator agree – that is, effectively vote “yes” – to said extension without full consideration or debate on the Senate floor.

Yet, news account after news account of his continued objection to this unanimous consent request report his actions as a filibuster. Politico, Roll Call, Fox News, CNN, and the list goes on and on. And the accusation of filibustering is even worse among Senators and Congressmen, as exemplified by the DCCC Chair, Chris Van Hollen and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. But it simply is not the case that what Mr. Bunning is doing is a filibuster under the rules, as anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the U.S. Senate fully comprehends.

Enter the ex-Senator Vice President. Joe Biden must have forgotten to plagiarize his thoughts this time around, because he demonstrated that 26 years in the Senate left him entirely ignorant of Senate rules and procedures. He said, “[r]ight now a single Republican senator is standing up in the chamber I worked in for a long, long time, and he is filibustering the extension of a number of things we had in the recovery act to begin with…” That is completely false.

A filibuster is one of two things. One, an actual filibuster where a Senator gets control of the Senate floor and will yield only for a question while continuing to speak, thereby delaying consideration of a measure. Picture Mr. Smith goes to Washington (if you haven’t seen it, do). Two, a “filibuster” under Rule 22 of the Standing Rules of the Senate whereby debate is continuous unless “cloture” is filed to shut off debate on a measure under consideration and the vote is 3/5ths or more of the Senate.

Senate Democrats did not call this bill up to give it floor time. If they had thought it important enough, they could have. Instead, they simply asked for a “UC,” or unanimous consent to pass it. Senator Bunning simply does not wish to give his consent – i.e. he does not want to vote for it. A few days ago, I attempted to explain how the unanimous consent process works when I said the following:

This is how Senators think. You see, the way the Senate works is that the powers-that-be package a whole host of big spending or nefarious policy into a bill that is wrapped in a bow of something like “unemployment insurance” or has some title that no one could possibly object to, and then you ask unanimous consent to call it up and pass it. No debate. No discussion. Just waltz on down to the Senate floor and ask consent – and when a Senator says, “hmmm… I dunno, perhaps we should have some debate about spending another 10 or 20 billion dollars every 30 days, and perhaps at least think about a way to pay for this stuff,” he is excoriated for “hating” people and left out to dry by friend and foe alike because no one has the damn nerve to stand up and say, “you know what, you’re right.” Instead, business-as-usual in the Senate is to talk about “my friend” from wherever, and to let federal spending balloon out of control while you laugh in the cloakroom or run to catch your flight to another junket somewhere.

The truth is that while Senators must be judicious in demanding full, extended debate for every single measure, so should Senators not attempt to jam expensive, complex or otherwise controversial legislation quickly through the Senate via the process of asking for unanimous consent. Unfortunately, this has become commonplace – the regular way of things. And, the result of doing so is almost to invite objection.

Senator Bunning, like virtually every Congressional Republican does not have totally clean hands on spending. But he raises a very simple question here… How are we going to pay for this? It’s a good question, and he not only is within his rights to say he will not vote for it under the false pressure of a unanimous consent request – he is actually correct to do so, and more Senators of each Party should do the same.

Simply put, with respect to a unanimous consent request, “I object,” does not equal a filbuster. Period.