The term ‘filibuster’ has a more colorful origin than most people realize. The English word is believed to be derived from the Spanish word ‘filibustero’ which in turn was derived from the Dutch word ‘vrijbuiter’ which means pirate, privateer or robber. Starting in the mid 1800s, the English word ‘filibuster’ was used to describe a parliamentary procedure in which someone continues to debate a measure long enough to prevent it from being voted upon, thus the bill was being robbed of any chance of being passed.
In the United States, a filibuster was used for the first time in 1853 by Albert G. Brown (D-MS) to block U.S. intervention in Cuba. Since that time, it has been used numerous times by members of both political parties to block legislation they don’t want passed.
In the Senate, the only way to overcome a filibuster is to invoke ‘cloture’ under Senate Rule XXII. This requires a vote of 60% of the Senate in order to stop a filibuster. When neither party holds a 60% majority in the Senate, there are not enough votes for cloture and a filibuster continues until the bill dies. Although the Democrats control the Senate, they do not have a 60% majority and the Republicans have used the filibuster or threat of filibuster to block some of the Democrats’ proposed pieces of legislation.
So Harry Reid wants to change Senate Rule XXII to make it more difficult for Republicans to use filibusters. He said the change is necessary because Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) abused the process in an attempt to make Obama a one term president.
In a recent interview, Reid told reporters:
“[The] ‘Well, I have one goal, defeat Obama,’ that’s gone, the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
“That’s how he legislated out there for two years.”
“The rules have been abused, and we’re going to work to change them.”
“We’re not going to do away with the filibuster, but we’re going to make the Senate a more meaningful place.”
The only way Senate Rule XXII can be changed is on the first day of the new session through the nuclear option which only requires a majority vote. However, any attempt for rule change is also subject to being held up by a filibuster which in this instance would actually require a two-thirds majority vote instead of only a 60% vote during regular sessions.
When Democrats used filibusters to block Republican legislations, it was perfectly acceptable to do so. When Republicans use filibusters for the same reason, the Democrats yell ‘foul’ and seek to change the rules. Sounds like a playground bully that continues to bully until someone uses the tactics on them and then they run home crying to mommy.