What should the Post have written: Kevin Drum almost always loses us when he starts talking semantics. This doesn’t mean he’s wrong.
But so it was when he extended the recent discussion about last week’s gun bill votes. This is the question at issue:
When Manchin-Toomey got 54 votes in the senate and failed, should that have been called a filibuster? Drum says yes, thanks to the “academic” definition of filibuster he offers in the second highlighted part of this passage:
DRUM (4/19/13): The key question is a semantic one. What's the definition of a filibuster in the U.S. Senate? There are basically two approaches to this:According to Drum, what happened was a filibuster, based on that second definition from “the academic literature.” But the definition he offers from Gregory Kroger strikes us as extremely vague and very hard to parse. Aside from Kroger himself, who ever said that “filibuster” could be defined that way?
The strict rules-based approach. During the early 70s, in response to the increasing complexity of Senate life, a set of procedures emerged for conducting and resolving filibusters. Senators (usually from the minority party) were no longer required to actually speak to sustain a filibuster. Instead, they signaled their intent to filibuster by notifying their party leader to place a hold on a bill. Once this was done, the majority leadership would either negotiate a compromise or else schedule a cloture vote. If the cloture vote succeeded, the bill would proceed. If it failed, the bill died.
The broader academic approach. In the academic literature, the definition of a filibuster is broader. Here's Gregory Kroger: "Filibustering is delay, or the threat of delay, in a legislative chamber to prevent a final outcome for strategic gain. The key features are the purpose (delay) and the motive (gain) and NOT specifying the legislature or the method."
Under the strict rules-based definition, what happened last week wasn't a filibuster. There was no hold and there was no cloture vote. Under the broader definition, what happened was clearly a filibuster. The method wasn't the classic one, but there was certainly a threat of delay in order to prevent a final outcome (passage of the background check amendment). The resolution was a unanimous consent agreement rather than a cloture vote, but that's immaterial. It's still a filibuster.
Hence, our incomparable question:
Isn’t it time for participants to take The Filibuster Challenge? Last week, the Washington Post made no attempt to explain why Manchin-Toomey failed in the senate despite getting 54 votes. Readers of the Washington Post had to decide for themselves.
The New York Times tried to explain, but its attempt at explanation was extremely fuzzy.
With that record of mainstream failure behind us, why not take The Filibuster Challenge? How should the Washington Post have written its front-page report?
In the Post's report, O’Keeke and Rucker discussed the failure of a series of amendments to the gun bill, including Manchin-Toomey. But they never explained why the 54 votes for Manchin-Toomey wasn’t enough.
How should that report have been written?
We’re not sure we understand this topic well enough to make a submission, although we may give it a try tomorrow. But obviously, the Washington Post should have explained this point.
What should the Post have written?
Final requirement: No fair describing the defeat of Manchin-Toomey only. Several Republican amendments also lost that day with more than 50 votes.
O’Keeke and Rucker report one such failure as follows: “An NRA-backed measure that clarified gun-trafficking laws fell short, with just 58 votes.”
In the case of that amendment, why wasn’t 58 votes enough? If we’re taking the Buster Challenge, that needs to be explained too.
What should the Washington Post have said? This is a question that needs resolving. Please take the Buster Challenge!