cover image Filibustered!: How to Fix the Broken Senate and Save America

Filibustered!: How to Fix the Broken Senate and Save America

Jeff Merkley and Mike Zamore. New Press, $27.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-62097-798-9

In this informative political history, U.S. senator Merkley (America Is Better Than This) and his former chief of staff Zamore take aim at the much maligned Senate filibuster. Dissecting the origins of the legislative procedure, by which a single lawmaker can prevent the Senate from voting on a bill, Merkley and Zamore explain the filibuster’s evolution over time. It originated in 1841, when Senator John C. Calhoun organized his fellow Democrats in a three-week-long “parade of speeches and amendments” during floor debate of a bank bill in a blatant attempt to “[run] out the clock before summer adjournment.” The cloture vote, by which a 60-person supermajority can override a filibuster, was established in 1891 to overcome the growing legislative gridlock caused by this “stand-and-deliver” form of obstructionism from Democrats opposed to African American voting rights. The nonspeaking, no-effort filibuster, originally an effort at reform meant to save time, came about in 1975. Despite initial success, it led to increasing obstruction, spearheaded by the villain of Merkley and Zamore’s story, Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell. Merkley and Zamore propose a return to a less destructive version of the speaking filibuster, though their descriptions of Merkley’s failed efforts to do so in 2011 don’t inspire much hope. Still, this is an accessible and detailed explanation of a powerful but poorly understood force in American politics. (Jan.)