Is Something Brewing on Filibuster Reform?

broken senate
This evening, Ezra Klein reported, quoting the National Journal, that every last returning Democrat in the US Senate has signed a letter to Majority Leader Reid asking that reform of the Senate rules that allow a minority to kill any and all legislation - the filibuster - be taken up at the beginning of next Congress, when the Senate adopts its rules by majority vote. The consensus seems to be coalescing around actually forcing Senators to filibuster instead of the mere threat of it to block legislation.

Filibusters would require continuous debate on the floor of the Senate, and they would only be allowed once the bill is on the floor (no more filibustering the motion to debate a bill, for instance). Democrats would also like to see the dead time between calling for a vote to break a filibuster and actually taking the vote reduced. “There need to be changes to the rules to allow filibusters to be conducted by people who actually want to block legislation instead of people being able to quietly say ‘I object’ and go home,” Sen. Claire McCaskill told the National Journal.
Again, this wouldn't change the 60 vote threshold to overcome a filibuster, but it would ensure that the Senator(s) filibustering actually have to get their behinds on the Senate floor and actually engage in debate.  It would also cut down on the time to take the procedural votes.  You can read more about the Merkeley proposal here or here on Jeff Merkeley's campaign website.

Many would have preferred an eventual elimination of the filibuster - and to be honest, so would I.  Would that make it more difficult for Democrats to hold bad measures back when we find ourselves in the minority?  Yes.  But the legislative process is supposed to work that way: when something has the support of both Houses of Congress and the President, it ought to become law.  If it's a bad law, that's what we have elections for (and if it's an unconstitutional one, the court system).

Having said that, this proposed reform is not exactly bad, either.  It satisfies the Senate institutionalists - people who view the Senate as a fundamentally different legislative body with the advantage of a greater amount of debate and where the minority could be heard - and at the same time it prevents the minority from being obstructionist without any effort. A proposal like this one prevents Senators (or more precisely, a party) simply putting holds on bills and then going to some fundraisers If a minority truly (and unitedly) believes a bill is a bad bill, it will still be able to prevent it from getting a vote, but it will require them to get on the floor and debate. It will display in front of the American people the arguments for and against a bill.  After all, if one prizes the Senate as an institution with extended - or even unlimited - debate, one ought not be afraid to actually debate, right?

Let's be clear: I think the same rules should apply to our side.  Yes, it may make it more difficult for Democrats to defend our programs in a future Congress, but any progressive worth his or her salt should be willing to debate passionately in front of the American people the issues that matter to us.

Bottom line: the Senate is broken, and it needs to be fixed.  It's that simple.


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