Time to end the filibuster

Just how ridiculous has the filibuster become?  Theoretically, the filibuster is unlimited debate, such that the majority can never take a vote while being stymied by the minority holding the floor during debate.  The only way to end this "debate" is to have a super-majority of 60 votes.  This weekend, Republicans used the filibuster to try and prevent the health care reform bill from even being debated– the Democrats' 60 votes this weekend were simply votes to allow debate to begin.  Absurd!  Last week, Politico (of all places) actually ran a really smart essay on why we simply need to end this filibuster foolishness:


Both parties have historically used the filibuster, but its overuse by
modern Republicans stands at outrageous proportions. Not only has the
number of filibusters increased dramatically — from never more than
seven a year in the 1960s to a record 137 in the last Congress — so,
too, has their banality.

For example, this month the Senate unanimously passed an extension of
unemployment benefits. It took the breaking of three filibusters and
five weeks of debate to pass the bill while, at the same time, 200,000
Americans lost their benefits. Even pettier is the GOP’s repeated use
of holds. Thomas Shannon, the president’s nominee to be ambassador to
Brazil, is a career Foreign Service officer and served in the Bush
administration. But that has not stopped two Republican senators from
holding up his nomination, for unknown reasons…

In effect, majority rule in the Senate has been supplanted by
undemocratic, supermajority rule. The filibuster has become a tool to
block not just bad legislation but all legislation; it has become so
endemic that it is now an institutionalized way of doing business,
casting its shadow over everything the Senate does.

Solutions to the filibuster problem exist; what is lacking is political will…

Yet while Democrats rail against the GOP’s use of the filibuster, they
seem wary of doing anything about it — no doubt fearful that when they
are out of power, they will be unable to wield the filibuster against
Republican proposals. Yet the longer they allow the GOP to thwart their
agenda, the greater the likelihood that Democrats will soon find
themselves in the minority.

The GOP’s continued misuse of the filibuster represents the single
greatest threat to the Democratic Party’s progressive agenda and its
political future. Biting the bullet on modifying its use will not be
easy, but the longer Democrats empower Republicans by accepting
institutionalized obstructionism as the status quo, the more likely
they are to confirm the worst suspicions of their opponents and
disappoint their most ardent supporters.

It's a great essay.  Read the whole thing.  Also, Dana Milbank, who seemed to have long ago given up on useful journalism, has a nice article pointing out the extreme nature of Republican hypocrisy on filibustering judicial nominees.  Of course, hypocrisy and politics are virtually synonymous, but what the Democrats have been practicing on the issue is AA hypocrisy whereas Republicans are Major League All-Stars. 


All those Senators who speak with such reverence for the founders are clearly full of it.  If the founders had any intention of making the Senate a super-majoritarian institution, they sure would have done so.  To permanently turn the Senate into a super-majority legislature based on a procedural rule is surely more of a subversion of the Constitution than pretty much any decision by an "activist judge."  Time for the filibuster to go.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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