No Filibuster reform for the 112th Congress

I’m not surprised by the Senate not reforming the filibuster rules.  Disappointed, yes.  It now appears that the pledge, signed by all of the Democrats, in December was more “we understand you feel betrayed by us compromising away our stance on the tax cuts, so we’re going to placate you by pledging to fix this thing that is broken.  But don’t expect us to follow through”.  It appears to have fallen victim to fears of a time when the Democrats will be in the minority, which will happen.  The problem with that view is that the most likely option to pass, that proposed by Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Udall (D-NM) wouldn’t have done away with the 60 vote threshold.  It would have simply required Senators to actually filibuster.  The rule change would have required the filibustering Senator and 39 of his or her friends to remain on the floor.  It would end the current of practice of yelling “filibuster!” and then going to dinner and breakfast the next morning.  Alas, we’re left with Sen. Schumer (D-NY) proposing to end “secret holds”, which allow any Senator to obstruct in private.  So, progress?*

More important, perhaps, is that the Senate has been in recess for the past three weeks.  Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) magically extended the Senate’s first day, which began on January 5th, until now-ish.  Unlike the House, our Senators haven’t been debating bills, making law, or doing anything we actually elected them to do.  The House may have spent the past three weeks passing repeals that have no chance of moving forward and papering over the fact that two members thought that they were sworn in because they watched the ceremony on television – and then voted unconstitutionally, but at least our Representatives were debating, holding committee meetings, and working.

The Senate likes to think of itself as the more mature of the two chambers, the “most deliberative body in the world”.  George Washington called the Senate the “saucer” that cooled the “hot tea” of the House.  We know the Senate as the place where common sense and good bills go to die.  While the House works and debates, the Senate recesses.  The Senate can be a pressure valve for Congress, stopping some bad bills from the House from moving forward, but recent Senate History is too much.  The ability of the minority to contravene the concept of majority rule without explaining themselves by simply notifying leadership that they don’t like something doesn’t work.  Both parties have benefited from the filibuster, both parties have overused it, and both parties have created massive gridlock with it.

We get nowhere as a country with only half of our Congress working and we fall even further behind when one half of our Congress is broken.  The time to change how the Senate governs is now. The changes are not dramatic and simply require transparency and debate.  It’s no wonder the Senate only passes laws under the threat of complete government breakdown.  The lame duck session was productive only because the Senate, particularly the Democrats, were working with the knowledge that if they couldn’t cut deals, compromise principals away, and more  – they would have lost the opportunity to do things like doing away with DADT.  The Senate will only agree to raise the debt ceiling because if they don’t vote yes we won’t be able to pay our bills.

Taking a three-week break on the first day of the legislative session, magically extending the first day to whenever you want it to end, and allowing a minority to obstruct legislation with no explanation and no consequences is no way to govern a country.

* I don’t believe that the filibuster should be completely abandoned.  The filibuster does allow the minority to stop bad bills from making it to a President’s desk.  The issue now is the matter of transparency and the ease with which a filibuster can be imposed and sustained.  This is a good read in defense of the filibuster, with on exception.  The article insinuates that the current version of the filibuster is what the “Founders” intended.  The current Senate Rules regarding the filibuster only date back to 1975.  The rules were implemented to get around Southern intransigence on Civil Rights legislation.


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