Get rid of the filibuster

Over the weekend, the Senate Democrats managed to unite long enough to move the health care reform bill to the floor for debate. They patched together the sixty votes needed to override a filibuster attempt by the equally united Republicans. Hooray!

Of course, all is not over. The bill still has to pass the Senate (where another attempt at a filibuster will surely be made).

Personally, I am fed up with filibusters.

For starters, the idea that a bill needs to survive at least two threatened filibusters to get approved is overkill. It’s absurd enough to have to deal with a filibuster threat once per bill.

Actually, I would prefer to eliminate filibusters altogether. The House survives without them. So could the Senate.

Not too long ago, back in 2005, when the Republicans controlled the Senate, they threatened “a nuclear option,” a move to essentially eliminate the filibuster altogether. They were frustrated with Democratic filibusters that were holding up judicial nominees. In the end, the “crisis” was averted — and the filibuster remained intact. Too bad.

Before I take any political position, I try to examine it from both sides of the fence. Sure, as a left-wing Democrat in favor of universal health care, I would welcome the elimination of the filibuster roadblock in the current Congress. But, if this happens, the day will surely come when the tables are turned and it will be a Republican majority forcing through its legislative agenda without the filibuster as a brake. I need to consider this as well. Without this sort of of consideration, you wind up looking hypocritical, switching positions as the political winds shift (a common illness in Washington; see this article).

On balance, I’d take the risk and would welcome a death-blow to this anachronistic procedure.

My major objections to the filibuster are two-fold.

First, it is too easy to filibuster. As has been repeatedly pointed out by the media, you now need 60 votes to pass anything in the Senate. I don’t believe this was ever the intention of the Constitution or even the original concept of the filibuster itself. Remember when you actually had to stand up and keep talking to maintain a filibuster? Back then, a filibuster was not automatically guaranteed to succeed. Now, you simply have to threaten a filibuster and a bill is dead within seconds.

For a good explanation of “How Cloture Rule Allows Minority To Block Legislation Without ‘Actual Filibustering,'” see this article.

My second objection follows from the first: the frequency of filibusters has ballooned in recent years. As noted in Wikipedia: “In the 1960s, no Senate term had more than seven filibusters.” In 2008, there was a record 112 cloture votes [needed to end debate on a filibustered bill].

Two other articles, one from the Washington Post and the other from, similarly discuss the merits of ending a filibuster.

In the end, frequent filibusters hurt the entire Senate. When neither party can pass significant legislation, even when they have a clear majority, the result is that nothing significant ever gets accomplished. The public inevitably adopts a “pox on both their houses” view. Sadly, as the minority party can typically prevent any revision to the rules, and as a filibuster serves the short-term interests of the minority, I doubt we’ll see any changes any time soon.

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