Fix the filibuster
The New York Times stated the following in a recent editorial:
For six years, Democrats in the Senate have chafed at an unprecedented abuse of the filibuster by Republicans, who have used the practice to hold up nominees high and low and require a supermajority for virtually every bill. But now that they finally have an opportunity to end much of this delay and abuse, Democrats are instead considering only a few half-measures.
When the Senate returns Tuesday, it will still technically be in the first legislative day of the session, which means only a simple majority is necessary to change the rules for the rest of the session.
With the support of 51 senators, the rules could be changed to require a “talking filibuster,” forcing those objecting to a bill to stand and explain their reasons, at length. The current practice of routinely requiring a 60-vote majority for a bill through a silent objection would end, breaking the logjam that has made the chamber a well of inefficiency and frustration.
Several younger senators, led by Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tom Udall of New Mexico, say that if pressed, a majority of the Senate would support their plan for the talking filibuster. But older senators aren’t so sure, and have reportedly persuaded Harry Reid, the majority leader, to back off the idea. With the experience of having been in the minority themselves, these Democrats are fearful of losing a powerful tool should Republicans ever return to power in the chamber.
That would squander a moment for change. Supermajorities were never intended to be a routine legislative barrier; they should be reserved for the most momentous bills, and the best way to make that happen is to require that objectors work hard for their filibuster, assembling a like-minded coalition and being forthright about their concerns rather than hiding in the shadows or holding up a bill with an emailed note.
Currently there are six opportunities to filibuster most bills, and Republicans have exploited them all. Reid wants to reduce those opportunities and speed things up, primarily by ending the filibuster on motions to proceed to debate on bills.
That change alone could a cut a week of delay on most measures. He also wants to curb filibusters that prevent conference committees from meeting and that hold up some presidential nominations.
A faster-moving Senate would be useful, but that should not be the only goal. The best way to end the Senate’s sorry history of inaction is to end the silent filibuster, forcing lawmakers to explain themselves if they want to block legislation supported by the majority.