Is it finally time to reform the filibuster?
The Senate, goes the old adage, is the saucer that cools the hot tea cup of legislation passed by the House. And one of the institutional procedures that gives the Senate that chilling power is the filibuster, which allows a solitary senator to hold up a bill unless it has the support of a supermajority of 60 of the Senate's 100 lawmakers. And in recent years, abuse of the filibuster has turned the proverbial saucer into "a deep freeze," says Jonathan Weisman at The New York Times, "where even once-routine matters have become hopelessly stuck and a supermajority is needed to pass almost anything." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is reportedly considering legislation that would prevent individual senators from holding up bills in the early stages of the legislative process, and revive the rule requiring filibustering objectors to actually speak continuously on the Senate floor. Republicans, however, warn that messing with the filibuster could open the door to naked majority rule and suppress the minority party. Is it time to reform the filibuster?
Yes. The government must be able to do its job: The filibuster historically tempered "the more rampant and populist instincts" coming from the House, but in recent years it "has become a means of obstructing progress on a wide range of issues," says The Los Angeles Times in an editorial. The current Senate is the least productive in modern history, passing only 2.8 percent of the bills introduced. "The predictable consequence is that very, very little gets done."
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And the filibuster should not be used as a weapon: The GOP had clearly used the filibuster to deny President Obama "bipartisan victories, pin the blame for ineffectual governance on him, and render him a one-term president," says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post. The Republican Party's "obstructionism is, indeed, unprecedented, both in nature (the extensive tying up of routine Senate business) and scope (the dramatic rise in filibusters in recent years)." The Senate must pass reform that neutralizes the filibuster as a "tactic to gum up the works" of government.
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But the reforms should be modest: The Senate should not "become a second House of Representatives, running on strict majority party rule," says Jonathan Bernstein at Salon. Republicans should "fight hard against curbing the filibuster" too extensively, and it would be wise "for majority Democrats to tread cautiously," too. After all, they'll undoubtedly be in the minority one day themselves. However, modest reforms can and should be taken to "revive the norms that used to dominate the Senate in the 1960s and 1970s," when the Senate was less dysfunctional. At the very least, everyone can agree that "presidents should basically be able to choose people who stock the various departments and agencies of the executive branch" without being filibustered at every turn.
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