The filibuster process used in the U.S. Senate has an illustrious history. It developed in the early 1900s as a way to guarantee that the minority party in the Senate couldn’t be run over roughshod by the majority.
A senator or senators who passionately opposed a piece of legislation could take the floor of the Senate and begin talking about the bill — or anything else for that matter — for as long as they wanted without being forced to give up the floor.
The filibusters, which could go on for days, would give the minority’s views more public exposure and would pressure the majority to negotiate bills in good faith.
But the filibuster was hijacked over the years. Now, a single senator can simply inform the leadership they are filibustering something and the legislation is dead unless a super-majority can be found to override it.
The senator doesn’t have to take to the floor — and they don’t even have to be publicly identified as the one gumming up legislation.
The result has meant the Senate each year fails to even take up hundreds of important bills that are passed in the House.
There is momentum in the Senate to change the filibuster rules, something supported by more Democrats — who are in the majority — than Republicans who would temporarily lose some power as the minority. But a change would be good for the country and good for both parties in the long run as majority power always changes.
In fact, last year, a bipartisan measure on changes the filibuster rules died for lack of support. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had agreed to a sort of truce on the issue vowing to each be more accommodating to the other side. That truce later blew up with Reid vowing to consider the new filibuster rules in the new Senate. We hope he keeps his word.
A full rule change on filibusters would require 67 votes. Majority Leader Harry Reid has indicated he may try for a smaller change that could be implemented without a super-majority. That would be a start even though those lesser changes would have a muted effect.
When the new Senate opens in January the first order of business should be to change filibuster rules, allowing a simple majority of votes to move legislation along. A legislative system in which one or just a few senators can torpedo bills is unacceptable at a time the nation needs important decisions to be made.