— In the 2010 Congress, the U.S. Senate was unable to pass a single budget or appropriations bill. It left 400 bills passed by the House languishing and never acted on key uncontroversial judicial and executive appointments.
The culprit: the arcane filibuster rules governing the Senate that have tightened their stranglehold on the Senate’s ability to solve problems and get the work of the American people done.
In January 2011, three Democratic senators in the majority (Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa) introduced legislation to change the obstructional rules of the filibuster. Guess what? It didn’t pass because Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, didn’t support it.
A year later, he lamented he didn’t support it because things had gotten worse. Now he does support it, but already so much good legislation has been delayed.
At issue are filibustering powers that allow just one member of the Senate to torpedo and delay legislation that has been approved by overwhelming majorities of their colleagues.
The proposed changes in 2011 would have eliminated filibusters on motions to proceed, meaning only a majority of votes, not 60, would be needed for considering legislation. That’s a proposal that has had bipartisan support for years.
It would have also eliminated what are called “secret holds” — the ability of one senator to object on behalf of another without naming that person.
Another provision would have required senators who were voting against moving legislation for final passage to actually talk continuously during the filibuster until another vote is taken, something not required today.
Reid did not support the reform in the past because he made a “gentlemen’s agreement” with GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that they wouldn’t change the rules but the Democrats would allow more amendments by Republicans on legislation and the Republicans wouldn’t be using the filibuster as much.
That agreement apparently broke down and we’re back to the obstructionism. In May of this year Republicans filibustered the non controversial bill that reauthorized the Export-Import Bank, something that passed the House 330-93.
The party that takes control of the Senate in 2013 should make it a first order of business to reform this system of filibustering that is bringing the nation’s business to its knees.
According to Senate rules experts there will be a chance early on when the new Senate convenes in January to change the rules with a simple majority vote. So the chance to filibuster the filibuster rules will not exist for a short time.
The incoming Senate majority leadership should not waste that opportunity to rectify Washington’s biggest failing.