Emails demanding filibuster reform started to fill my inbox last month, and as Ezra Klein notes in yesterday's Washington Post, public interest organizations across Washington have sped up the reform drumbeat Consumer Watchdog began making in earnest a year and a half ago. But how many more people know about the Senate's procedural breakdown since Lady Gaga tried to weigh in on a gay rights issue, and ended up in the middle of a fight to reform the filibuster?
Senator Schumer continued a series of hearings today investigating the dysfunction engendered by the anachronistic filibuster rules in the Senate.
This hearing had a little more heat than some of the previous discussions, after yesterday's filibuster by Sen. John McCain of a defense bill that included a repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that prohibits gays from openly serving in the military.
Hardly a bill or amendment can be passed without 60 votes nowadays. From minor bills with broad bipartisan support to common sense progressive priorities, they've all been stalled, sidelined and sabotaged by the filibuster. A campaign disclosure bill to make sure Americans know who's behind election ads fell to the filibuster this summer, and is facing another filibuster on the Senate floor as I write. A simple extension of unemployment benefits was a filibuster hostage. The public option, extending Medicare to those age 55 and older, and other pieces of health reform that were popular with most Americans, were all blocked by one or another stubborn senator wielding the filibuster.
One of today's witnesses, former Senate parliamentarian Bob Dove, argued (in not so many words) that if Senators would just grow up they wouldn't need to change the rules. But clinging to an old ideal of the Senate as a collegial haven (read old boys' club?) is ignoring reality. A polarized Senate means the filibuster is used more than ever before. And, as Sen. Harkin testified, every time it's used by either side, the arms race escalates.
Many in the minority are ready to acknowledge dysfunction in the Senate,
but used yesterday's Don't Ask, Don't Tell vote to blame maneuvers by
the majority, not the filibuster, for delay.
The minority complains that they just want the chance to offer amendments. If they agree to fix the filibuster, I say give them their amendments. As the Dems keep saying, they'll be back in the minority someday, even if they've dodged the bullet next year.
Some of the proposed fixes:
Senator Harkin's S. Res. 416: Changes the rules of the Senate to successively decrease the number of votes necessary to invoke cloture.
Senator Tom Udall's S. Res. 619: Allows for each new Senate to change its rules at the beginning of a new session with a majority vote.
Senator Lautenberg's S. Res 465: Requires an actual filibuster - Mr. Smith-style.
Senator Bennet's S. Res 440: Increases the vote count needed to maintain a filibuster and block cloture in certain circumstances.