Can Dems Bust the Filibuster?


Two Democratic Senators are complaining about the filibuster. That’s nothing new. As the use of the filibuster (a 60-vote requirement to end debate on a subject) to block legislation and presidential nominees has increased, the complaints about it (usually from senators in the majority) have intensified. This time, though, they’re going to try to do something about it. Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) have introduced a bill that would reform Senate rules to slowly reduce the number of votes needed to pass a bill. Steve Benen explains:

If approved, the measure would not do away with extended debate altogether. Harkin proposes a new procedural model: the first go-around, the minority could demand a 60-vote majority, as is the case now. But if 60 votes aren’t there to end debate, a week or so later, 57 votes could bring the bill to the floor for a vote. If 57 votes aren’t there, it drops again and again, and after a month or so, a bare majority could approve cloture.

There are a bunch of problems with this. First of all, it won’t work. You need 67 votes to change Senate rules midstream. That’s not going to happen. The best bet for people who want to do away with the filibuster is to change the rules after an election or to set a time in future when the filibuster would be eliminated by law so that no one will know which party will benefit. But the other problem with Harkin’s proposal is that while it reduces the number of votes needed to pass something, it doesn’t do much to speed up the Senate. The majority will be willing to wait for the time it needs on big legislation, but what about the little stuff, like appointments? If the minority filibustered every appointment, and it took a month to get each one to a vote, you’d still be left with a lot of job openings in the government. So while I appreciate the effort, this isn’t enough. The filibuster is an incredibly undemocratic aspect of an already undemocratic body. It should be swept away entirely, not simply weakened.

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