There is one thing that the majority has always agreed on: The filibuster is awful. But it doesn’t have to be.
It is an unintended and misunderstood aspect of our current state of political affairs which has also obstructed significant process, and it’s only been getting worse.
When the nation was initially formed, there was a rule in the Senate that ended debate with a majority vote. As a result, the minority felt that they never even had a chance to debate the issues.
In 1806, Aaron Burr suggested the getting rid of the rule entirely, and thus the filibuster was born. Any Senator could speak as long as they wanted, and they didn’t even have to be speaking about the bill at hand. A “filibuster” (which comes from a Dutch word for pirate) is basically one person or party extending the debate indefinitely, and thus delaying the vote.
In 1917 a device known as “cloture” was created to limit debate to 30 hours with a two-thirds vote. That threshold was later lowered to 60 percent. Once invoked, all debate is limited to germane issues.
If you pay attention, there’s not that much actual filibustering going on. There’s a reason for that.
There is something called a two-track system that was put in place in 1970 that allows the Senate to have more than one order of business on the floor at a time. This way a “filibuster” can happen while other business runs concurrently.
This also takes the pressure of the minority party from actually having to do the unpleasantness of actually talking.
This has had a major effect on the efficiency of the US Senate. Back in 40s and 50s, about a quarter of all legislation became laws. By comparison, the 116th Congress passed 343 laws out of 20,253 bills that were introduced — just under 1.7 percent.
Furthermore, 1162 of the 2287 cloture motions filed in American history have come since Obama’s first term. That’s more since Obama than before Obama. The ubiquity of the cloture vote is making it almost impossible for legislation to get passed.
What’s happens now is that cloture is filed when the bill is submitted. There is no actual filibuster in place. It’s a kind of “preemptive cloture.”
The end result is ironic. What started off as the means for the minority party to be able to debate in 1806 has become a system where the minority party can quash debate, and effectively, the entire system.
So how do we fix this?
First, in order for the two-track system to work, both the majority leader and minority leader need to agree. So stop agreeing. Make them actually have to filibuster.
Second, according to the Congressional Research Service:
“Although not explicitly provided for in Senate rules, it has become common practice for the majority leader to make a motion to proceed to consider a measure, immediately file cloture on that motion, and then withdraw the motion to proceed. This allows the Senate to conduct other floor business while the cloture petition is “running” in the background. At the time appointed by Rule XXII, the cloture petition on the motion to proceed is automatically laid before the Senate for a vote”
Stop doing that.
There’s no rule that says you have to file cloture. Just stop doing that. If you don’t file cloture, you actually force there to be debate and you don’t have the 60-vote threshold.
What the Democrats need to do isn’t end the filibuster. They need to force the filibuster. They need to actually make the Republicans really filibuster. No more of this “background” nonsense.
In actuality, the problem isn’t the filibuster; it’s the cloture vote and the rules to get around the filibuster. But if people actually have to filibuster, things will go a lot more smoothly.
Just tweak the rules so that if someone is filibustering, they have to stick to what is germane to the bill and allow both sides equal time. Let there actually be a debate.
If Republicans want to prevent everyone from getting their relief checks, make them go on the Senate floor and defend that position every day until there’s a vote. Make them defend every unpopular position they take. And make them defend it until they’re blue in the face.
So what’s to prevent the Republicans from filing cloture on their own filibuster?
Simple: Pass a rule that says if you file for cloture, you have to vote for cloture. Since there are 16 Senators required to file for cloture, that would guarantee the cloture vote.
So the Republicans have two options. Keep talking about how they want to obstruct voters from getting what they want or allow a straight up or down vote.
And if the Democrats lose the Senate, it doesn’t kill them. Because if the same rules apply, they get to go on camera and keep telling the popular opinion. Can you imagine if they’d been allowed to actually filibuster the tax cuts?
When it comes to actual policy, the Democrats’ position is far more popular. That’s why the Republicans want to stifle debate. The easy solution is to just open debate.
That helps Democrats whether they’re in the majority or not.
How do you solve the filibuster? By allowing the filibuster.
But there’s one other thing the Democrats could do to get the Republicans on board with this. Allow the minority party and majority party to take turns bringing bills to the floor.
If both sides have an incentive to negotiate, debate and work out solutions to real problems, the country is better off.
What we need is more debate and less talk. If we can let both sides bring up issues, both sides have the motive to enter into good-faith discussions.
And maybe, if we can actually have both sides brining solutions to the table instead of talking points, America will be better off.