Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Government: Challenging the Filibuster Old Guard

"The public believes the filibuster is an opportunity to enhance debate by allowing people to take a stand before the American people and personally invest time and energy in slowing down the Senate to make their point heard," Sen. Jeff Merkley says. "We should make it so."

Merkley has floated a proposal to reform the filibuster by forcing senators to actually take to the floor to obstruct Senate debate and by limiting the number of times the maneuver can be used to stop a piece of legislation. He and several allies hope it will win the support of 51 senators when the new Congress comes into session in January, the easiest time to amend the Senate's rules.

Merkley argues that the legislative strategies needed to surmount filibusters -- packing as many ideas as possible into single, huge bills and limiting the ability of senators to offer amendments (since each one offers an opportunity for filibustering) -- produces low-quality bills. If Senate leaders didn't have to worry about everything coming to a halt all the time, the theory goes, it would free up debate and result in better laws.

For those reasons, and because of a desire to attract Republican votes (and protect any future Democratic minorities), Merkley also proposes a procedural shift that would give the minority the ability to introduce, debate, and vote on amendments without unanimous consent of the entire body.

Even longtime congressional observers like Norm Ornstein argue that much has changed since the 1960s, when there were about three filibusters a year. Today, there are more than two a week.

For more, see Challenging the Filibuster Old Guard by Tim Fernholz, December 8, 2010 at The American Prospect.

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