After watching Senate Republicans block widely popular legislation like the DREAM Act and judicial nominations such as Edwin Liu, a group of Senate Democrats signaled plans to move forward with filibuster reform. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) said he intended to call for limits on the filibuster that would actually require senators be on the floor if they plan to hold up legislation.
Republicans have employed the filibuster, and other procedural impediments such as a blind-hold to tie up most of the legislative efforts in the Senate. The rules that govern these tactics are not grounded in the Constitution but rather chamber rules, meaning that they can be amended within the body by a simple majority vote.
The plan, at least as it is understood right now, would have Senate Democrats place the body in recess at the conclusion of Wednesday’s proceedings. This would give time for additional bipartisan reform efforts to move forward but ultimately allow Democrats the ability to bring procedural reform on their own should those talks break down.
During that interim period Senators Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Charles Schumer and Lamar Alexander could craft a compromise that would prevent a showdown on the Senate floor. But if no deal is reached then lawmakers plan to force a debate which some have warned will fracture already strained relations in the Senate and further clog up President Obama’s legislative goals.
The filibuster is a powerful tool and one that should be used sparingly. But over the past two years Republicans have repeatedly abused the procedure for short-term political gain. That is not governing. It is campaigning.
It’s long past time to reform the rules and the current proposal is a good start. Should the minority chose to take the entire body hostage then so be it–but then make them do so in daylight and in front of the American people rather than through backchannel threats. It should not take a supermajority to pass legislation supported by the American public, and here’s hoping that 2011 is the year the filibuster threat dies.
photo courtesy of cliff1066 via Flickr