The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein revealed yesterday that Harry Reid and others feel like the filibuster has been “abused” because it takes days for the Senate to enact cloture votes. (It sparked an interesting discussion in the Post’s message boards, as well.)
“I file cloture” — the motion to end a filibuster — “to move to discuss the bill on Monday,” Reid explained. “That takes two days to ripen. We don’t have a vote till Wednesday. Once that’s done, Republicans have 30 hours to do nothing. After the 30 hours is up, you’re on the bill. If there’s no amendment offered” — remember, amendments can be filibustered, too — “you file cloture to move to the vote. It takes two days and then another 30 hours. So that’s 60 hours plus four days to vote on the bill. That happened 67 times last year.” You do the math.
One way to make the lawmaking process more efficient would be to reduce the number of people in the legislature, or to merge lawmaking authority with the executive branch. Cuba, Venezuela, Iraq, North Korea, Germany, France, and others enacted similar systems at various times in history… though it hasn’t gone well.
Otherwise, we all may have to accept that our legislature’s inefficiency is by design. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course.
The filibuster exists to maintain the Senate’s deliberative nature, so the best reform might be to force actual filibusters. Senators who want to extend debate should actually have to talk.
When Republicans made the same grumblings years ago, they missed an opportunity to demonstrate Democratic obstructionism on judicial nominees. The GOP could have made political hay out of CSPAN clips of Democrats talking endlessly or reading the phone book to keep debate going. Republican parties in the home states of the filibuster-ers could have organized “Save the Judicial Branch” rallies to protest their talkative Senators.
The problem for Democrats now is that the filibuster is blocking an unpopular piece of legislation. If I were a Senate Republican, I would welcome the chance to speak on national TV about the future of health care, about federal spending, about the risks of government running anything, and the bribes Democrats are using to win support. And even the bill’s passage may be a losing proposition.
At the very least, we should all agree that the filibuster should be maintained so that the eventual remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington makes sense. All in favor… say die: