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November 16, 2012

Making Decisions Based on Who Can Talk the Longest Is Only a Slightly Less Stupid Way to Run a Country

Posted in: Broken Government

Should the filibuster be eliminated, or merely "reformed"?

The Senate Democrats are starting to get serious about reforming the Senate rules to make the chamber slightly less idiotic. One of the changes they are thinking about making is forcing the minority who wants to filibuster a bill to actually speak continuously on the Senate floor. From the Huffington Post:

[Sen. Jeff] Merkley said that he first pitched filibuster reform to Reid in the summer of 2007, while he was being recruited as a candidate. The plan he put forward in 2011, he said, has been significantly revised.

The critical component, though, is a mechanism that would force senators to physically take the floor and speak in order to maintain opposition to legislation. The effort to end a filibuster is called a cloture motion. Under the proposed rules, if a cloture vote failed to win a simple majority, the bill would be killed and the Senate would move to new business. But if it won a majority — though less than a supermajority of 60 — the bill would remain on the floor for any senator who wished to opine on it. If at some point no senator rose to speak, after given several chances to do so, a new vote would be called — and only a simple majority would be needed to pass it.

This is definitely an improvement over the current system where a small minority can easy veto anything in the Senate, at least this way they need to be really committed to stopping it. Depending on how this provision is designed, it could even theoretically only make it possible for the minority to greatly delay a vote rather then to stop it, because of the two speech rule.

That said, having making important decisions based on how long some old senator can stand and talk is a horrifically stupid way to run a country. The best way to fix the Senate is to allow laws to force a simple majority vote, just like the Constitution intended. We already have the House, the Presidential veto, and the Courts to serve as a check on the Senate. There is zero reason a small minority in the least representative legislative chamber in the free world should effectively have a veto, even if it is made harder to use by forcing them to talk all day.


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