After Disappointing Filibuster Compromise, Effort to Fix the Senate Must Continue

Today, the campaign to make the Senate work better hit a snag. In a disappointing move, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid abandoned a strong package of filibuster reforms and instead came to a “compromise” with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—a compromise that does remarkably little to end filibuster abuse.

The deal has a couple of positive changes—it shortens debate time on lower-level nominees and reduces the minority’s ability to filibuster on the “motion to proceed.” But those changes are very, very small steps, and the bigger problems of filibuster abuse aren’t really addressed. In particular, as Sahil Kapur reports, “it does not require filibustering senators to speak on the floor, nor does it shift the burden from a governing majority to an obstructing minority.”

The ease with which a minority of Senators can filibuster a bill is a major reason that it has gone from a rare and extreme tactic to a routine expectation on every piece of Senate business. In short, we still have a 60-vote Senate.

The sad thing is that this seems to be about elected officials being more interested in protecting their privileges and personal leverage than in doing their job.

Nicholas Beaudrot points out that rules changes are important because the culture of the Senate has changed even as the rules have stayed the same:

The Senate is not and has basically never been a rules-driven body. It’s a norms-driven body…the only real rule of the Senate is something like “don’t be a jerk too often”, and social norms among Senators prevent anyone from getting too far out of line.

Over the past four years we’ve seen this break down, primarily as the Republican leadership has become more and more interested in stalling action on almost everything.

However, as Chris Bowers notes, the fight isn’t over, and the fact that it became a public issue is an encouraging sign.

We are going to keep a close eye on the Senate and make sure that when filibuster abuse happens—when the democratic process gets stalled—that you hear about it.