Editorial: Senators should have something to say to filibuster
Published: Friday, December 7, 2012
Updated: Thursday, December 6, 2012 21:12
Nothing gets done in the U.S. Senate anymore. Because of the parliamentary procedure known as the filibuster, the functioning of the legislative branch of our government comes to a halt whenever it is threatened or invoked. While the procedure is intended to protect the rights of the minority against a complete marginalization of its viewpoints, it has since been transformed into a tool of unconditional obstruction and symbol of the current refusal to compromise so characteristic of our politics.
While it is tempting to lay the blame for endless filibustering – they have occured over once a week in the 112th Congress – on the current Republican minority in the Senate, the use of the filibuster has increased steadily since the 1970s, during periods of both Republican and Democratic control. But never before has it been used as a matter of course. Never before has the threat of a filibuster on any legislation been so real as to require the 60-vote margin needed to end a filibuster, achieve cloture and bring a bill to a vote for nearly every bill that comes to the Senate floor. And as the nation inches closer and closer to a fiscal crisis in the coming months, this stunning inability of the Senate to fulfill its legislative function by voting on bills has come at a rather inopportune time. We believe that the principal problem manifested by this procedural crisis in Congress is, however, that senators rarely initiate and participate in filibusters. Instead, the mere threat of procedural roadblocks is so great that the fear of a filibuster, not the filibuster itself, is responsible for the current gridlock.
To be sure, the filibuster serves a useful function in the U.S. Senate. Otherwise, if a minority party could not form a coalition of 51 Senators opposed to the majority leadership, the majority could pass as much legislation as it wanted without facing defeat. The “nuclear option”, proposed under the presidency of George W. Bush, sought to reform the institution of the filibuster by destroying it. This was misguided: the minority should be able to communicate its grievances on the floor of the Senate and to the American people through C-SPAN and demand that they be redressed.
Therefore we propose that the filibuster only be initiated if the minority is prepared to carry out its threats. A senator should be required to stand on the floor of the Senate and deliver a speech for the entirety of the filibuster. As recently as 2010, Senator Bernie Sanders delivered a continuous nine-hour speech before the Senate in objection to a tax cut package proposed by President Obama. This should be the model: Senators should stand up and give face to the obstruction they propose to initiate, and then sit down and vote – for the good of the country – when they have nothing more to say.