Tom Harkin: why the filibuster must be changed

I’ve always been a bit wary of cries to change the Senate rules over the current spat of filibuster abuse. From my perspective, the problem isn’t so much in design as in execution in that the fault lies largely in the form of the “gentleman’s agreement” that states that there needn’t be an actual filibuster, only the threat of one. In my eyes, the problem can be resolved via non-legislative means.

That said, Tom Harkin makes some great points, and even has a damn good solution.

That is why I recently introduced legislation to change the Senate rules with regard to the filibuster. Under my proposal, over an eight-day period, the number of votes needed to end a filibuster would progressively decline from the 60 votes needed currently down to a simple majority.

In 1995, when Democrats were in the minority, I introduced the same proposal. My feeling was then, as it is now, that use of the filibuster would only continue to ratchet up unless we broke the cycle. The fact is, elections should have consequences. If the nation elects a majority of Republicans to the Senate, as it did in 1995, then after the minority has an opportunity to make its case, the majority should prevail. And it should be the same when voters send a majority of Democrats to the Senate. If the people do not like how the majority is governing, they have the ability to change the composition of the Senate at the next election.

Harkin’s key point, which is rooted in a concern of James Madison’s, is that we are in a situation where anything south of a supermajority can be rendered impotent if a particularly nefarious minority party wants it to be so. Doubt me? Listen to, read, and watch the discussion on whatever bill may be contentious this week. Notice how the phrasing is that the Democrats “lack the 60 vote to pass” the bill. Not to “break the filibuster”, but to pass. We’ve arrived at a point where as long as the Republicans have 41 votes, legislation cannot move forward. Period.

Whichever party does it, though, it’s patently anti-American. Not in the sense of against our ethos, but in the sense of against its people. When your party gets stomped in two running elections and you go from controlling all three branches to only having a tenuous grasp on the judicial, it means the people want the other guys to run things for a while. Yet here are the Republicans, in a severe minority, spitting in the faces of the American people who often overwhelmingly support the legislation the GOP is busting its ass to put to a halt.

However, I have to say, proposing this bit of legislation could prove brilliant if the Republicans filibuster. It would practically be advertising itself.


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