Kill the filibuster? Be careful what you wish for

by Karoli on February 2, 2010 · 247 comments

It’s easy to call for filibuster death when one backs the party in the majority; less so when in the minority. In legislation, the filibuster is one of the few means the minority party has to be heard. The problem isn’t the filibuster; it’s the Republicans.

If Republicans were acting in good faith, the filibuster would be reserved for those issues where deep divisions in policy were at stake. This list of notable filibusters is worth looking at. Democrats filibustered bills that would have been a disaster, if passed. Had the filibuster not been in effect, Robert Bork would be a Supreme Court justice. Had the filibuster not been in effect, our National Parks would have oil derricks decorating their landscape.

Is it really the filibuster that needs to die, or the way it’s used? Shouldn’t a filibuster be used to extend a debate, rather than debating whether there should be a debate? As health care reform progressed through the Senate, it underwent a cloture vote to open debate, a cloture vote to close debate, a cloture vote on procedure, and a cloture vote to proceed to an up-or-down vote. (Record)

It’s ridiculous to have 4 votes, any of which can stop the presses at any point. If the intent of a filibuster is to extend debate, then it should only apply to a motion to close debate. Not a motion to open debate. Not a motion on procedure. Just one motion to end debate.

As the public discussion over the filibuster continues, it would be great to see some public education take place, since it’s clear that the general public has no clue what it means to filibuster. In fact, far too many of them have no clue about how Congress works. Maybe we should redirect abstinence funding to a stronger education in American government.

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