Leaving the 41-senator filibuster in place but requiring that they run their mouths (and some of us have to listen) is not exactly the kind of Change most of us Hope for. Nor is it supported by the Constitution, any other law, any treaty, any rule necessary to the functioning of our government, anything or anyone we just voted for, or any public opinion poll. The proper thing to do with the filibuster is to eliminate it, which 51 senators can do at the start of the session if they see fit. I know you’ve been told they can’t, but keep reading.
Trying to squeeze any sort of peace on earth out of our government in Washington has been a steep uphill climb for years. For the most part we no longer have representatives in Congress, because of the corruption of money, the weakness of the media, and the strength of parties. There are not 535 opinions on Capitol Hill on truly important matters, but 2. Our supposed representatives work for their party leaders, not for us. One of the two parties sometimes claims to want to work for us.
When the Democrats were in the minority and out of the White House, they told us they wanted to work for us but needed to be in the majority. So, in 2006, we put them there. Then they told us that they really wished they could work for us but they needed bigger majorities and the White House. So, in 2008, we gave them those things, and largely deprived them of two key excuses for inaction. We took away the veto excuse and came very close to taking away the filibuster excuse, and — in fact — the filibuster excuse could be taken away completely if the Democrats didn’t want to keep it around. In 2009 they chose to keep it, and again in 2011.
This is not to say that either excuse was ever sensible. The two most important things the 110th Congress refused to do (ceasing to fund illegal wars, and impeaching war criminals) did not require passing legislation, so filibusters and vetoes were not relevant. But the Democrats in Congress, and the Republicans, and the media, and the White House all pretended that wars could only be ended by legislation, so the excuses for not passing legislation loomed large. The veto excuse vanished on January 20, 2009. The filibuster excuse could have been gone by January 6, 2009, if Senator Harry Reid had wanted it gone, or again in January 2011. It could also be gone by January 2013 if the Democrats actually want to not have the Republicans to blame for their failures.
The filibuster excuse works like this. Any 41 senators can vote No on “cloture”, that is on bringing a bill to a vote, and that bill will never come to a vote, and anything the House of Representatives has done won’t matter. Any of the other 59 senators, the 435 House members, the president, the vice president, television pundits, and newspaper reporters can blame the threat of filibuster for anything they fail to do.
Now, the Senate itself is and always has been and was intended to be an anti-democratic institution. It serves no purpose that is not or could not be more democratically accomplished by the House alone (were the House not gerrymandered and bought and paid for). The Senate should simply be eliminated by Constitutional Amendment. But the filibuster is the most anti-democratic tool of the Senate, and can be eliminated without touching the Constitution, which does not mention it. If you take 41 senators from the 21 smallest states, you can block any legislation with a group of multi-millionaires elected by 11.2 percent of the American public. That fact is a national disgrace that should be remedied as quickly as possible. And not by making the culprits run their mouths on television. “Nooooo! Don’t throw us in that briar patch!”