Filibuster Reform Deal Shows the Senate Isn’t Ready to Admit It has a Problem

Last updated on February 8th, 2013 at 02:16 am

The problem with the Senate’s new filibuster rules isn’t that they won’t be effective, but that the bipartisan agreement suggests that senators don’t even understand the problem.

Make no mistake about it, the filibuster rules as laid out in the proposal will help the Senate move. Many progressive activists are disappointed by the agreement, but they shouldn’t sell short what these new rules will mean for Obama’s judicial nominees. Earlier this month, President Obama renominated all 33 unconfirmed judicial nominees. Twenty five of Obama’s judicial nominees are women or people of color. The nominees include, “seven the circuit court, 24 district court, and two Court of International Trade nominees. Fully half of these highly qualified jurists have already had hearings before the Judiciary Committee, and eleven of them were pending on the Senate floor and would have been confirmed already, but for Republican insistence on blocking every effort to schedule simple yes-or-no votes.”

Some of the left will be upset over not getting the 51 vote rule, but the biggest problem with the agreement is that the people serving in the Senate don’t seem to be aware that there is even a problem. Many senators didn’t want to dump the 60 vote rule because of the Senate’s tradition of protecting the minority’s rights. Majority Leader Harry Reid summed up this point of view, “I’m not personally, at this stage, ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold. With the history of the Senate, we have to understand the Senate isn’t and shouldn’t be like the House.”

Reid isn’t alone. Democratic and Republican senators alike get queasy at the mention of any change that would make them more like the House. The problem is that the Senate is already becoming more like the House. After losing his primary, Republican Sen. Dick Lugar wrote, “Unfortunately, we have an increasing number of legislators in both parties who have adopted an unrelenting partisan viewpoint. This shows up in countless vote studies that find diminishing intersections between Democrat and Republican positions. Partisans at both ends of the political spectrum are dominating the political debate in our country. And partisan groups, including outside groups that spent millions against me in this race, are determined to see that this continues. They have worked to make it as difficult as possible for a legislator of either party to hold independent views or engage in constructive compromise. If that attitude prevails in American politics, our government will remain mired in the dysfunction we have witnessed during the last several years.”

Lugar was right. The Senate hasn’t been the high minded deliberative body built on compromise that the framers intended for a very long time. Partisanship had been on the rise, and it went into overdrive after Barack Obama was elected president. The Republican strategy of unrelenting obstruction of Obama has caused both parties to dig in. Like the House, there is a left, a right, and virtually no middle in the Senate.

This is not an argument for the 51 vote rule. The idea that today’s majority can easily be tomorrow’s minority shouldn’t be forgotten, but too many of those who are serving in the Senate are holding on to an illusion of legislative function that doesn’t exist anymore. The Senate is no longer a place for moderation and compromise. The Senate should run more efficiently now, but the worst part of the filibuster agreement is that the Senate isn’t ready yet to admit that it has a problem.

Jason Easley
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