The Senate Keeps Its Sanity — Filibuster Reform Is Dead

by Sal on January 28, 2011

in Politics

I know, I know.  The Senate is anything but sane, and most Senators are the antithesis of sane.  But at the same time, one has to acknowledge that the Senate, as an institution, has been instrumental in keeping America from becoming like Socialist Europe.  Why, do you ask?  Because of the Senate concepts of cloture and the filibuster.

As an institution, the Senate has always held the tradition of unlimited debate, requiring a super-majority to get anything done.  Up until 1975, it required two-thirds, or 67 votes to invoke cloture to limit debate and prepare for a vote.  In 1975, that was changed to three-fifths, or 60 votes.  The tradition of requiring a super-majority in the Senate has helped stop controversial legislation many times, and is one of the hallmarks of our Democracy’s success because it ensures that major legislation passed enjoys broad popular support, not just 51%.

Yesterday, the Senate decided to reject calls to “reform”" the filibuster.  Additionally, it rejected the theory that any change to the filibuster could be done with 51 votes.  Both Reid and McConnell insisted on 67-vote thresholds to change any Senate rules, making the “reformer’s” goals virtually impossible to achieve.

Instead, the Senate passed a moderate reform package by Super Majority vote, including ending the process of secret holds, as well as ending the practice of forcing a bill reading (one which I actually liked).  But they did it by the Senate’s traditional process, not by a 51-vote nuclear option.  There’s also a “Gentleman’s Agreement” that the GOP will use the filibuster on motions to proceed (motions to start debate on a bill) as long as the Democrats don’t “fill the tree” with Amendments, thus preventing the GOP from offering its own amendments.  We’ll see whose the first to break that agreement.

In any case, at the end of the day, the Senate remains the institution that it was, with a few minor tweaks.  And that is the very nature of the Senate.  It si supposed to be the body where little gets done, because rapid change typically means greater government and more liberalism.  I hope both of the parties now decide to call it quits on the nuclear option, and just let the Senate be the Senate.

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