Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Will the Democrats Fix the U.S. Senate Today?

There's a window that is open today that will be closed tomorrow and, by the time it closes, we'll know if the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate has the courage to fix what's broken.

When the Senate returns on Tuesday, it will still technically be in the first legislative day of the session, which means only a simple majority is necessary to change the rules for the rest of the session.

With the support of 51 senators, the rules could be changed to require a “talking filibuster,” forcing those objecting to a bill to stand and explain their reasons, at length. The current practice of routinely requiring a 60-vote majority for a bill through a silent objection would end, breaking the logjam that has made the chamber a well of inefficiency and frustration.

Several younger senators, led by Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tom Udall of New Mexico, say that if pressed, a majority of the Senate would support their plan for the talking filubster. But older senators aren’t so sure, and have reportedly persuaded Harry Reid, the majority leader, to back off the idea.  With the experience of having been in the minority themselves, these Democrats are fearful of losing a powerful tool should Republicans ever return to power in the chamber.

That would squander a moment for change. Supermajorities were never intended to be a routine legislative barrier; they should be reserved for the most momentous bills, and the best way to make that happen is to require that objectors work hard for their filibuster, assembling a like-minded coalition and being forthright about their concerns rather than hiding in the shadows or holding up a bill with an e-mailed note. 

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