This Is Why Filibuster Abuse Matters

Posted by Jack Mumby on February 4, 2014

With apologies to Mark Twain, reports of the filibuster's death have been greatly exaggerated.

A proposal to extend unemployment insurance for 1.7 million Americans whose benefits expired in December died on the Senate floor yesterday. Fifty-nine of 100 Senators supported the proposal -- one short of the 60 required to break a GOP-led filibuster.

Add one more to the list of ideas transparency in political spending, immigration reform and a public option for health insurance coverage --supported by most Americans but denied a fair vote thanks to the filibuster rule.

The filibuster has allowed a gaggle of anti-government ideologues to gain a stranglehold on our political process. Their rise also has been aided by the reluctance of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats to change or bend the rule to muscle critical legislation into law. Worried about weakening the collegial norms of the Senate, Reid and company sometimes seem unaware that filibuster abuse already has turned the place into a nest of scorpions.

It's easy to get lost in the weeds, and see process issues like this as abstract wonkery, but a gridlocked legislature will never be able to respond effectively to public concerns. Because of that, real people will suffer not because their arguments were unpersuasive, but because even a persuasive majority isn't enough anymore.

A broken system like ours also further amplifies the outsized power of special interests. When only one grandstanding senator can grind everything to a halt, the temptation to offer him or her tradeoffs (or payoffs) to break the impasse and gain the crucial 60th vote becomes irresistible. Remember the Cornhusker Kickback?

The Senate has tried time and again to fix itself without really changing its rules, but every solution has either proven too narrow or been abandoned once it no longer was politically expedient. Common Cause is done waiting, so we've asked the federal courts to declare the 60-vote rule unconstitutional.

There's no shortage of sorely needed fixes for our democracy. But because genuine reform won't have a shot until we get a Congress that works, ending filibuster abuse is a good place to start.

Office: Common Cause National

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