Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Three cheers for filibuster reform

It looks like Democrats in the Senate might force reform of the filibuster. This makes Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander mad:

In a speech prepared for a Tuesday appearance at the Heritage Foundation, Mr. Alexander reiterated his position that Democrats would be making a mistake. “Voters who turned out in November are going to be pretty disappointed when they learn the first thing Democrats want to do is cut off the right of the people they elected to make their voices heard on the floor of the U.S. Senate,” he said in his planned remarks.

Which is why Dems should make the entirely correct case that their proposed reforms actually help newly elected senators make their voices heard on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

After all, the changes -- as I understand them -- won't do away entirely with the filibuster: Democrats can clearly see the day, two years ago, when they'll be in the minority: they'll want to have the tool available for themselves at that point. But right now, all a senator has to do to conduct a filibuster is say the word "filibuster." He or she doesn't have to take the floor, Mr. Smith style, and hold it until it can't be held anymore: they just have to indicate they might. That merest gesture triggers a supermajority requirement to get any legislation passed.

The proposed reform would require, more or less, that senators who want to filibuster a piece of legislation actually filibuster a piece of legislation. They'd have to hold the floor in front of God and the voters -- and, presumably, they'd use some of that time to explain why they were taking such extreme measures. Filibuster reform doesn't stifle senators' voices; it forces them to use them instead of hiding behind a wall of procedural rules. Democrats should be able to win this fight in the court of public opinion.

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