Home > Ezra Klein, Filibuster, Matthew Yglesias > Reforming the Filibuster

Reforming the Filibuster

All of the Senate Democrats have signed onto a letter expressing their support for reforming the filibuster. This is great news. The filibuster isn’t a noble refuge for a principled Senator as glamorized in Mr. Smith goes to Washington; it is a devise of minority obstruction that prevents the legislature from legislating and undermines the system the Founding Fathers actually set up. Right now the electorate can’t actually judge the majority party on the policies they favor. Ezra Klein’s March Newweek piece remains one of the better recent cases against the filibuster.

[R]ecall that the filibuster is an accident, and there is nothing radical or strange about majority voting: we use it for elections (Scott Brown won with 51 percent of the vote, not 60 percent), Supreme Court decisions, and the House of Representatives. As for a majority using its power unwisely, elections can remedy that. And voters can better judge Washington based on what it has done than on what it has been obstructed from doing.

Say you’re a conservative and you want to repeal healthcare reform, privatize social security, simplify the tax code, or pass whatever else your heart desires, now imagine that in 2012 you keep control of the House, take over the Senate and end up with 59 Senators, win the presidency, and all those policy wishes are polling extremely favorably with the American public, which just completely repudiated the Democrats. Guess what? You can’t do any of it if the Democrats commit to a filibuster. And if the filibuster trend continues this seems like it will become a routine scenario.

Gumming Up the Works.jpg

In interest of fairness and bipartisanship here is the absolute best case against reforming the Senate rules that Matthew Yglesias wrote sometime early last April.

The story, as told by Randolph and recounted by Moncure Daniel Conway is that “Jefferson called Washington to account at the breakfast table for having agreed to a second chamber. ‘Why,’ asked Washington, ‘did you pour that coffee into your saucer?’ ‘To cool it,’ quoth Jefferson. ‘Even so,’ said Washington, ‘we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.’”

Obviously, even to this day nobody would think of drinking coffee without first deploying their cooling saucer. That’s why every office in America has, in its kitchen, not only a coffee machine but also an accompanying cooling saucer. Visit your local Starbucks and ask about their cooling saucer. Now try to imagine the nightmare of coffee poured directly from the machine into the cup—that’d be your Senate-less America, a grim and scalding place.

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  1. zach
    December 24, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Funny you posted this now. I thought just this week that reforming the filibuster role would be difficult because if either party takes the initiative to scrap the filibuster rule, they must be in the majority to have any hope of getting it done. The minority would clearly be uninterested in voting to hand over simple majority power to the majority.

    And if the majority pursues that initiative, it would likely be to prevent 58-42 votes from blocking their agenda. And if that is the case, they probably don’t have the votes to get it passed.

    Does a blue dog dem really want to vote away the filibuster rule and then be powerless when voting against a bill supported by leftwing and moderate dems?

    I agree that it would allow legislation to actually get passed, but I have a hard time seeing anyone gather the support to get the filibuster rule gone. Unless, of course, I’m missing something about the procedure of eliminating the rule.

    • December 24, 2010 at 11:13 am

      Well you only need 50 Senators to reform the rule. But you’ve hit on the reason why parties probably haven’t scrapped it completely. Ezra Klein recommends that they vote to phase it out after 6-8 years that way no one knows who will be in power then.

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