Filibuster: the use of extreme dilatory tactics in an attempt to delay or prevent action especially in a legislative assembly
I believe, at my heart, that the concept of the Senate filibuster, as it stands now, is an process that subverts democracy and incites partisanship.
It subverts the democratic process by allowing a “tyranny of the minority”. Those who are of the minority opinion have the ability to block any legislation that they disagree with. It would be as if the losing side of an election prevented the candidates seating by talking ad infinitum.
I also believe that it fuels the partisanship that is currently splitting the U.S. by forcing the minority party to band together to prevent legistlation they feel is wrong which, in turn, forces the majority party to band together to fight the minority. These groups then become an “all-or-nothing” approach to politics. You are either with the party or against it. There is no middle ground.
So what is the solution? I believe there are two possible ways to help fix the divide. Either eliminate the filibuster option altogether or return it to it’s pre-1975 levels.
By eliminating the filibuster, we eliminate the tyranny of the minority. No longer will a group be able to block legislation from passing by talking it to death (which doesn’t happen anymore, it’s now just a procedural filibuster). Instead legislation will be presented, debated, then voted. Simple democracy at it’s best, but obviously a massive change in the Senate balance of power. The minority will lose it’s ability to block what they perceive to be harmful legislation. Obviously this has to be proposed by the minority, otherwise it will be viewed as an attempt by the majority to grab power. But the benefits may out-weigh the risks. First, it allows legislation to be passed quickly and without needing to gather together a super majority. Secondly, there will no longer be unified blocks and provides incentive for Senators to vote for what they feel is best for their constituents and the country instead of towing the party line. Theoretically. Of course, built into this revocation of the filibuster would be a new law that says that to re-enable to filibuster would require some 2/3 majority vote or some other such language.
Alternately we can return to the pre-1975 filibuster rules. Prior to 1975 if you wanted to filibuster, you had to actually engage in the filibuster. Someone had to “read the from the phone book”, holding up the legislation, passing to the next filibusterer when exhausted. Now all you have to do is file paperwork to say you are filibustering (rule 22). As a result senators can just hide away in a group, file the paperwork, and not have to do anything else. The majority then puts the legislation aside until it has gathered the requisite 60 votes. And with today’s climate, 60 votes isn’t that hard. But in the pre-1975 days you needed 67 votes, a much harder number to reach. By going back to the pre-1975 filibuster rules you force the senators to engage in bi-partisanship, and failing that you force the minority to engage in actual work to keep their filibuster in play. Both of which are better than the current “here’s the paperwork, see you when you got 60″ concept. This would again shift power, but this time towards the minority, which means that the majority would have to propose it.
As it stands now, the filibuster is a broken concept that forces people to choose black or white from an otherwise gray world. That’s not the American way.