Friday, November 16, 2012

Badly Needed Senate Procedure Reforms: Part 1

As the election is now complete, and a new legislature will convene in January, we felt it was time to discuss what we feel are much needed reforms to Congress.  We are focusing our attention this time on Congress's upper house, the Senate.

First, we'll focus on the filibuster.  What was once a procedure to extend debate has now become an obstructive tactic, aimed at delaying  or oftentimes preventing, a measure from being brought to a vote on the Senate floor.  Per the Supreme Court ruling United States v. Ballin, Senate rule changes can be achieved by a simple majority, though, of course, these rule changes could also be filibustered before any vote would take place.

Below, we can see how many times filibusters have been used by tracking instances of cloture.  Cloture is invoked to bring debate to a quick end and to force a quick vote.  Recently, cloture has been invoked, with limited success, showing that numerous filibusters have been successfully used to block bills, especially by the  Republican Party.

In order to begin debate on a bill, the senators must adopt a "motion to proceed."  Once this occurs, debate is unlimited unless 60 senators vote to end it.  Therefore, because of the rules governing filibusters and senate debate, a minority of 41 can stop a bill cold.

This tactic has been used to prevent presidential appointments, tax bills from passing, and the end of tax subsidies from taking effect.  The filibuster has even been used to block Mark Udall's proposal to end the current filibuster.  These procedures are now a hindrance to the governmental process, making the Senate slower moving and gridlocked.  The rules are actually an undue regulation on the democratic process, endorsed predominantly by Republicans.

Now that's big government.

We need to change the rules so that it does not take 60 votes to get any bill passed.  A simple majority to end debate is all that should be required.  Perhaps this will eliminate the chance of the minority to have a say, but in today's partisan gridlock, we desperately need a way to streamline the legislative process.  Eliminating outdated and obstructive filibuster rules is the first step towards making that happen.


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