Now that Election Day has come and gone, attention has turned to what will actually happen once the newly elected officials take office. While the president meets with House Republican leaders over the fiscal cliff, debate in the Senate has focused on an aspect of the functioning of the legislative body itself: the filibuster.
While Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell bicker over alterations to the use of the filibuster, they fail to address the real issue. With congressional gridlock persistent and debilitating, the filibuster becomes antiquated and undermines the very choice voters made on Election Day.
Even before the election, Reid promised filibuster reform. Unfortunately, the extent of this reform does not include eliminating it altogether. But why shouldn’t it? The use of filibuster is not written in the U.S. Constitution, it is merely established in Senate rules and procedures – which the Senate has the ability to change quite easily.
In fact, that ability has come into question. Reid has threatened use of the “constitutional option” – changing Senate rules with a simple 51-vote majority – which prompted a response from McConnell that Reid is “breaking the rules to change the rules.”
But because the rules McConnell speaks of are either upheld or amended by the Senate itself, they are based more in tradition and precedent than anything unassailable like the Constitution. Times change – sometimes change is called for.
Change is necessary particularly now, when the filibuster in the Senate is used extensively and grinds legislation to a halt. The minority party abuses it; if they can’t get their way, no one can. This isn’t a brand new development: Senate Republicans abuse the filibuster now just as Senate Democrats did during the first half of former President George W. Bush’s term. The filibuster has become an instrument for sore losers instead of a legislative tool.
It is a simple fact that with congressional majorities, it is easier to pass legislation, especially now when the parties are so closely coalesced. But in order to overcome the filibuster, a party must hold a super majority of 60 votes. With the growing partisan divide in the country, it seems unlikely there will be a supermajority anytime soon.
So the filibuster becomes, seemingly, a foolproof measure to kill legislation. If the minority party can wield that sort of power, in what sense are they the minority party? The point of a majority party in the Senate is that voters elected them to that majority – supposedly in confidence of that party’s policy. If a minority party denies the majority’s ability to exercise that policy, it is flat out denying any sense of “electoral mandate” from voters.
With this kind of filibuster abuse, elections are futile. If voters elect the Democratic Party into a majority in the Senate, but the party is unable to pass any legislation because the minority Republican Party utilizes the filibuster, the choice voters made is rendered null.
The fear of a majority party run rampant is understandable, but at what point does this fear go too far? When congressional output falls to 50-year lows, isn’t it time to let the party Americans elected have a crack at passing legislation? If the bills passed are undesirable, voters have the option to vote the party out in the next election. The verdict on legislation should be left to the people – not simply the opposition bitter from electoral defeat.
The current filibuster debate is symptomatic of the very congressional gridlock that proves it worthless. If nothing continues to get done, what purpose did the election serve? Why have a Senate at all?